Friday, March 4, 2011

California Child Custody: What's Going On? Is It Broken? How?

"Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear. "*

Last week, a Northern California newspaper published an extended piece, asserting, yet again, that the family law system is (quoting the cover headline) "helping pedophiles, batterers get child

While buried in the body of the piece was an acknowledgment that " it is impossible to say how common such cases are", that isn't
exactly the same impression conveyed by the headline.

The same week, the
Los Angeles Times ran a story regarding a psychiatrist/child custody evaluator in Los Angeles**. While that story was less obviously agenda-driven than the Northern California piece, it seemed short on well-verified facts, and long on "it is alleged, in documents filed with the court". Again, those authors implied that the problems that they referenced were systemic and pervasive. They offered no evidence for that implication.

There's little to offer.

The "studies" and "research" on the issues of the adequacy of the child custody/family court system in protecting children and victims of domestic violence, including those cited by outlets as reputable as Newsweek, are, if cited in support of any generalization about the system, are thin soup, perilously close to scientific junk.***

It may be that these problems are grossly under-reported, and systemic;
my thirty-two years of practice makes me think otherwise, and leads me to conclude that the California system is actually quite child-centered, and victim-protective. I'm certainly unconvinced by the "studies", and by the information in the two articles. While I've railed about the lack of real objective information for nearly a decade, since the last such "scandal' erupted, the quality of the information has not yet noticeably improved.

The problems with the family law system are not, as far as I can tell, mostly the result of some system-wide bias or agenda; they're mostly from (a) the lack of adequate financial resources for the system to address these issues, and (b) the gross mis-allocation of resources within the judicial system. As I've said before, nobody ever successfully ran for statewide office in California on the platform: "I promise to spend more of your tax money on divorce court!"

* Ben Franklin, or E.A. Poe, or Marvin Gaye.

** Note that I have not provided links to the pieces above; they're here: "Helping" "Evaluator"
*** "That's not 'thin soup'. It's rat pee." Prof. Michael Shapiro.
"The plural of 'anecdotes' isn't 'data.' " Frank Kotsonis.