NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–After losing custody to a husband she says was abusive Karlene Gordon saw her 14-year-old son in May for the first time in four years.
Gordon fought for custody in a bitter divorce case for nearly a decade before deciding to give her son stability four years ago by cutting herself out of his life; she and her husband are still not legally divorced. She decided to see him in May, for a supervised one-hour visit, now that he is a teenager and more emotionally ready to handle divided custody.
“It just seemed to me that it was better to let my son live somewhat normally,” Gordon said, “than to see his father and mother in such a vicious fight.”
In her case, Gordon said her husband–an attorney with whom she no longer shared a residence–had influence with the judge in the case and had convinced the law guardian–the court-appointed lawyer to represent her son’s interests–that she was an unfit mother.
Gordon said she doesn’t think believe her husband is guilty of any misconduct in their custody dispute, but she feels that his influence as an attorney in the same state created a bias against her.
Betty Weinberg Ellerin, chair of the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts, says an overburdened family court system means that judges often lack the time to hear all details in a case, including potential abuse charges.
Families’ futures, she says are too often decided by under-trained judges, law guardians–court-appointed lawyers to protect the child’s interests–and court officers.
In 2006 Ellerin’s Matrimonial Commission report suggested improvements to the state’s divorce process, including specialized training for judges and regulation of law guardians.
“Some judges are more suited to those courts than others,” Ellerin said.