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not family law, family advocacy
by katherine l (aka clevertitania) (@CleverTitania)
1.14.11
general

Why does family court exist?
Honestly, can someone explain this to me? Why does a judge - a person who knows the law but doesn't necessarily have any experience in family dynamics, adult or child psychology, abuse and neglect signs/actions - get to decide the fate of any family? I really don't understand it.

I realize that, in this day and age, there are just too many families in unfortunate custody battles for their not to be a group responsible for protecting children from bad situations. I also realize that there are too many parents who can't communicate with one another, for whatever myriad of reasons, for their not to be a governing body over child custody issues. But why is that governing body the justice system?

The reality is, it's absolutely stupid that the legal system is deciding the fate of families, especially when that system is so easily influenced by politics and power plays. For instance, in the 90's we began to see shift in the nature of family law. More and more men were being full visitation rights, even if they had personal and/or criminal histories which would make them a risky guardian for a child, even temporarily. In some extreme cases, it’s even led to rapists being given visitation rights to children born of their assault. If you just look at that trend, you become really confused, until you look at what predates it. This is when the courts decided they had been too kind to mothers and money. Basically, if you could show you can buy the kid anything, particularly if you could afford a good lawyer, you won. And if you gave birth to the child in question, you won. Now occasionally those two guidelines would contradict one another. Usually, as is the case with most things in this world, money wins.

But then a rush of statistics emerged involving absentee fathers, and the negative impact this was having on their children and their communities - particularly in the inner cities. Politicians and parents started screaming that a broken system wasn’t doing enough to encourage father’s to be part of their children’s lives, and that was destroying these children’s futures. But the problem with the conclusion of those statistics is simple:

Blood may be literally thicker than water, but metaphorically that analogy is laughable.

The idea that, just because a person is biologically related to a child, that they will automatically love, nurture, and do the best for their child is naive at best. Not even in the animal kingdom is that true, much less in Homo sapiens capable of the atrocities of mankind. Any family court judge can tell you, with absolute certainty, that common blood doesn't create love, and being capable of procreation doesn't mean you're capable of raising a child.

My point is; if a man (or a woman for that matter) is an absentee parent, they'll probably be a pretty lousy parent anyway. Forcing the issue is not guaranteed to be a positive impact on their child. Sometimes, being absent from their life, is the best thing a parent can do for their child. What they should've done about those statistics is apply them to mentoring programs and educational/counseling programs for single parents and absentee parents who genuinely care about their kids, not child custody issues.

When we started trying to shift heavily for father's rights and not assuming poor people were bad parents - both of which were entirely noble in their intention - we further emboldened a system that was based on the arbitrary decision of one person, who may or may not be a good judge of what's right for the child. Much like in criminal court, it has to be determined which (if any) of the parties are reliable. But in a criminal court, unless you waive your jury rights, you have a panel of people discussing and coming to a consensus. In family court, juries aren't an option. But maybe they are the model we should be shooting for.

Here's how a Family Advocacy System should work, in my opinion. If there's a problem, the parents and child(ren) are all given basic psychological testing. If the basic testing throws up red flags, then they are actually given full evaluations. When that information is gathered with any other pertinent evidence ( for instance medical/school/criminal records), a group of psychologists, advocates, teachers (basically there can be a number of jobs which would make their input applicable) reviews their results and makes a determination. Then, a person is assigned to work with the parents to apply a resolution to the conflicts which makes sense. This group of people would probably have to ask judges/cops to physically remove a child from someone's custody in extreme situations. But then it would be a group of experts asking, not one parent who's motivations could be questionable, and one judge deciding if it's warranted or not.

This system sounds expensive, I'm sure, but if you think about it long term , it mirrors ongoing discussions about changes to the judicial and educational systems - a little money to modify the system and we're looking at vast costs savings down the road.

For instance, the panel could assign individual or family counseling. If the problem boils down to disagreements over proper medical decisions, now actual pediatricians and medical experts will be making the decision, not a county judge. If there’s disagreement over educational issues, the panel could be empowered to work with the teachers/school administrators to find the best solution. The idea being, resolutions are intelligently created and applied. And biases and preconceived notions are diffused by having discourse between multiple professionals. With the current system, a judge makes the call and sends the parents on their way, and they'll probably be back at least a few more times before the kid turns 18. That's bad for the kid, bad for the system, and bad for the parents.

Because here's something else the judges don't do in the current system; pay any attention to the outcome on the parents. In the zest to do what's best for the children, judges often completely disregard that the parents are also facing psychological scarring from their decisions. Parents are vilified, demonized and patronized. If they don't get along, it's assumed their just being immature and selfish, and not that there's an underlying problem that they themselves are burdened with. In short, if they show up in family court, it's generally perceived that they have failed as parents. In reality, a family advocacy system should be designed to protect the children and help the parents. Its purpose should be to strengthen everyone in the family, thereby strengthening the unit they form.

And when that is accomplished, you'll see the family needing less repeat help. If you work at helping them all in the short term, you spend less money than helping them time and again; the end result being happier children, happier parents, and a less congested family advocacy system. You'll probably also see crime stats fall, children's educational needs being better met, and an overall improvement in the mental health of the population.

That the same people who decide who's getting the condo in Boca are deciding how the children are raised; that's a joke we should be making about a far less advanced culture. We've already spent the last 100 or so years learning that making drug use part of the court system - instead of a medical issue - is a mistake. We need to learn the same lesson with family issues. Judges and lawyers will still have plenty to do. And as for the Family Law experts, well the advocacy panels could use them. Maybe they won't make as much money, but if they got into their jobs for the money then I really don't want them involved in the goings-on of a family unit anyway.

It’s time for people who understand families to decide how best to help them, instead of people who’ve only proven they understand the law.


ABOUT KATHERINE L (AKA CLEVERTITANIA)

When I grow up, I want to be; whoever Joss Whedon wants to be, when he grows up. I am a writer because it's the first thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning; aside from eating and using the lavatory of course. My work includes screenplays, short stories, film/TV/music reviews and socio-political commentary. The last one is a fancy way of saying I like to shoot my mouth off on many topics. I excel at using $1.50 words. They gone up, thanks to inflation. Isn't our economy awesome?

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