Children are paying the price all over America for keeping the "family secrets" about their battered parent. All too often the courts can only make rulings based on documentation, but how can a woman who is locked inside her house being beaten and sometimes tortured make a report? Where is her documentation? Sometimes the only documentation she will get is an obituary!
Newark protesters rally against family court system for alleged bias against battered women
by Paul Brubaker/The Star-Ledger
Monday April 27, 2009, 6:55 PM
More than 50 people rallied in Newark for reform in the family court system with chants, protest signs and speeches alleging there is a national crisis of judges awarding child custody to violent, even sexually abusive, fathers.
But Essex County's top judge defended the local family courts as a meticulously careful system that acts in the best interests of children, even if it means terminating someone's parental rights.
Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger
A husband and wife sit in front of a Newark family court judge in 2003. Protesters today demonstrated in front of the Wilentz Justice Complex against judges awarding child custody to violent and/or sexually abusive fathers.
In front of the Wilentz Justice Complex on Washington Street, which houses Essex County's family courts, speakers targeted the system as being biased against battered women and holding archaic attitudes that domestic violence and sexual abuse were private problems.
"A mother's basic instinct is to protect her children. She should not be punished for it," said Maretta Short of East Orange, president of the state's chapter of the National Organization for Women.
"In the last 30 years, every institution in this society has changed its views toward domestic violence," said Evan Stark, a professor at Rutgers University's School of Public Affairs and Administration. "Only in the family court do the obsolete beliefs that were discredited everywhere else in society still prevail."
Stark said part of the problem is that state laws require judges to detail their decisions for not awarding child custody to an abusive parent. The result is that judges avoid the issue by not admitting evidence of domestic abuse into the hearings, Stark said.
Later, Superior Court Assignment Judge Patricia Costello disputed Stark's assessment of family court judges.
"They don't punt on the tough issues to avoid tough decisions," Costello said. "They make tough decisions. When the parents can't decide who raises the children, the judge makes the call."
All judges are bound by the rules of evidence and their rulings must be based on careful consideration and backed by detailed documentation, the judge said. All the while, the family court judge must remain dispassionate during proceedings that are often highly emotional, she added.
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