Thank-you Gail Rosenblum, and The Star Tribune, for printing your review of “Divorce Corp” and helping to bring forward a discussion on family court and the different perspectives about its shortcomings as it pertains to the Minnesota court system…and really the nation.
“Divorce Corp” is a new documentary film exposing the $50 billion dollar a year U.S. family law industry. “Divorce Corp” uses statistics, the testimony of litigants and professionals involved in family court to uncover failures in the court system including collusion, greed and abuses of power.
The Star Trib quotes Family law attorney Ron Ousky commenting on Divorce Corp that, “(I am) .. frustrated that the film sensationalized examples, “that are not representative of what happens in family court, at least in our state.”
I disagree with Ousky, and strongly feel that if you talk to actual families involved in family court in Minnesota, you will hear a different story. My story attests to just one example of how Family Court injustice devastates families and places the lives of children in danger.
Why don’t we hear much about failures in Family Court, if this is really a problem?
Outside of the courtroom, injustice in family court is being talked about–but the voices of victims are not being heard by the Courts, nor by the Legal System. These victims have no real avenue to go to for help, as there is a serious lack of accountability in the courts and often, those in a position to do something are reluctant to take action against a powerful court judge or court officer.
I have spoken to, and received feedback from many people who are reporting problems in family court, and specifically that they feel their rights are being violated and that there is no help available once a judge or court official is against you.
Also, when I sought help from a legal agency regarding my own case, one of the advocates said this about my Guardian ad Litem, “Everyone knows she is a problem…but there is nothing we can do about it.”
Some reasons keeping parents from filing complaints or speaking publicly about problems in Family Court and it’s officers include:
— Litigants are afraid to file complaints because it may cause them to lose custody or visitation with their children, or face other penalty.
—Those who do file complaints or speak publicly may be punished by the Court. Common types of punishment (taken from personal stories & news articles) include: A gag order issued against a parent, preventing them from speaking out. The Court ordering the parent to remove web sites, public statements and an issuing an order that they cannot talk publicly. The Court forcing parents into psychiatric treatment, therapy and/or medical treatment for no valid reason AND those determining if the litigant is “cured” are judges, Guardian ad Litems, evaluators, etc who are not actually treating the patient nor qualified to make such an assessment. The Court threatening loss of custody, loss of visitation or ordering supervised parenting as a form of punishment. Court officials becoming biased, and writing negative reports or recommendations against the litigant. Financial sanctions issued against a litigant. There have also been cases of some parents thrown in jail by the Court.
—When a parent files a complaint against a Guardian ad Litem or other Court officer that officer may be provided with legal representation that is paid for with taxpayer dollars. A parent, as a litigant, is not entitled to that same kind of legal help.
For a pro se client this is very difficult to handle without having legal knowledge or experience—the parent faces the opposing party (and their attorney), the judge and all the court professionals and now a GAL represented by an attorney and without legal knowledge or to adequately represent their complaint. For a client with an attorney, the complaint process is very expensive. Attorneys often object to filing a complaint because it is a “no win” situation, and could jeopardize the case because by making the judge or court officer angry they will actively work against you. Some attorneys may even stop representing you if you go against their wishes.
—When you file a complaint against a Guardian ad Litem, in Minnesota, your complaint must be heard by the judge on your case first, there are options for filing complaints elsewhere but again the process is tedious and the complaints rarely go anywhere.
—There is a serious lack of accountability for judicial officers, and those hearing complaints are often colleagues and/or friends. Further, the act of filing a complaint often raises suspicion against a parent because of this bias and cronyism.
—Parents who file complaints very rarely see results so they get discouraged and may not be motivated to fight outside the legal system. By results I mean their complaints are ignored, dismissed, there is no response, there is little or no communication with the parent filing the complaint and the problems they report continue even after the complaint is filed.
—The appeals process is very complicated and expensive. For a pro se client, the challenges are immense.
–-Parents who lose custody or feel abused by the courts are often traumatized and grieving the loss of their children, and may have difficulty speaking about their experiences. Or do not have the energy or time to keep fighting.
—Extensive litigation is very expensive. Working parents often lose income because the enormous amount of time invested in their case takes away from their ability to work. Some parents file bankruptcy as a result of the legal expenses, still others lose their home and other assets. So many parents simply cannot afford to keep fighting, and do not want to risk a financial sanction for speaking out publicly or waging a complaint against a court officer.
—There are no real advocacy or help for victims of court abuse, corruption or injustice. Support is also hard to find.
—Reporters and media outlets are often reluctant to report on stories involving family court abuse, corruption and other systematic failures that involve the Courts.
“Lawless America” is another example that family court failures are happening in Minnesota, and across the nation. In 2012, producer Bill Windsor filmed a number of testimonies of family court failures that have happened in Minnesota.
Windsor is creating a documentary called “Lawless America” to expose government corruption and abuse, he has traveled to all 50 states to gather real life stories from everyday Americans whose lives were negatively impacted by the courts, government, city and county officials, military and others –all kinds of government abuses are included.
The “Lawless” documentary has not been completed yet but you can hear some of the testimonies on YouTube as well as visit Bill’s blog and facebook page for information and updates on the project. The “Lawless” fans are very active and often post news articles about government corruption on the facebook page as well.
UPDATE: Bill Windsor was severely targeted, harassed and even faced threats against his family and his life due to filming “Lawless”. Bill has survived but was unable to complete the film.
My Experiences of Injustice in Family Court
My personal story attests to just one example of how Family Court injustice destroys families and places childrens’ lives in danger.
I became involved in an abusive relationship as a teenager, when a much older man approached me on the internet and enticed me to meet offline. I spent the next 8 years of my life in an abusive and controlling relationship that ended in April 2006, when he physically assaulted me, throwing my two children and I out on the street to be homeless. There have been numerous allegations of physical and mental abuse from their father that continue to this day. The abuser told me he was going to seek custody to get revenge on me, his exact words were, “I want you to know how it feels to be hurt”. He also threatened, “I am going to make up stories that you are crazy and take the kids from you.” I assumed the Court would see the truth and protect my kids, I was wrong.
(A page from my child’s diary, showing how he feels after the Court awarded custody to an alleged abuser…he would later attempt to run away 4 separate times.)
As my case progressed, I lost more and more of my parental rights–and was forced out of the lives of my children, even though I was the primary caregiver for all of their lives, and am a fit, loving mom with a “squeaky clean” background. The Court awarded sole custody to a man who was a wanted fugitive at the time of the order, and the court psych eval said he has a “personality disorder”–a serious mental illness that can cause dangerous and anti-social behavior (all of which was found in his background). There were over a dozen documented allegations of abuse against this man. Now I am only allowed one visit a month, much lower than the recommended statutes on parenting time. I do not get overnight visits. I do not get holiday or birthday visits. I am not being allowed phone calls with my children. I am being prevented from writing letters to my children, and the abuser is refusing to provide me with information about their care providers. Even worse, the judge says if I want extra time with my children, it is up to the sole discretion of the abuser to decide when and if I get any extra visits. Even after this man was arrested on vacation, and his warrants were called in, and once again my children put at risk–the Judge continues to show favor and preference, not ruling based on common sense or the law. I am being alienated from my children, and forced out of their lives by an unjust family court. This is not “sensationalized” — it is real, happening to families all across America and even internationally.
The injustice and total lack of regard for the law, let alone for the respect of human life and the sacred bond of mother-child, that has occurred in my case makes it seem like my case was handled in some dictatorship, not in America, not in Minnesota, the state known for “Minnesota Nice”.
I am NOT saying all cases are like mine, but I am saying that we, as a society, cannot minimize or deny injustice, corruption, bias and the breakdown of law happening in family court simply because it is uncomfortable to face. We must be courageous in raising awareness about family court injustice, and demanding reform because continuing to live in fear and appeasing the corrupt judges and court officers is cultivating a culture of corruption in our courts and in our legal system as a whole.
Corruption, Bias, Systematic Failures and Other Injustices in Family Court MUST Be Addressed Before Any Meaningful Reform Can Happen
It was also interesting that the Interviewees who reviewed “Divorce Corp” in the Star Tribune article, all play an active role in the divorce/family court industry–and any negative attention to court officials would only benefit them, or increase the demand for their work. The Interviewees worked in professions such as collaborative law, mediation, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and family law. These professionals offered their services as an alternative to traditional family court litigation within the context of the Star Trib article but failed to address three important issues:
a) Before any meaningful change can take place in family court, the corruption, bias, and systematic failures must be addressed. Which should also include dealing with how complaints against judges and other court professionals are handled, and developing real punitive measures for those who violate the law or whose decisions cause harm to families and children.
b) In cases of domestic violence, child abuse or where there are concerns for safety, measures like collaborative law, mediation, ADR etc cannot be utilized because Minnesota law states that victims of domestic violence cannot be compelled into services that expose them to potential harm (facing an abuser). Further, due to safety risks and the potential for long term damage to the children, a higher level of care is required—with the professionals being trained to handle issues like domestic violence, trauma, risk assessment and crisis stabilization etc.
Proper and updated training is essential for court officers to recognize abuse and domestic violence, and to respond appropriately. Another common complaint about Family Court is that it’s officers, and system of law is inept, unable, biased or so corrupt that it cannot properly identify abuse or domestic violence. Or, it’s officers mishandle reports of abuse. Other victims of abuse or domestic violence feel they are forced into silence, and when they report concerns they are punished. Another common complaint is that victims of abuse or domestic violence feel their children are not being protected, and put into unsafe custody and/or visitation arrangements.
c) Similarly, “Shared Parenting” or “50/50 Presumption of Custody” cannot be used as means to reform family court or address grievances of parents in place of dealing with systematic failures in family court—those are two separate issues. If there is a potential that victims of domestic violence and child abuse will fall between the cracks, and right now the Court is failing to protect a percentage of that population that is an urgent need that needs to be investigated, and dealt with–our time, resources and energies must be spent protecting the most vulnerable. Those proposing changes cannot build upon a broken and unjust framework that is the foundation of family court—reform or change cannot happen unless the system truly upholds the law, and is fair for all.
The Feedback of Parents Involved in Family Court Needs to Be Heard
The feedback of Parents, and Adults who have endured family court battles as children is crucial in raising awareness about family court failures and what can be done to reform the system. There needs to be more opportunity for theses voices to be heard without fear of punishment or loss of custody.
I think it would have been more balanced for the Star Tribune article to have interviewed families, or grown children who have been through the court system, for their perspective, and thoughts on “Divorce Corp”. I would encourage the Star Tribune to consider a follow up article doing so.
Acknowledging Integrity in the Courts
Finally, I want to recognize, and give credit to those honest, compassionate and hard working people who are doing their jobs in the Courts, Government, Legal System etc with integrity. I want to recognize those who are fighting for justice and to provide legal services to underserved populations, the poor, and those needing pro bono or low cost help. I want to thank the volunteers and advocates. The parents fighting to keep their children safe. The victims and whistle blowers bravely speaking out. And those working with battered women and abused children, and others not named. A lot of negative attention has been brought on Family Court- and the legal system in general, which is warranted–but we also need to recognize those that uphold the law, and those examples of what it means to make a positive difference.
In “Our State” Family Court Corruption IS Happening
The assertion “not in our state” and that examples shown in “Divorce Corp” are “sensationalized” just shows the need to educate the public, and raise awareness about family court corruption, and how systematic failures destroy families and sometimes even destroy lives as these decisions can lead to murder and suicide in certain situations.
It is a tragic reality that family court failures are happening in every state across the U.S., even happening in other countries. The lives of children are being put in danger when judges give custody to dangerous abusers, and court officers conspire to not only help the abusive parent but punish the parents trying to protect their children. These atrocities continue long after the litigation ends because victims are threatened, intimidated and broken down with immense psychological pressure so that they do not speak up, and are too afraid to fight back against the corrupt judges, court officials and the shadowy system that is beyond reproach. Not only that but the court system is not effective in dealing with complaints, and court officers protect each other (the cronyism and collusion) to avoid any real punishment.
Despite the odds against it, the truth about failures in family court are being brought to public attention in documentaries like “Divorce Corp” and through the work of community organizers like Bill Windsor and “Lawless America”. Victims are finding a way to rally, speak out and organize. Advocates, organizations and other professionals with integrity are coming forward to help. Children who have been impacted by family court failures, and growing up, and as adults are voicing complaint or working with advocacy groups..
Divorce Corp, A Documentary exposing failures in family courts including collusion, greed and massive abuses of power: http://www.divorcecorp.com/
Divorce Corp Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/divorce.corp
“‘Divorce Corp documentary exposes corrupt and collusive divorce industry–even before the sociopaths show up” by Donna Andersen. Love Fraud, 1/13/2014: http://www.lovefraud.com/2014/01/13/divorce-corp-documentary-exposes-corrupt-and-collusive-divorce-industry-even-before-the-sociopaths-show-up/
“Divorce Corp Film Review and Summary (2014)” by Matt Zoller Seitz, 1/10/2014. “RogerEbert.com”: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/divorce-corp-2014
Lawless America YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/lawlessamerica
Lawless America YouTube “Love Letters to the Children”: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=lawless+america+love+letters+to+the+children
Lawless America blog: http://http://lawlessamerica.org/
“Rosenblum: Divorce Corp is a stark reminder of high costs of U.S. break ups”. Gail Rosenblum. Star Tribune, 1/13/2014: http://www.startribune.com/local/240025901.html?page=all&prepage=1&c=y#continue