The Show

Crisis in Family Court

Dr. Phil shines a light on the American family court system, and how often it fails its citizens. From restraining orders to custody battles, hear heartbreaking stories that many say prove the system needs a major overhaul.

Failed by the System



Judge Lemkau

"Stephen and I were together for two-and-a-half years. There was verbal abuse, there was physical abuse. When I was pregnant, one time, he kneed me in my stomach. I felt like his own personal punching bag. When Wyatt was 4 months old, Stephen hit me so hard, he knocked me out. I was done. That was it. I couldn't handle it anymore," says Katie, 23. "Four months after I had left Stephen, I had met someone new. Stephen found out about it. He hacked into my e-mail accounts, my phone account. He was able to see who I had been text messaging. Stephen decided to take me to court for custody of Wyatt. At the same time, Stephen was making threats against my life, saying that he would hunt me down and kill me. I finally went to the police, and they told me I could file for a restraining order, so I did. The custody and the restraining order court dates were a day apart. That was when we met Judge Lemkau. Stephen was trying to tell the judge that I do drugs and I drink excessively. The judge told us to figure it out on our own, and we did. That next morning, I went for a restraining order against Stephen. The judge had said there was no credible threat."

Katie continues. "The threats escalated, and the second time I went for a restraining order, I met with a different judge. I had more proof and more evidence that Stephen was threatening me and Wyatt," she explains. "The judge felt there was no threat, so he denied it. The same day, I checked my e-mail, and I read a story that Stephen had written. There was a happy ending and a tragic ending. In the happy ending, we would have a happy family again, and the tragic ending was Stephen killing Wyatt and himself. I had gone to the police, and the police officer got me my emergency protective order. It lasted for a week.

"The next time I saw Stephen, we were in court. It was my third attempt to get my restraining order. I thought with the full restraining order, Stephen would have supervised visits with Wyatt, and Wyatt would be safe, and I would be safe. Judge Lemkau denied me. He claimed that I was lying, and I tried to plead with him. He wouldn't listen to me. He just kept saying I was lying. The judge was just so dismissive and so cold, and I remember walking out of the court room, and Stephen was holding open the door, and he was smiling at me. It was one of those smiles like ‘Ha ha, I won. That's it,'" Katie says. 

What happened next was beyond tragic.

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