Review: Providence Journal
The same judgment that fell on the Catholic hierarchy for exposing children to sexual abuse by clergy is storming the door of our nation's family courts. Like the Church, the Court cloaks its authority figures in secrecy and black robes.
Although this book does not highlight comparisons to the Church, it delivers a salvo against the courts. Sociologist Amy Neustein and lawyer Michael Lesher point out that judges operate with something close to divine right under the doctrine of parens patriae from English common law, that considers the state, “the true parent, while mothers and fathers hold only a ‘trust’ that the state has agreed to grant them.”
They write that family courts have an appalling record for punishing children who complain of sexual abuse by sending them directly into the arms of the parent who has harmed them and by criminalizing the parent who tries to protect them. Furthermore, many states give law guardians and judges immunity from prosecution (just as the Church wanted immunity for its priests).
They describe flawed concepts like psychologist John A. Gardner's “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” which has been widely discredited in his own field, but remains influential in some courts. Before his suicide two years ago, Gardner testified as expert witness, asserting that children who claim to be sexually abused by their fathers are generally lying and should be punished severely. He held mothers responsible for putting these ideas into children's heads.
Mothers with no history of legal or psychiatric problems, only trying to protect their children, are accused of suffering a long list of maladies and are ordered to pay for expensive evaluations, while abusive fathers rarely get examined before claiming custody of their children.
Mostly the authors blame judges and do not document the role of lawyers in urging divorce clients to use their children as bargaining chips in protracted litigation. This sordid business delivers a significant stream of revenue as long as lawyers, psychologists and judges take turns stalling, then punting the ball back into play.
But it's not a game. The devastation lasts a lifetime and is even now taking its toll on numerous children in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and their protective parents. The damage done is incalculable.
This book will not convert those who profit from such a lucrative business. But it is an important beginning for the work ahead now that the Rhode Island Senate has established a Study Commission on Child-Safety in Custody and Visitation.