Guest Commentary: The Exploitative Face of Family Court – A Modern-Day Slavery

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

By Judi Atwood

Family Court in America has quietly become a new form of exploitation, akin to the historical slave trade. The exorbitant costs imposed by family law are not just burdensome; they are outrageous, often depleting children’s college funds. Unethical attorneys, armed with false narratives, exploit vulnerable families. Furthermore, the use of offensive language by attorneys and judges in orders and motions against indigent and disabled families perpetuates a cycle of modern-day exploitation.

The challenges faced by families in the Family Court system underscore the urgency for reform, as highlighted by the bills I’ve submitted for review in 2024. Family Court Reform is not merely necessary; it represents a critical stride forward in addressing the systemic injustices faced by families. Shockingly, 80% of Coloradans exhaust their savings on retainers during a split, emphasizing the dire need for change.

The parallels between the current state of Family Court and historical slavery are stark. Despite the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, exceptions persist, manifesting in exploitative dynamics within family law. The Peonage Act of 1867 aimed to end coerced labor for debt, but loopholes allowed for continued exploitation. Today, families face a perpetual cycle of financial strain and exploitation, reminiscent of historical injustices.

Adding to the distressing scenario is the dismissal or not guilty findings in approximately one-third of cases with a domestic violence flag, with women more likely to experience this outcome. Once dismissed, survivors often find themselves fined by Family Court judges, who, instead of providing support, contribute to their financial burden. The survivors become targets of disdain and ridicule by judges and Family Law attorneys when law enforcement fails to appropriately investigate cases of domestic violence.

Domestic abusers, adept at manipulation, often play the role of a loving parent seeking substantial parenting time, all while maintaining a hidden agenda of harassment. The survivors of domestic violence face false accusations of parental alienation, even when the child is genuinely fearful of the abuser due to witnessed intimidation and harm to their protective parent.

In the midst of this troubling situation, instances like the one in Boulder County Court bring to light an added layer of injustice faced by indigent survivors of domestic violence. In this particular case, an indigent survivor sought relief from a judgment after enduring a decade of relentless filings by her abuser, who submitted over 600 motions. The survivor, compelled to borrow over half a million dollars to avoid incarceration, faced a shocking motion from Judge Thomas Mulvahill that, despite factual evidence, revealed a concerning bias: “The Court finds Mother filed the motion without substantial justification, with the intent to harass Father or cause him financial harm. Therefore, this Court finds Mother shall pay Father’s legal fees for the drafting of the response to the Motion for Relief…”

Upon entering Boulder County Family Court, this domestic violence survivor, like many others, lacked training in family law. She shared a room with her children in a domestic violence shelter an hour away from her previous residence with the abuser, and Attorney Rebecca Pepin from Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C. crafted an emergency motion without informing the mother of its contents. Submitting a false narrative to the Boulder County Courts, Judge Patrick Butler made the following statement in his motion: “Living in a shelter, although not ideal and seemingly a bit bizarre since Mother has been offered the use of the marital residence with the children, does not necessarily rise to the level of imminent threat of harm to the children.”

Despite the mother leaving the residence after the Longmont Police responded and reviewed text messages from the abuser indicating a threat to her life, the police advised her to protect her children and escorted her to a shelter. The mother, intending to leave the following day, became a victim of domestic violence turned slave to Boulder County, subjected to further exploitation which has lasted over a decade.

Judi Atwood is an Activist/Public Policy Advocate/Civil Engagement Promoter

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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