How did I come to be one of the “walking wounded”, suffering from a variant of Post-Traumatic Stress known as Legal Abuse Syndrome? How did I go from the Mom who did everything to not even allowed to send a birthday card? How did lawyers in Chicago exploit my elderly, ill father living 150 miles away on our four generation family farm? Every area of my life has been severely impacted by the vicious Legal Abuse and bullying I was subjected to for nearly seven years in the Cook County Family Court system. The goal? Steal my only, irreplaceable child along with my share of our four-generation, multi-million dollar Family Farm Trust. The strategy? Use Fraud On The Court and an abusive litigation-vortex to obtain a custody switch, in order to convince (read: Exploit) my elderly, ill father that I somehow “deserved it.” In all, my ex-husband was allowed to file eight petitions for Sole Custody, litigating custody repeatedly for over six years. I was forced into court so frequently that it became impossible to earn a living. It is common knowledge Domestic Abusers with access to money frequently use the legal system to leave their victim homeless, penniless and childless as revenge for leaving them – the “Price for Saying No”. And there is no shortage of ethically-challenged individuals plying their various trades in the courtrooms ready to make a fortune off of the misery of others, their Professional Code of Ethics be damned.
“No system of care in America creates more devastation than the legal system. All but the wealthy are priced out of taking their cases to a point of closure. You can win your case and then lose by expensive appeals. Anger and disappointment reach a point beyond rage to an implosion that injures the psyche of the strongest of us. Attorneys rank among the highest in substance abuse, depression, suicide and unhappiness with their profession. Litigants who enter with any illness, injury, or weakness are made worse by stress, sometimes terrorized and bullied.” Dr. Karin Huffer Legal Abuse Syndrome, Dr. Karin Huffer
I was the Primary Caretaker and a very loving, involved, hands-on, full-time Mom. I was such an excellent Mother, in fact, that my ex-husband refused to help with parenting in order to further his career, and his first divorce petition requested that custody remain with me.
I am an Educator in good standing. I have never been arrested or convicted of any crime. There is no substance abuse, mental illness or any wrong-doing on my part. There are no findings against me by Child Protective Services, nor was any report made. To the contrary; there are DCFS findings against my ex-husband. There was no Evidentiary Hearing – no evidence was submitted at all, when a hastily scrawled No Contact of Any Kind Order was obtained in a hastily convened “Emergency” hearing, that did not allow me to respond, get an attorney, present evidence, request Discovery or even speak. The means? Fraud On The Court, and hearsay brought by an outside attorney with no standing to appear in the case. He claimed to have “evidence”, which he “demonstrated” in a sleazy, theatrical, over-the-top Pantomime, but never actually presented. Within fifteen minutes, I went from Mother, Primary Caretaker and Sole Custodian, to losing most of my parental rights, not even allowed to send my child a Christmas or Birthday Card. This “proceeding” consisted of me standing alone, while my ex-husband and three lawyers and judge shouted a bizarre, incoherent stream of insane insults and hearsay. That was it. No evidence proffered. At all. Months later I finally had the opportunity to view this “evidence”; it was a single murky cell-phone photo that had clearly been doctored with a cell-phone editor. Indeed, convicted felons have more parental rights than I did.
I believed in our American justice system. I thought Judges were prudent, emotionally-balanced, scholarly people who meticulously weighed evidence and law. But I learned that gamemanship is what passes for legal expertise. Perjury and False Reporting, back-room deals, cronyism and corruption were expected – just “the way things work”. Verbal and emotional abuse, and at times, physical intimidation, by the attorneys became common-place. The more tawdry or sleazy the lies, the better, and more entertaining it seemed to be for Judge Levinson, the Child Rep Natalie Koga, and all six of my ex-husband’s attorneys, and of course, never questioned.
It was shoddy, disturbing theater of the absurd and macabre. False reporting by court vendors – shrinks in disrepute with some serious ethics issues, brought late into the case by the Child Rep, when I no longer had funds for an attorney, became the strategy to wipe out highly respected Dr. David Finn’s two custody evaluations containing serious findings of Pathological Parental Alienation, Domestic Violence and family exploitation against my ex-husband. Both of these new court vendors had been sanctioned by the State of Illinois; the Psychologist, Dr. Daniel Fisher of Elmhurst for similar “Multiple-Role Misconduct”, while the Psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Gamze had his controlled substance license revoked and placed on indefinite Probation.
When I could no longer afford an attorney, I stood alone and mute, not allowed to present evidence, while Child Rep Natalie Koga and opposing counsel Meg Jackson stood together, insulting me, repeatedly lying to the court, all the while laughing. Apparently they thought depriving a child of his Mother was pretty funny. Judge Alfred Levinson allowed, enabled and encouraged this horrific, abusive behavior, at times appearing to get off on it too.
I was placed under multiple Orders that they knew would be impossible to comply with. Many were illegal. The obvious goal was to find me in Contempt of Court. As part of their ongoing strategy to break me, they tried (unsuccessfully) to jail me on four occasions. It was a modern-day Kafka novel – double-bind after double-bind, nothing made sense, with intertwined lawyers and mental health vendors willing to say or do just about anything as long as the checks cleared, their respective professional code of ethics be damned. All the while salivating over my childhood home in northwest Illinois.
The most telling barometer of the tone, tenor and intent of this entire divorce and child custody case can be summarized by the e-mail my ex’s attorney Meg Jackson sent me less than one day after my elderly, ill father passed away in my rural hometown in northwest Illinois – 150 miles away from that Rolling Meadows Courthouse. This was her attempt to bully me into not attending my own father’s funeral. This is the same woman who yelled that I was a “brazen woman” for daring to ask the court that we be allowed to have family therapy with someone who actually took insurance, as I could not afford $2,000 monthly on medical expenses, and who stood outside the courtroom proclaiming “We’re going to take her down. We’re going to take everything from her.” And yet, Dr. Finn’s custody evaluation had recommended that my ex-husband be stopped from using our child to repeatedly insert himself into my family.
And, then, of course, there is the eye-witness account of the Child Rep Natalie Koga colluding with Meg Jackson to alter an evaluation – to get rid of “the problem” (me, a loving Mother). This vicious legal bullying, where the destruction of innocent people is seen as entertaining, the truth is meaningless, and nothing you do, no matter how hard you try, has anything to do with anything, is deeply traumatic and should never be allowed to happen to anyone. Ever. And then I understood why Chris Mackney, and so many others have taken their lives after being bullied to death in family court. But I hung on, not for myself, but for the sake of my beloved child. I will continue to be a voice calling for reform, accountability for Guardian ad Litems, Child Representatives, for Judges, and all court vendors. I will continue to speak out about the devastation wrought on countless people in courtrooms every day. I will continue to speak about the harm done to our precious children through the abuse of Maternal Deprivation.