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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Order in the Court

Yesterday I sat in an unusual courtroom in Providence Family Court. I was alone. There was something different about the space that took me a while to absorb. What was it?

My eyes lingered over the dark wood paneling, the carpets, seats for litigants, lawyers, the public, the judge's bench, the witness stand extending to one side, the clerk's desk to the other: solid, warm, even reassuring. What was I noticing?

I recall the first time I entered a courtroom in Rhode Island Family Court over two decades ago--how chaotic it was full of people. Something seemed incongruous. What was it?

Then I remembered: Taped to the paneling behind the clerk were photos of her family and some children’s drawings. The stenographer had mounted family pictures, too.

I had not thought of the significance then, but it seemed inappropriate. Had Rhode Island privatized its public courtrooms into office cubicles? This was one of my earliest introductions to our state’s small-town culture in Family Court.

I’m sure the people who put up their pictures were good-hearted. They may have felt it would humanize the space to see family photos on the wall. They did not intend to communicate any subliminal message about who you need to know to protect your children in this Court.

I did not fully appreciate how unsettling those family photos were until yesterday, when I sat in a courtroom without them.

I have seen courtrooms in Family Court with bouquets of flowers on the bench--perhaps to make the setting less austere for people who find this place deeply traumatic. I have seen candy bowls and lollypops for children getting adopted. (I don't remember if the judge offered candy at our son's adoption, but I do remember his clarity in saying: This child has all the rights of any child born to you. That was sweetness enough for us.)

In one Rhode Island courtroom I saw a statue of the blindfolded Lady Justice holding the scales aloft. I even saw a judge's omerta-warning taped to the bench--Silence is Golden.

But the courtroom yesterday took my breath away with its uncluttered simplicity. Behind the judge's bench at either side stood the only decoration a courtroom needs: the flag of our country and the flag of our state.

A courtroom whose judge upholds our laws with justice and mercy needs nothing else.

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

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Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: