Friday, May 16, 2008

Court system is another abuser

It is well known that domestic violence is a terrible epidemic that affects millions of women regardless of social class, economic status, level of education, ethnicity or race. But what is not well known - and outrageous - is that on top of the abuse they have suffered at home, many of these women are also victimized by New York's family court system.

That is exactly what is happening, according to a new report, "Justice Denied: How Family Courts in
NYC Endanger Battered Women and Children." Conducted by the Voices of Women Organizing Project, a nonprofit organization, the study was based on the testimony of domestic violence survivors who have had cases in New York City Family Court. It was released on Mother's Day.

"This report is an indictment of New York City's Family Court," said
Susan Lob, director of the Voice of Women Organizing Project. "It shows how the system is biased against those who need its protection most."

The report charges that court officials often disregard the law and the court's own policies and procedures. It also concludes that there is little consideration of domestic violence in custody cases, which puts children in danger.

With Family Court seeing filings of child abuse increasing at alarming rates, the charges made by the report have to be taken very seriously.

One of the problems, the Voice of Women Organizing Project's study reports, is that the city's family court system is overburdened. In 2006 the courts handled more than 210,000 filings and depositions, with only 47 judges to handle all cases. Also, the report says, "women are often instructed not to mention domestic violence in the court proceedings by lawyers and court personnel who feel it will hurt their case or that it is irrelevant."

Other findings are no less worrisome. For instance, more than half of the women interviewed for the study complained that reports of child abuse or child sexual abuse against their ex-partners were not taken seriously in court proceedings.

Law guardians - attorneys appointed to handle the cases of children in Family Court - do not always represent their clients' wishes, the study says. It adds that such lawyers "frequently do not meet with their client more than once or at all, and fail to take domestic violence history seriously, compromising childrens' safety. In some cases, the law guardians make recommendations to remove custody from mothers who are primary caregivers without meeting them or seeing them with their children."

In fact, 37% of women surveyed lost custody of their children in spite of being the primary caregiver.

Even more unfair is that, according to the report, "preferential treatment is given to the wealthier or higher status party." Child support, the study says, was ordered in only 50% of the cases when it was requested and was actually paid in less than half of those instances.

The Voice of Women Organizing Project concluded that he city's family court system is broken and often biased against women who have survived domestic violence and is calling for greater transparency and accountability. It is not much to ask.

After all, as
Karlene Gordon, a survivor of domestic violence who lost custody of her children, said: "If the courts do not follow the law, there is no way mothers can get justice."

Original Article- with comments

Court system is another abuser

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