Mothers Of Lost Children – Indiana

Support for Noncustodial Indiana Moms

Archive for January 2010

Leaving Domestic Abuse Can Be Hazardous for Mothers in Indiana

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This is on indy.com, but you can’t leave comments on this unfortunately.  I definitely have a few things to say about it.

Women in Indiana, especially in Marion County, need to fear leaving.  This is because if they try and stop the abuse or try and leave it, their abuser has a very good chance of getting custody of their children here.  The family law courts in Marion County and the rest of the state look upon domestic violence as a joke, and often will punish a mother who has valid claims of abuse.  They will even acknowledge the abuse, and still punish her by taking the children.

Several other states have recognized this problem in their own backyards and have been enacting protective parents legislation, where a parent who reports abuse cannot be punished for it by having custody taken from them.  The American Bar Association and the American Psychological Association have recognized that abusive fathers seek sole custody twice as often, and 70% of the time they receive it.  Marion County is most likely at the 100% level, as I can’t remember how long it has been since I’ve seen a mother get custody.  We do see a lot of noncustodial moms in our organization, and they all have the horrifying coincidence of abuse as a background.

So sure, get away from the abuse.  But be aware, it will not end if you have children with your abuser.  If he wants to continue to hurt you, the courts of Marion County will be happy to help him.  He will hunt you down and pursue every trick in court to take the children, and the judges will happily give them to him.

Leaving isn’t so easy

indystar

January 25, 2010 by the indystar staff

Why don’t they just leave?

It is the question that puzzles many of us when we hear about the tragic conclusion of a violent domestic relationship. Why doesn’t the victim simply look in the mirror, decide it is time for a change and head out the door?

Perhaps, though, it is we who need to look in the mirror. Is our community doing enough to make sure that door is not barred shut?

Consider the local mother who had escaped an abusive relationship with her child and job intact. But her daughter had a condition that required significant medical care, and the mother, like so many other Hoosiers, had no health insurance to cover it. She weighed her options and decided to return to her abusive husband, who at least had insurance to cover her child’s care.

Fortunately, as the story is told by Julie Marsh, chief executive officer of the Domestic Violence Network of Greater Indianapolis, this woman found help from some of the many angels in Central Indiana who respond to the alarm bells of domestic violence. This mother was spared her horrible choice, but there are many others who do not see an option.

“Victims often don’t leave because they have no job, no money, no place to live,” Marsh says. “Health insurance, food on the table, knowing what to expect financially — all of these are reasons why victims too often stay with the perpetrator.”

In Central Indiana, abuse survivors struggle in particular with child care and transportation to work, keys to self-sufficiency away from the dangerous relationship. Voting against taxes seems like such a no-brainer until we consider that we are voting against the survival of those who need a better bus system to get to a job and against the healthy development of kids who need stable care when their parents must work.

Predictably, the economic downturn has made it worse on those in the most precarious situations. Protective order requests in Marion County increased 20 percent last year, reflecting a national trend as financial pressures ratchet up the tension in dysfunctional relationships and women despair of finding viable exit strategies. Stays at domestic violence shelters have lengthened, as survivors have more trouble finding a job and affording permanent housing.

There are positive developments. Julian Center and Coburn Place are among the programs that are increasing the stock of transitional and permanent housing to supplement emergency shelter space. The City-County Council last year created a domestic violence fatality review team, so we can learn how to prevent tragedies.

And, reflecting one of the top goals of the community’s Peace in Our Homes Plan, youth education about domestic violence is expanding. Washington Township middle-school students are learning about healthy relationships through the Safe Dates curriculum, a program Marsh and other advocates hope will become widely available.

“There is still so much to do,” Marsh says. “When you take this down to the nth degree, saving lives is what this is all about.”

Not Just Indiana, but a National Child Custody Crisis: Why Are Moms Being Punished in Courts?

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It isn’t just happening here in Indiana, it is happening everywhere.

Custody Crisis: Why Moms Are Punished in Court

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
filed under: divorce logic

Talk to mothers, divorce lawyers, and child advocates and you’ll hear tales of a family court system that’s badly broken.

Linda Marie and Children

Gina Kaysen Fernandes: To an outsider, Linda Marie Sacks had the perfect life. Her husband was rich, and they lived in a huge home in Daytona Beach, FL, where she spent her days shuttling her girls to school and various activities. Linda Marie describes herself as a “squeaky clean soccer mom” who “lived my life for my children.” Behind that façade, Linda Marie says she married a monster — a man who verbally and emotionally attacked her for years and sexually abused their two young daughters.

When she finally left him and tried to take her girls with her, she encountered a new monster — family court. Rather than protecting Linda Marie and her two young daughters from a sexual predator, a family court judge denied Linda Marie custody and put her daughters into the hands of their sexually abusive father.

Talk to mothers, divorce lawyers, and child advocates and you’ll hear tales of a family court system that’s badly broken. It’s one that routinely punishes women for coming forward with allegations of abuse by denying them custody of their children. Instead of protecting children from abusers and predators, the court often gives sole custody to the abusive parent, say child advocates. Mothers who tell judges their children are being molested or beaten are accused of lying and are punished for trying to intervene. Some are thrown in jail for trying to keep their kids from seeing an abusive parent. Women, many of whom have few financial resources at their disposal, are often at the mercy of a court system that is not designed to handle domestic violence.

Linda Marie first suspected something was wrong in 2002 when she received a shocking phone call from a school administrator. Her 7-year-old daughter was acting out sexually, with knowledge beyond her years. A short time later, the Sunday school teacher reported overhearing Linda Marie’s daughter saying, “I suck my dad’s penis.” She received more phone calls from school about her little girl using Barbie dolls to simulate oral sex with a boy in her class. “I was very concerned, these are alarming red flags,” said Linda Marie.

She consulted family therapists who also expressed alarm and concern, but failed to report these claims to an abuse hotline. In one of the therapy sessions, the oldest daughter drew a picture that depicted her father as an erect penis on legs. Linda Marie says she once walked in on her husband wiping her daughters’ vaginas in the bathroom before school, “because he told me he wanted them to be fresh.” When Linda Marie confronted her husband, he ignored and dismissed the allegations.

After 11 years of marriage, Linda Marie filed for divorce in 2004. Armed with detailed documentation, she believed the judge would grant her sole custody of her two daughters for their protection. “I was sheltered. I didn’t know I had stepped into a national crisis in the courts,” said Linda Marie, who spent tens of thousands of dollars in a legal battle that ended in the loss of her parental rights. Linda Marie has only seen her children during supervised visits for a total of 54 hours over the past two and a half years. “I’m one of the lucky moms,” she said, choking back tears. “Some bonds are severed forever. I’m thankful for my two hours a month.”

Some mothers like Lorraine Tipton of Oconto Falls, WI, have served jail time as the result of contentious custody arraignments. In November, a judge sentenced Lorraine to 30 days behind bars because she didn’t force her 11-year-old daughter to follow the court’s order to live every other week with her abusive father. “She’s terrified of going; she has night terrors and severe anxiety,” said Lorraine.

Her ex, Craig Hensberger, was arrested three times for domestic violence and once for child abuse. His criminal record also includes two DUI arrests, one of which happened while driving with his daughter. The court ordered Hensberger into rehab and demanded “absolute sobriety,” but his daughter claims he still drinks excessively when she visits.

Hensberger admitted in court that he still continues to drink, but the judge punished Lorraine instead for trying to protect her child. “My abuser is continuing his abuse of me and my daughter with the help of the court,” said Lorraine, who spent three days locked up until her daughter made the heart-wrenching decision to return to her father’s home so her mother could be released from jail. “He can’t get to me physically. The only way he knows how to hurt me is to take my child away.”

“What we are seeing amounts to a civil rights crisis,” says attorney and legal writer Michael Lesher, who co-authored the book From Madness To Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts — and What Can Be Done about It. Many judges and court-appointed guardians act above the law with apparent impunity, he argues.

“There’s no hearing, no evidence, no notice — they can take your child away from you,” Lesher tells momlogic. If a mother raises concerns or openly discusses child abuse in court, she typically ends up being the one under investigation. “Mom is guilty until proven innocent,” he says.

A family court judge with the Los Angeles Superior Court refused momlogic’s request for an interview to respond to these allegations.

Unlike criminal court, family court does not rely on criminal investigators to gather evidence in an alleged child abuse case. Instead, the court appoints family advocates known as “guardian ad litem,” or GAL, who are expected to investigate the abuse allegations and make their recommendation in the best interest of the child. GALs are sometimes licensed psychologists, social workers, or attorneys who are not necessarily trained in evaluating sexual abuse or domestic violence. They have the judge’s ear, and their opinions can alter a child’s future. There are no juries and there’s no mandate for legal representation. In fact, most women end up representing themselves because they can’t afford the attorney fees.

Most moms don’t want to take the case to criminal court because they prefer to keep the matter private. Legal experts contend the evidence in sexual abuse cases isn’t typically strong enough to hold up in criminal court to overcome the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” While the bar is set much lower for proving evidence in family court, advocates argue Child Protective Services frequently doesn’t want to get involved. “If there’s a custody battle going on, CPS won’t touch it,” says Irene Weiser of the advocacy group StopFamilyViolence.org.

There’s no doubt fathers play a critical role in a child’s life, and in most cases, are equally loving and capable parents who deserve custody. However, studies find when a wife accuses her husband of abuse, more than half the time, she faces a counter-accusation of “parental alienation syndrome,” or PAS. Although PAS is not a medically recognized disorder, divorce attorneys often successfully argue that it emerges when a parent brainwashes a child into thinking the other parent is the enemy.

The psychiatrist Richard Gardner, who first coined the phrase “parental alienation syndrome” in 1987, has written more than one hundred articles on the subject, but has offered no scientific data to support his theory. While it’s not considered a certifiable medical condition, PAS is widely accepted in the legal community.

“Parental Alienation unequivocally, categorically exists, and it’s a form of child abuse,” says author and forensic consultant Dean Tong. While he believes more studies need to be done to validate PAS, “it does exist, anecdotally speaking,” he says. As an expert witness, Tong has been called a “fathers’ rights prostitute” for his work in court clashes. But he also testifies for mothers who are fighting to appeal unfavorable rulings. For Tong, it’s about using forensics to find the truth. “I’m not here to protect guys who are guilty,” he says.

In years past, mothers were typically considered the “protective parent” in custody decisions when courts relied on the “Tender Years Doctrine,” which states that children under the age of 13 should live with their mothers. Recently, several courts have ruled that doctrine violated the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th amendment, and replaced it with the “Best Interests of the Children” doctrine. It’s a huge victory for the increasingly powerful Fatherhood Movement that contends dads are systematically alienated from their children after a divorce.

Tong argues the current legal climate continues to put fathers on the receiving end of false allegations. “It’s handcuffs first, speak later,” said Tong, who experienced that firsthand. In 1985, Tong’s ex-wife falsely accused him of sexually abusing his 3-year-old daughter. He spent time in jail and went through “a year of hell” trying to prove his innocence. While Tong was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, he never regained custody of his kids, and remained under supervised visitation for years. Tong became a self-taught expert on the subject of family rights and abuse accusations. He has written three books, including Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused.

“There’s an assumption that maintaining a child’s relationship with the father is a good idea — even if the father is abusive,” says Stop Family Violence’s Weiser, who believes when the overburdened court system is unable to sort out a custody conflict, it relies on misogyny. She argues there are many judges, GALs, and evaluators who believe that women are inherently vindictive and will lie to get a leg up in a custody battle. “We see it over and over again in family court, where judges or professionals don’t believe the violence is occurring,” Weiser says.

“All we have is ‘he said, she said.’ Who’s telling the truth? That’s up to the judge,” says Tong, who believes the justice system isn’t working for either side. “The system is not doing a good job interviewing kids, we’re still in the dark ages there,” says Tong, who thinks there needs to be more formal education and training for the professionals, including judges who are hearing child custody cases.

According to the American Bar Association, child abuse allegations in custody disputes are rare — occurring in only six percent of cases. The majority of those accusations are substantiated. In terms of false allegations, fathers are more likely than mothers to intentionally lie (21 percent, compared to 1.3 percent). In fact, abusive parents are more likely to seek sole custody than nonviolent ones, and are successful about 70 percent of the time.

After three years of litigation, Linda Marie Sacks says she was no match for her ex-husband’s financial resources and powerful connections. “He was buying his way through the courtroom.” Despite 10 calls into the abuse hotline by licensed professionals, Linda Marie’s ex-husband still claimed she was making false allegations of abuse to alienate his children, and the judge believed him. Linda Marie was kicked out of her home and put on supervised visitation with her two daughters, who are now ages 10 and 12. “The judge legally kidnapped my daughters and won’t give them back,” she said.

In some extreme cases, a custody decision will be reversed, which is what happened to Joyce Murphy. The San Diego mother was charged with kidnapping after she took her daughter out of state, away from the girl’s father, because she believed he was a child molester. The father, Henry Parson, accused Joyce of parental alienation and she lost custody. “Despite my pleas for protection to the police and the DA and the family court representatives, and even psychologists, Mr. Parson was able to convince them and the community at large that he was the victim, and I was just an angry, embittered, divorced woman,” explained Joyce.

Six years later, Parson was caught in the act and pleaded guilty to six counts of child abuse, which included oral sex with a child, molestation, possessing child porn, and using a child to make porn. After Parson received a six-year prison sentence, Joyce told reporters that family court’s only good decision in her case was granting her full permanent custody of her daughter after her ex-husband was jailed.

Lorraine, the Wisconsin mom who was jailed for protecting her daughter, knows her daughter’s nightmare will continue for the rest of her childhood. “He’s never going to stop, it’s never going to end until she’s 18.” Linda Marie says she’s putting every penny towards her legal efforts to win back custody of her daughters. “I will never stop fighting for my girls. I know one day justice will prevail.”

Critics argue that not only is the family court system broken, it was never designed to deal with issues like child custody. The goal is to develop solutions that are in the best interest of the child. “Unfortunately when judges and guardians start thinking of themselves as super government, all sorts of abuses will occur,” says attorney and author Lesher.

Activists are working towards making reforms through legislation. “The heartbreaking challenge is that there’s not one quick fix,” says Stop Family Violence’s Weiser. “This is a war — it’s very ugly, it’s bloody, and very bitter,” concludes Tong.

Indiana’s Address Confidentiality Program for Victims of Domestic Violence Tutorial

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Marion County Law Library Closes

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I am very sorry to see this resource for litigants close.  I hope the Central Library in Indianapolis can make the collection readily available. From the Indianapolis Star:

Budget cuts force law library to close

Limited self-help materials and aid now available to public at Central Library

Posted: January 2, 2010

Librarian Zoya Golban turned off the lights and locked the doors Wednesday at the Marion County Law Library for the last time.

The cozy repository for legal materials and publicly accessible computers on the third floor of the City-County Building will permanently close this year because of city budget cuts.

But the library’s closing, court officials say, won’t be the end of the help the center provided to the roughly 3,000 Marion County residents who represent themselves in civil cases each year.

Starting Monday, those self-represented (or “pro se”) litigants will be directed to an existing cluster of four computers at the Family Resource Center on the main floor of the City-County Building. There, they will be able to obtain help in finding forms they need to file in court and print documents — functions previously served by the law library.

Those who want to access books the law library offered will be sent to the Indianapolis-Marion County Central Library, which will take on a portion of the law library’s collection designed for people representing themselves in court.

In an online era when costs for printed legal materials are increasing, self-help centers are becoming more common models to serve pro se litigants.

Greg Hurley, an analyst with the National Center for State Courts and a member of the Self-Represented Litigation Network, said other places, such as Minneapolis and counties throughout California, have used the concept successfully.

But the new arrangements could create fresh challenges as the number of pro se litigants grows.

“That sounds like a model that could work if they have enough computers and one staff person is enough to do it,” Hurley said of the plans in Indianapolis. “The question mark is going to be whether they’re going to be able to handle the level of traffic that comes in.”

Court officials have some concerns about space limitations at the Family Resource Center, which already serves low-income litigants with divorce mediation in cases that involve children.

They are seeking a larger space to use in the future but haven’t secured one yet, said Marion Superior Court Judge Heather Welch, who oversees issues involving civil courts as the courts’ civil term chairwoman.

Library employees also will receive some training to help pro se litigants, but their resources are limited.

The library’s public computers have time restrictions for usage. And since the library’s staff has to answer questions on many different subjects, they can’t focus solely on people seeking legal information, said Laura Bramble, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library.

“In the past, we could send them on to the Marion County Law Library as they need additional help,” Bramble said. “Now we won’t be able to do that.”

Another unanswered question is to what extent the library, which itself is facing budgetary challenges, will be able to update the books the county law library provides. Bramble said library staff would have to review how often the materials they receive need to be updated and at what cost.

Welch said the goal is for the new center to provide as many resources as possible to those who need them — and with limited funding. The cost of the new pro se center hasn’t been determined, but it will be far less than the $280,000 it would have cost to run the law library this year.

“Sometimes when funding is cut, there’s just not an option,” Welch said. “This is a positive way to help these people.”

For litigants such as Troy Davis, getting help with the court process is important. The Indianapolis man, who cannot afford a lawyer, went to the law library last week to find paperwork to file for emergency guardianship of his 17-year-old nephew.

Golban pointed him toward some sample forms for guidance. He left the library a little overwhelmed by the task before him of drafting his own form.

But without any assistance, he said, he would have been lost in a complex legal system.

Written by mothersoflostchildren

January 7, 2010 at 1:22 am

Indiana has an Address Confidentiality Program that Could Keep You Safe

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Address Confidentiality Program

Address Confidentiality Program Brochure

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General works to assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking by helping them return to normal, safe lives. One of the ways the attorney general’s office does this is through the Address Confidentiality Program. How it works Participants in the program are assigned confidential addresses. Mail received at these confidential addresses is sent to the attorney general’s office for processing. Then, first-class mail is forwarded on to the victims’ actual homes. Through these steps, a great deal of safety can be achieved. Who is eligible Only victims of domestic violence with protective orders in place are eligible for the Address Confidentiality Program. And all victims must be referred through a trained victim’s advocate. The Address Confidentiality Program cannot accept applications directly from those wishing to join the program. If those initial requirements are met, participation in the program may be offered to:

  • Individuals at least 18 years of age or
  • A parent or guardian acting on behalf of a minor or
  • A guardian acting on behalf of an incapacitated person

In addition, individuals must:

  • Have a valid protective order in place
  • Be a victim of domestic violence
  • Fear for their safety

How to apply Trained victim advocates are the only people who can refer domestic abuse victims to the program. However, those wishing to learn more about the program can call 800-321-1907 or e-mail the Address Confidentiality Program at confidential@atg.state.in.us. Additional important information The Address Confidentiality Program keeps all personal information private. However, the information must be released if it is requested by law enforcement officers. Private information may also be released by court order. Participation in the program is not permanent. Participants must renew their status in the program every two years. Additionally, the addresses of victims in the program must be kept current with the attorney general’s office. For additional information, please call the attorney general’s office at 800-321-1907.

Please visit the website also here.

Battered Mothers Custody Conference Coming Up Soon in New York

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Time is getting short!  You still have a chance to register…please visit the website Battered Mothers Custody Conference.  Dates are January 8 – 10th, in Albany, New York.

Handprints of children taken by family court will be collected and displayed.  Here is the press release from Linda Marie Sacks:

“Children Taken By the Family Courts” Handprints
Albany, New York 

For the 1st year, the Seventh Annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference 2010, Battered Women, Abused Children, and Child Custody, A National Crisis VII: “Now That We Know, What Are We Doing About It?”  is hosting the construction of children’s handprints who have been taken by the family courts.

www.batteredmotherscustodyconference.org

January 8th, 9th, and 10th 2010 in  Albany, New York

This is a national crisis in the family courts all over the US and Mothers are losing custody….unfairly by a court system that is not protecting our children.
Just imagine, a long clothesline, with mini wooden clothespins, and handprints of all sizes, representing protective mothers and their children who have been “legally kidnapped” by the family courts.

We are asking Mothers who have lost physical custody of their child(ren) to create handprints to commemorate their lost child(ren). Throughout weekend of the conference, we will be providing materials and ask Mothers to add paper cut-out handprints to the clothesline.

However, Mothers do NOT need to be in attendance at the conference in order to add their handprints.  Please mail the handprints before Jan. 2, 2010 to:
Linda Marie Sacks  P.O. Box 730966 Ormond Beach, FL 32173
Questions…..call Linda Marie  386-453-3017
  after Jan 2, 2010 please mail to:
Dr. Mo Hannah, Chair, BMCC 2010   26 Purtell Avenue Latham NY 12110    mhannah413@aol.com      518-210-2487

Instructions:  Place your child’s hands on a piece of paper, cardstock works best,  trace your child’s handprints (left and right) on colored paper, cut out and write a message if you’d like and mail before the conference to Linda Marie, as she will constructing the clothesline and will have it at the conference. After the Jan. 2th date…please send to Dr. Mo Hannah.

Sadly, if you cannot see your child(ren) to trace their handprints, please, trace YOUR handprints for every child you have lost to the crisis in the courts.
Once the handprints are constructed, we will lend it out to individuals and organizations for promoting and publicizing the problems faced by battered mothers and children within the family court system.

One day justice will prevail…..thanks to all the wonderful people who are part of the solutions to the family court crisis.
 
Contact:
Dr. Mo Hannah, Chair BMCC 2010 
518-210-2487
mhannah413@aol.com
or
Linda Marie Sacks
386-453-3017
lindamariesacks@aol.com