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Swimming, With Determination, Against the Tide

Karla Cruel, Class of 2013

The very first case assigned to Karla Cruel through the Civil Litigation Field Clinic the law school operates with the Family Law Unit of Philadelphia Legal Assistance was a doozy.

The case would require Karla to argue in Philadelphia’s Family Court on behalf of a father who wants custody of his child. The father is worried about potential dangers posed by the child’s grandfather, who lives with the child and her mother.

Those basic facts placed the matter squarely outside the commonplace. And Karla’s first major task would be to seek an expedited custody hearing.

“He’s a regular guy who really loves his kid,” Karla said, adding that the case will test her powers of persuasion, since many judges seem to assume that women are better caretakers than men.

In her first few weeks with the clinic, she had observed the flow of activity in the city’s Family Court. Time and again, Karla noticed, judges were harsher and more skeptical in their dealings with men than women, regardless of the circumstances.

“The law is balanced, but the application of the law is unfair. The bias is very apparent,” she said. “Custody is about the best interests of the child and Protection from Abuse orders apply to both genders."

Although maternal influence over children is indisputably powerful, she said, it should only be considered one of many factors that decide custody cases.

“Men can get beat up by the system,” she said.