The Respondent: Exposing the Cartel of Family Law

Hollywood veteran Greg Ellis delivers a gripping, first-person account of family breakdown - and the forces fueling it.

Family breakdown is the single greatest threat to American society. Every day, more than 4,000 children lose a parent because of our archaic and inhumane family-court system. Every day, ten divorced men commit suicide. And now, one in three children in our country is without a father.

The Respondent is Ellis's personal story about a Hollywood dream razed by internal and external forces. Part memoir, part meditation, and part manifesto, it's a timely and heartrending portrait of perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the American legal system. Through its candor and moral strength, The Respondent offers guidance and hope. As such, it's an indispensable read for not only parents enduring the grief of child separation, but all interested in learning about the gross overreach and unrelenting brutality of family law.

This book is a masterpiece and a gem on many levels. To begin with, Ellis is a brilliant writer and stylist. The prose is of another world—elegiac and full of pathos without becoming mawkishly sentimental. The writing is cinematic and evocative. The words create a lush visual image of the harrowing experiences Ellis experienced by losing custody of his children. If you want to learn how deeply family law is antipodal to the interests of the father—then read this book. If you want to learn how one innocent man survived the single-minded goal of his spouse to destroy his life and career, but who emerged with his dignity intact, his love of life burning incandescently, and the way his profound love for his sons have kept him living with sustained purpose and meaning—read this book.

I was struck by Greg Ellis’ graciousness throughout the book. In describing the toxic manner by which his ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law tried to set him up and destroy his life, Ellis does not resort to demonization of those vocationally called to destroy him. Rather, in a dignified and restrained manner he unfolds the chain of events that led to the crisis, orchestrated by his ex-wife, that found him being forced into a psychiatric unit.

The book is suspenseful and a real page-turner. Fathers matter. They love their children deeply and want to protect them. This is the story of a devoted father viewed as almost sub-human by the guardians and enforcers of family law. If your marriage is on the rocks and you honestly think divorce is a possibility—then read this book. It is chock full of profound insights about the nature of family law, and the hidden anti-male attitudes embedded in our culture that influence that law. Thousands of fathers like Greg Ellis have suffered unspeakable injustice by a legal system that regards men—by nature—as disposable, toxic and incapable of efficacious parenting.

This is as much a survivor’s story as it is one of the most compelling memoirs and “anti-father” exposes that I have read in a long time. People who love humanity, the power of the family, and who wish to understand the devastating loss that occurs to children who suffer from the machinations of a system that pits parental interests against each other while ignoring the actual well-being of the children—should read this book.

I read it for all those reasons and again—the sheer mastery of language and poetic prose rendered here in a most exceptional book.

I interviewed Greg Ellis about his life, ordeal and his recommendations for improvements in family law.

Hill: You found yourself in the tragic position of having your children taken away from you and being involuntarily placed in a psychiatric institution. This took place without evidence of you ever harming your children or your wife. Yet your wife was able to initiate all this and get away with this. How is this possible in a free country such as the United States?

Ellis: I was, on March 4, 2015, a successful actor and producer living in an expansive Hollywood home with my wife of 20 years and two young sons I adored. But in the span of the ensuing 24 hours, I was ushered from my home in handcuffs, at the behest I later discovered of my ex-wife, committed to a mental institution against my will (the first of five incarcerations) subjected to a temporary restraining order in Divorce Court on the basis of a false allegation, became instantly homeless and almost destitute overnight, and watched helplessly as my sons lost their father for half their childhoods.

In crossing the legal rubicon from citizen to respondent (the legal moniker for the parent, partner or spouse who did not file for divorce) I migrated from a world of presumed innocence and respected privacy to one of assumed guilt and immediate and ruthless judgment. A dystopian reality that, unbeknownst to me before my personal odyssey, hundreds of thousands of partners and parents--decent law-abiding citizens across America--have been enduring for decades.

My experience in the family law system stoked not just anxiety and suffering—though plenty of that—but also deep curiosity. I wanted to understand the nature of this legal artifice, the one that rips 4,000 children from their parents every day, shattering families and rending the very fabric of American society.

The United States of America is in the grips of an epidemic that rages in plain sight and yet remains invisible to so many. America is the world leader in children growing up in single parent households, one in three children doesn’t live with their biological father in the home, and 40 percent of those children haven’t seen their fathers in more than a year. The fabric of society is fraying as an unfeeling $60 billion-a-year family law system perpetuates the tragedy.

The go-to-playbook for divorce lawyers and Petitioners – which I explain in more detail in my book - is what’s commonly known as the Silver Bullet Paradigm - a war-fighting philosophy, aimed at crippling the opponent before the conflict really begins. And it works with 100% efficiency. It’s a legal mechanism that wins every single time.

Hill: Your book is a harrowing account of how you lost your friends, a major portion of your career and of your sons all based on an unsubstantiated accusation. Tell our readers, how in your view, the U.S. legal system is configured in such a way that that it operates on the presumption of guilt where fathers are concerned?

Ellis: Family law is the only branch of our legal system where there is no presumption of innocence. This means that criminals - murders, rapists, terrorists, and pedophiles - have more legal rights than law abiding parents. This callous legal construction ensures a lack of accountability for the professionals who work within its ranks and, in many cases, constitutes a clear conflict of interest. The cruel irony is that this system—the stated purpose of which is to resolve conflict—more often perpetuates the fight, pitting two desperate people against each other and kicking any sense of responsibility down the road.

In family law courts, it’s often due process be damned, the presumption of innocence extinct, and partners, parents and particularly patriarchs, are pre-judged guilty until proven more guilty, leaving a trail of broken families, persecuted parents, forsaken fathers left to fend for and to tend themselves in an institutional system that oversees itself, that is not even answerable to the supreme court.

Today, university-educated mothers initiate divorce 90 percent of the time (- American Law and Economics Review). Mothers in general are awarded custody of children in a divorce more than 80 percent of the time (- Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support, 2013).

Mothers, the stats bear out, are simply a faster draw, and fathers almost always wind up eating dust as the respondents. The petitioner places themselves at a supreme advantage, and a mother petitioner, who claims victimhood at the hands of a bad man, is almost untouchable.

When victimhood is rewarded, responsibility will never follow.

The Divorce Courts and the parasitic lawyers populating them, have unleashed a crisis of fatherhood in America. Today 1 in 3 children live without their biological father in the home, with 40 percent having not seen their dad for more than a year. A million marriages a year end in these courts, with children caught in the cross hairs. The gender-biased, $60 billion-a-year American Divorce Machine is more focused on keeping money flowing than on the best interests of our children. It’s an organized syndicate that pits one parent against the other, rewards toxic abuse, and destroys families in plain sight.

4000 children a day lose a parent in America’s family law courts. 85% of the time the child loses the father. 250,000 children are placed into the foster care system every year. Each child placed in foster care is worth $6000 to the State. This generates $1.5 billion-a-year for selling kids into foster homes.

The U.S. family law industry is a $60 billion dollar-a-year money machine. Globally, the family law industrial complex generates nearly $1 trillion annually.

Our children, the future of our world, by far pay the highest price.

Today, an estimated one in three American kids live without their biological father in the home. These children are at a greater risk of having more difficult lives according to just about every measurable metric. For example: they are more likely to misuse drugs, experience abuse, or go to prison, they are twice as likely to drop out of high school and live in poverty, and they are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen. The story isn’t much better for the parents of divorce, and the effect on fathers is the most dramatic. 

Today in family law, tools built as shields for women are too easily fashioned into (silver) bullets that are literally killing men. Take false allegations of domestic violence for instance. Over 80% of domestic abuse allegations resulting in a TRO - temporary restraining order - or EPO - emergency protection order, are not sustained once the case moves to a permanency, or evidentiary, hearing. This shows that the majority of domestic violence allegations are false or unprovable. Yet there is no mechanism to hold those who make false allegation accountable. Worst still, they are rewarded when presented in divorce court.

This is an affront to the real victims of domestic violence.

False allegations that are used to thwart the non-resident parent and child relationship need to be dealt with in a way that protects the relationship that is under attack, and in a way to dissuade the making of these accusations going forward.

Hill: How can we improve Family Law?

Ellis: Introduce the presumption of innocence, pass more equal-shared parenting laws, educate judges and professionals in the system about how to spot parental alienation, incentivize early resolutions as opposed to prolonged acrimony, and address the Silver Bullet Paradigm which makes it easy for liars to profit.

Domestic violence must be tried in criminal court. This would provide the accused with the same Miranda rights that criminals get as well as stiff prison sentences for those found guilty. Hearsay evidence would not be admissible, as it is in the quasi-kangaroo show-trials in divorce court.

The Silver Bullet of the false accusation of Domestic Violence is a technique and tool being weaponized for financial gain because of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) - a series of law enforcement grants that shifted the focus away from the problems of the relationship to a law enforcement approach to domestic violence resulting in a pivot from the prior “discretionary” approach to “mandatory arrest policies.” Also, VAWA created all this money for Stop Grants. To qualify for Stop Grants, Law Enforcement had to adopt policies of mandatory arrests. Ergo, a false accusation is made, either fabricated or based on hearsay, and the accused is arrested and/or detained.

Also, we need to abolish the financial incentives. Law Enforcement are now forced to prosecute domestic violence to keep their coffers full. This funnels people, predominantly men and fathers, into a Family Law system (without a presumption of innocence) that almost ensures the destruction of the relationship, the evisceration of fathers, the excommunication of husbands and the anhelation of even the idea of men.

Due to evolving Western morality and stronger legal mechanisms and better education, domestic violence rates have been declining for decades. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, rates of serious intimate partner violence against women fell by 72 percent between 1994 and 2011. While this data is encouraging, the switch from the discretionary approach on. Domestic violence incidents to mandatory arrest/detainment outweighs the gains.

Further, there are so many false statistics presented in the media about domestic violence. A Review of Maternal and Paternal Filicide found that mothers kill their children at about the same rate as fathers.

Recent surveys have found that an equal percentage of men and women reported being the victim of partner violence in the past year. So, this fallacy that men cannot be victims of DV needs to be corrected. Men can be victims, women can be abusers, welcome to equality! The reality is, abuse has no gender.

Lastly, CPS needs an overhaul. Some of my suggestions are:

  • Independent Audits of CPS in Every State.
  • A Federal Congressional Hearing is Long Overdue. 
  • Remove, abolish the state financial incentives that have turned CPS into a business that takes children and separates families for money.
  • Open Family Court and remove the confidentiality laws. 
  • Give parents their rights verbally, and in writing. 
  • Cases to remove children and terminate rights of parents heard by Jury. 
  • Close CPS and DCFS and start again from a pro family position.

Hill: Why is it so difficult to convince people reform is needed?

Ellis: Like me, most people aren’t aware of the harsh vicissitudes of Family Law until they are suddenly thrust into the star chamber of divorce court. Globally, the family law industrial complex generates nearly $1 trillion annually. It’s grown to such a size that even those inside the system who want reform aren’t sure how to tackle the myriad of issues. There’s so much easy money to be made in Family Law. For example, an $800 an hour attorney sends an email to opposing counsel (cost: $200). Opposing counsel reads and responds ($400), etc. etc. During the course of a morning there might be as many as twenty emails exchanged. That’s $4000 in billable hours and the parent, partner or spouse watches their inbox influx horrified at the money being spent on their behalf, usually over inconsequential matters. There’s no way to stop the financial bloodletting, and its particularly difficult as most people are reliant on their attorneys advise at a very vulnerable time in their lives. Dealing with the potential loss of one’s children, one’s home, one’s livelihood, makes people very emotional, and understandably so. Family Law firms trade in arguments and acrimony. It’s a $60-billion-a-year industry that’s incentivized to keep the zero-sum divorce laws in place.

Hill: What advice would you give to help families stuck in high conflict legal disputes?

Ellis: Legal practices have not kept up with the cultural changes, credible social science research, or the fundamentals of law. The U.S. is the world leader in single parent families with a 60 billion dollar a year family law system incentivized to break up families rather than keep them together or enhance co-parenting. Every family and child deserve a healthy and safe home. We need to do a better job of helping people keep out of court in the first place. The legal jeopardy of our current Family Law system is not conducive to people’s well-being. I’d recommend collaborative divorces to people considering dissolution and would encourage mediation with a caveat – be very wary of who the mediator is, even if they are ‘qualified’, because most of them have trained within Family Law and all too readily ‘churn’ people back into the system. This is why I’ve been working to develop programs that enhance relationships, provide alternative pathways to conflict resolution, and lessen reliance on archaic family law systems. Successful implementation results in a more tranquil society for all, particularly our nation’s children.

I also wrote a free downloadable e-book called The Code that is geared toward people struggling to cope with the Family Law system, or life in general. The Code offers impactful and immediate relief strategies to survive what I call the Six Silver Bullets of High Conflict Divorce and the Magic Ballistics of Family Law War. The book is full of tips, insights, and secrets on how to navigate the trauma of family separation and hopefully helps provide families some immediate relief. It’s available on the website www.TheRespondent.com

I want not only to share my experience, but the lessons I learned in the process. The Respondent is the vessel through which my experience is conveyed, and The Code represents a compilation of the lessens I can impart on others.  I’m compelled to note yet again that I do not suggest that the answers to life’s many mysteries are suddenly at my fingertips in the wake of six years of suffering and disappointment. Were I only that smart. Rather, The Code reflects — I hope — some semblance of wisdom that has emerged out of that suffering and disappointment.

Hill: Your book is about exposing the Cartel of Family Law? In exposing all that you did and being a victim of the Cartel, in what fundamental way has your humanity changed?

Ellis: I’d say the most profound change I experienced was when, at my darkest moment, I asked myself the meaningful Socrates question – Who am I? The ensuing dialect provided a multiplicity of answers that reshaped my core value system.

If I’d considered the future on March 5, 2015 — the date on which my book The Respondent begins — I could not have conceived the convulsive events that were poised to change my life. March 6, the next morning, I’d been transported from suburban comfort to systemic hell, rattled and relegated to a mental institution against my will. The ensuing journey — and it was very much a journey — was one of profound loss and unexpected recovery. I discovered, at some point between incarceration and release, that the world I’d inhabited was one of vacuity and meaninglessness. And that existential awakening is central to both The Respondent, and the excruciating lessons I learned in the past six years.

From the ashes of divorce court I founded a charity –– CPU (Children & Parents United) –– to promote and improve child well-being by providing information and resources to policy makers, legislators, practitioners and the public, resulting in enhanced relationships and reduced conflict for those children and parents navigating our current family law systems. We champion the presumption of innocence, advocate for those falsely accused of domestic violence, encourage equal shared parenting, and educate on how to reduce parental alienation. Our solution-based programs––aimed at keeping partners, parents, and children out of court––include interpersonal relating workshops (CPU communication), conflict-resolution services (CPU Mediation), and expert legal advice (CPU Law).

If there is anything that we wish to change in our children, we must first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. And if we are to fashion a better world for our children, there is no more urgent project than recasting fatherhood as the foundational and heroic role of a lifetime, rebuilding divorce court and revitalizing the image of family.

Hill: Thank you! I wish you all the best in your life.

Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago specializing in ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics and moral psychology. He is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. Dr. Hill is the author of five books, including the forthcoming book, What Do White Americans Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.

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