Mothers Day Request: Justice and Safety for Our Children

Posted by Julia Fletcher

The amount of media coverage of the family court racketeering in each state will determine how quickly investigations, accountability and court reform happen. A few reporters in New Jersey are wide awake and have given that state a head start. 

 The following two articles are on NorthJersey.com:

 

Mothers rally for fairness in the courts

 
Saturday, May 7, 2011
 
BY ZACH PATBERG
Herald News
STAFF WRITER

Lori has spent the last eight years fighting the courts for custody of her two children. It began, she said, with her accusing her then-husband of abusing their 3-year-old boy and year-old girl. It ended with him gaining custody and her getting visitation rights.

Joy Star marching in Strengthen Our Sisters' rally to protest a lack of legal representation for low-income mothers in custody battles.

LESLIE BARBARO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
 
Joy Star marching in Strengthen Our Sisters’ rally to protest a lack of legal representation for low-income mothers in custody battles.

“He drained me out,” said the 47-year-old Westfield woman, who declined to give her full name for fear it would hurt her future custody chances. She can’t afford a lawyer and has to represent herself after spending more than $100,000 in legal fees over the years.

She was a housewife. He is a lawyer. She has little money. He has lots.

It is a formula that legal experts and advocates say creates a lopsided matchup in the courtroom for custody cases – one in which the mother most often loses.

“For the most part, the guy is the one who’s got the job and the means to afford an attorney,” said John Fitzgerald, director of Northeast New Jersey Legal Services programs in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. “To me, the real issue is fairness. It’s not fair if one side is represented and the other side isn’t.”

Finding legal help is harder than ever these days for women with no means to pay for it. Legal Services – generally the only free legal-aid option for low-income people – has seen its budget and staff slashed by a third over the past couple of years, forcing the agency to turn away an increasing number of people.

“It’s even worse than last year,” said Fitzgerald, who estimates that Legal Services will be able to help only 8,000 to 9,000 people this year across the three counties, compared with 13,000 in 2009.

The gloom and doom, however, didn’t stop Sandra Ramos from holding her annual Mother’s Day march on Friday to protest what she sees a fraternity of favoritism in the family court system.

The activist from Ringwood and founder of seven licensed shelters for battered women led a line of about 20 mothers – some pushing baby carriages or strollers – in a constant circle in front of the Passaic County Courthouse. They chanted, “The court is the cash machine, and children pay the price,” along with, “Children should not be used as pawns!”

Ramos has been sheltering battered women ever since she divorced her husband and invited 23 other divorcées to live at her house in the 1970s.

“They came to me with such heartbreaking stories,” she said Friday, holding a sign that read, “End Patriarchy.”

“Then I started seeing women en masse were losing their children to husbands who were punishing them. I just got so angry,” said Ramos.

The Strengthen Our Sisters founder suffered a setback last year, however, when her organization lost about $450,000 in funding because it could not meet state qualifications as an emergency shelter.

Ramos sought help in Hollywood, holding a gala fund-raiser last year that included such personalities as former “Real Housewife” Danielle Staub. More recently, she has been in talks with state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Cresskill, whose chief of staff confirmed Friday he is helping her with funding.

E-mail: patberg@northjersey.com

 

Empty baby carriages call attention to the plight of battered moms

 
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

 

BY DONNA ROLANDO
Suburban Trends
STAFF WRITER

 

Nothing quite says loss like an empty baby carriage. So for the past three years, the women’s shelter group Strengthen Our Sisters has been staging an empty baby carriage march around Mother’s Day. Its aim is to call attention to perceived injustice in the court system that keeps mothers away from children and leaves carriages empty.”We must raise public awareness about the terrifying power of the courts,” said Sandra Ramos, founder of Strengthen Our Sisters (SOS) with shelters in West Milford and Wanaque, and a professor at William Paterson University and Ramapo College.She will be out there in front of the Passaic County Courthouse once again on May 7 in hopes that there will be a new look at custody cases involving batterers. And she invites others to join her at noon in front of the courthouse, 401 Grand St., Paterson.“We have a comprehensive and growing file of cases where children have been taken away from caring non-abusive loving parents and placed with an abusive parent. Far too many children have been placed in harm’s way by court orders. We are asking for re-examination of cases by an unbiased review board when judicial misconduct has been reported,” Ramos said.This is the fourth annual Special Mother’s Day Demonstration, yet Ramos said she sees no change in the court system as it relates to battered mothers reaching out for custody of their kids.What has changed is that a few lawyers have come forth to represent battered women who otherwise could not afford legal representation, she said.The help of capable attorney is key in these cases but many times, the victims of abuse are just about getting by financially. Often their abusers have kept a tight rein on family finances and therefore the abusers alone are able to hire an attorney and make a strong case for custody, Ramos said.Furthermore, she said that judges seldom understand that battered women can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, which may influence how they express themselves in court. And some judges think if a woman smiles in a photo with her abuser she couldn’t have suffered at his hand, she said. Or they may think that she waited too long to get help and that colors the case, she added.

One day, Ramos hopes Passaic County‘s judges will be willing to sit down and talk about how these cases are handled and learn the dynamics of what impacts battered women.

“I don’t believe in miracles. I depend on them,” Ramos said.

She called attention to the children hurt in custody battles, who “grow up to be cutters, depressed, suicidal” and said, “That is why I’m so passionate” about raising awareness in the legal system.

This coming Friday, Ramos hopes to exceed last year’s turnout of roughly 100 demonstrators with the support of California women, who will be on hand for the march. She explained that what’s happening in Passaic County isn’t exclusive to this area – “it’s happening throughout the world,” which is why California is joining hands with Passaic County to get the word out.

Women are banding together for not only the Mother’s Day march but for a larger demonstration to follow in Washington, D.C., where they hope to be able to address their concerns to First Lady Michelle Obama or a representative.

Those who wish to participate should call 973-831-0898 or send an e-mail to lenal@sosdv.org. The event will be filmed by Jackie Aluotto, film producer of Pick it Up Pictures and Mad Dog Productions. To further raise awareness, Andrea Sofia, show host of the Domestic Abuse Reality Intervention Series, ABUSERS, will be on hand to show support for the demonstration and share her own story as a longtime survivor of violence and abuse.

E-mail: rolando@northjersey.com

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