American courts have never been kind to women, kids

By Lori Handrahan, Special to the BDN
Posted June 01, 2009, at 7:18 p.m.

When President Obama took office he published a letter to his daughters, “What I Want for You and Every Child in America.” He spoke about righting wrongs and making America better; wanting his children and others to grow up in a world with no limits on their dreams, with schools worthy of their potential.

Violence-free homes were not mentioned. Dreams, schools and discoveries are worth little when a child lives in terror.

Maine’s family courts, as are family courts across America, are failing to protect children and surviving spouses from abusive and violent parents and partners. President Obama must issue an executive order urging Congress and the states to launch investigations of family courts across the country, including Maine, and urge pas-sage of rebuttable presumptions, placing the burden of proof on the abuser to be a safe parent. This typically includes a batterer intervention program.

President Obama spoke about choosing our better history. American courts have never been kind to women, let alone mothers. Let’s put aside for a moment the destruction and pain that family courts render every day on hundreds of thousands of parents, most often mothers, who have the courage to leave an abusive marriage.

Let’s consider only the children.

Maine family courts, like family courts elsewhere, are placing children, infants, little girls and boys, into the unsupervised custody of parents, usually fathers, who until the separation were abusing, often severely, the children and the other parent, often the mother.

Family courts are calling mothers liars. Judges are calling mentally healthy women with no prior mental health issues, mentally unstable, because they dare to tell the truth of domestic abuse. Because they think they have the right to protect their children from further abuse.

Judges are telling mothers that they “have a problem with reality.” That they are “not credible.” Judges are rendering invisible entire days of testimony, firsthand witnesses, police records — judges are simply saying the mother had “no corroborating evidence” for abuse.

I know because it has happened to me. My 2-year-old little girl has been given unsupervised custody with her father, a man on a green card with a long and well-documented history of violence.

When I became a mother I wanted my daughter to go to the best schools. I wanted her to have everything she ever wanted. I wanted her to have a better life than I did. My dreams for my daughter have all been taken from me by Maine courts. I have spent my entire savings, her college fund and my retirement on legal fees — to protect her, all in vain.

All I want for my daughter now, and for every child in Maine, is for the term “no excuse for violence” to mean something in Maine family courts. What I want, all I ask, for my daughter now, and for every child in Maine, is to grow up free from violence and abuse. When abuse occurs, I want the courts to honor and protect the protective parent’s, most often the mother, courage to leave the abusive relationship — never easy itself — and to help her protect her children.

Currently, Maine and U.S. family courts are telling mothers by the hundreds of thousands, what the judge who heard my case made reality by his judgment — you and your child cannot leave your abuser.

I urge President Obama to sign an executive order urging rebuttal presumptions and full investigations of family courts across America. I urge the same of Gov. John Baldacci for Maine.

I urge Maine’s Domestic Violence Coalition to establish a Court Watch, as other states have, so judges’ rulings are available for all to see.

With a stroke of a pen President Obama and Gov. Baldacci can right one of America and Maine’s ugliest wrongs — our family courts’ failure to protect women and our children.

Lori Handrahan lives in South Portland. She is a former candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/06/01/opinion/american-courts-have-never-been-kind-to-women-kids/ printed on December 18, 2014