Women speak of court injustice

Daily Sundial

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A group of women from different social and ethnic backgrounds said they have found common ground in a way they wish were not true — they all say they have been wronged during family law proceedings.

Speaking to Professor Dianne Bartlow’s women’s studies class in Manzanita Hall on April 25, the women said some Los Angeles-area judges and commissioners are exceedingly biased in their rulings against women, taking custody of children away from fit mothers and giving them to fathers, some who were later found to be abusive.

The women said they have also been ordered, in many cases, to pay exorbitant legal fees and evaluations, as well as spousal and child-support payments, even though they earn, on average, substantially less than their ex-husbands, and sometimes have no income at all.

“(They have) destroyed so many lives,” said Lisa, a woman who said she has been repeatedly thwarted and frustrated in dealing with the Los Angeles Superior Court’s San Fernando Courthouse. “(They have) taken everything (they) can from women.”

“It’s not money (we’re after). It’s our families. There are years of counseling ahead for our children.”

Patricia Barry, women’s rights attorney, said the problem occurs because there are so few female judges, which contributes to what she described as an inherent gender-bias in the court system.

“A professional woman gets respect in a court (for) acting like a man,” Barry said. “Try being a mother (who comes into court).”

According to Barry, mothers are treated unfairly in the male-dominated environment of the judicial system.

“(The discrimination against women) crosses all racial and class lines,” Barry said.

Barry is currently working on a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the women who spoke in Bartlow’s class. She also plans on filing a complaint with the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance, an independent state agency that handles complaints of judicial misconduct and has the ability to discipline judges.

Another problem the women said they must deal with occurs when the courts do not properly identify their ex-spouses’ income, either because judges and commissioners have been known to accept the income husbands report without documentation, or the men hide their assets.

The women said these misrepresentations can dramatically decrease the amount of alimony or child support the women are eligible to receive, often making it impossible for mothers and their children to survive.

Jan Tucker, CSUN alumna and co-president of the San Fernando Valley, Northeast Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization of Women, said he is working on getting the state Legislature to pass a law that would make it a misdemeanor to harbor, conceal or aid a person who is obligated to pay child support.

“Unfortunately, it’s mothers, sisters, second wives and girlfriends (of men who owe child support) that are (keeping this money from) other women,” Tucker said. “What they’re really doing is shafting children.”

Tina, another woman who spoke in Bartlow’s class, said her ex-husband is a millionaire, but lives with his parents in order to hide his assets.

Tina said she lost custody of her children and became homeless for a time. Tina eventually got back on her feet, and has since become a published author. She currently teaches art therapy to abused women at a Santa Monica homeless shelter she once stayed at.

The women were speaking out at CSUN in hopes of organizing students to participate in a grassroots movement to support their cause.