With all the talk in politics about "change" one things remains constant in Delaware County. Our family court system is both broken and refusing to come into the 21st century. I have been fighting a custody case for my 12 year old daughter for more than four years. During this course, the presiding trial Judge (a municipal attorney by trade) has violated the Superior Court dictates of Pennsylvania by removing legal and physical custody of my child, as well as requiring supervised visitations, from me during a contempt hearing, where no petition to modify custody was present. This violates a person's due process under the law and such "end around" decisions have been struck down three times, most recently in early 2013. The Judge only had to open her rule book to see what she was doing was wrong.
What makes it appalling is there are no charges of emotional, sexual or physical abuse AND my former spouse has a pattern of removing her children from their fathers. And the Judge was well aware of the case law from the Superior Court. If not, she should not be fit for the bench.
Delaware County appears to be living in the 1950s. The Judges are still pre-disposed to mothers on many cases and there are many men in this county who pay Child Support, do the right thing, love their children and are not given equal justice under the law. Three attorneys with a combined 90 years of family court experience stated that my case is not only well known among the Judges and lawyers in the County but also is the worst they have ever seen. For me it has meant nearly $240,000 in legal fees, bankruptcy and a home I purchased so my daughter would have a great place to grow up in pre foreclosure. All after an initial 50/50 custody agreement that was voluntarily agreed to in 2010. The ink was not dry before my former spouse began chipping away endlessly. That is her right, but since then, the fight has been never ending, not so much against the former spouse but against an unjust system that is utterly broken.
The issue here is that there is a backroom system of friends between attorneys and Judges who speak about cases and judgments are made at cocktail parties, not in the courtroom and certainly not following judicial process. It also helps keep in business many psychologists and therapists who are nominated to do custody evaluations, mental health evaluations, family therapy and on and on. And it does not hurt that my former spouse is an attorney, active in the local Bar. The notion of "best interests of the child" is left to a Judge who is a municipal lawyer, with no background in child psychology or social work.
We must demand better for our children. Judicial process is not what we think in family court. Decisions are made on emotion and not on fact. Libelous claims or false claims in petitions are accepted without proof, despite the fact that litigants sign a verification form as to the truth of their claims. And what's worse, is we get 10 years of these Judges to sit on the bench. The family court system in Delaware County needs an overhaul. Other counties in the region have taken close look at the way in which they operate and ensure that there is continual education between the attorneys, judges and the psychological community such that all work in concert in understanding the dynamics of child custody. In my case, for example, the Judge has requested a psychologist to act as a therapist and an evaluator at the same time. This violates the ethical guidelines which psychologists must adhere to. The Judges should know better. The end result, more time spent in court, more petitions and more money wasted. The winners, the lawyers. The losers, the children.
Look carefully at our Judges background next time you vote, You will see that for family court many are unqualified and uneducated to be in the position they are in. Many Judges come up as Custody Masters before elected as Judges. On the face of it this would seem like good training ground. However, who trains them... yes the local attorneys and psychologists. Family court is not Law & Order, it is Chaos & Disorder that needs further review by the State and by the media.