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Thursday, February 6, 2020

SPEAK UP ABOUT THESE JUDGES UNDER CONSIDERATION FOR REAPPOINTMENT!


Judiciary Committee  

PUBLIC HEARING AGENDA 

Monday, February 10, 2020  

10:30 AM in Room 2E of the LOB  

I. NOMINATIONS FOR REVIEW
To be a Judge of the Superior Court:
1. The Honorable John F. Blawie of Greenwich
2. The Honorable Patrick L. Carroll, III of Seymour
3. The Honorable Anna M. Ficeto of Wolcott
4. The Honorable Donna Nelson Heller of Riverside
5. The Honorable Frank A. Iannotti of North Haven
6. The Honorable Sybil V. Richards of Orange
7. The Honorable Dan Shaban of Middlebury
8. The Honorable Kenneth L. Shluger of Waterford
9. The Honorable Hillary B. Strackbein of Guilford
10. The Honorable Mark H. Taylor of West Hartford
11. The Honorable Theodore R. Tyma of Trumbull
12. The Honorable Elpedio N. Vitale of Madison

To be a Workers' Compensation Commissioner:
1. Soline Oslena of Oakdale

Thursday, January 30, 2020

SUPPORT THE CHILD SAFETY FIRST ACT!

TODAY

EMAIL AND CALL THE CONNECTICUT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEMBERS 

TO SUPPORT 
THE CHILD SAFETY FIRST BILL


58,000 Children a Year are Awarded Into Custody with An Abusive Parent

Are you a mom or know a mom with children in the middle of a divorce or separation in family court who is fighting for custody of their children to keep them safe and protect them from abuse?

Let our Connecticut Judiciary Committee members know (EMAILS AND PHONE NUMBERS below) you want them to support the introduction of Senator Alex Bergstein’s (Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan) Child Safety First bill this legislative session. Please use "Support the Child Safety First Bill" in your Subject Line.


Dear Representative …………….,

Why Do We Need the Child Safety First Bill in Connecticut?
DV and abuse exists across our state; DV and abuse pose an unacceptable and disproportionate threat to the health, safety and wellbeing of women and children; DV and abuse has been under-reported and under-recognized in our family court system; “high conflict” divorce cases often involve DV or abuse; the State of Connecticut has a duty to ensure the safety of all its citizens, especially children; House Congressional Resolution 72  encourages states to prioritize DV and abuse as the first factor considered in determining the “best interests of the child” in custody cases.
  • It is often legitimate for the partner of an abusive parent to try to protect the children from exposure to abuse, or to try to secure his or her own safety from the abusive partner by limiting that partner's contact with the children. Court appointed lawyers and psychologists do not have adequate DV training and are not able to distinguish appropriately protective behavior.  
  • The abuser blames the victim and claims parental alienation, that she was turning the children against him by alienating the children with false claims he was abusing them.  The court does not understand and/or acknowledge that the children are resisting being with their emotionally abusive parent who scares them. 
  • According to the American Psychological Association, abusive fathers file for sole custody more often than fathers who have no history of DV. Since 99 percent of DV victims also face some form of financial abuse, abusers tend to have more money and thus more access to legal resources than the women fleeing their abuse. That gives them an advantage in the courts that makes them just as likely, or even more likely, to gain custody.
Call Senate Dems: (860) 240-8600, Senate Republicans (860) 240-8800, House Democrats (860) 240-8500, and House Republicans (860) 240-8700.  OR EMAIL:

Please use "Support the Child Safety First Bill" in your Subject Line.

THE  CHILD SAFETY FIRST BILL
AUTHORED BY SENATOR ALEX BERGSTEIN

  1. The statutory definition of “domestic violence and abuse” is revised to include a history or pattern of coercive, controlling behavior including, but not limited to, physical violence, sexual assault, financial abuse, litigation abuse and psychological abuse including, but not limited to, isolation, stalking, harassment, intimidation and threats regarding the safety of a person or the safety of or access to that person’s 
    children. “Domestic violence and abuse” does not include the justified use of force or flight to protect oneself or others in response to abuse or violence. 
  2. In legal proceedings regarding child custody, domestic violence and abuse will be the first factor assessed by the court, before all other factors, in determining the “best interests of the child.” 
  3. In hearings regarding domestic violence or abuse, a court may only consider valid scientific evidence or testimony from qualified professionals with experience working with victims of domestic violence and abuse that meet admissibility standards. 
  4. A presumption against custody will be made for any parent with a history or demonstrated pattern of domestic violence or abuse or any parent who has sexually abused a child. 
  5. If a parent is found to have committed domestic violence or child abuse, that parent shall pay the attorney’s fees and all other court-related expenses of the other parent. 
  6. The legal standard for protective orders shall recognize forms of domestic violence and abuse that endanger the safety or restrict the agency of a person or children. (Refer to the new statutory definition in #1.) 
  7. The State shall provide legal assistance for all victims of domestic violence and abuse to help them complete protective order affidavits and other legal forms. (Legal assistance increased the likelihood of obtaining a protective order by more than 50%.) 
  8. Courts shall restrict frivolous or excessive motions in family court. When divorce cases approach 100 motions, additional motions shall be subject to review and approval before submission. “High conflict” cases should be diverted to a specialized court that recognizes litigation abuse and obstruction and holds parties in contempt for not disclosing financial or other critical information or following court orders. (A small number of “high conflict” cases consume a disproportionate amount of judicial resources. This specialized court would prevent litigation abuse and resolve cases faster.) 
  9. Reopen the Office of Victim Advocate and fund it adequately to support all victims across the state through the legal process. 
  10. Review and approve all judicial education programs to ensure that abuse is recognized and not rewarded. Allow only experts with a demonstrated history of working with Domestic violence and abuse victims to be the educators on this subject. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

FAMILY COURT TRAGIC!


I















By Elizabeth A. Richter
I looked for committed activists in vain, for
There was brokenness as far as I could see
All I found was thick fog and the dreary rain
Bombs falling and shooters behind each tree
I figured this was my bad luck again
Plus folks want it all, but give-back is paltry
Still, I said I’d fight no matter what.  At least
I could give some a bit of what they sought

II

What can I do but list the typical wrongs
That family court has perp’d on me and you
We presented them to the Committee & Sen. Tong
All of whom talked like they had no clue
Actors all, they certainly knew all along
Of lawyers lying, evidence stolen and also
Rigged trials, bribed experts and corruption so deep
Parents are bankrupt because the cost is steep.

Next legal folks put their counter-truth on display
They cried and said parents put guns to their heads
Lawyers pulled out their violins and began to play
Judges spoke rivers about how carefully they listened
GALs fake tears over kids kept the truth at bay, while
Journalists twisted by threats repeated what they said
These fakes are so good and have such a good line
Family court victims seem out of their minds

We stand outside the Courts and hold demonstrations
Others speak to neighbors and hope they’ll understand
My friends live in fear of retaliation. So there’s no change.
When you go to Court with child abuse, you’ll be sure to find 
There’s no place to go for any protection
Because you’ll be accused of parental alienation
Meanwhile mothers end up homeless and alone
Children are bribed and their hearts turn to stone

III

This all arose out of a vision for father’s rights.
A bunch of right wingers saw Moms as welfare queens
They thought privileges for men would turn the tide
But now there are consequences they hadn’t seen
Men are now the Moms and they think they’re great
Moms have been driven away and are called unclean
I sit here and think what can I personally do
Still, change depends upon you and you and you.

Friday, July 12, 2019

PROF. JOAN MEIER TALKS ABOUT THE MISUSE OF PARENTAL ALIENATION THEORY TO ATTACK DV VICTIMS IN CUSTODY MATTERS!

Testimony Regarding How Child Abuse Allegations are Ignored in Family Court and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is used as a Rationale to Award Custody of Children to an Abusive Parent

Joan Meier, JD
Professor of Law, George Washington University
Founder, DV LEAP
February 4, 2019

My name is Joan Meier, a law Professor at George Washington University and Founder of DV LEAP, an advocacy group for expert appellate litigation to reverse unjust trial court rulings and to protect the legal rights of women and children victimized by family violence. We would like to take this opportunity to testify and express our concern for current legislation being introduced to promote the use of Parental Alienation Syndrome as a tool to abuse domestic violence (DV) victims in family court.


Dr. Joan Meier









The Problem

“Protecting our children is one of the most important things that we can do for society. Unfortunately, some courtsare overlooking potential signs of abuse and are relying on scientifically unsound factors to make decisions that impact a child’s life.” Congressman Ted Poe

Despite numerous legislative and policy reforms designed to protect DV victims, many survivors and their children are denied legal protections in family court. Expert commentators assert that family courts are awarding unfettered access or custody to abusive fathers, and increasingly cutting children completely off from their protective mothers. This has been observed especially where mothers allege child sexual abuse. Studies show that an abuser will invoke the “alienation” defense, accusing the mother of trying to turn the children against him, rather than the court acknowledging that his abusive behavior has driven the children away. 

Studies also have identified a trend toward favoring fathers, in contrast to widespread assumptions that mothers are favored in custody litigation. The findings reveal a pattern of family court failures to consider evidence of intimate partner violence, disrespectful treatment of battered women, gender biased treatment of mothers, and granting of physical custody to perpetrators of intimate partner violence.  One study found that court preferences for joint custody and the “friendly parent” principle outweighed judicial consideration of abuse claims. More in-depth empirical research has examined the lack of expertise in domestic violence and child abuse—particularly child sexual abuse—among forensic custody evaluators, who are relied on heavily by the courts. 

IN CUSTODY CASES WHERE MOTHERS AND CHILDREN REPORT THE FATHER’S SEXUAL ABUSE OF THE CHILD, THE COURT SIDES WITH THE FATHER 81% OF THE TIME.

EVEN WHEN FAMILY COURTS ACKNOWLEDGE THAT A FATHER HAS BEEN VIOLENT TO THE MOTHER OR CHILD, THE COURT SIDES WITH THE FATHER 38% OF THE TIME.

A primary mechanism giving evaluators and courts a quasi- scientific rationale for rejecting or ignoring abuse allegations is the theory of “parental alienation (PA),” originally called “parental alienation syndrome (PAS),” and also called “child alienation,” or simply “alienation.” PAS is a construct invented and promoted by Richard Gardner to describe a “syndrome” whereby vengeful mothers employed child abuse allegations in litigation as a powerful weapon to punish ex-husbands and ensure custody to themselves. Gardner claimed that child sexual abuse allegations were rampant in custody litigation, and that the vast majority of such claims are false, designed by the mother to “alienate” the child from the father and drive him out of the child’s life. Gardner also characterized PAS as profoundly destructive to children’s mental health and as risking their relationships with their (purportedly falsely accused) fathers for life. Recommended remedies to PAS were often draconian, including a complete cutoff from the mother in order to “deprogram” the child. PAS quickly became widely incorporated into custody litigation when any abuse—not just child sexual abuse—was alleged. 

The Solution

On September 25, 2018, The U.S. House of Representatives passed H Con Res 72, a concurrent resolution urging state courts to determine family violence claims and risks to children before considering other ‘best interest’ factors. The resolution, backed by dozens of organizations advocating for protection of women and children*, encourages states to ensure courts rely only on admissible evidence and qualified experts, and adopt qualification standards for third-party appointees.  It also affirms that Congress is prepared to use its oversight authority to protect at-risk children. The resolution also asks for   strengthened evidence admissibility standards to help ensure only scientific facts or qualified expert testimony are used to prove or disprove child abuse allegations.

It urges Congress to:
  • identify child safety as the first priority in custody and visitation adjudications, considering it before all other interest factors;
  • allow only qualified scientific evidence and certified expert testimony to be introduced in cases involving child abuse claims; and
  • mandate Congressional hearings around the practices of family courts when handling family violence allegations.
DV LEAP also partnered with the Dept. of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women on a 2-year cooperative agreement to improve the family court system’s ability to protect children in custody cases involving domestic violence or child abuse. The agreement has concluded but great accomplishments and resources were achieved. In partnership with the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, we provided education on critical issues that often determine case outcomes, such as the misuse of flawed parental alienation theories and failure to consider evidence of abuse. One particularly powerful aspect of the Project’s work was the development of a unique database of cases that have “Turned Around.”  These are cases in which the initial custody order placed a child (or children) in dangerous contact with an abusive parent and a subsequent order protected the child. Analysis of these cases provided valuable understanding of how and why custody evaluations so frequently fail to identify or predict actual risk to children who are victims of family violence.

As as result of this Cooperative Agreement, DV LEAP and the Leadership Council produced a number of written tools and resource materials to assist professionals working in the family court system.  Links to each of the documents are provided below.

I. Resources on the misuse of Parental Alienation Syndrome/Parental Alienation

II. Resources for attorneys and advocates representing protective parents

III. Research Summaries

IV. Other Resource Materials
Critiques and Case Reports of GALs’ Failures to Protect Children in Custody and Abuse Cases

Data on False Allegations in Custody Context.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ehdOb-hS0v0Ot_rIoK_wc6QYySRtLPV6/view

We respectfully suggest that any family court legislation involving custody, PAS, allegations of child abuse and  DV be thoroughly vetted by experts in the field of Domestic Violence.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this written testimony. I can be reached with any questions at jmeier@law.gwu.edu

*The list of organizations that have been advocating for passage of H. Con. Res 72 includes Advocates for Child Empowerment & Safety (ACES); California Protective Parents Association (CPPA); Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE); City of Covina; Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP); ACTION OHIO Coalition For Battered Women; Azusa City Council; Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference; California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV); Center for Child Protection and Family Support; Child Abuse Forensic Institute (CAFI); Child Abuse Solutions, Inc.; Child Justice; Child Protection Institute (CPI) at Liberty University; Child USA; Children’s Civil Rights Union (CCRU); Children’s Justice Fund; Coalition Against Domestic Violence – Lynchburg VA; Courageous Kids Network (CKN); Darkness to Light; Distinction in Family Courts (DFC); Families Against Court Travesties; Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP); Futures Without Violence (FUTURES); Incest Survivors Speakers Bureau (ISSB); Joan of Arc Lawyers Foundation, Inc.; Justice for Children; Kids Are Human; Legislative Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse; Legal Momentum; Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; Lundy Bancroft; MassKids (Massachusetts Citizens for Children); Moms Fight Back; Mothers of Lost Children; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV); National Coalition for Family Justice (NCFJ); National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV); National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS); National Organization for Women (NOW); National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence (NPEIV); National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence; Peace Over Violence; Piqui’s Justice; Senator Ed Hernandez; SOAR for Justice; Stop Abuse Campaign; Support Network of Advocates for Protective Parents (SNAPP); Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids (TAALK); The Hofheimer Family Law Firm; The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence; The Nurtured Parent; and Wings for Justice.

Monday, April 1, 2019

HOW FATHER'S RIGHTS PEOPLE HAVE IT ALL WRONG WHEN IT COMES TO FAMILY COURT REFORM!

In a recent hearing at the CT State Legislature, father's rights activists demanded that legislators and citizens define the problem with family court as one of parental alienation.  They are wrong, and I will tell you why. 

My introduction to the CT family court reform movement was around 2011 when Keith Harmon Snow, author of "The Worst Interests of the Child", contacted me to discuss the ways in which victims of domestic violence were losing custody to their abusers. Next, on or around 2013, father's rights advocates seized control of the family court reform movement and reframed its agenda.  

Instead of demonstrating concern regarding protective mothers, they insisted that the problem of family court could only be traced back to the celebrated [or debunked, depending upon your perspective,] theory of parental alienation (PA), or parental alienation syndrome (PAS).  This recently culminated in the raised House Bill 7393 [now withdrawn] which proposed either jail or fines for those whom the Court determines have committed it. 

The Bill also included two separate "friendly parent" provisions which would have guaranteed that anyone who reported domestic violence or child sexual abuse would promptly lose custody.  After all, it is most unfriendly to assert that you or your child are the victims of abuse.  [Ok, I know, not funny.  I'm just joking.]

To begin, for those who do not know, what is parental alienation, or parental alienation syndrome?  

For a definition, I'm taking the easy route, and I will simply quote wikipedia. Parental alienation syndrome is, "a term introduced by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985 to describe a distinctive suite of behaviors in children that includes showing extreme but unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent. Observed repeatedly in families involved in child custody litigation, these behaviors result from manipulation or undue influence, typically by the other parent who may be attempting to prevent an ongoing relationship between a child and other family members after family separation or divorce." 

The clincher in this discussion is the statement that comes next, "The syndrome has not been accepted by either the medical or legal communities and Gardner's theory has been criticized by legal and mental health scholars for lacking scientific validity and reliability."  

Yet despite the fact that this syndrome has no scientific validity, father's rights people insist upon embedding it in our laws here in CT and making it a central factor in all custody determinations.  

Again, in doing this, I believe that fathers' rights people have it all wrong.  

Why?  

If you have a problem, then you need to look for solutions.  However, these solutions will not work as long as the problems haven't been defined properly.  When it comes to the broken family court system here in CT, I have been increasingly disgusted with the incapacity of many advocates -- father's rights advocates in particular, the Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children (2013 - 2014), members of the legislature and the CT Judicial Branch -- to define the problem in an intelligent manner.  

How can you begin to think of developing policies or crafting bills when you have no idea what is going on?  For me personally, as an advocate, I don't get that approach. 

For instance, blaming the victims. For too long now, starting with the "Report of the Governor's Commission on Divorce, Custody and Children" of December 2002, experts on family court, i.e. attorneys, judges, mental health professionals -- have placed the blame for the problems of family court on the litigants themselves. In the words of the Governor's report, which were again quoted in the report of the Task Force on the Care and Custody of Minor Children (2014), the problem arises from "a small minority of parents [which] engages in persistent conflict because of anger, characterological or mental health problems, or the force of personality."  

The theory that character flaw or mental illness repeats itself in fathers' rights advocates insistence that the problem can be understood almost solely within the context of parental alienation syndrome.  Also, that the solution should be strict punishments for PAS, i.e. jail and hefty financial fines, as well as forced shared parenting.  But is this true?

For a closer look at this phenomenon, take a look at the hearing which took place earlier this month on February 5, 2019. I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday reviewing the entire video which is a little over 9 hours long.  For at least the first three hours of this testimony, viewers were subjected to lengthy lectures on parental alienation theory.  First came Dr. William Bernat, a parental alienation expert, who broke down the theory to its 17 recognized behaviors and 8 symptoms.  After he had completed his testimony, we were forced to listen to Dr. Steve Miller, a frequent flyer at the CT Legislature, who talked about parental alienation syndrome as an epidemic plaguing our nation.  Once he was done, then we were bombarded with more lectures on parental alienation from Linda Gottlieb, who I've been informed is not a psychologist. She talked more about planting false memories and false allegations in the light of parental alienation. 

Then after that, we were required to hear the testimony of Ms. Joan Kloth-Zenard who runs the organization "PAS Intervention"--she apparently is qualified by an MFT, whatever that is, as opposed to an LMFT which is what we would ordinarily be looking for.  What is interesting about Joan's testimony is that, for an example, she described a case where the mother was stabbed in the abdomen and labia by the father, and yet the father still got custody.  To me, this looked to be a case of domestic violence.  However, this is the very interesting twist on the parental alienation movement in that father's rights people have couched this theory in the language of the domestic violence movement and so many people, including women, have come to believe that parental alienation theory is just another word for domestic violence.  That, in itself, is an entirely, different, but interesting story that I will hopefully touch upon in another blog.  

Let me get back to my point. This is the dilemma that arises when folks define the problem of family court as a mental health problem among litigants, whether you want to define it as parental alienation or some other ailment.  It simply isn't true.  

If you look at the Governor's Report of December 2002, there is one paragraph in that report on that nasty, chronic, minority of litigators who they said cause all the trouble.  After that, you get the 65 page detailed report regarding all the systems malfunctions within the family court system itself which actually cause the problems in family court.  

Likewise, once you plow through the insistent litany in regard to PA or PAS in the first 3 hours of the video of the February 5, 2019 day of testimony, which father's rights people provided as the ideological context for the later citizen testimony, you will find 6 additional hours of testimony from at least 30 victims of family court detailing the many systems breakdowns within the CT Family Court system itself.  In other words, the problem is not PA or PAS.  The problem is a broken family court system.  

One person spoke about the fact that there are no consequences for disobeying orders, a failure to obey the ADA, and judges would not listen to her testimony or look at her evidence. She lost everything, her job, her home, her income.  Here is another person who spoke of the collusion between court actors, the failure to obey the constitution, in chambers hearings where parents are not included, impacts including alcohol and drug addiction, homelessness, bankruptcy, trauma, and PTSD.  Another person spoke of the denial of due process, attorneys hiding exculpatory evidence, having to be in court so often it was like a full time job, his case discussed behind closed doors without the parties present, financial costs of up to $300,000 - $500,000 and even more.  

Again, corruption, collusion, racketeering, slander, perjury, lack of ethics, no checks and balances, absolute immunity for negligent and incompetent GALs and other vendors, failure to adhere to the rules of court or case law, financial and emotional blackmail, hired guns, perverted custody evaluations and psychological evaluations, no oversight, no accountability, false allegations, inexperienced and unqualified court personnel, unnecessary continuances, documents that disappear from the court files, transcripts that are tampered with, and on and on.  This is exactly the same testimony we heard during the daylong testimony on February 9, 2014 and the breakdown of family court here in CT.

Forced shared parenting, punishments for so-called alienation, and for not being "friendly", will not correct engrained and deliberately engineered systems failures which are kept in place for profit.  In fact, given the introduction of harsh punishments, settling disputes over whether one parent did or did not alienate the other, will invite additional corrupt vendors into the courtroom, and exacerbate already existing problems within the system.

These systems problems were originally detailed in the Governor's Commission report of 2002 and, for the better part, they have gotten worse, and not better.  

Parental Alienation theories are about the gender wars taking place in America.  Forced shared parenting is about the Men's Rights movement and the backlash against the Women's Rights movement of the 1970s. It is about ideology, and it is about indoctrination. If you talk to the people who promote PAS theory, you quickly get the idea that these are people who act as though they are in a cult reciting their treasured mantras.  

Ideology is like religion.  If you try to enshrine it in your statutes and laws, it will lead to endless confusion. Thinking we can solve the problem of family court by sprinkling holy water on it in the form of the ideology of parental alienation, I think is a recipe for disaster.  

Instead, if we are serious about resolving the problems of family court, we have to do the hard work of looking again at the system itself.  In other words, we have to investigate the machinery of the CT Family Court system which is operating on a daily basis. We have to examine what works, and what does not. It is a difficult and painstaking job, one which often does not have any easy answers, but it is at least a fairly concrete task from which we can garner measurable results. 

Every member of the former Governor's Commission of 2002 is currently notable for being at the center of the corruption and malfeasance in family court which we are looking at today.  The membership list is literally a who's who of legal and mental health professionals who later became famous for exploiting and taking advantage of family court victims.  It is paramount that we make sure nothing like that happens again.  When these kinds of criminal court actors take advantage of Moms and Dads, those parents are not mentally ill, they are victims of corrupt family court practices. 

This doesn't mean that the Commission didn't do a good job of laying the groundwork for future reform in its examination of the family court system. It's just that they immediately ignored the outcome of the report and used the network they estalished doing the work to exploit and harm family court victims.  I  simply believe we need to retrieve that work and use it to continue to make progress here and now.