The famous saying attributed to Jimmy Carter’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget Bert Lance — “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — might as well be chiseled in stone over the entrance to every family court in the country.
Of course, anyone who has been through a divorce — especially one involving minor children — knows how very “broke” the family court system is.
Because they often end up that way.
Broken, that is.
The only winners are the lawyers — who make billions.
But who loses might surprise you.
Canadian film-maker Vede Seeterram is in the process of making a documentary that will expose the unknown realities of the family court system — biases actual vs. anecdotal — and present real-world solutions to the problem of lawyers being the only winners when marriages fail.
It’s called “Man Down: A Closer Look at Family Court.” You can view the trailer here.
Among the film’s not-surprising findings:
Men generally lose when it comes to being awarded primary custody of their children. The ratio is about six-to-one in favor of the mother.
Ex-husbands are almost routinely turned into weekends-only fathers by a system that is still heavily gender-biased toward the mother when it comes to deciding who ought to be primarily responsible for raising the kids.
It may be almost 2020, but the courts seem to think it’s still 1950 — and mom knows best when it comes to raising kids.
It’s no surprise, either, that ex-husbands are almost three times more likely to commit suicide than their ex-wives, especially given they are so often court-ordered to be ex-fathers or part-time fathers by the courts.
Among the film’s surprising findings:
We’ve all heard about deadbeat dads — fathers who fail to pay court-ordered child support, leaving not just their kids in the lurch but also taxpayers — who end up paying child support in the form of funding for social services.
Seeterram discovered that moms are actually more likely (32 percent vs. 25 percent) to welch on their child-support obligations.
The biggest losers, though, are always the kids — no matter who pays (or doesn’t pay) for their support, and no matter which parent ends up with primary custody.
These kids are often “alienated” from the non-custodial parent — and not merely physically.
Seeterram interviewed Toronto child psychiatrist Dr. Sol Goldstein, who described what happens to kids when the parent with primary custody turns the child’s mind against the weekends-only parent.
The child is led to believe — or allowed to believe — that the parent who isn’t around most of the time didn’t want to be around (rather than being forced by the court to not be around), creating a sense of abandonment in the mind of the child.
Instead of trust and confidence, there’s suspicion and insecurity.
This emotional/psychological damage can last much longer than the parents’ marriage — and costs society a great deal more than custodial support.
“It’s actually the worst form of child abuse,” Dr. Goldstein told Seeterram — because it leads to a lifetime of skewed emotions that affect not only the child-parent relationship but the child’s relationships with others, including his or her personal relationships with significant others as an adult.
“It’s causing distortions in the mind … it alters the character of the child, so later they have difficulties at every level of interpersonal relationships and personal thoughts about themselves.”
The film explores the societal trauma inflicted by this court-ordered family trauma on all of us.
It also explores ways to prevent this trauma from being inflicted.
By shared parenting, for one. This is the idea of giving both parents equal time with their kids — absent a good reason not to. The more both parents are involved in their children’s lives, the better off those kids almost always are.
The film goes to Kentucky, where a law to this effect has already been passed — and takes a look at other states (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota) where similar reforms are in process.
But if you’d like to take a look at these issues, the filmmaker needs your help to kickstart the project. They’ve created a page to finance the film’s production here. Over the next 40 days, they hope to raise the remainder of the budget necessary to finish what they’ve already started.
As with all Kickstarter efforts, contributions go toward the project only if the total contributions equal the project’s goal.
If you think the family court system is broken — and would like to see it fixed — helping to finance this important look at what’s actually going on in family court is certainly money well-spent.
The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.
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