YOU ARE ALREADY MIRED IN THE QUICKSAND OF THE SYSTEM
Most of you are already deep in the battle, and probably have lost a great deal of ground. Your child may have been damaged originally by the father's violence toward you, and now is beginning to have traumatic stress symptoms. The situation may be that...
- the father has overnight visits, or
- you have joint custody, and
- your child begins disclosing sexual abuse by the father to you and to the therapist
THE SITUATION CAN GET WORSE-
If sexual abuse is reported to the authorities, this means your spouse is accused of an awful crime. This sets in motion a series of irreversible events. Sadly, these events hardly ever include the arrest of the perpetrator. Instead,...
Even if they are willing to prosecute, the burden is on you and your child to prove in criminal court that sexual abuse really happened. Proof is hard to get. Your child's testimony is usually not going to be enough, because you are in a custody or visitation situation and the court assumes you are lying. Even medical evidence of penetration (which is rare) is not enough. The only sure proof is the perpetrator's sperm or DNA inside your child's body cavity.
- The police typically do not arrest incest suspects
- District attorneys typically do not prosecute incest cases without strong corroboration and a very verbal, credible older child
We know that is grim information, but you need to know it.
THE ACCUSED WILL REACT TO DEFEND HIMSELF-
He will probably go straight to family law court to try to get custody of his victim. This is the current defense tactic of choice, and has been quite successful in about a third of California counties. The perpetrator is safe when he has custody of the victim. The reason is simple.
Your child is not likely to continue to talk about molest if he or she is living with the perpetrator.
As a bonus, the perpetrator will probably ask for child support. He is likely to get it. That means you may not only lose your child, but end up supporting the identified perpetrator. Some mothers call it "child abuse support."
You may think a judge would never award custody to an identified molester. You may feel certain that your child is safe, for example, because your spouse has a DUI or has never shown much interest in your child's life.
But we need to tell you that many of the men who have gained unsupervised or full custody of children...
In fact, one study shows that batterers are much more likely to gain custody of the children. It's another form of battery. And unfortunately the court system is set up to protect the abuser, rather than protect the child.
- have felony domestic violence convictions
- have documented alcoholism and/or drug abuse
- are convicted, registered sex offenders
- are not married to the mothers
- are not even on the birth certificate
- are not related in any way to the child
- get custody of breast feeding infants
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?-
Unfortunately, we don't have any sure answers. You are up against a system that is described as gender-biased. Many judges are men and identify with men. Even women judges often favor men.
Another problem is that there are scoundrels in the legal and mental health fields, who take money from unsuspecting people, and do not help them at all. In fact, sometimes they do deliberate harm.
At times, harmful professionals work in a team. For example, a gender-biased judge is very likely to appoint professionals with the same bias. A psychologist who favors men will probably overlook the father's alcoholism, violence, and/or incest, and blame you for the problem. The most common way to blame you is to report you are "alienating" your child from the father, and you are getting your child to make up stories.
As absurd as that may sound, it is a successful legal tactic, even though there is no legitimate mental health diagnosis of "Parental Alienation Syndrome." The unethical psychologist will recommend that your child be placed with the father so that the child will get over the effects of your supposed "brainwashing." Even though it is not a valid diagnosis, the judge usually follows the recommendation.
Here are some important tips:
- You may be told to report the abuse to the authorities on your own. THAT CAN BACKFIRE.
- Find an ethical therapist who is an expert in child sexual abuse. They may report abuse.
- Find an expert, ethical family law attorney.
- If you tape your child's statements, don't give it to anyone in the system.
- Try to stay OUT of family law court and related systems.
- ALWAYS put on a pleasant, calm demeanor.
- Be prepared for the long, long haul.
DEALING WITH THE SYSTEM,
AN EXPERIENCED MOTHER'S ADVICE:
"Dealing with many of the professionals in the court and related systems (most particularly judges) is like dealing with large, hungry grizzly bears or wild bulls. Assume that they are unpredictable, extremely dangerous, and often intelligent. (Not all court personnel are like this, but you can never tell until later which ones are rational.)
As with any dangerous animal, maintain absolute calm. Maintain calm. Maintain calm.
YOU are on trial. Know that you are being scrutinized, evaluated, judged by everyone in the system you encounter on the basis of:
Your job is to make the judge happy.
- demeanor (always act calm, rational, & pleasant, even when dying inside),
- tone of voice (never say sharp, sarcastic, impatient things),
- facial expressions (never roll your eyes or give angry looks),
- body language (lean forward and do not cross your arms or legs), &
- dress (conservative inconspicuous dress is the best).
All of the above also apply to any person you encounter who is related to the case. What they can do to you in retribution is far out of proportion to anything you have ever encountered before. They have the power to utterly destroy you.
- Your job is to NOT antagonize the judge.
- Your job is to make the judge's day a GOOD day, because you are such a reasonable, mild-mannered person.
- Your job is to treat the judge as YOU want to be treated, because he or she has absolute power over your child.
- You do not want to make the judge mad by doing anything like interrupting, being sarcastic, or especially crying (that makes the judge very uncomfortable).
- You don't want to annoy the judge in any way. If you do, you have just waved a red flag at the bull, or stepped between the grizzly and its meal.
You are, in effect, their prey."
FIND AN ETHICAL, SKILLED ATTORNEY AND THERAPIST-
This is much easier said than done.
- Ask friends or pediatricians or trusted professionals for referrals for attorneys and mental health professionals.
- Sometimes battered women's shelters or adult sexual abuse survivor groups know of ethical professionals.
- Go to court and observe for several days to see who seems to really stand up for clients.
- Realize that many excellent attorneys never appear in court because they negotiate out of court settlements, without the trauma of court appearances.
- One protection is an ethical child's therapist and a good mental health report of you by an ethical professional.
- Another protection for your child is for you to have an ethical therapist willing to act as a "child specialist" and work with you and your child on parenting issues.
- The court may require mental health professionals to have high level professional degrees. However, many who are highly regarded by the court are, in fact, incompetent hacks.
WARNING: Advanced degrees such as PhD or MD do not guarantee ethics!
FIND AN INVESTIGATOR-
One way of combating this mess is to investigate the situation. You can be helped by a good private investigator.
- He or she can help you understand the behind-the-scenes situation, which may be that the judge and the father's attorney are business partners.
- Or perhaps the child's attorney has placed an inordinate number of phone calls to the father, and none to you.
- Or maybe the evaluator has a social relationship with the father.
- Money may even change hands improperly. A slush fund for judges was uncovered in Los Angeles.
- There are some investigators who pose as protectors of children, but are actually working to help the perpetrators. Be very careful and check with others who have used the investigator.
WARNING: Investigators have variable skills and ethics!
Don't expect 100% win. You are not likely to get it in the current court climate. Negotiating may end up being the most beneficial for the child and the least expensive for you in the long run.
- Some attorneys have even suggested paying off the perpetrator (such as exchanging the house for the child).
- Be sure to have an attorney write up such a contract. Keep in mind that custody is modifiable in the future.
WARNING: The abusive father may get custody of your child anyway!
REPRESENTING YOURSELF (IN PRO PER or IN PRO SE)-
It is not fair nor equitable for the father to have an attorney and for you to be representing yourself, but it goes on all the time. Most mothers run out of money first.
- It is like medieval jousting. Without a professional trained knight, you are riding into battle not knowing how to properly use your sword or pike.
- This is when staying calm and being ultra-nice (while you firmly state what is right for your child) come in handy.
- Three benefits of representing yourself are: you know your case far better than the professionals, you will become well-versed in the law, and you will save money. Some mothers do a better job representing themselves than some of the attorneys, and several protective mothers are now in law school due to their on-the-job training.
- Family law courts are now beginning to institute family law facilitators who can help you represent yourself (Family Law Code 10000 et seq).
- Find an advocate to come with you to all court hearings to support you and take notes of the proceedings. Advocates can be friends, church members, professionals or anyone whom you trust.
WARNING: If you are representing yourself, the odds are stacked against you!
EMOTIONS AND COURT ORDERS-
Any overt signs of emotion on your part will invariably be construed as "histrionic", "hysterical" or "bitchy".
- Never lose your calm, express your strong emotions in a controlled manner, and be unerringly polite and professional to everyone.
- This cannot be repeated often enough.
- You will be held in contempt if you become frustrated and do not obey all court orders.
- The father probably won't have any consequences if he does not obey court orders.
- Document and try to have the father's violations of orders enforced.
WARNING: If court personnel perceive you negatively, custody may go to the offender!
In the words of an advocate, you may allow only one teardrop, for no more than 45 seconds. That means no sobs. We recommend always being polite and thanking the judge no matter what. You will need to maintain complete composure, even if it is eating you alive inside. Some of us would go out to our cars, or back to our homes, or into the ladies' room to weep, rage or vomit, then return with complete composure. This will be your finest acting job.
WARNING: Court personnel will be watching for signs of weakness!
"Living a good life is the best revenge!" - Anonymous
...Continue on to THE LATE STAGE