Imagine you are in a divorce. You’ve been a dedicated parent and you aren’t a convicted felon or being accused of a crime. Now imagine walking into a local court for a procedural hearing and in a single decree your children are banned from seeing you, speaking to you or communicating in any way based solely on hearsay and allegation. Nothing’s been proven, no due process has occurred to prove anything yet a capricious judge has made a snap decision that changes the rest of your life and your children’s. What would you do?
Unfortunately this scenario is the real life experience of thousands of families across the country. An overzealous or biased Judge makes a snap decision that takes away the most important things in our lives. Whether or not you were the one seeking divorce there’s very little that parents who find themselves in this situation can do. Even when children are banned ‘temporarily’ from their parents, months can drag on to years between court dates and there’s no pause button in life. Milestones go by, alienation grows, bitterness increases and worst of all children experience immense pain and loss. Surprisingly most states have no provisions to intervene when children are banned from their parents yet this is one of the cruelest punishments that a court can levy.
While the US Constitution gives the powers of marriage, divorce and adoption to state civil courts, state civil courts simply ignore their obligations to support the civil rights protections of parents as held in the US Constitution. Parents who can’t afford attorneys can lose their children fighting spouses with access to legal assistance. Children who are the ones ‘protected’ have no say in bizarre custody decisions. Evidence standards are non-existent in family courts in the USA so children can be taken from parents purely on accusation. However, since many courts receive federal aid and recent Supreme Court cases like Turner vs. Rogers have reinforced the concept of due process in divorce many parents are turning to federal courts to seek restoration of their parental rights based on civil rights arguments.
As parent Gary Treistman of Ulster County, New York who recently filed a civil rights suit against New York says, “Losing access to my children for no crime or proven allegations is a violation of my civil rights and my children’s civil rights.” Treistman continues, “I’ve not been convicted of any crime or any wrongdoing, yet a civil court is punishing me and my children more harshly than a criminal court could for most any crime based entirely on hearsay and unsupported accusations.” Treistman knows he has an uphill battle but like so many other parents seeking civil rights protections in divorce he has no other recourse. Treistman is hoping that the Federal Courts will uphold his child’s civil rights to due process and that Title 42 laws will allow him to seek retribution from New York State for taking his children away for years without due process or substantive cause.
As M says, a mother from New York who recently lost her children for no logical reason, “removing my child is the greatest punishment a court could impose yet due process is ignored and I have nowhere to appeal.” As the primary care giver for her young child M was shocked when a Judge made the snap decision to temporarily remove her daughter from custody based on vague and unproven allegations. In M’s case, like so many others in New York and elsewhere the Judge imposed an extra layer of cruelty by forcing the former stay-at-home mom to have her visits supervised. But with ‘visitation’ costing over $200 an hour and visits limited to only a few hours M finds it impossible to maintain a relationship with her young child and her child is under tremendous psychological stress from the situation.
After thirty appearances in Family Court that have led nowhere M decided to file suit in Federal Court for violation of her constitutional rights to due process and parental rights to protect her child. As M states, “Legal Guardians, custody evaluators and attorneys have tremendous unchecked power in New York without the protections of due process we are led to believe we have as Americans.” One baseless allegation to an irritated Judge from a connected attorney can lead to life-shattering decisions that are near impossible to change. With no jury or effective supervision of the courtroom behavior of judges or custody evaluators recommending such harsh punishments families have no guarantees of due process. Once the tables are turned against a parent and child by a Judge, legal guardians or custody evaluators there are no checks and balances ensuring the integrity of the cruel and unusual punishments that family courts can decree.
Though M is realistic about Federal Courts jurisdiction she wants change in the system as much as she wants relief from the pain of being separated from her child. “It’s my hope that this federal complaint will protect parents from their right to fair and speedy trial and raise awareness of the cruel punishments parents face without due process in cases where there are no signs of abuse.” It’s near impossible for children and parents who are banned from each other to contain their emotions in terse, supervised meetings yet New York officials notate every remark, touch, tear and comment and tend to use emotion against the banned parent. M hopes her appeal for due process for both her and her daughter will force New York State to look at evidence and not base their decision on hearsay. After thirty appearances in family and supreme court M has little hope to regaining a normal relationship with her child.
While some parents are seeking civil rights protections under the 14th Amendment and others are seeking compensation for unjust actions under Title 42, still others are seeking RICO prosecutions against groups of attorneys, judges and court appointed experts who work together to bankrupt families. As New York parent Gary says “the assigned Attorney for Child in my case coerced payments from me without providing accounting of her work, or representing my child’s wishes.” Since legal guardians are supposedly critical representatives for children’s legal rights, by refusing to work when payment wasn’t possible Gary and parents like him face tremendous punishments for not being able to pay expensive court-ordered divorce professionals.
In New York for example, where both parents must file for sole custody, the costs of court ordered experts can exceed $50,000 including custody evaluators, guardians and attorney’s fees. Parents who can’t afford to pay find themselves without their children. When groups of judges, experts and attorneys repeatedly work as teams to use child custody as the basis for huge fees that bankrupt families, some parents believe that there is basis for RICO prosecutions. Since the local courts are not bound by due process and ethics enforcement of judges, attorneys and experts is near non-existent groups of divorce professionals can easily use the court system and custody as tools of extortion. Unfortunately for parents, criminal RICO statutes must be brought forth by the US Government and the US Government is unwilling to review the business practices of the divorce industry in many states.
Many parents who face the cruel and unusual punishment of parental rights termination have turned to activism to raise awareness to the lack of civil rights that families encounter in family courts in America. For example, Greg Roberts started the Family Civil Liberties Union (fclu.org) to help parents fight unjust removal of their parental rights. As Roberts’ website accurately states, “Once in the family court system, it can be years and hundreds of thousands of dollars before an average family emerges from the system – broken, slandered, extorted, exploited and forever damaged beyond repair.” Roberts sees the family court system as “sanctioned corruption” that creates “conflict for cash” with no regard for the civil rights of the children or parents involved.
As Roberts site points out, the ACLU and other civil rights organizations turn a blind eye to the atrocious violations of civil rights that middle class families face in family courts. Generally speaking the victims of family courts have enough money to pay attorneys for some time and are religious, heterosexual and often times not minorities. The ACLU is aware of the civil rights abuses that families face in family courts and they have acted on behalf of one family in Montana that they publicize on the ACLU website, however, this was a gay relationship which is an area that is a traditional focus of the ACLU. The ACLU is unwilling to aid middle-class Americans and children even though hundreds of thousands of children see their lives destroyed each year in family courts devoid of due process protections.
Some insight can be garnered on the US Government’s position on the civil rights of families in the refusal of the US to join UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States is the only member state of the UN besides South Sudan and Somalia to not ratify this act. This act “combines a right to protection through the State, parents and relevant institutions with the recognition that the child is a holder of participatory rights and freedoms,” states UNICEF. This act acknowledges parents as the primary care givers of a child and vastly limits the cases where a child can be removed from a parent. Since many parents are removed for capricious reasons, this statement from Article 2 of the act would give parents a strong basis to fight unfair removal of custody. ‘States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.’ Interestingly enough, many of the conservative groups who lobby hard for the rights of the unborn child oppose this bill and the civil rights of living children because they feel that it will provide basis to interfere with home schooling.
In April, 2013 Russia, in a retaliatory action against the United States, banned a list of important US figures from Russia on the basis of human rights violations. Interestingly enough Russia chose to ban the US Attorney from Southern New York, Preet Bharara. While the reasoning for Mr. Bharara’s ban was not related to children’s civil rights Mr. Bharara and other US Attorneys should rightly be called out for not protecting the civil rights of children. The US Attorney’s office is well aware of the collusion and civil rights abuses that are commonplace in US family courts but because of the deep political protections of the Divorce Industry in most states, the Justice Department is uninterested in protecting the civil rights of children and families in the face of a powerful industry lobby.
The parent-child relationship is sacred and deep and should be defended as strongly as any basic human right but sadly, even though these rights have been explicitly recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, in the United States and in New York in particular, poorly supervised lower courts and agencies use children as extortion tools for a predatory divorce industry. States have proven themselves unable and unwilling to protect the civil rights of children and families so parents are forced to go to federal courts to protect basic civil rights. The US Government has presidential authority to intervene in local courts to protect the civil rights of the unprotected as they’ve done for minorities, women the disabled and others. It’s time for the US to act for the sake of our children to provide due process and civil rights protections in divorce and child custody. No child should be banned from a parent except in the most extreme circumstances, and it’s time to stand up for the rights of children.
I began the article by asking you to imagine being a parent who has just lost their kids unexpectedly in a mundane and terse court hearing. Now imagine yourself as a young child who is suddenly told by a court that your parent is a bad person and harmful, though they’ve never committed a crime and have been your loving supporter. What would you do?
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