Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect: What Does the “Penn State Scandal” Tell Us About Our Laws and Values?

CFCC’s Director is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University. Joe Paterno was her graduation speaker. That said, like the rest of the country, all of us at CFCC are horrified as we watch more and more shocking details come out in charges of sexual abuse committed by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. It is perhaps just as disturbing that, if the allegations are true, there were many people who could have, and should have, put a stop to it.

One of the most troubling aspects of this story is the fact that so many people believed that abuse was occurring and did not intervene and report it to the authorities. Unfortunately, the truth is that while progress is being made, we still live in a culture where child abuse is “taboo.” Even trained professionals – teachers, school social workers, doctors – sometimes face internal resistance when reporting what they believe is abuse, especially if the alleged abuser is someone with power over them. Without solid evidence (or even when it happens in front of our eyes), Americans do not want to pry into the private lives of our neighbors, co-workers, students, or clients, and we tend to downplay what we know – especially if we could lose a job over reporting the behavior.

It is critically important that we as a nation and within our communities re-evaluate our attitudes toward the issues of child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence, rape, and more. We should take the time to learn the law and to consider our responsibility to protect innocent victims of the “private” but devastating crimes that occur all too often.

Under Pennsylvania law (23 Pa.C.S. § 6311), anyone who works in a public agency or works with children and has “reasonable cause to suspect” that child abuse or neglect has occurred in relation to their employment must report it to their organization head or his designee. The head of the organization then is required to report to authorities, but only one report needs to be made from each institution.

In the Penn State case, Mike McQueary (the graduate student witness) and Joe Paterno (the coaching legend to whom McQueary went with the information) seemingly both fulfilled their legal obligations by informing the athletic director and University Vice President Gary Schultz. Mr. Schultz violated the law when he decided not to investigate the allegations or report them to child protective services. Was he more concerned with prestige than the fates of countless young boys? As Joe Paterno said, with the benefit of hindsight and knowing the consequences, he believes he should have done more. Most of us feel passionately that he and Mr. McQueary should have protected those boys. In the moment, however, how many of us might have acted the same way– saved our job and our legacy by reporting it, as required by law, to our superior, trusting the “system,” and washing our hands of the disturbing situation? As a community and a nation, we should aspire to be better than that.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has argued that Pennsylvania law needs to be changed to require anyone within an organization to report abuse to the police or the child protective agency when they see it, instead of requiring only the head of the organization to make the report. He believes that the benefits of efficiency are outweighed by the risk that the organization head will drop the ball and that others who could have prevented abuse will not do so. At a minimum, state law must protect those employees who do report suspected abuse. If such policies had been in place in Pennsylvania – or even within the Pennsylvania State University – any of the several employees who allegedly witnessed or heard accounts of child abuse might have come forward and thereby have prevented years of abuse by Sandusky.

We at CFCC agree that changing laws to ensure that more effective reporting measures are in place would be a major step in the right direction. Under Maryland law, anyone who has reason to believe a child has been abused must notify the local Department of Social Services or law enforcement agency and professionals working with children must also report to their organization head (Md. Fam. Law § 5-704 and § 5-705). The state of Maryland also has begun reviewing its child abuse reporting laws to make sure they are designed to best protect abuse victims. Criminalizing a failure to report in clear cases of abuse could be a valuable protection, although, as a recent Baltimore Sun article has pointed out, such a change may lead to unintended consequences. We at CFCC believe that this kind of evaluation and discussion are critical to protect our children. We hope to be part of an ongoing discussion long after the media ceases to cover the Penn State tragedy.

Along with changes in the law, we need to organize as communities to educate the public about our legal and moral duties to protect abuse victims. Policymakers must take a firm stance that abuse is not a “private” problem but a community crisis that must be addressed at every instance and at every level. How often do horrific incidents of child abuse occur yet not receive national news coverage? Let us make children’s health and safety a national priority. Let us ensure that we always act with the courage, the wisdom, and the “hindsight” that Joe Paterno wishes he had.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Domestic Violence and The Criminal Justice System: Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution, or Both?

We recently posted on CFCC’s Facebook page about a Topeka, Kansas, City Council’s decision to decriminalize domestic violence under city law. Although the state of Kansas still has a domestic violence law on the books, police and prosecutors had stopped enforcing the law for budgetary reasons, except for felony domestic violence cases.

In a Baltimore Sun op-ed on October 20th (also posted on CFCC’s Facebook page), our colleague, Professor Leigh Goodmark, director of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Family Law Clinic and an expert on domestic violence law and practice, writes that, while the criminal justice system meets the needs of some women, there is often a high price to pay for such protection:
Studies suggest that relatively few women report domestic violence to police; that most of those arrested for domestic violence are not convicted; and that when abusers are convicted, jail time is rare and minimal…. The criminal justice system undoubtedly meets the needs of some women; successful prosecutions do happen. Some abusers are sent to jail, and some stop their abuse, particularly when they are closely monitored following their release. But for women, the costs of engagement with the criminal justice system can be high: exposure to increased danger at the hands of abusers and, more problematic, the potential for violence from the state.

Professor Goodmark acknowledges that the message sent by Topeka’s action is a dangerous one that is reflected in many jurisdictions around the country. She believes that communities will have to look beyond the criminal system to really protect victims, using community accountability projects and other non-legal initiatives to raise awareness, change social norms, and increase the level and quality of response to the issue.

While we at CFCC believe that community accountability to victims of domestic violence is an essential component of a comprehensive approach to this problem, we feel that the criminal justice system, nevertheless, plays an important role. Criminal justice system reform, including long-term case monitoring, sensitivity training of judicial actors, integration of services to treat non-legal issues, and use of problem-solving courts are all examples of how to make the criminal justice system more responsive to domestic violence victims.

It is clear that Topeka’s action was a dangerous and potentially devastating step in the wrong direction – a case where politics and budget concerns left vulnerable women and families in danger. We at CFCC are encouraged by the fact that the state prosecutor has vowed to resume prosecutions after the public outcry, but we remain concerned that city law continues to ignore domestic violence victims. What, if anything, does Topeka’s experience teach us about domestic violence law and practice around the country? Is the criminal justice system failing victims? Should a reformed, strengthened system be a central part of the solution, or should it be secondary to community-based responses and initiatives? Let us know what you think.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bullying: Moving from Exposure to Elimination

Last year, several high-profile bullying incidents led children to consider or commit suicide, including the Baltimore City girl who made the news after she tried to jump out of her elementary school window.

Since then, there has been a major push to expose this serious issue, highlighted by a “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week” in Maryland last May and the designation of October as National Bullying Prevention Month. On our Facebook page, we have linked to a photo of Maryland’s First Lady (who also volunteers as a Truancy Court Program judge) speaking about bullying.

Recently, the Baltimore Sun featured an article on its front page showing the positive effects of this exposure, as well as the pervasiveness of bullying. Reports of bullying incidents more than doubled in Maryland. Officials attributed this increase to greater sensitivity to and reporting of incidents that were previously shrugged off as “kids being kids.” For example, reporting in Baltimore City increased from 231 reports of bullying two years ago to 541 last year, a 150% increase. State-wide, 3,800 reports of bullying were made last year, an increase of more than 2,000 reports from the previous year.

The Truancy Court Program (TCP) has tackled a number of bullying incidents, as well as the rise of cyber-bullying and the impact of Facebook. We have seen students refuse to attend school because of a compromising picture of them that was posted on Facebook, and we have seen the pain they feel when placed back with their peers.

We at CFCC hope that the spotlight will remain on this important issue and on approaches that identify and curb bullying. Some TCP schools have established “circles,” where a small group of students work with a guidance counselor or social worker to talk about their interpersonal dynamics when they appear unhealthy. Other programs, like the TCP, can help uncover and address bullying when a red flag is raised by attendance or academic problems.

It is important to advocate for and enforce strong anti-bullying policies within schools and disseminate best practices widely so that all teachers, administrators, peers, community members, and parents are equipped to effectively recognize and address bullying at an early stage.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Moving From the “Blame Game” to Problem-Solving About Truancy

We recently posted on CFCC’s Facebook page a link to a Baltimore Sun front-page article about a new anti-truancy intervention in Baltimore City. Although the program itself is laudable and a wonderful complement to CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP), operating in six Baltimore City Public Schools this year, what really caught our eye was the discussion in the Sun’s comments section. The majority of the writers put the blame for a child’s truancy on parents or schools. Some asked why parents should get additional resources simply to enable them to do their jobs.

Too often, the debate on truancy turns into a “blame game.” We know that school attendance statistics in Baltimore City are dismal. For example, more than one-quarter of Baltimore City’s public school students end up leaving school before high school graduation – which is not surprising given the 82 percent high school attendance rate. But it’s how we respond to the grim statistics that matters. Often that response focuses on blame and punishment, rather than on fully understanding the problem and providing support.

Assigning blame more often than not creates an adversarial and punitive climate that overshadows a deeper understanding of the reasons that underlie truant behavior. Does a student’s attendance improve if we incarcerate or fine her parents? Or if we demote or fire her teacher? Students in the vast majority of truancy cases need a caring adult, a mentor, and/or a person of authority to understand and help to address their problems. They need the school, their families, and the community to assist them to get back on track, whether it is in response to bullying, catching up with school work, homelessness, or any one of the myriad issues that confront our students on a daily basis.

Instead of pointing the finger of blame, let’s use community-based, therapeutic, and holistic programs like CFCC’s Truancy Court Program to make a deep and lasting change in the lives of our students.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Student Attendance Calls for Strong Partnerships

With the beginning of the school year, our attention turns to attendance, academic achievement, and graduation. All three are inextricably linked, and all three are the focus of the University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) Truancy Court Program (TCP). As we gear up for the sixth year of the TCP’s operation, we are collaborating once again with Baltimore City Public Schools, where we plan to establish the program in six schools and in two schools in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

In her recent “Audacious Thinking” blog, Tanya Williams, Coordinator of Baltimore City Public Schools’ Office of Attendance and Truancy, calls for community partnerships to encourage better attendance and for interventions that are comprehensive, student and family-based, and utilize community resources. We can think of no better example of these characteristics than the TCP. We at CFCC have collaborated with Ms. Williams for several years in order to implement the program in Baltimore City.

The 2011-2012 TCP is poised to tackle truancy on more fronts than ever before. We plan to continue to engage students emotionally, intellectually, and socially. We have an incredibly dedicated army of volunteers from the University of Baltimore community who are committed to see our children succeed and graduate from high school and college. We cannot, though, do this alone. We are honored to call many distinguished District and Circuit Court judges and masters, attorneys, policymakers, and administrators our partners. Most of all, the Baltimore City Public Schools are essential to this initiative – and, we believe, this initiative is essential to them.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Do Families Matter?: San Franciso’s “Dismantling” of the Family Courts

We at CFCC are shocked and disturbed to learn that the San Francisco Superior Courts are reduced to a shell of their current state as a result of major budget cuts. The system has laid off forty percent of its workers and plans to shut 25 courtrooms. According to a Courthouse News Service article, Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein stated sadly: “We now know the trial courts are the lowest priority in Sacramento.” This is a devastating outcome for San Francisco’s children and families, who turn to the courts for help during difficult and critical times.

What will this mean for San Francisco families? An uncontested divorce, which normally is finalized in five months, may now take a year and a half. A more complex divorce may take years to wind its way through the court process. Child custody cases, which generally are settled in about six weeks, now can take more than six months to resolve. This delay leaves many vulnerable children and families in a state of crisis for unacceptable periods of time. Research has shown that the sooner a family achieves some sort of permanent and predictable outcome following family dissolution, the less likelihood there is for damage to the psychological well-being of family members, especially children.

The time crisis is not the only effect of these cuts. One court clerk has said there is no way the courts can expect to maintain their current level of customer service. This is especially serious for the rapidly increasing number of self-represented litigants, who often need some assistance to understand which court forms to complete and how to accomplish their goals. As a consequence of court clerk cutbacks, the self-represented may need to wait in very long lines with little chance of support from the clerks, thereby ensuring that a final resolution of family law issues will not be achieved for their families.

Even those families lucky enough to be able afford attorneys are likely to face mounting legal fees, as the time spent waiting at the courthouse during each step of the process is bound to increase, depleting even more of the family’s assets in the process. Instead, families who can afford it may turn to the private, for-profit dispute resolution industry to avoid the personal costs of the public system.

Although the family justice system is not as high profile as the criminal justice system, the family law docket is universally the largest docket that state courts face. If we continue to de-value it, the impact on the community, and especially its most vulnerable members, is going to be dramatic. We understand that it is difficult to make tough funding decisions in an economic crisis. Nonetheless, we urge policymakers around the country to seriously consider the justice system’s effect on families, children, and communities before making sweeping, and often devastating, cuts to the family justice system.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The First Lady’s Truancy Court Program Reception – Honoring the Students, Staff, and Supporters That Made Lasting Change a Reality This Year

Baltimore City District Court Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, Maryland’s First Lady, hosted the fifth annual Truancy Court Program (TCP) Reception on Monday, June 6. We had a record-breaking number of attendees, with over 200 TCP graduates, family members, and supporters.

TCP Graduates and Judges enjoy a celebratory dinner (Photo by A. Green)
We are very grateful to Judge O’Malley, who has continued to host this wonderful reception and has also volunteered as a TCP judge since the program’s inception six years ago. All of us at CFCC want to extend our deepest appreciation to Judge O’Malley and her staff for sponsoring and hosting the wonderful buffet dinner at Government House and the award ceremony in Maryland’s Miller Senate Building.

We are so very proud of all of our TCP graduates, all of whom have a moving story underlying their truant behavior. Take Darius Johnson (name changed for confidentiality), for instance, for whom the reception was the culmination of a long journey and a recognition of how far he has come and how high he still can climb.

When we met Darius at the beginning of the Fall 2010 TCP session, we were struck by his protectiveness and concern for his four younger siblings. We soon learned that he was the “man of the house” at the ripe age of fourteen, and that he too often sacrificed his own goals to the demands of his family responsibilities. His school attendance was a definite warning bell: he had 57 absences and tardies in the last two quarters of the fifth grade. But the TCP school team saw promise in him and his siblings and selected them all to participate in the TCP.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflecting on the Urban Child Symposium and the Future of Child Welfare System Reform in Baltimore

Over two hundred people attended the University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ 3rd annual Urban Child Symposium, and the day was a passionate and intensely informative exchange. The topic was “The Urban Child in the Child Welfare System: From Fracture to Fix”, with speakers including experts from the court system, the social services system, academia, and real life – from a former foster child to a parent who voluntarily terminated her parental rights. Our audience, which included lawyers, social workers, educators, community activists, the general public, students, and policymakers, was diverse and involved. If you missed any or all of the symposium, you can watch a podcast of the powerful discussion here.

Throughout the day, the burning questions seemed to be: After many years of reform, have we actually improved the lives of children? Have we complicated rather than streamlined the system, and should we have second thoughts about our path? How can we move the system forward, introduce more research-based “best practices,” and better protect the interests of children in this complex social structure? How can we make sure that this symposium is not just a one-day event filled with good ideas and information, but is actually a springboard for reform? Former DHR Secretary Brenda Donald implored the audience to take an active role in the selection of her successor, and other panelists echoed this suggestion. We would like to encourage our readers to get involved in this process, as it will have a major impact on the future of system reform.

Further, we at CFCC want to ask you to share your thoughts, insights, and perhaps personal experiences. What do you think can be done to improve the child welfare system? How do we turn ideas into concrete reform?

Many of the Urban Child Symposium audience members requested more time to network and discuss practical steps, so we would urge you to do so, both on this blog and in your communities. Let us agree to move Baltimore’s children forward into a more therapeutic child welfare system that better meets their needs in the most difficult of circumstances.

Monday, April 4, 2011

CFCC’s Urban Child Symposium: The Urban Child in the Child Welfare System: From Fracture to Fix

We at CFCC are excited to announce that Thursday, April 7, we continue our tradition of hosting an annual "Urban Child Symposium," which brings together national experts on the cutting edge of the most pressing issues in the lives of children in urban environments. This year, we consider the plight of urban children in the child welfare system. The symposium's title, "The Urban Child in the Child Welfare System: From Fracture to Fix," describes both the experience of children in the system, who enter it with a fractured family and are meant to exit it with a loving, supportive and stable family structure, and the system itself, which too often destroys the lives it is charged with rebuilding. We know that state intervention in families' lives touches the most profound human relationships, and sometimes trauma is magnified rather than lessened. On the other hand, failure to act can mean a child never makes it to healthy adulthood. Issues of poverty, class, race, and culture further compound this extremely complex issue. The good news is that advocates from a variety of disciplines and professions have devoted their careers to improve this system and make it work for children and families. We are delighted to have many of the leading experts on the cutting edge of this most important issue speaking on panels at the symposium.

The symposium will open with a keynote discussion by Shay Bilchik about what children in the child welfare system need, along with an exploration of the future of child welfare reform. Three interdisciplinary panel discussions will follow Mr. Bilchik’s address. The symposium's first panel will consider the "Appropriate Scope and Process of the Child Welfare System,” followed by a discussion of "Making the Child Welfare System Work,” and culminating with "Straight Talk about the Child Welfare System: A Facilitated Discussion," which provides insiders' views of what really goes on in the system.

The event, scheduled Thursday, April 7, from 9am to 5pm in the Venable Baetjer Howard Moot Court Room of UB's School of Law, is free and open to the public. We encourage you to read more about the symposium, register to attend, and bring your perspective and/or questions to this important event. You also can remain involved before and after the event by keeping up with this blog and posting comments regarding your own thoughts about the child welfare system.

Up to five questions posted on the blog before the event will be answered by panelists throughout the day, and a link to the podcast of the event will be posted on this blog shortly after the symposium.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Evidence Highlights the Importance of Early, Targeted, Holistic Intervention for "At-Risk" Youth

We at CFCC believe strongly in the importance of studying social issues, like truancy and dropout, to determine risk factors and address problems at their root causes, thereby preventing them from escalating and potentially destroying lives. In fact, one of the reasons for our starting the Truancy Court Program (TCP) is the research that shows that truancy is a predictor of a number of social problems, from delinquency to dropout to teenage pregnancy.

The Baltimore Education Research Coalition (BERC) recently published a report about early warning indicators of dropout in Baltimore City Schools that highlights the importance of holistic, early intervention approaches such as the TCP in order to prevent dropout and improve our city’s dismal graduation rates. The researchers studied the cohort of students who were set to graduate citywide in 2007 and identified indicators from sixth grade (school year 2000-2001) that were strong predictors of future non-graduation. They were able to identify four sixth grade indicators that accounted for over two-thirds of the city’s non-graduates, and all four of them are issues that the TCP encounters on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, chronic truancy was the most prevalent predictor of non-graduation, but the BERC results reflected a deeper truth: truancy often interacted with other risk factors to seal a student’s fate. The BERC study focused on absenteeism, not tardiness, when analyzing truancy. It categorized students based on sixth grade figures. The findings made clear the importance of middle school attendance. Seventy percent of city students who missed less than 10 days of school in sixth grade went on to graduate. In comparison, only 51.4% of students who missed 10-20 days during sixth grade graduated within one year of their expected graduation date. This was a huge drop, and it still did not include those student defined as “chronic truants.” For the chronic truants (those who missed twenty or more days in sixth grade), their eventual graduation rate was even dimmer – 28.6% of the students graduated within a year of their expected graduation date.

The other three predictors for dropout identified by the study were being over-age for the grade, failing core classes, and having multiple suspensions. The researchers noted that these predictors interacted for many students, and the more sixth grade predictors one applied to a student, the less likely it was that he or she would graduate. To illustrate, over one-third of students who were chronically absent in sixth grade also had failed a core course. For students like those, with two or more indicators, only 20.4% went on to graduate. Most devastating of all was the combination of chronic absence and being over-age for grade – only about one in ten of those sixth graders went on to graduate.

The challenge, then, calls for a multifaceted, holistic approach to truancy that addresses all of these factors so that we can provide the education that Maryland’s Constitution promises to our children and can lead them toward graduation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Join us to celebrate CFCC’s 10th anniversary!

We at CFCC cannot believe that it has been ten years since CFCC’s launching, thereby implementing our vision to create a center to identify opportunities for family justice system reform. Beginning our work with a staff of three, we currently have a staff of eleven, including two senior fellows, six Truancy Court Program consultants, and more. Over the last ten years, we have been involved in a number of programs and reform initiatives, including:

  • Planning and implementing statewide and national conferences on a wide range of issues and programs, including unified family courts, substance abuse and addiction, truancy, the child welfare system, and the practice of family law;
  • Designing and operating the Truancy Court Program, which has served about 900 students in 28 schools over six years;
  • Creating and teaching the CFCC Student Fellows Program, an experiential course for 2nd and 3rd year law students focused on cutting edge issues in family justice reform and therapeutic jurisprudence;
  • Developing a comprehensive public outreach campaign that features media appearances and placements; publication of a national newsletter; creation of two e-newsletters, two DVDs, a website, and this blog; and production of nearly thirty reports, evaluations, and articles;
  • Conducting over 29 trainings and workshops in a variety of areas related to court reform, truancy, substance abuse, and more;
  • Consulting and technical assistance focused on the implementation and evaluation of family justice system reform in 10 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

On Thursday, March 3, CFCC will celebrate our tenth anniversary with a two-part special event at the UB Law School. Beginning at noon in the Moot Court Room, the law school with feature a joint “Lunchtime Law” lecture, “Therapeutic Jurisprudence: A Family-Friendly Approach,” by two of our most valued colleagues and leaders in the therapeutic jurisprudence movement, Judge Peggy Hora and Professor David Wexler. There also will be an evening celebration in the Moot Court Room from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with distinguished speakers, followed by drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the law school lobby from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m..

Both events are free and open to the public, but we do request an RSVP for the evening portion. You can read more about the programs and RSVP for the evening festivities here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Troubling New Practice: For-Profit Businesses that Fund Divorce Cases

The New York Times recently published an article about a new trend in family law: for-profit businesses that invest money to support one party’s legal case in a divorce proceeding and then are paid on a contingent basis from the party’s recovery in the case. I am disturbed by this new development, as it seems to skirt long-established ethical rules in family law practice.

While some attorneys ethically are permitted to charge their fees on a contingent basis (think of the classic personal injury attorney), matrimonial lawyers cannot. The public policy reason for this is that a lawyer has a first duty to advocate for the client’s interests, and there is so much more at stake in a family law case than just money. Sometimes, the best decision for the parties in what begins as a divorce case is reconciliation. Further, there may be times when a smaller total monetary recovery for one party may be used as a bargaining chip for other interests, like obtaining sentimental property. There also are times where litigating for the top recovery possible would require the parties to engage in a very contentious process that would cause more pain for the family than the monetary recovery would be worth. Thus, if an attorney has a stake in the monetary recovery, she could encounter a conflict of interest and could influence a client to make decisions that would harm the client because of the attorney’s desire to profit.

The problem with these new for-profit businesses investing in divorce is that they can have the same harmful influence on a client, resulting in many of the same problems and concerns that undergird the ethical rule preventing attorneys from charging contingent fees in matrimonial cases. Unfortunately, however, the conduct of these businesses is not regulated in the same way as a lawyer’s. The for-profit business’ offer of assistance comes at a person’s most vulnerable and helpless time and can influence that person to make very bad decisions—for example, dissipating assets that rightfully belong to the recently split family or even pursuing a divorce more aggressively instead of considering reconciliation or other options. With no professional ethics governing this kind of for-profit business, there is no end to the damage it can do in a person’s life while seeking to increase the business’ contingent fee recovery. From both a public policy and a moral perspective, then, it is imprudent to allow these businesses to influence individuals in pain who are experiencing a family breakup and are enduring an extremely difficult time.

As the article points out, this kind of business does allow a person to secure counsel to recover assets that may not be recovered without immediate funding to pay an attorney, and it could potentially help the individual to avoid being disadvantaged by a former spouse. The family justice system, however, already has a way to address this problem without resorting to for-profit businesses that are founded on such questionable ethical grounds. The justice system allows a party to ask for attorney’s fees from the person with money, which is done routinely and granted frequently.

I know that new practices like the for-profit businesses raise complex issues, and I am interested to hear how others perceive this new trend. Do you share my concerns? Are there other considerations you would address? Are these for-profit businesses more justifiable than I believe they are?