Sunday, December 9, 2012

Documentary targets family courts and custody evaluators

Stuck in the middle of nowhere on a case, I happened to catch the new documentary No Way Out But One, depicting injustices against abused women and children in U.S. family courts. Of potential interest to blog readers, the film critiques the role of child custody evaluators as usurping the authority of fact finders by substituting their own judgments for the facts.


No Way Out highlights the internationally known case of Holly Collins, who fled with her son Zachary and daughter Jennifer in 1994 after her husband was granted sole custody by a court in Minnesota. According to the film, the judge ignored evidence of domestic violence and child abuse, including a skull fracture to the boy. After a circuitous flight through Canada and Guatemala, Collins eventually won asylum in the Netherlands. By the time the FBI caught up with the family, the children were adults. In the film, they convincingly describe chronic abuse at the hands of their father. Holly's dynamic daughter, Jennifer, the inspiration for the film, is executive director of Courageous Kids, which empowers children to go public about family court abuse (her blog is HERE).

The Collins children, grown up
The Collins's long-running custody battle featured allegations of Parental Alienation Syndrome, a controversial syndrome in which one parent (most often the mother) is accused of alienating the children from the other parent. Collins was also labeled with another highly contentious diagnosis, Munchausen by Proxy, after she sought medical treatment for her children, whom she says were being injured by their father’s abuse and neglect.

Due in part to Collins's supposed attempts to alienate the children, the father was granted full custody in 1993, and Collins was initially denied even phone or mail contact. Eventually, she was granted supervised visitation, but neither she nor her children were allowed to talk about the father’s abuse. In the film, Collins describes how she and the children secretly exchanged notes by placing them in the refrigerator; in the notes, the children begged for help and she finally promised to rescue them.

Collins became the first American ever granted asylum by the Netherlands. She ultimately married a Dutch man and had four more children. After the FBI located her, she returned to the United States in an effort to vindicate herself. Ultimately, the kidnapping charge was dismissed; she pled guilty to one count of contempt of court in exchange for a sentence of 40 hours of community service.

According to the film, Collins is just one of thousands of mothers forced to go on the run in order to protect their children from abusive fathers who have been granted custody of their children.

Jennifer (L) and Holly Collins (R) with filmmakers Nolan and Waller
Ironically, the film's debut on the Documentary Channel coincides with the publication of a similar story by another woman who is also named Collins. Frances Collins's book, Seashell Prisoners, chronicles her flight from Texas to the Honduras to protect her 3-year-old granddaughter. Her eight-year odyssey ultimately ended in arrest and incarceration.

The film is stoking up antipathy between the battered women's and father's rights camps, with the latter expending significant effort in to debunk the claims of Collins and her children that they were subjected to family violence.

Award-winning filmmaker Garland Waller told a Huffington Post columnist that she chose the Holly Collins case "because I believed her story would break through the barricade set up by the mainstream press." The film expands on last year’s award-winning short, Small Justice, produced on a shoestring by Waller, a communications professor at Boston University, and her husband Barry Nolan, a TV writer and reporter.

In the Huffington Post interview, Waller went on to say that what most surprised her in her involvement with this project was the dumbfounded reaction of members of the general public:
"They just can't believe that … family courts would give custody -- time and time again -- to abusers. But I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised. In both the tragedy of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and the Jerry Sandusky thing, ‘good’ people turned a blind eye to the abuse of children. It's the same thing in family courts. It is just heart-breaking that so often when terrified children summon the courage to speak up and tell what is happening to them, even though the abuser has warned them of the terrible consequences if they ever talk... even though we teach children to speak up and to tell the truth...when they speak up against this one awful thing, we just don't listen."

I don’t see any more upcoming airings on the DocumentaryChannel, but the DVD will be going on sale soon, from Passion River Films. 

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Thank you for posting about this issue that should be scary for everyone. Abusers are not just men though. The real source of conflict is often a severe personality disorder. The trailer doesn't go into the role of Custody Evaluators, but their importance is undeniable.

    There is a common thread that can be found in virtually every 'high-conflict' divorce or custody case. There is ALWAYS a 'severe psychopathology' involved.

    The most severe and abusive psychopathology is the extreme form of Anti-Social Personality Disorder known as PSYCHOPATHY.

    The Psychological Profession won't even separate Psychopathy from ASPD because of the stigma attached to the condition. Until the Psychological and Legal Professions are willing to call 'a spade a spade' and stop ignoring the most predominant violator of laws and the rights of others, we will all continue to be abused by the Courts as they cover up and ignore the real source of conflict.

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  3. Thanks for reviewing NWOBO! The problem of judges abdicating their judicial authority to forensic evaluators is endemic in the US and continues to create untenable situations for children and their protective parents.

    PAS/PAD has been rejected for inclusion in the DSM-V, but unscrupulous forensic evaluators can be very creative in finding other ways to "diagnose" a protective parent with some sort of disorder or as one local evaluator says "She has all the characteristics of" formal thought disorder, schizophrenia, histrionic personality disorder, and so on. Sadly, this has become a lucrative practice and is truly the underbelly of a profession that hopes to offer insight and healing.

    Eileen King
    Child Justice, Inc.

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    1. Eileen,
      My concern is of the "borderline personality disorder" diagnosis to be next of these unscrupulous forensic evalutators against women. It is appearing to me, there is much ground work being laid by certain people who are involved with "high conflict" institutes and fathers rights to get women in court labelled BPD. This diagnosis which is difficult to defend against, much like the false PAS, and in fact many men do have this disorder. I only came to know it as the father of my child was diagnosed with this very personality disorder which usually goes hand in hand with other mental illness such as bi-polar and schizophrenia types. In my research I came upon repeated references to women, not men. I worry PAS has been used and abused in family courts to gain access to children by abuser (mine included). While everyone worked hard to debunk PAS as a qualification to claim a mother unfit, while ignoring hard evidence of physical and sexual abuse by the father, PAS didn't make it into the DSM-V. Bill Eddy has written books regarding BPD and has opened a conflict research institute which focuses on the BPD disorder (mainly in women), I ran into men involved with the "fathers rights" agenda who appeared to be colleagues or friends with the head of this institute out of California. It appears to also have a location in Arizona. Someone needs to keep an eye on this as this truly appears to have the ground work laid for a new label which I fear can and will be used in family court against women, the BPD diagnosis. In reading the symptoms or checklist for this personality disorder, many women may meet the criteria under extreme duress. I was told by a phd psychologist that many people can relate to the symptoms to some degree who are otherwise healthy people. This is something that has been bothering me since 2009 when my court case started. I repeatedly heard "be careful, they are trying to say you have BPD. Don't give them anything that they can use". Well of course my ears purked up since it's the very diagnosis of the man I was fighting in court! (of his many diagnosis')

      I mention this in hopes to start some dialogue prior to it blindsiding mothers in court. I was ordered to a psychologist during my family court case as I was said to have PAS which was unfounded. The child was ordered to a therapist to help her with her severe PAS (not)as I was supposedly coaching this child(not) but that also didn't turn out to be true. No judge ever asked for any records from these court ordered psychologists in my case and I believe it was ordered as a tactic to wear me down and run me out of money and/or in hopes of getting something to validate the switching of custody as an unethical reunification therapist was doing everything in her power to help the father gain custody of the child. She failed thank God but not before running me out of money and wearing me out. I also lost my business of 22 years from being forced to focus on this custody case for 3 and a half years complying with their BS.

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  4. Stillhere,

    The use of Borderline Personality Disorder is a diagnosis that gets widely thrown around in High Conflict Divorce and is frequently used by the Judge to rule any way he chooses.

    The Custody Evaluator in my case committed fraud by covering up huge red flags for a personality disorder. He even wrote a book describing the 'controller' personality in a Custody evaluation setting. This evaluator literally hid evidence of psychopathy and then blamed me for pointing out that he was deliberately misleading the Court.

    Abusers are both men and women. It is a psychopathy and the Courts need to start acknowledging its presence in Court, since Psychopaths are known to both the legal and psychological profession for fooling judges.

    I would propose that all parties that choose to let a Judge Decide visitation, must undergo a psychological evaluation. The Courts must do something to start to screen people for psychopathy if it is to prevent such injustices.

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  5. Fathers rights are not guaranteed in the UK, especially in child custody cases where the mother and father were not married and the father was not listed on the birth certificate. It is almost impossible for a father who is not listed on their child’s birth certificate to exercise their fathers rights to visitation, so it is very important for a child’s father to ensure that their name is properly listed on each child’s birth certificate.

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  6. Well, it's a great documentary to watch.

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