The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention stunned the nation earlier this month with the release of a report stating that middle-aged Americans were increasingly more likely to die from their own hand in suicide than in a car accident, due to a huge spike in the suicide rate from 1999– 2010 (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report).
In the wake of the report's release, numerous experts have opined about the cause of the spike in suicides, particularly for men in their fifties, with higher unemployment, increased foreclosures and a tough U.S. economy topping the list of most popular theories behind what is driving so many middle-aged men to kill themselves. Most pundits and experts are missing an important precipitating factor in a growing number of these suicides because the agencies involved don't appear to be asking the right questions in the wake of these tragedies. In fact, the recent CDC report states, "NVSS (National Vital Statistics System, the data which was analyzed by the CDC here) lacks information about factors such as physical and mental health history at the time of suicide and recent stressors that might have contributed to risk for suicide."
My nonprofit, The Center for Judicial Excellence, and some of our colleagues have been monitoring domestic murder-suicides, or familicides, across the U.S. in recent years. What we see time and again, in communities everywhere, is that stressful, never-ending custody litigation in our broken family courts is pushing more and more fathers to kill themselves and their children.
Day after day, we see stories about a different mother who repeatedly warned a family court judge that her ex-spouse was a) not taking his medication for a diagnosed mental illness and/or b) threatening to kill their children to "make her pay" for attempting to escape a marriage marked by years of domestic violence. Judges in these cases routinely ignore mothers' pleas for protection for themselves and their children, frequently blaming them for "fabricating false allegations to get an edge in the custody battle." Hundreds or more of these divorce judges are routinely sending unsuspecting kids into unsupervised visits with their mentally ill fathers, many of whom have histories of felony domestic violence. Given the grim reality playing out in family courts, is it any wonder there's a huge spike in the suicide rate of middle-aged men who also happen to be killing their own flesh and blood in record numbers?
The National Institute of Justice hosted a forum on this growing crisis, and in 70% of the 408 murder-suicides studied by researcher Jacquelyn C. Campbell, who presented the results of her 12-city study there, previous domestic violence was the number one risk factor in these cases. Fathers were the perpetrators in 91% of familicides (NIJ Journal, Issue 266, June 2010).
Until the CDC and other research entities start tracking the failures of the family court system so that resources can be directed toward fixing it, or perhaps scrapping it altogether to create a better, more functional system, then the murder-suicide and familicide rates in this country will continue to explode.
As a society, we too must stop ignoring the horrific failures of our nation's family court system. We can and must do better to overcome the widespread ignorance that abounds when it comes to the functioning of our courts. Our longstanding neglect of this vital branch of government has allowed it to fester in the dark, without the appropriate checks and balances required to prevent judges from ignoring grave warning signs that could be saving lives. Too many family court judges routinely send dangerous or mentally ill felons with guns into unsupervised visits with their kids, ensuring that they and their fathers return home in body bags. Enough is enough.
Many of the murder-suicides involving middle-aged men and their families might well be avoidable, if family courts were working as they were purportedly designed- to protect vulnerable children from an unstable or dangerous parent, and to monitor the behavior of high-risk parents as they attempt to navigate one of life's greatest stressors - divorce.
FOX11 has courageously led the country with its groundbreaking Lost in the System series these past nine months, showing time and again that the family court system that doles out divorces in Los Angeles and beyond is completely broken. More news outlets need to follow this station's lead if we are ever going to turn this ship around and stop enabling domestic violence perpetrators in killing themselves and their families. Be sure to check out my past and future blog posts to learn more about why this is happening in our family courts.