WeSpoke is a grassroots organization founded by Natalie Blundell. It operates through networks of individuals sharing resources and information, with an emphasis on advocacy to end the abuses of family court.
The following is Blundell’s remarks on the topic at the NY Senate Joint Committee Hearing on Family Courts, which she delivered on Wednesday, November 1.
Public Testimony by Natalie Blundell
I represent the grassroots peer-to-peer organization WeSpoke. I founded WeSpoke in response to persistent reports from domestic abuse victims that the trauma and abuse they experienced in New York custody courts were even worse than what they had experienced in their abusive relationships, and that the practices of family court consistently endangered and directly harmed their children.
This goes far beyond women who are abuse victims, and impacts all parents who are primary caregivers in custody matters.
Our members are women who have typically compromised their careers to serve as primary caregivers for their children. They were never accused of parental unfitness or mental illness before their separation from the other parent, and sought to co-parent amicably.
They consistently report they are being subjected to prolonged litigation until they can no longer afford legal representation, and to unequal coercion to sacrifice their parental and due process rights.
They report that their children suffer unconscionable harm due to court practices.
We are an all-volunteer network, and don’t pretend our research is exhaustive. However, we have reviewed our survey results, data from the NYSCEF website, Part 36 Rules database, documents, recordings, and contemporaneous accounts submitted by litigants.
We also FOIA public administrative records from the NYS Office of Court Administration, but they refused to provide them.
The deeper we dig, the more we are shocked to learn. Our findings indicate an environment in the Family and Matrimonial Courts that incentivizes, enables, and rewards unethical and illegal activity, with structural incentives for litigation and court abuse.
It is little wonder that women are killing themselves, men are killing mothers and children, and even judges, across the nation. It is little wonder that the public’s faith in the integrity of our government is in tatters.
Families turn to courts for help, yet we believe that for the sake of avoiding the accountability and administrative hassle that may come with trials and appeals, the courts are prolonging litigation and applying pressure to already fractured families to tip them over the edge into collapse and despair.
Too many practices are followed, and outcomes are determined with reckless disregard for the best interests of children.
Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, there is a festive atmosphere in the divorce industry – with attorneys and court appointees joking and flaunting their vacations, parties, and campaign events together with judges as families sit crying on the galley benches.
And why shouldn’t they be celebrating? They are driving new cars, dining out, and moving into new homes funded with the liquidated assets, homes, retirement savings, and college funds of the children and families trapped in these courts.
They abuse helpless litigants, usurp parental authority, and prey on families with zero accountability.
We have a slate of recommendations and requests, which we have submitted in written form and posted on our website.
First, we ask the State Senata to request a Moreland Commission by the Governor and conduct a joint committee investigation under Article 4 of the Legislative Law, with particular scrutiny on how prolonged litigation and coercive practices affect New York children and parents.
Second, we have submitted 11 specific legislative proposals, but we’d like to highlight several now:
- Amend and enforce Section 205.14 of the Uniform Rules for Family Court to mandate judges deliver child custody and visitation determinations within six months of the preliminary conference in any contested child custody case, which does not also include an allegation of abuse or safety concerns;
Establish an independent body to monitor and report on the courts’ compliance with New York State law;
Establish a dedicated Family Court Whistleblower Hotline for reports of unethical or illegal conduct by court professionals.
Things would change dramatically if cameras were installed in family court.4. Mandate the installation of cameras in all courtrooms, with recordings accessible for review by an independent body external to the New York Judiciary during routine audits;
This legislation will enhance transparency, accountability, and due process in the courtrooms, and protect the best interests of children and families, while easing court congestion and promoting a culture of dignity and respect.