Family Court: Dads Regularly Lose Access to Kids, Sparking Claims of Anti-Male Bias

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When an attorney first talked to Seattle Weekly about an anti-male bias in family court, one of the striking things was her gender. This was not some embittered male extremist, but a mainstream female lawyer who represents both women and men. And she's not the only one who sees the problem, as this week's cover story relates.

A number of female lawyers, including those who call themselves feminists, are disturbed by the plight of dads, in particular. One attorney, Rhea Rolfe, describes sitting with a male client in a courtroom one day. The presiding family law commissioner "ruled against every single man," Rolfe says, "and two of them were unopposed."

One of the especially pernicious ways this bias plays out is for a domestic violence allegation to be leveled at a dad. This is not domestic violence as most people think of it--the horrible physical abuse and threats that present dire risks for many women. State law, and other definitions used by the court, define abuse far more broadly.

Says Jan Dyer, an attorney who often handles domestic violence cases: " It might be a shove or a head butt, or when they're so close to you, you can see spit." Or there might not be any physical component to the supposed abuse at all. One domestic violence "risk assessor" used by the courts recommended a dad for domestic violence treatment largely because of his "indifference" to his wife's "feelings and needs."

In the ultimate Catch 22, men are seen as all the more guilty if they attempt to deny the accusations against them.

So men try to get their head around being called abusers while at the same time facing the extreme consequences of such a label. Not infrequently, they will be immediately kicked out of their house and denied access to their child.

The courts, of course, are supposed to be the forum in which true allegations are separated from false. Unfortunately, there's not much time for that in King County's overloaded family court, where the most important relationships of a person's life are rearranged in all of 20 minutes.

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