A Broken System: Timed-Out Custody

02/16/2017 05:28 pm ET Updated Oct 25, 2017

Everything is impacted by it — birthdays, holidays, school plays, proms, graduations — wedding days. One day after another — moving through the seasons and years — time is the cloud that hangs over everything.

Far too many times fit and able parents lose time at the hands of family courts — lawyers — third party beneficiaries — sold out ethics and weaponized money.

Erased Parent

A far too familiar scenario that plays out for many parents comes in the form of scorched earth tactics, subjecting them to a litany of unethical actions and stunts, designed to minimize — and in many cases erase — parenting time while targeting a parents resources. In this way disagreements in custody turn into battles, whereby nobody wins and the child in the middle loses every time.

Countless delays, hurdles, barriers, allegations and temporary custody and protective orders often greet parents at the initial outset of their court experience — many times laced with ulterior motives. The strategy against the targeted parent is simple — maximize time between the child and one parent — at the expense of the other. In doing so the targeted parent not only becomes at risk for losing time with their child — but also exposed and subjected to archaic laws and formulas often used as financial weapons to dismantle and deplete any remaining resources a parent has left to provide for themselves and their child — or maintain any prolonged legal challenge to safeguard their parental rights — that at this stage have often been trampled upon.

The results can be devastating and often constrict a parents ability to protect a child who very well may be at real risk of becoming alienated and isolated from that targeted mom or dad for a very long period of time and in the worst of cases — erased.

Kristi Beck, host of the Mommy Interrupted Radio Show, has tirelessly advocated on behalf of the many parents caught up in family court systems nationwide. Her show provides a strong voice and compassionate ear in covering topics focused on parental alienation and the need for shared parenting and court reforms.

The show features interviews with non-profit leaders, documentary filmmakers, authors, psychologists and others offering insight into the topics covered. Kristi is not only the host of the show, but also a target of the system — erased from her own child's life.

Commenting on what drives her on these issues Kristi said the following,

“As a targeted and erased mom, I am here to help people understand that it happens to moms too, at an increasingly alarming rate. There is a stigma attached with being an alienated mother, because our society is set up to believe that it's OK for fathers to play second fiddle and for mothers to get full custody. I disagree. I believe that equal and shared parenting is essential to the development and growth of healthy and well balanced children. BOTH mothers and fathers are important. So, one of my goals is to bridge the gender gap between mothers and fathers. There are feminists who believe fathers are merely sperm donors and should not be entitled to equal custody - and there are also men, (like my ex husband) who believe their children would be better off without their mothers. Add into that equation, a family law system set up to divide families for profit, and you have a recipe for disaster. I want NOTHING more than to have a relationship with my daughter. But until then, the best thing I can do is to be a voice and to provide the platform to help others have a voice about the need for reform within family law, as well as the utter importance of the need to HEAL ourselves.”

Supervised Visitation

On the books the reasoning often involves a danger or threat posed to the child's safety by a parent that necessitates the need for a third party overseeing parenting. While in some extreme situations such a set-up is warranted and makes sense — a good number of these “therapeutic” or “supervised” visitations are often antithetical to the best interests of a child and parent.

Often times the idea of supervised visitation is introduced by one side in a case and done as part of a series of tactics in the pursuit of custody for purposes of leverage as opposed to genuine need. Evidence exposing this type of transgression can be hard to find amidst the hearsay and allegations that are often before a court — sometimes these disingenuous motives are illustrated clearly when on one hand you have a party requesting the court to order such supervision as stated in filings before the court — while on the other hand that same party concurrently makes gestures to settle custody issues with the targeted parent via hallway discussions and informal correspondence offering to drop demands for these visitations if the targeted parent agrees to certain conditions — beneficial to the parent doing the leveraging. As these communications are “off the record” and transpire many times in the hallways prior to hearings — they aren’t brought to the attention of the court.

Monica Szymonik, a Constitutional and Civil Rights Activist and Autism Advocate from Connecticut, commented on these types of visitations in saying,

“Supervised visitation (’SV’) is often routinely ordered by some courts as a ’precaution’ to make sure everything is okay. They order it for ’only’ a few months to a year, but often much longer. Attorneys push their clients to accept this (mainly to avoid an exhausting trial) and encourage their disadvantaged client build up a good series of reports to look good to the judge. Many times, SV is totally unnecessary. When it is necessary, it’s already done in a formal setting in a prison, or through a case plan via Child Protective Services. Having a hodgepodge supervised visitation arrangement done through the Family Court is frequently a tactic engineered to destabilize the parent-child relationship and/or to create ’status quo’, which becomes a devastating strike against the un-favored parent. Supervised visitation allows for a de facto termination of parental rights, by depriving a parent of all but a modicum of parenting time, so that the petitioner does not have to go through the necessary steps set forth by Santosky v Kramer, to meet the ’clear and convincing’ burden of proof required to completely cut off a parent. Parents who have one hour a week of supervised visitation have lost 167 out of 168 hours a week with their child – which amounts to more than 99% of their physical custodial rights. Further, they almost never have any legal rights whatsoever to make decisions for their child. In addition to most legal holidays (facilities aren’t open) and have no vacation time. A parent who parents in the confines of a facility will never take their child to the beach, or run through the park, or go to the movies And if you are stuck with this arrangement, you can kiss your First Amendment rights goodbye, for a person with a clipboard will be watching and monitoring what you say. You won’t be able to educate your child in religion, which has been an iron-clad fundamental right enjoyed by parents for centuries. As I’m facing this myself (click here to access video), I wonder if every parent refused this arrangement, what would happen to these entities? Think of Economics 101 – the supply and demand curve. If there is no demand, what would happen to the supply?”

National Conversation

As parents and children are often vulnerable in being exposed to those individuals and institutions that would take advantage of them in family court environments — many of the dysfunctional issues that transpire are coming to light and being discussed out in the open — where once such conversations were few and far between.

Over the past many years with the advent of technology and social media people are sharing stories and information from behind the closed doors of family courts — whereby people are connecting the dots of common struggles and encounters as they share experiences and discover they are not alone in their trials and tribulations.

Zena Crenshaw-Logal, J.D., Executive Director of The National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP), organizes weekly podcasts under the name The Virtual Round Table. Now included in the lineup of programs, that airs monthly, is one focusing on family court related issues.

The show is co-hosted by Zena and myself — with the first one having debuted on February 8, 2017. (In the name of full disclosure it should be noted that I serve as a member of the organizations Board of Directors)

In commenting about the show’s goals Zena explained,

“There are 3 things we especially hope to accomplish through the broadcast (1) increase public awareness of family court dysfunction, particularly among people who are not directly impacted by the problem; (2) keep related issues on the forefront of national debates and discussions of social justice concerns; and (3) help affected parents bridge the gap between related problems and them becoming part of effective solutions.”

In the supply and demand of the divorce and custody industry — time is the most sought after commodity.

Time is bonding — between a parent and child and often what fuels battles for custody — pitting parents as adversaries at the expense of anyone caught in the middle.

Time is money — propelling many in the family law industry to prolong ordeals providing the supply for financially incentivized beneficiaries by manufacturing the demand to sustain a multi-billion dollar annual industry.

Time is needed — by parents and children to be allotted fairly and equally to parents who are willing and able — not used as bargaining chips for purposes of leverage, control and profit.

Time is now — for parents to be treated like people in these ordeals, not piggy banks for an industry to thrive.

The time is right for those that have had their rights trampled, finances pillaged, integrity assaulted and time with their child stolen to step-forward — step-up — and be heard.

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