To provide strength, power, and a unified voice for women and children caught in crisis in America's courts.


OPEN MESSAGE FROM UFJ TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE
AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 

The American Judge's Association reports that one of the most common reasons a woman will resume or stay in an abusive relationship is the fear that the abuser will make good on his threats to take the children.  Government-supported studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the mother is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged custody cases.

Growing numbers of protective, non-offending, loving, fit mothers are losing custody of their children to abusers every day, despite being good mothers, despite the father's lack of past involvement with the children, and regardless of the mother being the primary caregiver. Women who seek to exit abusive, dangerous relationships and/or seek child support are met with retaliatory suits for child custody. Many women who try to leave an abusive partner find that the court system can become a place where the abuser is enabled, even facilitated, in victimizing her and her children.  Routinely, mothers are illegally jailed for trying to protect their children from documented abusers.

Courts increasingly not only ignore, but even bar evidence of child abuse.  Amazingly, the perpetrators the women seek to leave or protect their children from are increasingly awarded sole custody or unsupervised visitation with the children they have harmed. This results in ultimate control over the child victim, ultimate revenge against the child?s mother, and an end to the father's child support obligations. The abuser is hence provided further control of the mother by collecting support from her while she is often denied contact with her children. In this way, both child and mother are silenced.

This is one of America's darkest, most shameful secrets. The problem has taken on epidemic proportions, and we call upon our Senators and Representatives to act swiftly to ensure prompt investigation. We want to be heard and to have these issues addressed openly. Please make this your top priority for all the mothers and children in this country and for generations to come.

Of great concern to us is a widely discredited "theory", "Parental Alienation Syndrome" or "PAS" (and derivatives thereof), which is being used as the primary courtroom tactic to silence abused children and mothers in courts.  Developed by Richard Gardner of Columbia University, this "syndrome" is not based on systematic research, but instead was developed from subjective ideology and prejudices.  Gardner has never tested this theory, nor is it contained within the DSM-IV;.  In fact, most of Gardner's foundational assumptions have been disproved by legitimate researchers.  Gardner's writings also express disturbing ideas regarding incest and pedophilia, including the idea that such practices are not as traumatic as current social attitudes suggest.

Integral to Gardner's PAS theory is a "treatment" he calls "Threat Therapy".  This abusive and inhumane practice is used to send children to juvenile detention centers and mothers to jail for reporting abuse.   PAS is also routinely used in courts across the country to inappropriately remove custody from loving, safe and fit mothers under a variety of scenarios: domestic violence, child abuse of any sort, reluctance to support flip-flopping shared custody schedules, or a reluctance to send children on unsupervised visitation with fathers with anger-management problems, substance abuse problems, poor parenting, etc.

Congressional findings in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1999 specifically identify the use of PAS as an act of violence toward women which endangers children. The VAWA states that PAS is frequently and improperly used by courts and custody evaluators to discount children?s reasonable fear and anger toward a violent parent, and that this "syndrome" is used almost exclusively against women.  It further states that when domestic violence has been present in the relationship, shared parenting arrangements, couples counseling, and custody mediation arrangements all serve to place children and the non-violent parents in danger, and certainly further the abuser's agenda. We call upon you to investigate why our state courts are allowed to force mothers and children into such obviously dangerous practices on a routine basis.

Abused and molested children have lost their voices in court. There exists a pattern of court rulings which clearly reflect that molestation or other abuse of one's own child can earn a father sole custody, whereas if the same crime had been committed upon the child who lives next door, the same perpetrator would be sentenced to a long prison term. While re-victimized children lose their mothers, protracted litigation pads the pockets of lawyers, mental health providers, custody evaluators, and visitation monitors.

Examples of the devastation wrought by these practices can be found throughout the country in print and television stories, special investigative reports, studies by universities, reports by the APA, etc.   The story of a 16 year old who hanged himself rather than see his mom jailed for his refusal to visit his dad is detailed in a Pittsburgh Post 3-part article, Custody Casualties; a medically fragile child died from neglect less than 3 weeks after he was wrongfully removed from his mother by the court; a member of our group stood criminal trial Georgia for "kidnapping " our own children -- and the jury who acquitted her admonished the county court for her arrest and prosecution; one of us was jailed for refusing to turn her children over to a convicted child molester.  Some of us have had our phones tapped; some of us have to pay monitors in order to even see our children, and most of us are impoverished by spending life savings and losing employment to keep up with endless court proceedings, entirely impossible child support payments, orders to pay the father's attorney fees, contempt charges, fines and sanctions -- all intended and strategically ordered to lead to certain financial ruin of mothers. 

This is no longer a state issue.  Federal funding to court systems for various unsound, discriminatory, and unscientific programs which are ordered in many of these cases is of great concern. 

As mothers who care about all children, we ask that our government work to expose the family court system, a system that does not work.  We further ask that you eliminate federal funding of discriminatory groups and programs which enable continued harm to women and children, as described above and in ample publications.

We desperately hope our open public letter will be published and broadcast across the country, and that it will cause readers to demand investigations and journalists to expose a "system" which is seriously broken.

Sincerely,

United For Justice

 

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