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From Madness to Mutiny

Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts -- and What Can Be Done about It

In this astonishing book, sociologist Amy Neustein and attorney Michael Lesher examine the serious dysfunction of the nation’s family courts -- a dysfunction that too often results in the courts’ failure to protect the people they were designed to help. Specifically, the authors chronicle cases in which mothers who believe their children have been sexually abused by their fathers are disbelieved, ridiculed or punished for trying to protect them. All too often the mother, in such a case, is deemed the unstable parent, and her children are removed from her care, to be placed in foster care or even with the father credibly accused of abusing them. Employing a special form of sociological inquiry known as ethnomethodology, they show how judges, private attorneys, law guardians, child protective service caseworkers and court-appointed mental health experts on a day-to-day basis collaboratively produce a closed and claustrophobic family court setting that makes practical sense to the system’s practitioners -- but looks like madness to everyone else. They also describe the social interactive work of mothers trapped inside the system. Faced with judicial rulings that seem to violate their most basic parental values, these mothers litigate furiously, take their stories to the press, go on hunger strikes, or turn fugitive with their children through a modern-day “underground railroad.”From Madness to Mutiny offers an overview of family court malfunction and the parental mutiny that results from it. The authors outline the new legal landscape that makes the madness possible and show how the system has failed to react to severe criticism from media and legislators. And they discuss ways to reform the family courts, with the goal of transforming them from instruments of punishment to true institutions of justice.

About the Authors

AMY NEUSTEIN, Ph.D., is a sociologist, author, and lecturer. In 1986 she founded a legal research and advocacy center in New York City, Help Us Regain the Children, to study the plight of mothers who lost custody of children. The findings of her study were published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, and have frequently been cited in the published work and lecture material of other researchers. In 1996, she received a Humanitarian Award from Mothers Against Sexual Abuse. Dr. Neustein has also published in a number of national journals, magazines, and newspapers, and has made appearances on radio and television.MICHAEL LESHER is a lawyer and writer who has published in The Village Voice, The Jewish Week, Forward, Canadian Jewish News, and North Jersey Herald & News. He has contributed to legal publications such as Moore’s Federal Practice, Weinstein’s Evidence, and The Federal Litigation Guide Reporter.


"This book is essential reading for any health or mental health professional or legal advocate for children."—Family Violence and Sexual Assault Bulletin

From Madness to Mutiny . . . is an emotionally tough but intellectually satisfying read; it is a volume that belongs on the bookshelf of every professional who deals with child custody and child abuse, from lawyers and judges to psychologists and social workers.—Journal of Child Custody

“There is extraordinary merit in the claims the authors make… [and] many of the reforms, suggested in the concluding three chapters, are worth consideration.”—Law and Politics Book Review

"Unusually rich and detailed documentation . . . Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher have produced a searing and profoundly disturbing indictment of family courts in the United States . . . I commend Neustein and Lesher for their major contribution to this struggle."

Violence Against Women

"This collection can certainly be considered illuminating. Moreover, it is necessary. As Erica Brown points out in her chapter "Straying the Course," abuse of this nature does damage to victims, to communities, and also to faith itself. One of the most important points in this collection can be found in this chapter: "The fact that a rabbi who abuses congregants or students in a youth group, synagogue, or school setting may also be an acclaimed teacher or mesmerizing lecturer is not beside the point. It is the point" (p. 62). Indeed, it is the faith that we place in our religious leaders that makes abuse of this nature so very damaging, and, more important, so very possible. It is undoubtedly time that Jewish communities everywhere wake up to this fact and begin to make ourselves a bit less comfortable by loudly breaking the silence."—H-Judaic

“After getting past the horrendous accounts of injustice, the importance of the book is quite evident. It contributes not only to the sociology of the family, but also to our understanding of inequities within the criminal justice system for women and children. Neustein and Lesher draw attention to an issue that warrants much more attention from researchers, policy-makers, and the general public. A regularly cited problem within sociology is that our research is only accessible to other sociologists. I do not think that this is true of this book. This book will appeal not only to family researchers across disciplines, but also to people who work with and advocate for children. It can be used as a supplemental text in teaching about the criminal justice system or family violence.”—Journal of Contemporary Sociology

"There's a marvelous groundswell of activism that I didn't see 20 years ago,' said Neustein, co-author of the forthcoming From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From the Family Courts - and What Can Be Done About it. After more than 18 years of fighting her own battle, Neustein says she sees all the recent activity as a sign of hope that one day soon her work might be done and she will be vindicated. "I hope to make myself obsolete, " Neustein said. "I wish this had never happened. No one wants to go through this."—Forward

From Madness to Mutiny . . . is an emotionally tough but intellectually satisfying read; it is a volume that belongs on the bookshelf of every professional who deals with child custody and child abuse, from lawyers and judges to psychologists and social workers. One reviewer recounted that she had provided a volume of this book to a family court judge who then stated that he had purchased 25 more copies and sent them all to other judges (Fox, 2006). This level of enthusiasm is not surprising since this volume brings the unique combination of a scholarly analysis within a passionate call for change. There can be no doubt that the family courts must change to address the widespread systems failure that has made the best interest of the child an empty slogan instead of the guiding principle it should be."—Journal of Child Custody


"This book is a must read for every feminist, especially mothers." —Helen Grieco, Executive Director, California National Organization of Women

"A groundbreaking new book that is perhaps the most highly readable scholarly work I've encountered in my 14 years in academia . . . The very first to provide the historical and contextual chronology of this system's steady decline into chaos and corruption over the past two decades. It is eminently accurate and rigorously documented — a book that will hit scholars, professionals, and lay persons right between their eyes. This is the book that mothers have been waiting for . . . I consider this book among the most important of the decade."—Maureen Therese Hannah, Siena College

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