My name is C. M.. I was married for 15 years and had been a stay at home mom for nearly 6 years when my ex-husband and I split up in 1999. We have four children, two of which have special needs. My judge gave me custody of the children in the final divorce, with no restrictions on moving out of state even after K. J. (custody evaluator) recommended that provision. During this time my ex-husband did everything he could to make my life miserable. He broke into the house 3 times, once taking pictures of the children and me while we slept. He cut the lines on my air conditioning unit. He hid behind a board at the corner of the house and jumped out taking pictures when the children and I returned home. This behavior was scary enough but when he pinned me between my van and his car while the children were in the car watching, it became downright terrifying. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office did little or nothing to help me and my children feel safe. Yes, I received a restraining order for two weeks—and when he violated it, a sheriff’s officer stood in my kitchen and told me “a restraining order was a piece of paper and wouldn’t stop a bullet or a knife, ask Nicole Simpson”. The judge at the two week hearing for the restraining order said that “people acted out of character during the stress of a divorce” and reduced my no contact order to a no violent contact order. In other words, Palm Beach County wasn’t going to protect me at all.

In April 2001 I had finally come to the decision that staying in Florida was not worth dying. I consulted 2 lawyers, showing them my final divorce papers and asked can I move to Caiifomia? Both said yes, there is nothing here to prohibit you from moving but you do have to file to revise his visitation. So in April my lawyer did just that. By August we still did not have a court date. I had to move as my house had been sold and the children would be starting school soon. I felt it was in their best interest not to change schools if at all possible. So we moved to Fremont, California.

We were here less than a month when my ex-husband filed contempt charges against me for violating his visitation rights. I flew back to Florida and appeared in front of Commissioner W. and then flew home. The following week I was notified that I again had to appear in court so again I flew to Florida, this time to appear in front of another judgel. My ex-husband had filed for change of custody of the children. When I entered the court room the new judge informed me that she didn’t even expect me to appear and I was to go with my ex-husband to mediation and I would decide how the children were coming back to Florida in the next two weeks or I would be going to jail that day. I wasn’t given a chance to say anything and my first judge’s final judgment in the divorce was totally ignored. I was a fool. I went to mediation and agreed to send the children to my ex-husband until this could be sorted out in court. I thought it would be handled fast and it would be only a matter of weeks until my children were back with me. What good would I do my children if I were in jail?

Well the weeks turned into months and now it’s been 2 years. That second judge stole my children, handing them over to someone who only wants them to use them to hurt me. My ex-husband has done everything he possibly could to alienate my children from me. It is beyond comprehension that anyone could make life-impacting decisions without even reading the file. The courts did little or nothing for me when he was working a full time job and behind on child support, but when I was laid off for fifteen months my ex-husband filed a motion without notifying me or my lawyer for back child support, and the Judge had a warrant ordered for my arrest.

The Judge also set a 30 minute trial on my ex-husband’s petition to permanently modify custody of the children to him. With an outstanding warrant for my arrest, I could not return to Palm Beach County. I borrowed money to hire counsel to appear in my place. The Judge did not explain why only 30 minutes was set aside for a Custody Trial which normally requires at least one day.

Did the Judge expect my arrest would render me unable to appear for trial, allowing my ex-husband to win custody by default? You be the Judge.

The question you are here today to examine is: “Are Florida courts biased against women?” From my experience, the answer would be “Absolutely!”

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