The Kafkaesque Family Court, Part 1

by Dr. Bandy X Lee
originally published on Medium, republished by permission

Dissecting the Mechanisms of Family Court through My Sister’s Case

I use my sister’s story to dissect the operations of Family Court, because I am a firsthand witness to all the events and can add a layer of objectivity — which is necessary in a culture where even the violent abuse and fear of murder by women and children are disparaged as the mother’s being a “disgruntled litigant” or as “wishing to gain an edge in the divorce.” Ordinarily, the law reflects the values of society, and courtrooms attempt to implement the law; certainly, there are idiosyncratic judges, but this has been my expectation from twenty-five years of experience as an expert witness. In Family Court, however, it did not take long for me to learn that something was seriously wrong: a “normal” divorce turned into a life-or-death battle; trying to protect children from death was labeled as “mental illness”; and a father had absolute authority, regardless of lack of merits — in a way that seemed anachronistic by centuries. And, above all, a mother was not allowed to speak about what was happening, even to her own sister.

These conditions embarked me on an investigation that uncovered far more than even what my sister was allowed to know about her own case. I also begin here, because her story could be any number of women’s stories. The women in my investigations had tremendously different walks of life, from different regions of the country and the world, but their course through the Family Courts was almost identical. How can they come from such diverse backgrounds, professions, and nationalities, and have similar, if not the same, outcomes? It has much to do with the Family Courts’ “playbook”, implemented in all fifty U.S. states and exported abroad — which I outline here using my sister’s case:

1. Allege ‘Parental Alienation’

The first step in the playbook of gaining advantage in Family Court, when there are children, is to allege “parental alienation” or an equivalent concept. Abusers typically know or are instructed to do this as part of a formula for the reversal and ricochet of any accusation of abuse. This is apparent from the fact that fathers may begin with different stances or preferences at the onset of a divorce but soon make the same underlying accusation. In this case, the husband, who is a corporate lawyer and disciple of the notoriously crafty lawyer Alan Dershowitz, knew to use this phrase immediately upon his filing for divorce.

The fact that there was no basis for the allegation did not matter. The mother’s parenting skills were something even he had boasted about to others. His wife was reputed to be “the best mom” among the conscientious moms who moved to her suburban neighborhood with the specific intent to raise children, and her lunches were the talk of the town for the attention and care they exemplified. Many marveled at her ability to connect with children, leading some to leave their own children with her, stating that she was the “only mom” they could trust as much as themselves.

He, too, “trusted” the mother so much, he abandoned child rearing entirely to her, to the point where his new sets of friends believed he was a single man. These children hence grew up happy, healthy, and thriving but for the one lack of missing their father. The mother tried everything to arrange for him to spend time with his children — bedtime stories, weekend trips, vacations — but he was simply never available. He only had the time to appear for five-minute “photo ops” with the children before celebrations or special occasions, long enough to make a record that he was there, and then immediately disappeared without telling anyone.

Even the divorce was not the mother’s idea but his: he was livid that she had “stopped praising” him, when I was astonished to find that she was simply depressed from twelve years of enduring his emotional, psychological, sexual, physical, and financial abuse and his need to control every aspect of her life. I had to become reacquainted with my own sister at this time, after he had spent years isolating her from family and friends. Now, he was restless: he had several younger mistresses, and he was due for a change — matching his habitual overhaul of friends every few years, switching to younger and younger crowds, as was evident in the pictures of birthday and New Year’s Eve parties he attended.

Up until marriage, the mother had supported him, paying all his expenses when he claimed to be a struggling filmmaker (this turned out to be a ruse, also; far from “sacrificing” his career for an artistic passion, he had a pattern of going from one job to another, sometimes in a totally different field, in order to “launder” his image when his deceptive ways were exposed). As it became his turn to support the family, with the arrival of children, the father plunged them into a level of poverty the mother had never known; despite living in a big house in a well-to-do neighborhood, she subsisted on cereal in order to give her growing children basic nutrition. Later, the mother would come to learn that the father had been lying about his income and stashing away 97 percent (nearly 970,000 dollars) of his million-dollars-a-year salary, while pleading poverty so that the mother’s side of the family would come to contribute hundreds of thousands, just to take care of her and her children’s the essentials needs.

This reveals what “parental alienation” is really about: financial gain. In this father’s case, he was initially counting the days to leave the marital house, even contracted to rent out a single’s room, announced to everyone his date of departure, and factored nothing about the children into his plans — until someone advised him that he could turn his divorce into a profitable venture by alleging “parental alienation.” In addition to being a formula for denying abuse and avoiding criminal prosecution, it was a way to perpetrate secondary spousal abuse (while continuing child abuse) and to extort “child support” for doing so!

2. Seize the Children

Seizing the children is the second step in the Family Court formula for fixing a case. It does not matter what excuse is used — usually there is none — but the goal is to remove the children from the loving parent so as to isolate them with their abuser. This achieves several goals: it conceals any evidence of abuse; it helps to “turn tables” on the victim, making the innocent parent appear guilty; it effectively allows a new norm to solidify as the “status quo”; and it entrains malleable children into a state of learned helplessness and of acceptance of abuse as normal. This removal can happen abruptly, as in this case, or gradually by building a record of “faults” against the mother — whether factual or not — but it is always injurious and traumatic. As horrifying as this may sound to anyone outside of Family Court, the severance of parent-child bonds is part of Family Courts’ routine, casual practice.

In this mother’s case, it happened this way: a couple months prior to secretly filing for divorce, which the father did while deceiving his family that he would not, the father suddenly started imposing himself on the very children he never cared for before. After years of spending all his afterwork hours and weekends on singles’ activities, taking singing lessons, going to “wine tasting” dinners, partying, watching movies, and indulging in pornography, he of course had little idea how to be with children. Starting on the father’s first day of “parenting”, cries and screams reverberated through the house, and the 7-year-old instantly reverted back to diapers, while the 9-year-old became permanently suicidal. Cuts, bruises, bloody shirts, and a broken bone were ordinary occurrences under his watch, but when the father caused his 7-year-old a head injury by slamming him against a window with a wooden chair, he came to be placed on a temporary restraining order (also, when his daughter was an infant, he almost killed her by flinging her in the air to land head first on a concrete floor).

That is when the Family Court aggressively intervened. First, the Family Court judge mandated the children to visit with their father over the restraining order! The children immediately developed stress-induced canker sores, panic attacks, vomiting, immobilization, and even dissociation (departure from reality because of stress), but she ruled that they be taken involuntarily by police if they resisted, and they were. Violent fights, self-injurious behavior, and then a suicide attempt ensued, when they tried to set the house on fire, stating that even a few hours with “that maniac” — their father, whom they called “the scariest person” — were “torture” and “worse than death.” When the mother took them to the emergency room after their suicide attempt, she was punished severely for doing so, and the judge’s appointed guardian ad litem intercepted all follow-up appointments to stop them from seeing a psychiatrist, as several medical professionals were recommending that they do at the time.

I finally decided to document the children’s psychiatric decline, in order to create a medical record in the midst of this denial of medical care. In less than a month, the guardian ad litem exceptionally met with me and their mother to announce her prohibition against my having contact with the children again. Her demeanor in that conversation gave away that she was no children’s “guardian ad litem”: without any background in child health or psychology, she had no regard for medical expertise; had no curiosity about the wellbeing of the children of whom she was in charge; and had no intention to let me speak but simply declared her decree before ending the call. I have dealt with numerous guardians ad litem in my career, but it was clear that, contrary to her role as a reporter to the court, this woman had no interest in facts; she was doing what she did because she could. The abuse of authority became clear when the Family Court stonewalled any testimony from me — a firsthand witness of the father’s daily abuse for fifteen months — and prohibited Child Protective Services from interviewing me, even canceling an already-scheduled interview!

None of these attempts to rescript reality changed the father’s actual abuse, of course, and the children, like any healthy human beings trying to avoid their own maltreatment, continued to protest. When the situation kept escalating, the father’s solution was to kidnap them, falsely claiming that the mother was “absconding” with the children when it was her weekend with them, as he himself agreed to and the guardian ad litem assigned. He alone making a false police report would not have gotten anywhere, but he had a “guardian ad litem” willing to lie to buttress his false claims — she would come to lie to the Court almost two hundred documented times — and a Family Court judge willing to seize, if not orchestrate, the opportunity to issue an “emergency order,” authorizing a raid. A team of a half-dozen police officers would thus invade the mother’s space, at the onset of the weekend, to tear her clinging and crying children from her by force and to deliver them to their abusive father. The charges against the mother were dropped almost immediately when the father’s and the guardian ad litem’s lies to the police were exposed, but the children were already taken, and the Family Court judge refused to return them. The Family Court had accomplished its goal: this would become the new “status quo” by which the mother, all her side of the family, and all other former caregivers, including babysitters, would have no access to the children for even one minute for more than two years at the time of this writing.

Given that seizure of children from their primary caregiver was the goal, not the truth, no amount of evidence presentation or demands for a hearing mattered. The Family Court judge simply blindly repeated the father’s lie that the mother was “absconding”, stating that her being found in a hotel twenty minutes away from home within the state, in truth to help her children de-stress in a pool, was “proof”. Yet, not only was this well within her rights, the father and the guardian ad litem had themselves caused the exigency: the children were suicidal after the father secretly took them to an out-of-state resort, hours away, on the previous weekend — in actual violation of court directives — having stolen their passports from common possession. He was discovered only because the children secretly called their maternal grandfather, in such “terror” that the grandfather rushed back from Canada, fearing for his grandchildren’s safety, only never to see them again. The children were also protesting against being forced to go to the Court-mandated “therapist” at this time, and the “therapist” had just locked them in her office when they refused her “therapy”, causing them to cry (a move that would induce her licensing board to remove her from the case). When the mother complained that the children were acutely suicidal after each visit with this “therapist”, the guardian ad litem accused the mother of “interfering with the therapeutic process” — no doubt actually meaning, “interfering with our theft of your children.”

3. Seal the Case, Break All the Rules, and Intimidate the Lawyers

Sealing the case is the third step in the Family Court formula for stealing children. American courts are open to the public for a reason: the nation’s founders believed that the right to a public trial is fundamental to ensuring transparency, fairness, and justice and for holding state actors accountable in cases of abuse of authority. Family Courts are exceptional in that they are allowed to blanket seal their records, on their say-so alone, “for the protection of children.” Family Courts are also exceptional in that they are granted wide discretion with the law, supposedly to meet the unique and individual nature of “each family’s needs.” Above all, Family Courts are exceptionally given the authority to remove children from parents, for society acknowledges that this is sometimes necessary for a child’s safety. However, the largely unknown reality is that these three conditions combined — total authority, no accountability, and no transparency — has resulted in Family Courts’ becoming centers of unspeakable human rights violations, where criminality and violence thrive with impunity, away from all scrutiny of civilized society.

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