Stepping into Family Court, Stepping Backwards Into A Culture Of Accepting Child Abuse

As you well know by now, the mother we are following has been fighting to get Family Court to listen to her when she says she has cause for concern of her child being in the father’s care-and repeatedly the court has ignored her.

The law says that that a person must report suspected child abuse-sexual, physical, emotional, or neglect. It’s against the law to not speak up. And yet in her Family Court, when she does, she is told she must keep bringing her child to the man she suspects of abuse and neglect.

The judge in her case has routinely not taken her seriously, and now, during her custody trial, she learned that the individuals tasked with protecting her child, the visitation supervisor and guardian ad litems (remember, law students at West Virginian University) have had no training, experience, nor follow guidelines in recognizing abuse symptoms.

And so, the court is accepting the opinions guardians ad litem, again, students at the West Virginia legal clinic, that the following description is of a normal father-daughter relationship:

The child began crying and clinging to her mother as soon as she heard the father’s voice.  The father declined to come into the room because he said it would make it worse.  Eventually the supervisor peeled the screaming child off of her mother and carried her into the room where the father waited.
The child cried for 35 minutes straight, and curled up on the floor when the father tried to touch her. She went to the doors, trying to leave the room, and finally fell asleep, only to start crying as soon as she woke up. She ended the two hour visit hoarse, with red and swollen eyes.

This is the description that was given the title of “normal.”  Do you even need training to suspect that something is wrong?

We are told over and over to empower children, to report abuse, to teach girls to say no. But here, a child begins crying at the sound and sight of her father (ever since he had a few court ordered unsupervised visits) and Family Court deems this normal and is forcing a child to spend time with the person she is afraid of.

The court has ordered 4 more “supervised” visits with a supervisor who don’t know how to recognize signs of abuse, followed by weekly unsupervised visits. The mother is again fighting against this ruling because she is afraid of what will happen during those visits, aching for her child who will cry and be returned to her upset and exhausted, and devastated that she is being forced by the court to teach her child that it is normal to be forced to spend time with someone you fear and who makes you cry.

Why Did The Bureau of Child Support Enforcement Go Rogue?

The Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) has a state and federal mandate to enforce parental support of children of single parents.

When the child was born in WV the father of the child, who lives in PA, was present at the birth. Thereafter, he did not complete a paternity affidavit, and the mother was not able to put his name on the birth certificate.

The father had paid nothing for pregnancy and birth costs, did not visit the child after the birth, and sent no child support. The mother was thus the child’s only support, only custodian, and only parent.

When the child was 5 month old, the mother was served with a summons from the West Virginia BCSE. The BCSE had filed a petition in the Family Court of West Virginia naming the father and mother respondents. The mother had never heard of the BCSE before this, and thus had not applied for BCSE services. Neither mother nor child was/is receiving any public assistance, or had applied for any. The court filing showed that the father had applied for full BCSE services: establishment of paternity, income withholding, and child support disbursement and enforcement.

Prior to receiving the summons, the mother received no notification that the BCSE was planning to open up a case on herself and her child, and thus was given no opportunity to respond to the BCSE action. When, a few days after receiving the summons she went to the Kingwood, WV BCSE office to try to learn what was going on, the mother spoke briefly with a person she presumed to be Cyndi Jenkins, although she never gave her name. Ms Jenkins refused to give the mother access to her file, told the mother the BCSE was representing the father, and insisted several times that the mother not ask for any child support (she said “Tell the court to set child support at zero”). She did not explain why the BCSE was telling a single mother to ask for no child support after it had filed a pleading in court asking that the father be assessed child support and medical costs, court costs and genetic testing costs. She told the mother she took the man who filed at his word that he was the father (the mother had not been asked to confirm that he was), and she had given him the mother’s and child’s social security numbers. The mother pointed out that sharing this information was not legal without getting consent. Ms Jenkins raised her voice, and ended the interview.

Next, again relying on WV code, the mother asked Charles Shaffer, the BCSE attorney in Morgantown, in writing, for information in her case file. The code requires Mr. Shaffer to respond in writing and, if he refused access to the personal information the BCSE had compiled about the mother and child, to state the reasons for refusing. Mr. Shaffer did not reply in writing. Instead he phoned the mother to tell her that the BCSE office had indeed shared her and her child’s ssn’s because, he said, the father had a right to them (remember, paternity had not been established, and certainly the father had no right to the mother’s ssn). Mr. Shaffer also repeated Ms Jenkins’ injunction, to ask for no child support. He also said that a Mr. Owens had asked for a genetic test in the case. The mother knows no Mr. Owens, and Mr. Shaffer did not share his identity. Mr. Shaffer also cautioned the mother not to get a lawyer.

The mother did retain an attorney, who asked Mr. Shaffer for access to the file in Discovery. Again, Mr. Shaffer did not reply in writing. The mother’s attorney did inform her that Mr. Shaffer phoned her and told her “It will be joint custody.”

The BCSE is not supposed to be involved in custody proceedings according to WV statute, its own stated policies, and, because the parties in this case live in different states, the federal UIFSA law.

According to WV code and Family Court Rules, the BCSE, upon acting on an application, must provide the court with the parties’ financial information. At the first hearing, which was held on September 3, 2015, the BCSE provided no financial information at all to the court. The father brought nothing but one pay stub — far short of the financial information both code, BCSE policy, and Family Court requires.

The court assessed temporary child support based on that single pay stub. Charles Shaffer protested loudly and at length insisting that the father could not possibly be earning as much money as the pay stub indicated, and demanding that the court lower his child support payments. Even when the father and his attorney objected, claiming that the pay stub accurately reflected the father’s income, Mr. Shaffer continued to insist that it did not, although he presented no evidence and documentation.

Although the court had not addressed most of the matters in the BCSE pleading: medical costs, retroactive support, and pregnancy and birth costs, Mr. Shaffer asked the court to enter a final support order. The court declined to do so. Mr. Shaffer did not bring up the court costs and genetic testing costs that, in its pleading, the BCSE had asked be assessed to Mr. Solomon.

The mother’s attorney made a motion to compel discovery of the BCSE file. Mr. Shaffer objected. The judge said he didn’t know the law, and didn’t know what to do. The mother’s attorney failed to pursue the matter.

Mr. Shaffer remained in the courtroom when the hearing proceeded to questions of visitation, even though the court dismissed him, and matters of custody are supposed to be conducted in a closed hearing. Mr. Shaffer interjected himself in the proceedings, asking that the court make decisions on visitations and custody, for which no pleadings had been entered, and which the court declined to do. Mr. Shaffer had no standing to even be present in the courtroom at this point, much less, as the BCSE attorney, to interject himself into a custody proceeding.

The mother then contacted the privacy officer at the BCSE in Charleston, and explained the peculiarities of the case so far, and for asked to access her file. He refused, again without explanation, and claimed that no ssn’s had been shared. He did not identify “Mr. Owens.”

The case remained open for more than a year after the first hearing. The final order for child support, retroactive support, medical support, and pregnancy and birth costs was entered at the final trial. The court sent the order to the BCSE for enforcement, noting in its order that only one party need apply to receive BCSE services. The father had already applied, and it was in response to his application that the BCSE opened and compiled a case file and filed the pleading in Family Court. Therefore, BCSE services should have commenced immediately.

BCSE services did not commence. Instead, the mother received an application with no explanation from the Morgantown office. She replied by letter to the Kingwood office, noting that both the judge and BCSE policy stated that only one party need apply for services (http://www.dhhr.wv.gov/bcse/parents/Pages/default.aspx) “Either or both parents can apply for services with the Bureau.”). Obviously, by the very nature of the services it provides, the BCSE must require only one application to commence collection of child support. The mother asked the BCSE to provide her with a BCSE debit card for child support disbursement.

The mother received no reply to her letter. She next phoned BCSE customer service in Charleston, and was told that her case was in the computer, with a case number and a case worker (although she has never been contacted by any case worker). The person she spoke to did not know why she was not receiving services.

Next the mother got in touch with the BCSE district manager, Erin Cain. She was unpleasant, and told the mother that her case had been closed. She did not answer the mother’s question about where the BCSE policy was stated which allowed a case to be closed before a final support order, without notifying the parties, or closed when the court ordered the BCSE to enforce support. Her answer was that she didn’t care what the court ordered, and no one could force her to follow a court order.

In a custody hearing several months later, the father and his attorney told the court that he had applied for BCSE services, having filled out all the paperwork, and that a case had been opened. At the custody trial, the father produced and entered into the record a receipt from the BCSE for an electronic child support payment he made the previous day.

Although code requires the BCSE to disburse the payment within two days, the other received no payment, but received, by certified mail, an application for services from the Kingwood office.

Why is the BCSE is keeping from the child the support which the court and the law and this country’s stated social and legal policy say is due to her? And why is the BCSE interfering in custody matters?

It is the money of West Virginia taxpayers that has been wasted on this case: the genetic test and the court costs, as well as BCSE financial costs, were not paid by the father, who now owes more than $10,000 in support. They were paid for by the state, even though this case need never have been brought at all, and certainly not brought by the BCSE.

 

Blame The Victim

When there is a question of abuse in a family court case, the judge will often appoint a guardian-ad-litem. This is someone who is supposed to look objectively at the situation, and determine if there is cause for concern.

In this case, the judge appointed guardians ad litem, whom he instructs to investigate the situation with a view to turning the child over to the biological father, something the mother has been fighting against because of the father’s abusive behavior.

The guardians ad litem are two law students supervised by a WVU College of Law faculty attorney. They set up a “supervised” visit between the biological father and the 21 month old child.  We’ll talk more about what happened at the supervised visit in another post, but first, we’d like to talk how the guardians viewed the video on this blog (it’s anchored on the home page if you would like to view it).

So many of you have written in, or signed and made a comment on the petition saying that you feel that this outburst from the father was aggressive, harmful to the child, and cause for concern.

The guardians too viewed and commented on this video. Their conclusion:

The two law students stated that the father was holding the baby incorrectly. They then went on to say that it was the mother’s fault. They decided-from the same video you have watched-that the mother incited an argument that prevented him from holding the baby correctly.

Wow. In that recording he is in a rage, yelling, swinging the baby under his arm, and calling the mother names. The mother is not grabbing for the child, but pleading with him to check that the car seat is put in correctly.

The two people tasked with making a recommendation to keep the child safe believe that it is the mother’s fault he behaved badly. They think he shouldn’t upset him, so he doesn’t get angry and act abusively.   Victim. Blaming. Shame on WVU College of Law.

Some of you, readers, must be parents. Has anyone, a spouse, partner, family member, stranger, made you upset while you were around or holding your child? What choices did you make do handle the situation differently than the father in the video?

Also, tell us, if you saw a father act that way in a parking lot with the mother saying what this mother says on the recording, what would your first thought be? That that guy needs to get control of his anger? That you are concerned for the child and/or mother? Or that it is the mother’ fault that he acts out?

If you want to comment completely anonymously, email us a comment, and we’ll post it without your info.

Update

For the time being the child is safe, not because the judge and the court system has
protected her, but because the father’s attorney became reluctant to go through with the illegal trial.  In the next few days we’ll be giving you more about this mother’s experience in this trial.  Everyone should be aware of what’s happening in the family court system.

A Kangaroo Court?

Imagine you are called to appear as the respondent in a trial. There is a Petitioner listed in the case – but that Petitioner has never asked for anything.  You are just told to appear in court and defend yourself against whatever is thrown at you in the courtroom.

It sound impossible, like something out of Alice In Wonderland, but that is where the mother in this story has found herself. She going to trial this week without knowing what anyone involved in the case is asking for.  She is scared for her child. She is scared that the judge may decide to switch custody, that he might order her toddler to live away from her, the baby’s sole caretaker to date-possibilities that the judge has threatened her with, despite the fact that no one in the case has asked for it.

As a recap:

The Bureau of Child Support Enforcement opened the case over a year ago.   The mother didn’t ask for it, but the state opened the case anyway. The original case was about child support – how much the father should pay.

She thought she was going to court to address and establish child support. Next thing she knows, the judge begins to change custody. The judge refused to address the fact that the father wasn’t paying child support-of which the case was opened to establish. Instead, the judge presents his own parenting plan to be followed, orders the baby to overnights with a man she has never known, and when the mother brings up her concerns about the father’s ability to safely care for the child about brings up one of the father’s violent outburst she captured on video (the video is located on the homepage of this blog), the judge refused to watch and threatens to take her child away.

On what grounds?  No idea. The father has never filed for anything with the court.

So here we are. The father, instead of the state has been named as petitioner, and the mother who has cared for and supported her child since birth is being put on trial.  Has she been accused of being an incompetent mother?  No.  Has the father stated what he wants? No. He is just being allowed to come into court and ask for – well, who knows. He could ask for and be granted anything, up to and including full custody of a child who is terrified of him.

How is this allowed to happen in the United States Family Court?  Aren’t we told that we have civil rights?

If you know of any way to help this mother, please contact us.

Please share this story.

If this has happened to you, please share with us your story, either anonymously through our secure email, or publicly in the comments section.

 

Please Help

Dear President Obama,

I am in a nightmarish situation, one that I never imagined could occur 
in this country.  I would like you to know about it. I am told that my 
case is not singular, and thus all the more concerning.

I am a single mother who has been caretaker and provider, without 
public assistance or the father's consistent or significant support, of 
my 19 month nursing child.  A West Virginia family court judge is 
"punishing" me by giving custody of my child to the father shown in the 
video (link below), who is shown cursing, yelling, and tossing her 
about.  This is not the only instance of similar behavior on his part, 
and an example of how he behaves in public; what he does in private, 
with no one watching, is all the more of concern.

The family court judge has denied my request for supervised visitations, 
has refused to view the video and other documentation I have, and has 
ordered the child from the only home she has ever known with her birth 
mother, into the custody of her father, who, the judge has also said, he 
believes cares not at all for the child. The family my daughter and I 
have formed is thereby being destroyed and my child's life damaged, and, 
since no one has accused me of being an unfit mother, I cannot tell why.

All my life I've heard--though not experienced before this--about 
domestic abuse of both women and children.  I've also heard women blamed 
for being in an abusive relationship and not protecting their children.  
So I thought I did the right thing.  I disentangled myself from a 
relationship where verbal abuse had escalated to shoving and pushing, 
and when the father finally visited, when the child was nine months 
old,  I asked for supervised visitations.  You know, so I would prevent 
abuse, instead of patching myself and the child up after abuse 
occurred.  The signs were there, the verbal abuse was there, and the 
manhandling of a helpless child was there.   Very sadly, the father 
himself grew up in an abusive family; he simply has little idea of how 
else to interact in a domestic situation.  I acted to end the cycle of 
abuse we hear so much about.

What I have learned is that family court will not allow an abused woman, 
or one about to be abused, to leave.  And family court will put helpless 
children in harm's way as well.  For the life of me, I can't figure out 
why.  In my case, neither my child nor I ever lived with the father.  
The child is being handed over to the father not to preserve existing 
family relationships, but to destroy the ones that exist.  The court is 
creating some sort of unsupervised relationship between an abusive 
father and his child, at the price of destroying the bond between mother 
and child.

I think I could have handled things pretty much ok on my own.  I would 
have continued to provide a safe, secure home for my child.  I would 
have continued to be a good mother.  I would have figured out a way to 
offer supervised visitations with the father so that if he were willing 
he could have learned a better way to interact with the child, in a safe 
and appropriate venue. Perhaps the court could have helped me in that 
effort.  Instead, it has inserted us into the cycle of abuse.

I am now held in contempt of court and will be jailed because I haven't 
brought my child to unsupervised 48 hour custodial visits. Please look 
at this video, and tell me: what kind of a mother would bring her child 
into the situation the video documents?

https://familyabuseblog.wordpress.com/

I would like for someone to tell me the answer to that question.  I 
would also like an explanation of why family court judges are also, in 
effect, abusers, more culpable, than the actual hands-on ones, because 
judges are entrusted with the obligation to protect the victim.

Sincerely,

The father cared more about arguing

In the last hearing, the judge declared his intentions to take the child away from the mother-and give full custody to the father. The mother has never been accused of neglect, of abuse, of not caring or providing for her child.

The only reason for taking the child away was that the judge formed an opinion, based on no evidence that she was “not cooperating” with the father. The father accused her of being hostile, and of not showing him how to care for the baby.

When you think of mothers “keeping” their children away from fathers, you probably have an image of a doting father, trying to care for and support his child, but kept away by a spiteful woman.

The following emails and audio clips show the opposite.

In the email exchange the mother tries to set up a visit between the father and an active 8 month old. The father by his own choice, had not seen the child since birth.  He wants to meet in Starbucks from 7-9pm.  The mother tries to ask him to come to her home to see the baby so that they can play and he can learn to care for her.

Starbucks

When, a month later, the mother brought the baby to 2 hour court ordered visitations once a week, she tried to set up an environment , as best she could, given the father’s insistence on visits in restaurants, for the father could learn to interact with his child (remember he’d not come to see the baby for the first 9 months of her life).   She followed the court orders closely as she’d been advised to do. The baby’s father, however, refused to learn to take care of the baby’s basic needs and instead used the visits to continue to emotionally abuse the mother.

On this visit, the father created a scene by refusing to come into the restaurant, where he had asked for the visit to take place. You hear the mother’s friend trying to reason with him as well.

Later, when the baby predictably fusses during the enforced 2 hour restaurant visit, the mother’s friend tries to advise the father how to interact with a small child. To no avail.

On another visit, the mother set up a second table for herself and a friend, but the father would not take the child, so she is standing at the father’s table holding the baby while the father plays cartoons on his tablet.–thus not interacting with the child at all.

Eventually, the mother goes to the car (while her friend holds the child) and gets the carseat so that the child can sit in the carseat and watch cartoons, as the father insists she do. Remember, this is a 9 month old child – a bit young for cartoons.

M: “I think her diaper needs changing, do you want to do it? You can do it in the carseat.”

F: “Nooooo”

M: “No?”

F: “I don’t have a problem with changing her diaper. But I don’t know if she’s gonna want me to do that.”

M: “Alright, I’ll do it.”

He refused to change diapers during any of the visits.

 

Several visits later, he still refuses to care for the baby. He’s combative with the mother, and at the end of this clip he expects to be recognized as the superior caregiver, giving instructions to the mother, but not doing anything himself, not interacting with the child.

Child is sleeping in the carseat. She wakes up and begins to fuss.

 [crying]

F: [inaudible]

M: Why don’t you try distracting her, comforting her

[crying]

F: Why not trying to be a mother to your screaming child?

A: Why don’t you try being a father to her?

F: Since I took you to court so I could be I think I’m doing a damn good job so far.

M: What? [to child] Aww, baby….

As the visits progressed, the father developed a pattern of telling the mother to sit with the child in her lap and then petting the child, ending with his hand on the mother’s breast or thigh. He repeatedly ignored her request for boundaries.

He continued to not change diapers or comfort the child when she was crying. Although the mother showed him repeatedly how she comforts, calms , and plays with the child, he still refused to try it for himself.

The mother watched his behavior get progressively worse, until the episode captured in the video, where he uses profanity and swings the child around like a rag doll.

How should this mother “cooperate” with the father? By sitting and letting herself be abused, as was shown in earlier blog posts? By letting her ex boyfriend grope her under the guise of touching a child he has placed in her lap?

The court orders her to expose the child to an abuser, let him take her away to another state with no supervision,and stand by silently as the child returns from visits with matted and sticky hair, rashes she has never had before, and a dirty, long unchanged diaper, after she has been potty trained.   She returns terrified of the father she has been with. She is non-verbal and cannot explain why she is frightened. If the father treats the child in public as he does in the video, how will he treat her in private, with no one watching? If there are no bruises on her body, does it matter how much emotional bruising she has suffered?

The court threatens the mother with jail and taking the baby away from her if she speaks up or refuses to put her child into this situation. That’s what the court says.

Do you believe the court’s order is the way to stop emotional and physical child abuse? If you think the court is wrong, help bring a change, not just for this child, but for all the others too. Sign this petition.