America has a custody court crisis58,000 children are affected every year by the custody court crisis. Their mothers forced to decide between protecting their children and protecting themselves. These are the children. These are their mothers. These are their stories. These are the children the Safe Child Act will protect. If you have a story, and can tell it in less than 400 words, send it to us at [email protected]
I still remember, years ago, the first time I was giving my son a bath and saw the bruises. Strange looking bruises on his back and legs and his butt. I took him to the doctor, and the doctor confirmed my worst fears-my son was being sexually abused. My son’s pediatrician called the Department of Child Services for a more thorough investigation, and they concluded that my son had been sexually abused by the person who had him before I bathed him that fateful day; his father. I was shocked and horrified. I didn’t really know what to do, but it never crossed my mind that I would need to worry about what the family court judge in my case would do. I provided all evidence and reports to the court, and the judge made the following ruling: “It is hard to believe that five months after [child] had contact with the [father] that he would still be so angry with his Dad. I doubt he would be mad even if the touching had really happened. [Father] appears to be very fond of his children and even if he was engaging in sexual inappropriate behavior with them, he would be doing it in a kind fashion.” The judge then gave my ex custody of my son, and told me that if I continued to make “false claims” of abuse I’d be limited to supervised visits only. It’s been years now. My son is still not safe, his father still has custody, and I’m still powerless to do what mothers want to do the most, protect their children.
I was pregnant when he tried to kill me. My OBGYN knew something was wrong when he showed up unannounced at the hospital, setting off the alerts from the monitors I was hooked up to. My OBGYN said if he showed up again, she would call the police. The rest of the pregnancy was fraught with psychological abuse. I was a high-risk pregnancy and my daughter wasn’t gaining much weight. My body was failing. I needed an emergency c-section. I died during the procedure and my daughter almost died. A few months after my baby was born, I sat on a commission to advise our state senators on a plan to help pregnant women in abusive situations. I sat there, nauseated, as I heard the list of medical problems associated with abuse during pregnancy. My daughter and I experienced every single adverse effect from his abuse; even the placental abruption and death. He tried to kill us. Now he wanted custody. He lied in court and didn’t learn to care for our daughter’s medical problems. Domestic violence agencies agreed we were being abused. But neither came to court. The child psychologists recommended fifteen minute, supervised visits, but that’s not what the judge ordered After every court ordered, unsupervised visit she came back traumatized, bruised and regressing. She started the visits at 15 months and immediately regressed. Her pediatrician recommended she see a child psychologist. He and the court appointed GAL sent a report recommending that Dad learn how to feed and take care of our daughter and that he should have supervised visits. The concerns of abuse were hidden by the GAL. My lawyer recommended that our daughter not have increased visitation until she could talk clearly. She said Dad was ineffectual and shouldn’t be around young children. Two domestic violence agencies agreed we were being abused. A former GAL that used to work for the court reviewed our case and testified there was something not right with Dad, too much help was needed, and recommended supervised therapeutic visits. A nurse from a national, federally regulated program testified to the troubling changes my daughter showed since visitation started and that the GAL never contacted them. But the court ignored it all and made me coparent with him. And for two and a half years up til today, she has been abused each visit psychologically, emotionally, physically and now sexually. He still has unsupervised overnight visits.
This journey started with Beth’s abusive marriage and divorce. People were so focused on the “shared responsibility of the marital breakdown,” the abuse was not acknowledged. The father continued his abuse after the separation. He raged, he threatened, and fought to take his child, Grace, away from her mother. Grace’s mother ensured that Grace saw both parents weekly, and even daily. She wanted Grace to have a relationship with both parents. Her father wouldn’t cooperate and dragged Beth into court without a lawyer. She got plowed under by a system that looks at women with a dark age bias. They settled on 50/50 custody. When Grace was four she began wetting the bed, having night terrors, and acting out sexual things with Barbie dolls. CPS said “Oh that’s normal”. Then she came home with what looked like diaper rash. When asked how that happened she said, “Daddy did it.” Grace explained that Daddy does certains things that shouldn’t happen between a father and daughter. Another call to CPS, the same response, but then Beth went to the police. In Pennsylvania, CPS closes a case that is still being investigated by the police they simply state “unfounded“. The case was closed without explanation. The police investigation dragged out for four months. In the meantime Mom was being penalized for keeping Grace away from her father. Since Grace was only four years old, she wasn’t considered a credible witness. The investigation fizzled and Grace resumed visits with her father. The family reasoned nothing was going on….and if there was maybe the police involvement would keep him from doing it again. By Feb of 2016 Grace was much more articulate. When her mom picked her up from her father, Grace said she was mad at her father, and gave details of more abuse. She was very specific, saying he took certain clothes off of her, and precisely what he did. It happened that morning, and many times before, and only at a certain place. Beth took Grace to the state police, and Grace repeated everything. She even demonstrated. They scheduled an interview for her the next Tuesday at a Child Advocacy Center with the District Attorney and police present. Grace knew the interview was supposed to get Daddy to stop doing these things to her. It was on her mind, and in her head she went over what she would say. CPS concluded that the disclosure was coerced. There really is a differences between coerced and rehearsed, but authorities didn’t get that distinction. At a custody conference, the investigating officer, who has been on the job for a year and a half, testified that Grace said what her father did, but she was bouncing around and not focused. The implication was that, since Grace was nervous, maybe it was all just nonsense. Her father won full custody, and Grace is now seven and sees her mother two weekends a month. She reports ongoing abuse.