Sunday, January 10, 2010

Judge Mike Brigner on batterers, stats, and other Judges

Battered Mothers Custody Conference 2010

“Batters do not deserve First Offender status even if it is the first time they are in court. It is well documented that police are not called until the victim has been assaulted 5 to 6 times. And even then, it can be another 5 to 6 more assaults before he is called into court. Abusers are not first offenders.” So says Judge Mike Brigner, and he ought to know. He informs conference attendees that “batterers are notorious for battering while out on bail or probation. He stressed that, “We need to take these dangerous offenders seriously.”

Judge Brigner underscored the need for Judges and family court workers to be educated about the facts of domestic violence as so many judges continue to make decisions based on myth-understanding. One common misconception is that batterers are simply “good men” who are stressed out by divorce or separation. That could not be further from the truth.

Brigner was adamant that batterers do not just “suddenly snap” and beat their wives. “No,” he says, “They are in complete control. Their anger is not mismanaged…it is very well managed and focused—towards their wives. These guys don’t need anger management,” he said, “These guys could teach anger management.”

After blasting the myths of the “good man” under stress and the non-existent need for anger management, Judge Brigner addressed the fact that batterers are notorious dead beat dads, “Batterers are twice as likely to be in arrears on child support than non-batterers.” Some other statistics provided by Judge Brigner (citing sources as he went) was that 30% of Batterers will physically or sexually abuse their children. More recent studies show up to 70% with the newest citing up to 80%. The numbers are even more staggering if the mother has been battered 50 or more times during the relationship, the likelihood of the children being physically abused or molested increases to 99%.

Batterers are twice as likely to seek custody. Brigner says it is a “No Lose” situation for the abuser. Why? “Because they really don’t want the kids anyway.” While the mother stands to lose everything and often does, voluntarily giving up one thing after another in her negotiations with the abuser in efforts to protect her children. Joan Zorza, Esq., added that fear of losing her children often keeps a woman in an abusive situation much longer that she would choose to stay otherwise. Abusers use the children as weapons against the mother and property and pension rights (only a few of many examples) as bargaining chips.

Why do Judges typically hand down bad decisions in custody matters relating to domestic violence? Brigner says it is a combination of many things including the fact that most judges are overworked, and mistakenly believe that separation will end the violence. Some judges pigeonhole domestic violence as a criminal matter, falsely believing the criminal courts will handle the matter, therefore feel they should not have to deal with it. Some believe women are lying to them and are gender biased. Judges are misled by mental health professionals. In short, Judge Brigner says, “They are simply uninformed. Judges are required to have zero hours of domestic violence training, whereas one thousand or more hours of training is required before you can pick up a comb and be a hair dresser!”

Clearly, the efforts going on to educate Judges and family court workers about abusers and custody issues are not misplaced, and the need for these efforts is not underestimated.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What's the Next Court a Protective Parent will Find Themselves in After Family Court?

The Battered Mothers Custody Conference 2010 Day One & Two - part two

This country was built on the free enterprise system, but is family court taking things too far? This will vary from state to state, but for the poor and indigent, says Renee Beeker, a protective parent and long-time veteran of the family court holocaust, "family court will cost approximately $40 per hour with about 3 to 4 hours total in getting the case resolved." But…hold onto your hat folks…if a protective parent is not poor or indigent here is approximately what she (or he) can expect:

  • $250+ pr hr Attorney for the mother 
  • $200+ pr hr for Guardian Ad Litum (or more for attorney for the child) 
  • $240 pr hr for private negotiations 
  • $125 pr hr for counseling for the child 
  • $125 pr hr for counseling for the mother 
  • $125 pr hr for counseling for the father 
  • $125 pr hr for parenting coordinator 
  • $200 pr hr for mediation if parties can agree (-Vs- 15,000 if they can’t) 
  • $75++ pr hr for a visitation supervisor 
  • $75++ Child Therapist
 In some states add:
  • Psychological Evaluation (up to $20,000) 
  • Re-unification therapy (125+ pr hr)
  • Sexual Abuse Evaluation ( $200 pr hr)
“What’s the next court a protective mom is going to find herself in after family court?” says Beeker, “Bankruptcy Court!”

2010 Battered Mothers Custody ConferenceDay One & Two - part one

"Since "Christ," she wrote the word and underlined it twice. This has been happening since "Christ." Most of these women have been molested and raped and they all say the same thing, "Once your virginity has been stolen it doesn't matter, 10 men, 100 men, it is all the same."

I am trying to understand what I am hearing, so I ask for clarification, "You mean that many of these women are not selling their bodies to support a drug habit or otherwise extravagant lifestyle?

"None of them are." She was emphatic. “They are paying lawyer fees and court costs associated with protecting their children from abusers in custody hearings. They are just trying to keep their kids. They call me every day. I'm out on the streets working with these women, trying to help them. This is my story. This is my message. This is the seedy side of this issue that no one wants to deal with.”

Nicky, of course was not speaking of all prostitutes, nor of all mothers involved in prolonged custody battles, but rather about a special group of those she is personally in contact with on a daily basis.  I thought I had heard the worst at the 2008 Battered Mothers Custody Conference, but this on-the-side conversation with Nicky, attending the conference as an advocate, did me in. The tears I thought I had dried two years ago in a resolved effort to do something about the horror that is family court began flowing anew.

Garland Waller, creator of the film, “Small Justice,” talked about the “Yuck Factor,” and why the media refuses to cover the national shame and scandal of child molestation and custody injustice. “Children being molested and raped by their fathers is simply not something anyone wants to hear about when they come home from a long day at work and listen to the news during supper.” The subject is simply too distasteful to the American pallet. So it is with “Nicky’s” story. Even those who understand the multifaceted “Yucky” abuser/molester custody issue don’t want to delve too deeply into the “seedy” side of it—at least not yet.

Do all mothers who have to come up with attorney’s fees and court costs in order to protect their children end up like the mothers Nicky is talking about? The vast majority do not, but does that mean we ignore the plight of what Nicky claims is becoming epidemic,. "Especially since the recession, thousands,” she says, “they are in every state, every city.”

Wendy Murphy, attorney and author of the book, And Justice for Some, shared a tragic story of a mother ordered by the court to surrender her two children into harm’s way, within easy reach of a father who was sexually molesting them. The day came to surrender the children, but the children did not show up. The police went to the mother’s home to forcibly take the children from her. They found bodies—both Mother and children were dead, victims of murder suicide. Who is guilty of murder here? The dead mother? or the judge who ordered her to do the unthinkable?

What will a desperate mother do to protect her children?

Almost anything it seems.

Author, workshop leader, and activist, Lundy Bancroft says it is a cruel injustice to harm children by removing them from the home of a caring parent—either mother or father—but it is especially cruel when that parent is a mother.” He went on to say, “I am a great father. I adore my kids—but I am not a mother. I believe fathers should have 50% custody…as soon as they are taking 50% of the responsibility for the child, including 50% of the pregnancy…and 50% of the breast feeding.”

Attorney Barry Goldstein, the first male to become involved with the annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference, talked about the broken system and gender bias which places a higher burden of proof on women than on men in custody proceedings. He cited two cases in which there was a “100% certainty” standard of evidence given for mothers and a “50% probability” standard of evidence given for fathers. 15-20 different judges looked at these cases and saw nothing wrong with placing a “certainty” standard on the testimony of a woman and only a “probability” standard on the testimony of a man, yet, as Goldstein pointed out, “This is a blatant rights violation.”

Were these judges bribed? Do they hate women? “No,” Goldstein says, the system is broken…misinformation is so deeply ingrained that even when presented with overwhelming evidence, they (the judges) cannot see it.”

In relating the issue of custody to the issue of domestic violence, Goldstein asserts that the broken system that supports abusers in the family courts undermines 30 years of progress in the domestic violence arena.