Posted by Julia Fletcher
The amount of media coverage of the family court racketeering in each state will determine how quickly investigations, accountability and court reform happen. A few reporters in New Jersey are wide awake and have given that state a head start.
The following two articles are on NorthJersey.com:
Lori has spent the last eight years fighting the courts for custody of her two children. It began, she said, with her accusing her then-husband of abusing their 3-year-old boy and year-old girl. It ended with him gaining custody and her getting visitation rights.
“He drained me out,” said the 47-year-old Westfield woman, who declined to give her full name for fear it would hurt her future custody chances. She can’t afford a lawyer and has to represent herself after spending more than $100,000 in legal fees over the years.
She was a housewife. He is a lawyer. She has little money. He has lots.
It is a formula that legal experts and advocates say creates a lopsided matchup in the courtroom for custody cases – one in which the mother most often loses.
“For the most part, the guy is the one who’s got the job and the means to afford an attorney,” said John Fitzgerald, director of Northeast New Jersey Legal Services programs in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. “To me, the real issue is fairness. It’s not fair if one side is represented and the other side isn’t.”
Finding legal help is harder than ever these days for women with no means to pay for it. Legal Services – generally the only free legal-aid option for low-income people – has seen its budget and staff slashed by a third over the past couple of years, forcing the agency to turn away an increasing number of people.
“It’s even worse than last year,” said Fitzgerald, who estimates that Legal Services will be able to help only 8,000 to 9,000 people this year across the three counties, compared with 13,000 in 2009.
The gloom and doom, however, didn’t stop Sandra Ramos from holding her annual Mother’s Day march on Friday to protest what she sees a fraternity of favoritism in the family court system.
The activist from Ringwood and founder of seven licensed shelters for battered women led a line of about 20 mothers – some pushing baby carriages or strollers – in a constant circle in front of the Passaic County Courthouse. They chanted, “The court is the cash machine, and children pay the price,” along with, “Children should not be used as pawns!”
Ramos has been sheltering battered women ever since she divorced her husband and invited 23 other divorcées to live at her house in the 1970s.
“They came to me with such heartbreaking stories,” she said Friday, holding a sign that read, “End Patriarchy.”
“Then I started seeing women en masse were losing their children to husbands who were punishing them. I just got so angry,” said Ramos.
The Strengthen Our Sisters founder suffered a setback last year, however, when her organization lost about $450,000 in funding because it could not meet state qualifications as an emergency shelter.
Ramos sought help in Hollywood, holding a gala fund-raiser last year that included such personalities as former “Real Housewife” Danielle Staub. More recently, she has been in talks with state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Cresskill, whose chief of staff confirmed Friday he is helping her with funding.
One day, Ramos hopes Passaic County‘s judges will be willing to sit down and talk about how these cases are handled and learn the dynamics of what impacts battered women.
“I don’t believe in miracles. I depend on them,” Ramos said.
She called attention to the children hurt in custody battles, who “grow up to be cutters, depressed, suicidal” and said, “That is why I’m so passionate” about raising awareness in the legal system.
This coming Friday, Ramos hopes to exceed last year’s turnout of roughly 100 demonstrators with the support of California women, who will be on hand for the march. She explained that what’s happening in Passaic County isn’t exclusive to this area – “it’s happening throughout the world,” which is why California is joining hands with Passaic County to get the word out.
Women are banding together for not only the Mother’s Day march but for a larger demonstration to follow in Washington, D.C., where they hope to be able to address their concerns to First Lady Michelle Obama or a representative.
Those who wish to participate should call 973-831-0898 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The event will be filmed by Jackie Aluotto, film producer of Pick it Up Pictures and Mad Dog Productions. To further raise awareness, Andrea Sofia, show host of the Domestic Abuse Reality Intervention Series, ABUSERS, will be on hand to show support for the demonstration and share her own story as a longtime survivor of violence and abuse.