Open letter to family court system

This is an actual letter I wrote after an interesting and eye opening experience with one of the teen moms I mentor.  Names have been left blank to protect privacy.

August 13, 2010

Dear Judge ________,

I had my first encounter with the family court system on August 11, 2010 when I accompanied ________ _________ to a hearing to extend an emergency protection order filed against her mother’s boyfriend, ___________ ________. 

I wanted to share my takeaway from the experience with you in hopes that I can provide you with a different perspective.  I can only imagine the dysfunction you see in your court room on a daily basis.  As a resident of this county, as a woman and as a mother I appreciate all that you do for families in our area.

However, __________ left the courtroom that day feeling marginalized and defeated, despite the fact that you did rule to extend the order to keep her and her daughter safe.  The reason for her feeling this way is that her mother, ____, took the stand, told you half- truths and outright lies and you seemed to believe them.

I encouraged _______ when we left that it doesn’t matter if you weren’t able to obtain the full story, at least she has the ability to keep herself and ________ safe, at least, until November.  But, I also sensed that this is exactly why it is so difficult for us (our organization and others that work with these girls) to get them to file charges in the first place.

In most of the cases we deal with, we certainly encourage and facilitate the relationship between the teen mom and her family.  But, in cases like ________’s, safety and healthy relationships are more important than biology.

This is not the first instance that Mr. _________ has been physical with ________.  He has also been physical with her mom and the charges filed by ________ are his second offense domestic violence proceedings.  ________ would have been unable to call 911 that day if our agency had not provided her with a cell phone, as her mother and Mr. _______ gave her no access to a land line or a cell phone and severely limited her access to the internet and other forms of communication.

________ has four younger brothers and sisters that have been in the foster care system for several years due to _____’s instability and history of drug and alcohol addiction.  When _________ referred to ________’s “running away” on the stand, she was actually making reference to a time when ________ had to go and stay with her mother’s friend because Mr. _______ had been physical with her during her pregnancy and they were pressuring her to obtain an abortion that she did not want.

I am not naive and realize that often teenagers embellish and exaggerate stories to make themselves look good and their parents like the ogres.  However, this is not one of those cases.  We carefully examine and research the girl’s in our program so we know how best to help them.  We know _______’s past and the obstacles, including her mother, that she has had to overcome to be where she is today–safe and with hope for her future.

_________ just graduated with honors from __________ High School, in spite of her home situation.  She is scheduled to start a technical program at _________ Community College in February.  She is an excellent mom to her 9 month old daughter.

I share these facts with you in hopes that in the future, when a frightened young woman comes into your court room, that you will objectively provide her with the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to deflect the insinuations and dishonest testimony of a woman (even if it is her own mother) protecting an abuser.  Due to the fact that _______ nor I had any experience with family court etiquette, neither of us felt it was appropriate (or that we were given the opportunity) to speak up and correct the errors her mother was sharing on the stand and provide you with these facts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I do not envy your job and wish you all the best!


Melissa Smallwood


  1. Jillbevins says:

    wow! you truely do have the gift of writting!!! I hope we can open their eyes to situations like _____'s 🙂 after I get things rolling in the school system I will start working in the court and social service systems.
    Thanks for caring!

  2. Julie Gillies says:


    It grieves me that you had to write a letter like this, however, it thrills me that God is using your communication/writing gift in such a mighty way. It's no small thing to influence a judge, and I believe that God will use your letter to not only touch this judge's heart, but to change the way things happen in that judge's courtroom from now on.

    God bless you for doing the right thing!

  3. Cheryl@SomewhatCrunchy says:

    Wow, good for you. I hope the judge takes notice and it initiates change!

  4. I really admire you, dedicating your time to helping people in need. It sounds like this young woman really needed someone to support her and you were able to provide that support.

  5. This gave me chills……both the story about the girls achievements despite bad circumstances, and because you took time out of your life to help her…….taking her to court and following through with a letter when what the judge did made her feel unheard and marginalized. What a great example you are!

  6. thank you, Angie!!

  7. RELEVANT Meet & Greet:

    Can’t wait to see you there!


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