Over the past few years, I've been incredibly proud to introduce you to my dear friend and colleague, Garland Waller, an Emmy-winning producer, professor, and straight-up gal’s gal.
You might recall that Garland and her husband, Barry Nolan, produced No Way Out But One, an award-winning documentary which chronicles the story of Holly Collins, the first American woman to be granted asylum by the Netherlands on the grounds of domestic violence.
I am over-the-moon-proud to report that on Monday, October 29th, at 8PM, No Way Out But One will make its television debut on the Documentary Channel!
Ladies, please read Garland's hair-raising update below and make sure to watch. Tell every woman you know that this film is a must-see. It is a game-changer. It will haunt, inspire, and enlighten you. It will make you cry and it will make you cheer. It will --and should--anger you. Trust me--you will be thinking about Holly Collins for days, weeks, and months after you meet her and learn about her unfathomable journey
A final note before I turn this over to Garland...if you or someone you love is living a life of abuse, reach out for help or grab the hand of someone you know who needs it…you may be their only way out.
And with these words, I give you, Garland:
Here’s what women need to know: If your husband or partner beats you and abuses your children, and he then goes after custody of those kids in a family court, most of the time he will get it.
Yes. You read it right. MOST of the time. It doesn't have anything to do with being a good mom or a lousy one. It has do to with how the family court systems are broken and how they deal with domestic violence
Now that I have your attention, let me explain.
I have spent the last three years of my life producing a documentary that I wish wasn’t necessary and I hope will shine a bright light on something that most women are happily ignorant about. Women think that if they have spent years nurturing their kids and helping them with their school work and giving them decent dinners (and an occasional ice cream), that if they find themselves in a messy divorce and in the middle of a custody dispute, any judge in the country would see the wisdom of making sure that they get custody of their kids. Heads up. This is mythical thinking.
Most people are shocked to learn that American family courts often give custody to men who beat their wives and/or physically or sexually abuse their children. Family Court can be an Alice Through the Looking Glass World where up is down and down is up.
Think about this….
1) Most of the time, an abuser can convince the family court judge that he deserves custody, even though he’s beaten his wife and children.
2) Women who have been battered or abused often “don’t present well” in court. They are angry, afraid and upset. While batterer’s often possess what psychologists call superficial charm. They are good at manipulating. Battered mothers are falling apart.
3) Even though numerous studies have shown that the vast majority of allegations of abuse made by women in custody disputes are made in good faith. Women are often accused of making fabricating the charges just so they can get custody.
If you want the peer reviewed, published studies to back up of all of those statements, just go to The Leadership Council web site. They have the research and data, chapter and verse.
Now just think about this. Suppose you are a battered mother, you know your kids are being beaten (and/or sexually abused), and you want to tell the family court abuse the abuse.
Here’s what an experienced lawyer might tell you. “Don’t bring any of the abuse up. It will only hurt your chances. The judge will think you are lying. Making it up. So, we will try to get custody, but until we do, you will have to make your kids go with the abusive father on the weekends. Just get your child into therapy until we can change things.” And then you have to wait for weeks or months or years until things change….and sometimes - they never do.
All of this sounds sci-fi. I know. But it’s not. I know lots – lots – of lawyers who have told women this.
There is a reason most women have no clue about this kind of scenario. It’s because mainstream media won’t cover this issue.
That’ why my wonderful husband, Barry Nolan, and I made No Way Out But One. We thought people should know about this. If loving mothers can lose custody in a heartbeat, if abused children could be handed over to abusers on a regular basis, that story needs to be told.
We chose to tell the story of the larger scandal by telling the story of one woman: Holly Collins. She became the first American woman to be granted asylum on grounds of domestic violence by the Dutch government. We chose her case for several reasons.
Holly was a battered woman living in Minnesota in 1992. She and her children had ample medical evidence to prove abuse, including x-rays of her son’s fractured skull, her broken nose and blacks eyes. She had mountains of legal documentation to support their claims. And her case was also dramatic. In 1994, she kidnapped her own children. She got them out of the country. She got them to safety in another country. Her story is incredible…a secret underground helped her, the FBI hunted her, and she even lived with the children in a refugee camp for three years. Ultimately, she was granted asylum by a panel of three Dutch judges who heard what American judges refused to hear or consider - the testimony of her children about the abuse they had endured - and the judges believed them.
Holly’s case was unique in many ways but it was similar in so many others to THOUSANDS of cases in the United States. There’s the case now of Damon, a 16 year old who has been begging the courts not to make him live with his sexually abusive dad. There is the case of Katie Tagle who was told by a judge that he thought Katie was lying about the danger her son was in. She wasn’t. Not long after, her son was shot to death by the father, who then turned the gun on himself. There’s Annette Zender, a foster mom in Illinois who is allowed to raise foster children but not her own child. And there are others. Far too many others. It is a scandal. And it is a tragedy.
Two last points.
It’s middle class and wealthy families that are more likely to run into this problem. Why? Because they are the ones who can afford to fight in family courts. And fight they do. For years. Women have lost homes, jobs, as well as custody.
This last point is really important. Most divorces are not like this. Most couples may hate each other or be over the top irritated with each other, but they care what happens to their kids. Most divorces do NOT involve custody disputes that end up in family court. They do not have prolonged conflict. But if they do, if there is domestic violence and child abuse, all the rules change. And that is what loving parents need to know so that they can make wise choices for themselves and their children.