Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Women Rally for Fairness in Lengthy Child-Custody Battles

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Women Rally for Fairness in Lengthy Child-Custody Battles

Article excerpt

Wheeling empty baby carriages, a group of women staged a demonstration at the Passaic County Courthouse on Friday to counter what they believe is the prevailing myth in child custody cases: that the mother always wins.

Members of the battered women's shelter Strengthen Our Sisters handed out leaflets on the plaza far beneath the windows of family court in Paterson to draw attention to what they said is a troubling trend. Fathers frequently have the money to hire lawyers and expert witnesses needed to wage protracted battles for custody, while mothers, who depend on their spouses, do not.

As a result, judges often side with the father in family court -- even when the man has a history of violence or abuse, the advocates said, and women frequently find themselves in the position of fighting a losing battle over custody or visitation rights.

"Batterers are learning how to use the system," said Sandra Ramos, the head of Strengthen Our Sisters, which operates several shelters for abused women in Passaic County. "The fathers often have the money to hire slick attorneys, and the judges listen to them."

The protest was timed to coincide with Mother's Day and the Battered Mothers Custody Conference taking place in Albany, N.Y. After staging the rain-soaked demonstration, members of Strengthen Our Sisters boarded a van and headed upstate to attend the conference.

Although it's difficult to quantify how often the court sides with the father in custody battles, one group that is sponsoring the conference in Albany, Mothers of Lost Children, reports on its website that "men who batter and molest" are awarded custody "85 percent of the time." The website does not give the source of the data.

According to estimates by the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, 58,000 children a year are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce. …

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