In family court, you’re guilty until proven innocent

Ashley Herzog
4 min readJan 3

This black military veteran was a victim of domestic violence. So why is the court system giving custody of his son to his abuser?

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Tommy Smith, a black man and a U.S. military veteran, was a victim of domestic violence. In fact, his now ex-wife spent a few days in jail for assaulting him. Smith tried to go through the “proper channels” to get help, as domestic violence victims are instructed — often with a side order of condescension. The incident was documented and Smith’s then-wife was arrested. But now, a family court in Ohio has awarded custody of Smith’s young son to his abuser. Why? Because Smith, a combat veteran, has PTSD. Plus, he told The Outlaws Radio Show, “I’m a man.”

As America tosses aside old, outdated gender expectations, there seems to be one we’re determined to keep: Is it okay for women to assault men? Can only women be victims of relationship violence?

The judge in Smith’s case seems to believe it. Of course, Smith’s case is just one example of civil rights abuses taking place in family courts all over the country. As someone who has experienced abuse in a relationship, I’ve been interested in this issue for a long time. However, I was disheartened to learn from none other than right-wing icon Phyllis Schlafly that the “domestic violence bureaucracy” is completely corrupt. Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in the 1990s, 1,800 American women are murdered each year, 91 percent by someone they know. That someone is usually a partner or ex-partner, and these murders are up 9% since 2014. Many of these women and their families sought help before they were killed, but were ignored by law enforcement and the courts. Meanwhile, domestic violence accusations are considered an Ace card in “the gamesmanship of divorce,” as Schlafly wrote.

Passage of VAWA was a major priority of the American Bar Association (ABA) for whose members it is a cash cow. More than 300 courts have implemented specialized docket processes to address VAWA-type cases, more than a million women have obtained protection orders from the courts, and more than 660 new state laws pertaining to domestic violence have been passed, all of which produce profitable work for lawyers.

A recently issued ABA document called “Tool for Attorneys”

Ashley Herzog

New account. I’m still a professional journalist, novelist, and radio host. And Catherine’s mom.