Change a few details and you scarcely know what country this account came from. In fact, this literally describes my experiences in the Chautauqua County, NY family courts to a T. All the little grins and winks between the hubby's attorney, the judge, and other assorted court personnel. All the blatant disregard for due process and real evidence in favor of vague and ultimately disprovable "mental health" allegations.
I've also witnessed the same "conspiratorial" behavior in Shawnee County, Kansas where I've been on Court Watch.
And no doubt all this goes on at the family court nearest you as well.
Secrets and sniggers in the Family Court
Miles Kemp From: The Advertiser March 19, 2011 12:00AM
A mother's mental health, rather than claims of abuse by the father, is coming under increasing scrutiny in battles for child custody.
MILES Kemp ventures inside the Family Court - and is disturbed by what he sees.
The perception that a mother would almost always win a one-sided custody battle in the Family Court has been turned on its head.
It takes only a few hours to realise why the women's rights lobby is trying so hard to at least mitigate, if not reverse, the effects of the Howard government reforms of 2006 which, they argue, have gone too far in the shared parenting battle when relationships break down.
Since 2006, legislation has demanded that the courts must consider allowing each parent to have an ongoing relationship with the children, cancelling out the former legislative bias towards mothers.
In one case I witnessed this week, the father, his lawyers, the children's appointed lawyers, Families SA all seemed to be in on the secret as they shared sniggers and head shakes, mini-conferences and eye rolls.
After two hours, I found myself focusing intently on any utterance by anyone in the court which might let me in on the secret.
I began to wonder if it was a similar process which had led the court to seeming to devote its entire attention to the mental health of the mother in the first place, rather than the claims of the children that the father sexually abused them.
Despite being the focus of attention, the mother, who cannot be identified because of court rules, appeared to have a point when she tried to convince the court that the children should be forensically interviewed by authorities to establish if they had been abused - something which had never happened.
As a trained mandatory notifier of child abuse, she reported her former husband when her children complained to her of child abuse, exhibited highly sexualised behaviour and presented with suspicious injuries.
Unfortunately, a court psychologist deemed the mother had mental health problems because her eyes were darting about during an interview early in the case and nothing, including five assessments since showing nothing was wrong with her, could convince the psychologist that this was not the case.
The mother hadn't seen her three children since November, when she complied with the law and reported the alleged abuse.
Despite not being able to work out what the shared secret was, I decided not to believe in conspiracies. I left the hearing, the second in the case I have sat in on, thinking the court must just be fed up with the mother's persistence, and possibly with some justification given the myriad extraneous information she had brought before it in numerous challenges and appeals over more than two years.
But Sydney barrister Maurice Kriss, for the mother, Greens MLC Tammy Franks and children's advocate Professor Freda Briggs, who sat in the mother's corner this week, say the conduct of the case is a pattern of behaviour in the Family Court. Ms Franks recently raised the case in State Parliament, although with the names kept secret as required by law.
She was speaking in support of changes to the Children's Protection Act 1993 that the chief executive of Families SA report to the Commissioner of Police any case in which a suspected criminal offence has been committed against a child. The Bill was opposed by the State Government with the support of Families SA.
In the case in question, the mother first raised the issue with police.
Prof Briggs agreed to send me examples from around the nation to support her point that by creating an imbalance towards fathers, the Howard government had played into the hands of some men who should not be left in sole charge of the children.
A stream of emails redirected from Prof Briggs began appearing in my inbox, citing court cases in which the mental health of the mother had been questioned early in proceedings and then become an insurmountable barrier for the court to ignore.
The tactic seemed to have replaced the formerly common allegation that the father was an abuser, which was rife before the 2006 reforms and used to justify the court's former bias towards maternal child custody.
The mother couldn't even have the independent lawyer for the children thrown out of the case because he had expressed "sympathy" with the father's legal argument and falsely claimed to the court the only interest of Families SA in the case was the mental health of the mother.
The lawyer stayed on also regardless of a comment by another Legal Service Commission lawyer in his defence, warning that he could develop a bias later in the case because there had been so many complaints against him by the mother.
The Federal Government began the first tentative changes to the Family Law Act late last year, following the release of a 1500-page report authored by the Australian Law Reform and NSW Law Reform commissions.
The Government has not shown any inclination away from the shared parenting John Howard championed into the law, but has so far indicated there will be better protection for children trapped in a violent family breakdown.
Rather than the present effective equal weighting between protecting a child from violence and allowing them to have a relationship with both parents, the courts will put greater emphasis on the former.
If the claims of Prof Briggs and others are genuine, the reforms should have the same effect as reversing the rights of fathers - that is, protecting children from violence at the hands of fathers.
Public submissions to the draft Bill are now being considered by the Government.
Back in court, two hours had passed since pre-trial legal arguments began and the judge decided the score would be eight points to one. Whatever changes are made will be too late for this mother.