Pasadena Star News

Monday, May 01, 2000   12:08 AM MST

Editorial: Custody court needs revamp

Pasadena Star News

WHAT is wrong with Los Angeles County Family Court? Our recent series indicates some children are losing the protection the courts ought to guarantee.

Private, often bitter custody battles are leaving some children emotionally damaged and placing them in physical danger as well.

While the majority of custody cases are settled without incident, some 40 percent of contested cases that go to court can prove to be an expensive and emotionally shattering experience for parents and children. Too often, judges fed up with the warring sides make arbitrary decisions for the benefit of the court, rather than the child.

And in this court, like most, those with the money to hire the best representation often are awarded custody, whether or not they are fit parents. And, attorneys readily admit that they are trained to do whatever it takes to win for their client -- the parent.

Our justice system must stop treating children like property, awarding them to the highest bidder, as it were. The good of the child must be the primary motivation for awarding custody.

If nowhere else, family court should allow the judge to weigh all evidence, rather than basing custody on character assassination between warring litigants.

In some cases, judges are handing over children to abusive parents. Sometimes despite compelling evidence that suggests children have been molested. That practice must stop.

We'd like to see a comprehensive revamp of this portion of the court.

The National Organization for Women's call for mandatory training for family court judges in domestic violence, child abuse and child molestation is a good start.

We'd like to see disputed custody cases handled in a special sub-court under the Family Court umbrella. Much like what occurs in domestic violence courts, a judge could then track the progress of children and parents over a specified period before awarding final custody.

Investigating how to make the system more equitable is certainly preferable to the stance of Family Court Presiding Judge Aviva Bobb, who laid responsibility for the court on the public. Bobb said it was up to voters to oust those judges whose rulings were suspect.

Instead of excuses, Bobb and her colleagues ought to work toward guaranteeing the best outcome for children when it comes to custody. Life sentences aren't to be taken lightly in any court of law.

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