National Organization for Women


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What Needs to Happen

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When women come to court because of abuse they need help, not harassment
by Tracy S. Simmons and Mary Frost, edited by Gloria Jacobs, Esq.
Stop Shooting the Messenger:  When women come to court because of abuse they need help, not harassment.
A. Women are often afraid to report incidents of violence and abuse to the police as the law is often not upheld properly at that level.  The consequence of this action at the court level is it often gets treated as either a false allegation when she finally musters up the courage to seek help in court, or she is blamed for not seeking help sooner.  The Court punishes the victim for not handling the matter as they see fit rather than offer support up front. 
B. Guilt, trauma and fear are often misinterpreted as weakness, hysteria, overly emotional, overly protective and out of control.  Women are punished by the courts for being protective and nurturing.  It is often used as the litmus test to their credibility whereas men are not judged by the same standard. 
C. Even when there is evidence of physical abuse, the court uses a psychological smokescreen/syndrome/theory to vilify the protective parent.  The courts responsibility is to uphold the law and not to make decisions on what new theory will be medically acceptable.  That job is for the AMA, who does not accept Parental Alienation Syndrome.  Therefore it must not be acceptable for any court to allow any non medically accepted theories/syndromes and other non medical legal tactics, which only serves to fuel the multi million dollar cottage industry it has created by removing children from their mothers while rewarding the abusive party. 
D. Judges need to meet with the children during an on-going custody suit prior to making any custody decision.  Further, there should be a periodic review.  Children need a venue to be heard that will be safe.  The meeting should be recorded and not sealed.  It should be noted that contrary to the position LG/GAL's often hold, children are often empowered by the ability to communicate and will do so willing and honestly to a Judge, given the chance.
E. Stop using discriminatory processes against women in court.  We can not choose to isolate and punish one specific group of people and not another for the same thing.  So called Parental Alienation Syndrome, and its many incarnations, is not used in criminal cases nor is it used against the angry neighbor screaming nasty comments over the fence in front of children.  It's not used where intact families berate each other in front of the kids.  Its ONLY purpose is as a legal tactic used against divorcing woman, to diminish the legal consequences of abusive behavior and up the ante on an already unleveled playing field.   
F. Equal protection under the law….That includes women and children.
Orders of Protection (OP)
A. Grant orders of Protection for the abused NOT for the abuser:  Train judges so they are not issuing retaliatory OP's to angry abusive husbands who receive an OP against them. 

Grant permanent OP's where necessary.  We're not seeing any permanent OP's, even for the most dangerous offenders.

C. Orders of Protection  must be strictly enforced  
D. Battery , assault and sexual abuse is a crime and must be treated as such.  These matters should not only be heard in the family or supreme courts, and women should be informed that criminal court is available to them.    Hold abusers criminally responsible even if there is a custody or divorce matter before the court, criminal matters need to be directed to the correct authority.  
Winning by Financial Default
A. Women, often the lesser or non monied spouse are at a disadvantage because judges are not awarding meaningful (pendent lite) counsel fees.  Stay at home mothers, unskilled women, out of the labor force for years lose representation.   Women frequently lose their legal representation due to the inability to pay fees assuring a less than equal opportunity for due process.  
B. Stop holding over contempt motions, they should be addressed in a timely fashion.
C. Courts are allowing the monied litigant to use punitive measures to continue to punish, control and bankrupt the non monied litigant through frivolous litigation which inevitably is not in the child's best interests. They should not be allowed to continue to stalk and control their victims using the courts.  This practice must stop.
D. Attorneys should not be allowed to legally pursue a former client for fees until the case is resolved.  When attorneys go after litigants for fees, while the case is still ongoing, it piles on stress and trauma to already overwhelming situation.  It can harm to their case, because though they are not supposed to, attorneys often hold a litigants file hostage. 
E. Address equitable distribution separately.  If the equitable distribution part of the divorce is handled first and separate from custody issues, it won't put the child in the position of bargaining chip and sacrificial pawn.
No Court Appointed Person/Persons Held Above the Law: Total transparency
B. There must be current written reports of all court appointed experts findings issued prior to courts dates and in a timely fashion.  This will end the blind siding of either side.
C. There must be ongoing itemized billing and payment details to all parties monthly at minimum.  This must include actual time spent interviewing all parties, rates and a detailed accounting of charges.
D. Mandatory training of all people who are court appointed in family matters.  All matters of abuse shall not be ignored or minimized and must be fully investigated and given the proper legal weight when considering its impact on the courts decisions. 
E. There must be very specific guidelines:
a. A standard and equal evaluation process.
b. One litigant should not undergo evaluation without the other undergoing the SAME process.
c. One litigant can not use the evaluation process to continually harass another litigant.  A judge needs to evaluate the situation and realize when enough is enough and draw the line.
d. Access to results should be equal and a written report made and delivered to litigants in a timely fashion.
e. All people that are court appointed in family matters MUST advocate for the benefit of the child rather than the benefit of an individual parent. 
G. There must be a rotation process, to cut down on unbearable cronyism and it should be made public.  The NYS Office of Court Administration already has this web site in place.
A. Do not use interim orders, as they can not be appealed.  In a change of custody circumstance a child can be placed with the abusive parent for years with no legal recourse for the protective parent, which would need to be immediate under such circumstances.  By the time the permanent order is issued, often years later, the appellate becomes apprehensive to change the circumstances.
B. Stop using supervised visitation as a punishment to non-custodial mothers who are not dangerous.
C. Audio taping along with transcription in all family matters to preserve and protect the integrity of the record.  This should be made available to litigants quickly upon request at a minimum copying fee. 
D. Too often cases are being decided outside of the litigant's presence, be it in chambers or behind closed courtroom doors with litigants sitting in the hallways.  This not only leads to speculation of the integrity of the proceedings, but does not allow the litigants the ability to know what is being addressed; it leaves no record and therefore no recourse for correction of errors.   This practice should be abolished


New York State NOW National Organization for Women