Family Court is Broken and Must be Fixed
Barry Goldstein

Many protective mothers believe that corruption is the reason family courts are so tilted in favor of abusive fathers and create such harmful decisions. This belief is widespread because so many of the courts’ actions and practices seem so unreasonable and catastrophic that it is hard to imagine any other explanation.

There have been a few cases in which judges were paid off, but most corruption involves the cottage industry of lawyers and mental health professionals that promote biased approaches designed to help wealthy abusers. In many cases attorneys for abusers, sometimes with the help of biased GALs manipulate the court to appoint biased and unscrupulous evaluators who often promote unscientific alienation theories. In some cases, the appearance of corruption is supported by judges trusting and failing to scrutinize professionals they have known for years and are considered friends or colleagues. This is a particularly harmful scenario because cottage industry professionals are ignorant of the domestic violence knowledge Saunders found was needed and are biased to support abusive fathers. In many cases the mothers and children had no chance once the evaluators were appointed to a position that was supposed to be neutral.

As I have discussed in many of my books and articles, most of the bad decisions are caused by flawed and biased practices. Important scientific research like ACE and Saunders demonstrates that many standard family court practices are mistaken and dangerous to children. Courts routinely rely on the wrong experts and fail to provide the time necessary to present an abuse case.

The fact that most court mistakes are not caused by corruption does not let the judges off the hook. Judicial ethics requires not just that judges avoid corruption but they must also avoid the appearance of corruption. Practices that silence and retaliate against protective mothers; decisions that discourage attorneys from presenting evidence of abuse; decisions that accept the opinions of unqualified professionals without proper scrutiny; actions that silence children and the now confirmed findings that courts get a high percentage of abuse cases wrong all contribute to the appearance of bias, incompetence and corruption.

There is good reason for courts to err on the side of protecting children, but most courts do the opposite. Practices that fail to level the playing field and provide inadequate time to present evidence of abuse and the research supporting the protection of children contributes to the harmful appearance. It is nothing short of outrageous that a bogus and sexist theory rejected by the American Psychiatric Association and every reputable professional organization has more influence over Domestic Violence (DV) custody decisions than peer reviewed scientific research from the most credible sources. All of these poor choices contribute to the appearance of corruption.

Most custody cases involve two safe and loving parents. These cases involve little or no risk and the court does a good job with these cases. These cases constitute a large majority of the work in Family Court. With the new research, however, there can be no dispute that family courts are getting most custody cases involving possible domestic violence or child abuse dangerously wrong. Particularly troubling is that as more research has become available, the courts have not taken advantage of this knowledge. The courts have also failed to create reforms in response to the heartbreaking child murders too many court decisions have facilitated.

The courts do not have an effective procedure for reviewing outdated practices and unspeakable tragedies. All of the needed reforms could be implemented today by the court administrators and children could be protected. It is my hope that caring court administrators will read this article and the important research and make sure the needed reforms are implemented.

The alternative is for the legislatures to enact needed reforms to protect precious children. The long failure of the courts to review court failures and create needed reforms should tell legislators that the courts will not make the needed changes by themselves. Indeed, the defensive response of many court systems to proposed reforms and preventable tragedies shouts out for legislators to insist on effective reforms. The Safe Child Act is a comprehensive proposal based on the scientific research most courts ignore. It would make the courts safe for children.

There is one other alternative which is the one we have accepted until now. The children can be forced to suffer in silence and some in permanent silence.

Important Links
ACEs Study, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Protecingt children who are largely unprotected now

Barry Goldstein
Child Custody Task Group