ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – She's been in the news recently as an alleged victim of harassment by the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney. She's moved on.
St. Charles County Family Court Judge Erin Burlison granted Fox 2 an exclusive interview about what she calls a courtroom crisis: the growing number of divorce cases where children refuse contact with one of their parents.
In this most private of legal settings, Burlison gave us a look behind the courtroom doors to shine a light on the troubling issue.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a courtroom setting where people at the end of the day are very happy with the outcome,” Burlison said.
“I would say weekly, I have this issue,” of highly contested alienation of a parent by their child(ren), most often a teen.
“I understand it’s unfair but they do have to follow the parenting plan. I know that’s difficult for teenagers because they don’t want to be a part of this. This isn’t their doing…but completely refusing contact is something the court – we just can’t accept it – without looking into it,” Burlison said.
That’s not her opinion. It’s state law.
RSMO 452.375 states that when parents cannot agree on custody, there should be a focus on "the needs of the child for a frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationship with both parents ...” and "which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent..."
Hence, the judge has arranged for a Friday seminar with experts from the non-profit group Overcoming Barriers, who stress continuing relationships with both parents, even in cases of domestic violence.
“Our main concern is children who’ve just come through a domestic violence situation,” said abuse survivor and victims’ advocate Carolyn Deevers, in an interview earlier this week.
Deevers is among those planning to demonstrate Friday in opposition to the seminar and Overcoming Barriers.
Burlison shared the protesters’ concerns and that was the reason for the seminar, she said.
“It’s not just a 'throw the children back in with this parent.' That’s why we’re educating ourselves on it,” she said. “Even if there’s domestic violence, that’s not going to stop an alleged/found abuser from coming into the courtroom and wanting rights with their children. So, we still have to address it at the end of the day.”
By far, most of the cases of children refusing contact with a parent did not involve domestic violence. Domestic violence or child abuse can legally strip a parent of a relationship with their children, forever, she said.