APA: Fathers who batter their children’s mothers can be expected to use abusive power and control techniques to control the children
Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force On Violence And The Family
WHEN PARENTS SEPARATE AFTER AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP, SHOULDN’T FATHERS HAVE AS MUCH RIGHT AS MOTHERS TO BE GRANTED PHYSICAL CUSTODY OF AND VISITATION RIGHTS WITH THEIR CHILDREN?
Tensions exist between children’s need for contact with their father and their need to be protected from the physical, sexual and psychological abuse that is common in families where there has been other forms of violence such as woman abuse.
Although most people believe that fathers should have equal access to their children after the termination of a relationship between the parents, the equal-access option is based on the assumption that the fathers will act in their children’s best interests. However, that is a naive assumption in situations where family violence has occurred.
Fathers who batter their children’s mothers can be expected to use abusive power and control techniques to control the children, too. In many of these families, prior to separation, the men were not actively involved in the raising of their children. To gain control after the marital separation, the fathers fight for the right to be involved. Often children who have been exposed to violence in the family are frightened to confront their father’s negative or abusive behavior, and mothers cannot protect them. Sometimes the father tries to alienate the child from the mother by using money and other enticements, negative comments, or restricted access to the telephone during visitation with him. Other times, fathers may threaten or actually kidnap the child to punish the mother for leaving, or to try to force her to return.
Most people, including the battered woman herself, believe that when a woman leaves a violent man, she will remain the primary caretaker of their children. Family courts, however, may not consider the history of woman abuse relevant in awarding custody. Recent studies suggest that an abusive man is more likely than a nonviolent father to seek sole physical custody of his children and may be just as likely (or even more likely) to be awarded custody as the mother. Often fathers win physical custody because men generally have greater financial resources and can continue the court battles with more legal assistance over a longer period of time.
Family courts frequently minimize the harmful impact of children’s witnessing violence between their parents and sometimes are reluctant to believe mothers. If the court ignores the history of violence as the context for the mother’s behavior in a custody evaluation, she may appear hostile, uncooperative, or mentally unstable. For example, she may refuse to disclose her address, or may resist unsupervised visitation, especially if she thinks her child is in danger. Psychological evaluators who minimize the importance of violence against the mother, or pathologize her responses to it, may accuse her of alienating the children from the father and may recommend giving the father custody in spite of his history of violence.
Some professionals assume that accusations of physical or sexual abuse of children that arise during divorce or custody disputes are likely to be false, but the empirical research to date shows no such increase in false reporting at that time. In many instances, children are frightened about being alone with a father they have seen use violence towards their mother or a father who has abused them. Sometimes children make it clear to the court that they wish to remain with the mother because they are afraid of the father, but their wishes are ignored.
Research indicates that high levels of continued conflict between separated and divorced parents hinders children’s normal development. Some practitioners now believe that it may be better for children’s development to restrict the father’s access to them and avoid continued danger to both mothers and the children.
About Public Interest � Conferences � Executive Director Messages
Public Interest Home Page
Program Areas � Publications � Student Information
American Psychological Association
Public Interest Directorate
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Stop Family Courts From Sending Children To Live With Their Abusers
A message from the Stop Abuse Campaign Give children the right to a safe home to grow up in
The state of our family and divorce courts is a mess.
We’re hoping you’ll help us fix them by signing this Causes.com petition.
In 1994 Holly Collins became an international fugitive when she grabbed her three children and went on the run. It all happened because a family court had ignored Holly’s charges, the children’s pleas, Holly’s broken nose, Zackary’s fractured skull, and other medical evidence of domestic violence. The family court in Minnesota gave full custody of Zackary and Jennifer to Holly’s ex-husband. It was at that point that Holly came to believe she and the children had No Way Out But One. http://nowayoutbutone.com/
Contested custody cases are often mishandled. They make up 15% of overall divorce cases, and that’s a lot of children. This exposes children who have already been abused to further damaging trauma.
Today many court professionals have been mis-trained to be highly skeptical of reports of domestic violence and child abuse in divorce cases. As a result, children are being taken from safe parents and forced by courts to live in the homes where they report being beaten and raped.
Research shows that when batterers request custody, 7 times out of 10 they receive it.
When children report sexual abuse in custody cases more than 9 out of 10 of them are placed in the partial or full custody of their identified perpetrators.
The children are doubly harmed because the critical attachment to their primary caregiver is also broken.
Billions of our taxpayer dollars are wasted needlessly every year when our children are exposed to more abuse. The outcome is always great suffering for these children but as we all know it can also lead to their deaths.
After hearing testimony on the abject failure of family and divorce courts to keep our children safe Congressman John Conyers was appalled. http://conyers.house.gov/
He later wrote:
"At the Congressional briefing, as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, I, John Conyers, called for an oversight hearing to assess where we are in our work on the impact of domestic violence on children, and what more can be done."
The United States must be proactive in ensuring the physical and sexual safety of abused children of divorce and separation. We demand Congress hold oversight hearings on this matter.
Please sign this Causes.com petition and share it with your friends. It’s the only thing that works.
Just copy and paste this URL into your URL bar at the top of your internet page.
In addition, join us in person on National Safe Child Day, October 1, 2013 at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW at 11:00 am to protest
courts taking children from safe mothers and giving them to child abusers. We will march to the US Capitol to demand Congressional oversight hearings.
The state of America’s children must be something we all care about. Our children are counting on us.
What I Have Learned at the Courthouse – Expose: “The Failure of Family Courts to Protect Children from Abusers”
Internationally renowned attorney, author, and widely acknowledged expert in the field of abused children’s and battered mother’s rights, Ducote represents battered mothers and their children in 44 states. His Post-Separation Family Violence Relief Act (R.S. 9:361-369) prohibiting abusers from gaining custody of children was passed unanimously by the Louisiana legislature in 1992; he has now drafted similar federal legislation, 42 United States Code § 5105a Protective Parent Reform Act.
Ducote’s article in the Spring, 2002 Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law, Guardians Ad Litem in Private Custody Litigation: The case For Abolition has gained much attention.
Richard Ducote & Associates, PLC
Attorneys & Counselors at Law
731 Fern Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118
504.314.8400 Fax 504.314.8600 email@example.com
Richard Ducote has achieved a rare record of child advocacy successes in his twenty-three years of practicing law. Always conscious of the importance of the relationship between social services and the legal profession, just six months after his admission to the Louisiana Bar he conceived, co-authored, and then directed a grant proposal submitted to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to improve the court handling of child protection and foster care cases in the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Juvenile Court where he had served as a probation officer. The proposal was one of only four funded nationwide and created the Tulane University School of Law’s Juvenile Law Clinic. The project jointly trained law students and School of Social Work students to vigorously advocate in teams for dependent children. In 1980 the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare chose the project to showcase nationally as an example of innovative and successful initiatives.
While personally representing hundreds of abused children from 1978-1981, he helped strengthen and unify the local and state foster parent associations to reform the foster care system through legislation and administrative advocacy. Following the Louisiana legislature’s enactment of Mr. Ducote’s package of statutory changes, including three amendments to the termination of parental rights provisions, the state’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources was still frustrated that changes in the laws alone were insufficient to move children from foster care to adoption. His solution was to create a special post for Mr. Ducote to act, in essence, as the state’s TPR “czar” mandated to “do what needed to be done” to appropriately free kids for adoption. Starting from scratch and often confronted with a skeptical cadre of caseworkers who had little faith that anything would change, since promises of new initiatives were routinely broken over the years, Richard Ducote kept his word and exceeded all expectations. Tirelessly he traveled the state negotiating agreements with every prosecutor, compiling decision-making and referral packets, and conducting his motivational and training seminars for the social workers, lawyers, and mental health professionals involved in the cases. At every session he invited the workers to present their most troublesome cases, which he would then digest overnight while typing up TPR court petitions to present to the pleasantly startled case managers for filing the next day.
In the 2 ½ years that he held that position, Mr. Ducote, himself a former foster parent and an adoptive parent, freed more than 750 foster children for adoption in contrast to the 10 freed in the previous five years. He personally tried TPR cases in 40 Louisiana courts, served as a special assistant district attorney in 19 parishes (counties), and argued in every appellate court in the state. His reported decisions include: State in the Interest of A.E., 448 So.2d 183 (La.App.4thCir.1984); State in the Interest of D.L., 457 So.2d 141 (La.App.2ndCir.1984); State in the Interest of a Minor, 446 So.2d 1385 (La.App.3rdCir.1984); State in the Interest of Two Children, 477 So.2d 883 (La.App.4th Cir.1985); State in the Interest of a Minor Female Child, 470 So.2d 595 (La.App.1st Cir.1984) and State in the Interest of Hodges, 459 So.2d 634 (La.App.5th Cir.1984). In 1984, Mr. Ducote began his nationwide practice representing victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence in custody, tort, and TPR cases. His primary concentration has been in cases where courts have granted custody of children to child molesters and domestic violence perpetrators. He has been an ardent opponent of the bogus “Parental Alienation Syndrome” concocted by Richard Gardner and used to discredit victims of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. This role has taken him to courts in 44 states, appearances on Donahue, Oprah, 60 Minutes, CNN, and Good Morning Britain, Leeza and interview quotes in Parade Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Money, and the National Law Journal. The New Orleans Times-Picayune described him in a 1987 feature story as “raising hell for children in courtrooms all over the country.” In 1988 he won the then largest jury verdict ever in Washington County, Maryland, history – a $1 million award to a four year old girl sexually abused by her father. On his first attempt to take a case to the United States Supreme Court he won a unanimous reversal of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 112 S.Ct. 2206 (1992). In that decision he obtained the right of abused children to sue their parents in federal court and eliminated the hundred year old “domestic relations exception” to federal diversity jurisdiction. In May, 1998, he won a $19 million verdict on behalf of a 19 year old woman against her sexually abusive father in Arlington County, Virginia. In April, 1999, he won a $4.5 million Judgment in Louisiana on behalf of a 19 year old woman who had been molested by her father while she was ages ten through twelve years. He has also represented many victims of clergy abuse in civil suits.
Mr. Ducote has authored articles for publications of the American Bar Association’s National Legal Resource Center for Child Advocacy and Protection, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Florida State Courts Legal Affairs and Education Division. Many of the positions he advanced in his 1986 article, “Why States Don’t Terminate Parental Rights” in Justice for Children (Winter, 1986) have been included in the emerging consensus of foster care reform ideas. That article was cited with approval in “Effective Permanency Planning for Children in Foster Care,” Social Work (May, 1990), and by the New Jersey Supreme Court in D.Y.F.S. v. A.W., 512 A.2d 43 (1986), as justification for one of the rare instances where an appellate court reversed a trial court’s refusal to terminate parental rights.
His Post-Separation Family Violence Relief Act (R.S. 9:361-369), passed unanimously by the Louisiana legislature in 1992, has been widely praised by the National Center on Women and Family Law, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Journal, and the Harvard Law Review. Many states, as well as the nation of New Zealand, have enacted similar laws based on his legislation. It prohibits sexual abusers and violent parents from obtaining custody of children, and sets up tight controls over visitation, while forcing the abusers to pay all costs and attorneys fees. He has won appeals under those statutes in Bruscato v. Avant, 660 So.2d 72 (La.App.4th Cir.1995) and Lewis v. Lewis, 771 So.2d 856 (La.App.2nd Cir. 2000).
In addition to serving as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, Richard Ducote has lectured across the country to foster care review boards, national and state child welfare conferences, and adoption advocacy organizations. In June, 1997, he addressed an international audience attending the Second World Congress on Family Law and the Rights of Children and Youth on child sexual abuse and custody cases. At the invitation of the Domestic Violence Project of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Violence Against Women Office of the United States Department of Justice, in October, 1997, he trained judges, advocates, and court administrators on complex interstate child custody situations involving various types of abuse. In 1998, he lectured at the annual conference of the National Association of Forensic Social Workers, and trained federal and tribal judges on sexual abuse issues in South Dakota. He also trained judges and attorneys in Denver attending a conference of the National Coalition Against Domestic violence. In April, 1999, he trained lawyers and other professionals for the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence on complex custody cases involving violence and sexual abuse. In March, 1999 after Mr. Ducote successfully defended a woman criminally prosecuted in Pennsylvania for “kidnapping” her sexually abused child to protect him from the child’s father, as he has done in other states, the trial judge took the unusual step of telling the jury that they had witnessed the finest example of a trial and lawyering he had ever seen, and that law schools would have been wise to take the week off for students to observe the proceedings. Mr. Ducote has been honored by the Louisiana Foster Parent Association and the Baton Rouge Battered Women’s Program for his work. In 1989, he was named Citizen of the Year by both the Louisiana and New Orleans Chapters of the National Association of Social Workers. In March, 1998, he was invited by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles to be the keynote speaker at the Governor’s Peace at Home Awards, which recognize successful domestic violence prevention initiatives. He was awarded the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division’s Child Advocacy National Certificate of Recognition for “significant legal contributions advancing the welfare of our nation’s children” in 1997. In 1999 he was appointed to a task force created by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the U.S. Department of Justice to find solutions to the problem of abusers winning custody in family courts.
In September, 2000, 2001, and 2002 he taught at the International Domestic Violence Conference in San Diego on the “Parental Alienation Syndrome”, or PAS, and participated in a highly rated mock trial. In October, 2000, he was an invited presenter at the American Bar Association’s Section on Family Law’s Fall CLE Conference, where he lectured on PAS and high conflict custody cases. In July, 2001, he trained judges, attorneys, and court evaluators in Oakland County, Michigan. In October, 2001, he trained lawyers and lay advocates in Savannah, Georgia, at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s seminar, Advocating for Battered Women & Children in Custody, Visitation & Child Protection. His workshops included: “Handling Expert Witnesses in Custody Cases”, “Federal Laws on Jurisdiction”, “Ethical Representation in Domestic Violence & Child Sexual Abuse Cases”, and “Evidentiary Issues: Child Witnesses, Working with Guardians and Evaluators.” In October, 2001, he was an invited trainer by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence for their Domestic Violence Civil Law Institute: Raising the Standard of Practice-Justice in Civil Courts for Domestic Violence Victims. His presentations there included: “Guardians ad Litem in Domestic Violence Custody Cases” and “Cross Examination of an Abuser in Divorce/Custody Cases; Cross-Examination of Opposing Party’s Expert Witness.” He was also the featured luncheon speaker. In 2002, he began training psychologists and other California court appointed mental health professionals as part of a mandated accreditation program established by the California Judicial Council
Several recent awards have highlighted Mr. Ducote’s career. In August, 2000, he was presented a special ceremonial eagle blanket by the Northern Plains Tribal Institute in South Dakota for his participation in the training of over 350 Indian tribal and federal judges from over 90 different tribes on child sexual abuse issues. In January 2001, he was honored by the national child advocacy organization “ Justice for Children,” for “Pro Bono Service With Sincere Appreciation for [His] Commitment to the Abused Children of Our Nation.” On May 10, 2001, he received the Louisiana State University School of Social Work Alumni Recognition Award for his contributions to the prevention of family violence through the legal system.
He has served on the boards of the Jefferson Children’s Council, Schools Combating Abuse and Neglect, and the Region VI Adoption Resource Center.
In June, 2002, he published his widely acclaimed article, Guardians ad Litem in Private Custody Litigation: The Case for Abolition, 3 Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law 116 (Summer 2002).
What I Have Learned at the Courthouse
By Richard Ducote, Attorney at Law
From the publication
“Expose¢: The Failure of Family Courts to Protect Children from Abusers”
A resource book for lawmakers, judges, attorneys,
and mental health professionals
Elize T. St. Charles & Lynn Crook, Eds.
About the Author
Richard Ducote, J.D., is a New Orleans attorney with twenty-one years of child advocacy in over twenty-eight states. In his first year after law school, he wrote the grant which funded the Tulane University Juvenile Law Clinic. He has written over fifteen child welfare laws enacted by the Louisiana Legislature, including the widely praised Post-Separation Family Violence Relief Act. In nineteen parishes (counties) he served as a special assistant district attorney, responsible for the entire state’s termination of parental rights efforts. He has been widely recognized and commended for his national work on behalf of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse in custody, tort and criminal cases. He frequently conducts seminars for judges, attorneys, and health care professionals. In 1992, he successfully argued the case of Akenbrandt v. Richards in the United States Supreme Court, and opened the federal courts to suits against abusive family members. He has won million-dollar judgments for abuse victims in several states.
The generalization is frightening, but like all broad statements there are many exceptions: After twenty years in family law courtrooms throughout the country, I confidently say that no woman, despite very abundant evidence that her child has been sexually molested by her ex-husband or that she has been repeatedly pummeled by the violent father of her child, can safely walk into any family court in the country and not face a grave risk of losing custody to the abuser for the sole reason that she dared to present the evidence to the judge and ask that the child be protected. Why is that? The fault does not lie with the "law" except to the extent that judges are granted discretion under the law. No statute, codal provision, or court rule was ever designed for the purpose of hurting kids. If the law fails kids, the judges are failing kids.
There are several paradoxes that terribly frustrate those in these trenches. First, criminal courts — with the heavy burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt–will convict people for crimes of abuse on the same evidence that family court judges deem to be no evidence at all. Second, normal reactions of mothers to abuse of themselves or their children are viewed by family court judges as evidence that the abuse never occurred. Third, mental health evaluations are considered more reliable and desirable "evidence" of whether or not an event occurred than eyewitnesses, physical evidence, or even admissions by the perpetrator. And fourth, the lack of eyewitnesses, physical evidence, or admissions is considered proof that the event did not happen, despite its rejection as meaningless when present.
We live in an era professing condemnation of child rape and wife beating. We spend countless advertising dollars seeking to persuade mothers to protect themselves and their children, and when they do not act quickly enough, they are found unfit for choosing the abuser over their own child.
Yet, let them heed our advice, let them go to the courthouse — often for the first time in their lives, to ask the judicial branch to honor its end of the social contract- and request simple physical safety, and they face destruction in the backfire of a system beating its chest to the hollow chant of the "child’s best interest." The "child’s best interest," a phrase so insidiously potent that appellate courts are loathe to question some trial judge’s irrational, unsubstantiated, gender-biased, self-contradictory, absurd, off-the-wall interpretation of it.
In 1993, when the Louisiana Supreme Court was assessing the constitutionality of Revised Statute 9:364, the Post Separation Family Violence Relief Act (which required the suspension of visitation upon a finding by a preponderance of evidence that a parent had sexually abused his or her child), one of the justices remarked during the oral argument, "I don’t get it. Just because you molest your child, you lose visitation? That’s very Draconian. What if it was just a little molestation?" How does one respond to that basic attitudinal, psychological, legal, common sense, judicial, and judgmental flaw? Can such be legislated away, when he was sitting there judging the legislature’s perfectly fine solution to this problem? That judge represents one facet of the courtroom chaos.
I recall another judge in Spokane, Washington, who was deciding whether to allow a sexually abusive father unsupervised visitation after a couple of months of monitored contact with the child. His reason for doing so? "I’ve heard no evidence whatsoever that the man did anything untoward with the child during the supervised visits. He didn’t even say an obscene word to the child." As if this were a valid test to determine if the abuse had occurred or would happen again. Surely, this judge thought that if the man could hold it together enough to keep his dirty hands away from the child while under the scrutiny of peering eyes, his vulgar mouth would certainly betray him. Maybe this simply reflects inadequate training or a defect in basic reasoning ability.
Then there was the bright, well-intentioned judge in New Orleans hearing the case of the nurse who, until then believing that she had a great marriage, twice unmistakably caught her husband in the middle of the night in their eighteen-month-old son’s bed fondling the child’s penis. When she moved for sole custody and no visitation with the father, the court, with every good intention, punted in the de rigueur family court style. He ordered psychological evaluations for all. One for Dad: Is he a child molester? One for Mom: Is she the type to fabricate? One for the son: Is he sexually abused? He opted for hocus-pocus while rejecting competent direct eyewitness testimony that would open and shut any other type of trial. There is no evaluation of Dad that would determine if he is an abuser, unless he admits as much in the process. There is no evaluation of Mom that would smoke out the fabricator. And there is no evaluation of the child, under this scenario, that would establish his victimization. But in due course, Mom would be frazzled and angry and anxious–all red flags in this Kafkaesque world. Dad would be calm and collected and shocked at the allegations. Applying the paradigm of the standard custody evaluation, Dad emerges as the better custodian in the "child’s best interest." Thus, despite solid evidence of the truth, the court opts for a process that is designed to find just the opposite.
The handiest aspect of molesting children and beating women is that these crimes come with their own defense. The vindictive women made it up to get back at their men. In virtually every court allegation of these crimes, the defense is the same. In that regard, Richard Gardner’s foolish "Parental Alienation Syndrome" simply calls evidence that abuse did indeed occur-evidence that the child was programmed by the ever-evil mother. And unfortunately for the victims, the abusers find willing accessories on the bench who will find those motivations lurking in the accusers despite a total lack of any evidence to support those notions. Criminal court juries usually see through the bogus wall of desperation. Family court judges–the supposed gatekeepers of protection–instead typically help lay the bricks.
Since the adoption of no-fault divorce, the fact-finding role of family courts has atrophied. It is no longer necessary to determine the existence of any fact other than the passage of a certain number of months. What is and is not evidence of an occurrence is often foreign. And the seasoned family court lawyer is not typically a litigator, except to the extent necessary to attempt to uncover hidden cash for property settlements, alimony or child support. But let an abuser be caught, and he goes directly for the aggressive criminal lawyer whose cross-examination and obfuscation talents bewilder those advocates already uncomfortable in an intense factual adjudication.
Even after twenty years of this, my despair has recently waned–maybe only for the moment. The Louisiana Supreme Court, now absent the justice quoted above, is redeemed. On June 29, 1999, in the case of Folse v. Folse (No.98-1976 1999 WL 451026 [La]) the court ruled that clear and convincing proof in a custody case of sexual abuse, sufficient to terminate the abuser’s visitation under the Post-Separation Family Violence Relief Act, R.S. 9:361-369, is established by the child’s specific complaints and demonstrations of sexual abuse to her mother and others, including her therapist, and the child’s age inappropriate knowledge of adult sexual behavior. In the most important pro-child, pro-truth decision to come from an appellate court during my career, the Louisiana Supreme Court has demonstrated that the legal system can rationally synthesize statutory evidence and clinical evidence to reach the correct result.
©2003 Richard Ducote
This case is still pending at the IACHR. We expect a ruling any day. The last that we heard the commission had asked for more information from the petitioners that request can be seen Follow up request from the commission 2013. I supplied the requested information of my part in February 2013. I have also started a file that can be viewed here related to the IACHR.
Since the information is no longer available via the stop family violence website, a reconstruction of that site is here.
Full Text of IACHR Petition. On May 11,2007, just before Mother’s Day weekend, ten mothers, one victimized child, now an adult, leading national and state organizations filed a complaint against the United States with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Their petition claims that U.S. courts, by frequently awarding child custody to abusers and child molesters, has failed to protect the life, liberties, security and other human rights of abused mothers and their children.
2007 May 11 IACHR Entire PETITION Mother’s File International Lawsuit
Dombrowski et el V. U.S.A, 2007
International Commission Human Rights
Failures of U.S. Courts Forces Mothers to Turn to International Law – See more at: http://americanmotherspoliticalparty.org/ampp-article-library-family-court-custody-abuse-dv/8-news-action-alerts-press-release/46-failures-of-us-courts-forces-mothers-to-turn-to-international-law#sthash.mPqmwjGP.dpuf
Written by Barry Goldstein
Sunday, 25 August 2013 08:52
In a Queens New York custody case, the court appointed a prominent psychologist to evaluate a young couple. The psychologist was frequently used as an expert in the New York courts despite a fathers’ rights bias that included a quotation in a New York Times article supporting shared parenting. Throughout his testimony supporting the abusive father, the evaluator could not respond to any of my questions asking for research to support any of his claims. Finally I asked him if there was any research to support his belief that children benefit from a 50-50 division as compared to 70-30. He cited Judith Wallerstein, but could not cite a particular book or article. A colleague put me in touch with Ms. Wallerstein who sent me an email for my continued cross-examination of the evaluator. She said that earlier research had indicated shared parenting might be beneficial in cases where the parents are able to cooperate, but more recent research has demonstrated that shared parenting is in fact harmful to children. One of the problems in our custody courts is that this psychologist, like most experts relied on by the courts does not have the knowledge of up-to-date research or the ability to apply it to custody cases.
Shared custody, sometimes referred to as joint custody involves joint decision making by the parents and sometimes also requires something close to a 50-50 division of time with each parent. The equal time division is often important to parents wishing to avoid paying child support. Proponents of shared parenting say it is only fair that parents have the same rights to parenting time with their children and courts claim that they must treat each parent that comes to court equally. This seems fair unless we understand the unstated part that parents should be treated the same regardless of the quantity and quality of time each parent spent with the child before the separation. Research about primary attachment is not controversial and demonstrates that a child’s primary attachment figure is more important to the well being of a child than the other parent. Furthermore, although research supports the belief that children benefit from having both parents in their lives, this is not true if one of the parents is abusive. Nevertheless many courts think it is their obligation to treat each parent the same even when one is much more valuable to the child.
Custody When Neither Parent is Abusive
The concept of shared parenting was supported by an initial study that found a favorable response. Courts were delighted to support shared parenting because it served as a way to compromise a difficult issue and could remove many cases from an already crowded calendar. Abusive fathers who had little involvement with the children during the relationship strongly supported shared parenting as a way to avoid child support and maintain access and control over their victims.
The initial study was based on a very limited population and most favorable circumstances that included parents who enthusiastically supported the use of shared parenting, were able to cooperate and lived close together. Later studies that included larger populations and more long term effects of the arrangement demonstrated shared custody to be harmful to children, but these studies failed to dampen the enthusiasm for shared custody in the legal system and by abusers.
The studies found that children with two homes in reality had no homes. Children forced to bounce back and forth between their parents’ homes were denied a sense of security and continuity. They could not spend the time with friends that they wanted and often could not participate in a variety of activities because they had to be with the other parent when some of the events occurred. Children were often embarrassed when articles they needed for school or other activities were left in the wrong home. In other words, even when parents were able to cooperate, the shared custody arrangement placed added pressure on the children and made their lives more difficult. Their success in academic studies and social interaction was negatively impacted by the shared custody arrangement.
Shared Custody in Domestic Violence Cases
Many of the laws and proposed legislation seeking to promote shared custody purport to contain language to create an exception for domestic violence cases and sometimes for other cases in which the parties are unable to cooperate. There is a good reason to treat domestic violence cases differently as shared custody is particularly harmful to children when one of the parents is an abuser. A parent cannot co-parent with an abuser because it is unsafe to challenge him and compromise is impossible when there is unequal power. The fundamental problem, too often missed by courts is that abusers are willing to see their children harmed in order to maintain what they believe is their right to control or punish their partner. Most contested custody cases that courts mistakenly label “high conflict” are in reality domestic violence cases in which fathers use the common abuser tactic of seeking custody to maintain control of their partner or punish her for leaving. Children who witness domestic violence (including non-physical abuse) are more likely to engage in dysfunctional behavior when they are older. Depending on their age when they witness his abuse, their stage of development is disrupted. All batterers have been found to engage in harmful parenting practices including undermining the relationship with the other parent, teaching bad values (sexism) and providing a bad example. In other words, up-to-date research establishes that abusers are not appropriate candidates for custody or shared custody.
The benefit of an exception for domestic violence is limited because of the widespread failure of courts to recognize domestic violence in custody cases. Thirty plus years ago when domestic violence first became a public issue there was no research available. Courts, like other bodies developed practices and approaches to consider domestic violence without knowing what worked. At the time domestic violence was mostly focused on physical abuse. The assumption was that mental problems and substance abuse caused domestic violence and that women’s behavior contributed to their partner’s abuse. Courts therefore chose to use mental health professionals as experts although they had no training in the dynamics of domestic violence. Courts assumed that children were not harmed by domestic violence unless they were directly assaulted and his abuse would end once the parties separated. Up-to-date research demonstrates that all of this and many other assumptions still relied on by many professionals in the custody court system are wrong.
There is now a specialized body of knowledge about domestic violence, but too often judges and the professionals they rely on are overconfident in their own understanding of domestic violence and fail to consider up-to-date research. Judge Mike Brigner wrote in his chapter for DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY that when he trains judges they often ask him what to do about women who are lying. When asked what they mean, they cite women who return to their abusers, fail to pursue petitions for protective orders, don’t have police reports or hospital records and the myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in litigation (in reality this occurs only one-two percent of the time). None of these behaviors indicates the women are lying and in fact this is often the safest response they can make particularly when still living with their abuser. Similarly inadequately trained professionals often cite the fact that the children did not seem afraid of the alleged abuser when they observed them as proof the allegations are false. The children understand what the “experts” don’t that the abuser is not going to hurt them in front of others and in fact they could be punished if they demonstrated fear in public. Many professionals in the court system believe they have the ability to determine who is lying just from observation. In fact research shows that aside from a very few elite CIA and FBI agents, no one has been shown to possess this skill. Accordingly these professionals through this belief become more susceptible to abusers who are skilled manipulators. While the unqualified professionals often discredit allegations of abuse for these and other invalid reasons, they fail to look at the pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors that would help them see the pattern of abusive behavior.
The result of this and many other mistakes by professionals in the custody court system is that thousands of children are being forced to live with abusers and many protective mothers, who are wrongly dismissed as disgruntled litigants and denied any meaningful role in their children’s lives. Legislatures and courts should be focusing on using the available up-to-date research to protect the safety and secure the potential of children caught up in domestic violence custody cases. Today, shockingly, courts are getting a majority of domestic violence custody cases wrong. This is one of the reasons we recommend that all professionals receive not just general domestic violence training, but specific training in Recognizing Domestic Violence, Gender Bias and The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. Until courts have and apply this information, our children will not be safe when courts decide their fate.
In domestic violence custody cases, the use of shared parenting does not save court time and resources, but rather only postpones extensive litigation at great expense to the parties and harm to the children. Abusers eventually contrive incidents as an excuse to seek sole custody or protective mothers are forced to seek custody because the abusers are hurting the children. Abusive parents with limited parenting skills use shared parenting to get their foot in the door while continuing to harass and abuse their former partners. Court professionals often pressure protective mothers to accept shared custody with their abusers and punish them for trying to protect themselves and their children. Over forty states and many other court districts have sponsored gender bias commissions that have found widespread gender bias. Gender bias is particularly hard to overcome because judges and other professionals engage in gender bias without realizing they are doing so. The studies have shown that in custody cases, mothers are given higher standards of proof, less credibility and are blamed for their abuser’s behavior.
When mothers seek to limit contact between their children and their abuser for safety reasons and courts routinely treat this as if she is trying to interfere with the relationship between the children and abusive father, this is an example of blaming mothers for the father’s behavior. Instead of courts pressuring the abuser to stop his controlling and threatening behavior, protective mothers often face retaliation and punishment for trying to protect their children. This is particularly common when courts fail to recognize domestic violence and then punish mothers who continue to believe their abuse allegations. Provisions in shared custody laws that purport to make an exception for domestic violence will continue to be ineffective as long as there is widespread failure to recognize domestic violence and to take it seriously. Accordingly shared custody laws are not beneficial in cases where the parties can voluntarily cooperate and create serious danger to children in domestic violence cases
See more at: http://americanmotherspoliticalparty.org/ampp-article-library-family-court-custody-abuse-dv/5-family-criminal-law-and-research-abuse-dv-child-custody/94-batterers-revenge-punishment-and-continued-abuse-via-court#sthash.OhT2CBag.dpuf
by Barry Goldstein
Serious Health Consequences to Children Witnessing Domestic Violence
New Research Requires Changes in Custody Court Practices
Starting with the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study in 1998 medical researchers have established the enormous and long term harm to children from being exposed to traumatic events such as witnessing domestic violence and direct physical or sexual abuse. The research establishes that there is a cumulative adversity so that the more exposure a child suffers the greater the chance of serious medical consequences and the more serious those consequences are likely to be. There is now a substantial body of medical research that establishes not only the enormous harm to children, but the many mechanisms that result in increased illnesses and injuries during their childhood and for the rest of their lives. When court or other professionals fail to take sensible actions to safeguard children, or give more consideration to less important factors they are literally reducing the life expectancy of these children.
When domestic violence first became a public issue in the mid to late 1970s, custody courts had to develop practices to respond. For many years when a protective mother went to court seeking a protective order and for any visitation with the father to be supervised judges would routinely ask some version of “Did he also assault the child?” If the answer was no, the court treated the father as if he was just as qualified as the mother for custody and visitation. These risky practices continued until the eighties and nineties when research established that children witnessing domestic violence were more likely to engage in a wide range of harmful behaviors when older including substance abuse, self-mutilation, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, prostitution, crime and for boys to assault future partners and girls to be assaulted by future partners. These findings led to legislation in every state either to require courts to consider domestic violence in any decision about custody or visitation or to create a presumption against custody for abusers under some limited circumstances.
Every state has adopted the best interests of the child standard to determine custody and visitation and has developed a list of factors either legislatively or through case law that must be considered in making these decisions. Unfortunately the states have not required that children’s safety be treated as the first priority so courts are free to use very subjective standards when deciding where the children will live. In many cases political or personal beliefs and factors far less important than the safety of children are determinative in custody decisions. This often poisons the process because abusers can distract attention from safety issues by raising less important issues. Judges sometimes believe that fairness requires the court to treat the issues raised by the mother and father equally even though one of those issues is more fundamental to the well-being of children. This is an example of false equivalency that is common in custody courts. In many cases, courts weigh allegations of domestic violence and alienation as if they are equally important to the well-being of children. At worst, alienation might temporarily interfere with the relationship between the child and a parent while domestic violence leads to serious and life impacting health problems throughout the child’s life and often reduces how long they live. I have never heard an evaluator or a judge weigh the relative importance of these issues based on scientific research. This is particularly problematic because claims of alienation are a common abuser tactic but courts seem to be more open to these allegations than domestic violence which mothers rarely falsify.
There is now a substantial body of medical research that establishes the enormous risk to children of exposing them to domestic violence. The research demonstrates that these children have significant, increased risk of illnesses and injuries as children and need more medical care. Significantly, these medical problems do not end when children reach their majority but continue for the rest of their lives. They will have far more medical needs as adults and their life expectancy is reduced. I believe that custody courts cannot continue to tolerate practices that result in children losing precious years from their lives. This research requires fundamental reforms or else the courts cannot be acting in the best interests of children.
The Medical Harm to Children Witnessing Domestic Violence
One of the leading experts about the medical consequences of childhood trauma is Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. The second edition of her book, Treating the Lifetime Health Effects of Childhood Victimization, was recently published. This is a book by and for medical professionals that is designed to help them treat a variety of conditions in adult patients that were caused or exacerbated by traumas suffered as children. The research and the writing were not designed to respond to custody court issues, but the information should be required for any court that wishes to act in the best interests of children.
The long-term harm of exposure to domestic violence or direct physical or sexual abuse can and does develop in a myriad of ways. A child could develop immediate and obvious symptoms or the harm can go unnoticed for many years. The author encourages doctors to ask about childhood trauma because so many different ailments can have their genesis with childhood trauma. This is especially problematic because patients are rarely thinking about events from decades earlier as the cause of their health problems.
There are many ways in which childhood trauma can seriously impact health now and in the future. The trauma can cause increased inflammation that can trigger numerous diseases now and in the future. Accordingly, Dr. Kendall-Tackett recommends an anti-inflammatory for children exposed to abuse. Quite naturally, exposure to domestic violence often interferes with the child’s ability to enjoy the quality and quantity of sleep needed. This and several other common responses to abuse can lead to obesity with increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other medical problems. The author suggested that programs and campaigns designed to prevent obesity ought to include efforts to make sure children get their needed sleep and avoid exposure to domestic violence and child abuse. Indeed these experiences often lead to eating disorders.
Many diseases including heart disease, asthma and diabetes are caused or exacerbated by stress. One of the major reasons researchers found that we spend $750 billion per year on health costs related to domestic violence is because excessive stress is so inimical to good health. Domestic violence is especially harmful because there is the constant danger that the abuser will threaten or hurt his partner. Accordingly the stress is repetitive. This harm is especially severe for children whose various systems are still developing.
As discussed earlier, witnessing domestic violence strongly encourages substance abuse. The use of illegal drugs, tobacco and excessive use of alcohol, especially by children also creates a wide range of long-term medical problems. Many of the factors I am discussing interact with each other to reinforce the most negative impacts.
Exposure to childhood trauma also increases the risk of depression. This in turn can cause behaviors that further undermine the child’s health. Depression can discourage proper self-care, negatively impact the immune system and other bodily defenses and is a major factor in suicide. Significantly, separating children from their primary attachment figure as custody courts frequently do in domestic violence cases also causes depression. I mentioned before that cumulative adversity magnifies the risk so that it is particularly devastating to children who have witnessed domestic violence or been directly abused to be denied a normal relationship with their primary parent.
Childhood trauma is also associated with risky sexual behavior. This is another example of how witnessing domestic violence leads to many behaviors that cause still more health risks. Risky sexual behavior can lead to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and cause survivors to interact with dangerous individuals. It can also encourage the use of dangerous drugs.
For children to witness their father or another man abusing their mother, they would tend to be fearful and angry, but often it is unsafe for them to express their anger particularly to the abuser. This can cause them to express their anger in other ways that can undermine their health and safety. This can result in both physical and mental illnesses or cause them to get into fights where someone else hurts them. The childhood trauma also can lead to shame and self-blame that can be harmful to their health. Significantly, low self-esteem can also be caused by denying children normal contact with their primary attachment figure so that many common custody court approaches serve to multiply the harm caused by domestic violence.
In many ways, domestic violence leads to poverty and this undermines the health of victims. Education is important in order to improve one’s economic status. Children who witness domestic violence and often miss needed sleep both because of frightening incidents at night and the fear which makes it hard to sleep at other times. This makes it difficult for children to get their work done in school. They may also act out because of their anger. Economic abuse is an often overlooked part of domestic violence tactics so that mothers seeking to leave their abusers often lose income and family resources. In many cases the bias favoring abusive fathers forces mothers to trade support for custody. Small wonder at least half of the homeless population consists of mothers and children who left abusers. Many children also leave home because of domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse. Victims with limited financial resources often can’t afford safe housing, healthy food and needed medical care. All of this contributes to medical problems facing children impacted by domestic violence.
Many victims of childhood trauma suffer from unexplained or inadequately explained conditions. Many are labeled as hypochondriacs which may say more about the failure of the medical community to find the cause than the complaints of the victims. These experiences are painful in many ways both physically and emotionally and can prove debilitating. Living with pain undermines other parts of a person’s life and interferes with their ability to reach their potential.
Just as any adverse experiences a child has are cumulative so that combined they are much more harmful, the same is true of the many medical consequences caused by domestic violence and child abuse. The various conditions which are just some of the problems faced by children impacted by domestic violence come together to magnify the harm done to children. This research ought to make clear that we must stop minimizing the significance of these childhood traumas.
Impact of Health Concerns in Individual Cases
The fact is that the present custody court response to domestic violence has been a disaster for battered women and children. Everything is severely tilted to favor abusive fathers so that the outcomes are often catastrophic and the court discussions tend to focus too much on protecting abusers’ interests rather than safeguarding children. Accordingly we are desperately seeking to find a way to help court professionals understand the enormous harm they are causing by following outdated, discredited and biased approaches. In succession we have hoped that the powerful documentation of court failures contained in The Batterer as Parent, Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody, the Saunders’ study from the US Department of Justice and Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor might encourage court officials to take a fresh look at false assumptions that continue to place children in jeopardy. Much of this research and publications are new so they still may help change the system as they sometimes change individual cases. They may also have a cumulative effect over time.
The new research about the lifelong health impacts on children witnessing domestic violence, child abuse and other childhood traumas ought to require courts to take a new look at standard practices. There are two important differences that might help give this information some traction. The research does not come from anyone involved in the domestic violence movement, but rather is from the medical community. It was developed for the purpose of better treating adult patients who suffered childhood trauma. In other words it would be hard for anyone to discredit this research. The second factor is that the findings go to what is supposed to be the essence of what custody courts are supposed to do. HOW CAN ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT IMPACT THE IMMEDIATE SAFETY OF CHILDREN BE TREATED AS IF IT WERE AS IMPORTANT OR MORE IMPORTANT THAN CHILDHOOD TRAUMAS THAT RESULT IN INCREASED ILLNESSES AND INJURIES THROUGHOUT THE LIFE OF THE CHILDREN AND REDUCED LIFE EXPECTANCY?
This medical research strongly supports requests from protective mothers to make safety the first priority. Common issues that courts routinely consider as factors in deciding custody and visitation like alienation, friendly parent, which home is nicer, relative financial status of the parties, children’s preference and many of the phony or unimportant mental health diagnoses used to pathologize protective mothers pale in comparison with the significance of factors that impact children’s health such as domestic violence and child abuse. Not only should the court place far more weight on these factors, but there is no reason to allow issues that do not impact children’s safety to distract attention from factors that so directly impact the well-being of children. The “rights” of the parents, which “fathers’ rights” groups have elevated to the first priority, must be subordinated to the health and lifespan of the children. Yes, courts should have seen that before, but the research about the impact of trauma means that political beliefs about father’s rights can no longer be used to undermine children’s safety.
We have also seen many evaluators and other court professionals who do not understand domestic violence dynamics require some artificial level of domestic violence or child abuse before taking the risk seriously. In our new book, Elizabeth Liu and I wrote about a New York evaluator with a bias for shared parenting who claimed to know domestic violence when he saw it and required the victim to have serious physical injuries before he would allow claims of domestic violence to interfere with his personal preferences. Similarly some states require a more “serious” offense or level of proof such as conviction of a felony before presumptions against custody for abusers apply. This would not prevent a court from protecting children in cases that do not rise to this level, but some courts have discarded evidence if it fails to meet the requirement for the presumption. Courts sometimes forget that the purpose of considering domestic violence is because of the harm it does to children. The medical harm I have been discussing in this article is not limited to cases in which the victim sustains a “serious” injury or even to cases of physical abuse. Furthermore, one of the problems with the custody court response to domestic violence is the widespread failure to understand domestic violence dynamics. Abusive fathers commit domestic violence tactics based on a belief system that they are entitled to control their partner and make the major decisions in the relationship. His belief system does not change with the end of the relationship and in fact the use of the custody tactic demonstrates the likelihood he will continue to abuse future partners. If the abuser is granted custody or unsupervised visitation, the children are likely to witness still more domestic violence. This adds to their cumulative adversity and therefore dramatically increases their medical risks.
The severity of the harm of domestic violence makes it critical that courts are able to recognize true allegations of abuse. We frequently see practices where courts rely on inadequately trained court professionals. The Saunders’ study recommended these professionals need to learn how to screen for domestic violence and conduct a risk assessment. In many cases allegations of domestic violence are dismissed for non-probative reasons such as the mother returning to her abuser, failing to follow-through when seeking a protective order, having no police or medical records or the children interacting with their father without fear because they know he would not hurt them in front of witnesses. At the same time few lawyers know to present the pattern of coercive and controlling tactics which includes so much more than physical abuse and judges and evaluators rarely look for this pattern. Evaluators routinely fail to use any tools such as the Campbell Danger Assessment that would help them recognize the danger, but instead rely on psychological tests that tell them nothing about domestic violence. We cannot continue to use such flawed practices and inadequately trained professionals when the resulting mistakes are likely to reduce children’s life expectancy. It becomes even more important for courts to use best practices which include considering current scientific research and at least consulting with a domestic violence expert. A psychologist or other mental health professional could also be a domestic violence expert, but this is rare. The Saunders’ study found that a mental health degree and the standard and required training for evaluators do not provide the level of expertise needed for domestic violence cases.
Many protective mothers have complained that their attorneys refuse to present evidence of abuse. The new medical evidence will make it critical that attorneys not only present the father’s history of abuse, but make sure the court is aware of the enormous medical harm to children to witnessing domestic violence. They must also ask the courts for the protection that is needed including protective orders and supervised visitation. One of the findings in the Saunders’ study is that courts did not limit alleged abusers to supervised visitation as often as needed.
The Medical Research Requires Fundamental Reforms in the Custody Courts
The enormity of the harm to children caused by witnessing domestic violence, child abuse and other childhood trauma makes it critical that society find ways to protect children and minimize their exposure to risk. Now that the research is available that demonstrates the cumulative impact of adversity on children, our method of resolving custody and visitation must assure everything possible is done to minimize this risk.
Our system of jurisprudence is based on the belief that if both parties present their best case the truth will usually prevail. This is particularly problematic when one party has significantly more resources. This frequently happens in domestic violence cases because abusers use control tactics that include control of financial resources. They have also developed tactics designed to bankrupt their victims by using aggressive and often questionable legal strategies. In many cases, protective mothers are left unrepresented by the time the case comes to trial. This means the results are often determined more by the relative wealth of the parties than the merits of the case. This can no longer be tolerable when the result often takes years off children’s lives. The Batterer as Parent recommends that the abuser pay all expenses including legal fees made necessary by his abusive behavior. Judge Mike Brigner has written that courts have the authority to level the playing field but rarely make use of this authority. At the very least courts will have to become more aware of economic abuse and create effective remedies so that victims can present their side of the story in a meaningful way.
Lawyers are ethically required to zealously advocate for their clients within the law even when this causes a miscarriage of justice. In the case of a criminal defense attorney they are required to use defense strategies that sometimes result in guilty criminals going free. In some cases they use their freedom to kill or hurt new victims. Nevertheless the potential harm would be speculative and the greater good of maintaining our system of jurisprudence takes precedence. Can it be ethical to use the same legal principles to help an abuser gain custody or unprotected visitation which is likely to seriously harm the health and well-being of a specific child victim?
It seems to me that the harm to children’s health requires that the legal and mental health community take a fresh look at the ethics involved in practices that are likely to hurt children. This is particularly true of the lawyers and psychologists who are part of the cottage industry that makes its money supporting abusive fathers. Can it be ethical given the new research for mental health professionals to provide reports and give testimony based on personal beliefs and theories unsupported by scientific research that are likely to harm the children in the case? Similarly can attorneys for batterers ethically use strategies deliberately designed to mislead or confuse the court in ways that place children in jeopardy? Can these professionals remain ignorant of current research so that they are unqualified to handle the case but can truthfully say they were unaware of the danger they helped create? Another way of asking this is should the legal system reconsider how custody and visitation are determined in cases involving domestic violence and child abuse in order to make sure the children’s health is protected?
At a minimum, it seems to me the courts must create a screening system so a professional with genuine domestic violence expertise reviews each case and sends all domestic violence cases to a special part or section that specializes in these critical and difficult cases. This will be important because a lot of common custody practices particularly seeking to require the parents to cooperate are inappropriate in domestic violence cases. Children will benefit if the professionals responding to the case understand the serious health and safety risks the children are probably facing.
The judges presiding over these cases would have special training about domestic violence and understand the risks involved. They would be used to looking to the specialized body of domestic violence research to inform their decisions. Lawyers, GALs and evaluators (if needed) would all be required to have the necessary training. The focus would be on the safety of the children as it should be.
The initial inquiry would be limited to the validity of allegations concerning domestic violence and child abuse. This avoids distractions from other less important issues that abusers often use as part of their tactics to avoid responsibility for their actions. If allegations of domestic violence or child abuse are confirmed the court will protect the children and encourage actions that would limit the long-term health impact.
The first priority is to make sure the children are never again exposed to these traumatic events. This is especially important because of the increased harm from cumulative adversity. Professionals trained in domestic violence dynamics will understand the danger for children to witness the offender’s abuse of future partners if the children are not protected.
There are responses and treatment children can receive that would reduce the harm caused by exposure to domestic violence and other trauma. In some cases they might receive anti-inflammatories to reduce negative consequences. Their sleep patterns can be monitored so they can be helped to get the sleep they need. Mental health therapy can be used to cope with the trauma and respond in more healthy ways. The protective parent is more likely to encourage the needed treatment, make it safe for the children to discuss their experiences and help them heal. In the present custody system, we often have arrangements that give the abuser control or veto power over treatment and other issues which are used to prevent or discourage the necessary treatment. This is another example where the “rights” of the parent or the minimization of abuse are harmful to the long-term health of the children.
Given the enormous risks to children’s health, it is important that children have access to any treatment that could prevent serious health consequences years later. This treatment is available today and could help protect children’s health. Other treatment may be needed as the child gets older and new symptoms develop as a result of earlier traumas. Many of the treatments will only be effective if the child is no longer exposed to domestic violence and abuse and is made to feel safe. This is another reason courts should be giving custody to the safer parent. It should be considered malpractice for any court professional to make recommendations that undermine a child’s chance to heal.
What happens if a court mistakenly believes a mother’s allegations about the father’s abuse and limits the children’s contact with the father? The children would be denied some good times with their dad and be denied opportunities to learn from him. This would be wrong and harmful and I have no desire to minimize the negative impact on the children. What happens if the court disbelieves the mother’s true complaints and provides the abusive father with unprotected visitation or even custody? This is an unmitigated catastrophe that substantially increases the children’s risk of illnesses and injuries throughout their lives and likely result in a shorter life. Certainly a less pleasant and productive life. In the rare event that the mother made a false complaint, the missed time can be made up and there is no reason to expect any long-term consequences. When the court fails to protect a child from an abuser, it is possible it can later realize its mistake and modify the custody arrangement. One problem, however, is that in my experience courts that rule against protective mothers are often extremely defensive about their mistakes and rarely correct them. Furthermore the abusive father is likely to use the control given him by the court to undermine the mother’s relationship with the children. It is possible, the children could be returned to the mother and receive treatment to ameliorate the harm caused by the court decisions, but in many cases much of the damage will be permanent.
Courts routinely consider the relative risks of being wrong in most other types of cases, but rarely in domestic violence custody cases. Indeed most evaluation reports and court decisions that I have read fail to weigh the relative risks and benefits of a given action based on scientific research.
The Saunders’ study from the U. S. Department of Justice recommended that evaluators and other court professionals receive training about the impact of domestic violence on children. Most of the court professionals who participated in the study claimed to have this research. In the case of the evaluators, however, this was not supported by their response to vignettes presented as part of the study. I suspect that when the professionals claimed they had this information, they were referring to the earlier research that witnessing domestic violence makes children more likely to engage in harmful behaviors when older. The frequency that courts minimize the significance of domestic violence strongly supports this conclusion.
The Saunders’ study also recommended that court professionals get training in screening for domestic violence. The serious consequences when courts fail to recognize true allegations of abuse confirm why this is so important. So does the finding that the courts are not imposing supervised visitation on alleged abusers as often as they should. Significantly, court professionals without adequate training tend to believe the myth that mothers frequently make false allegations of abuse. This means that in many cases the lack of training or bias of court professionals causes decisions that pose enormous risks for children. Even if the judge knows that mothers rarely make false complaints, the court might be relying on an evaluator or GAL making a recommendation based on this myth.
Now that we know the enormous lifetime medical harm caused to children when they are exposed to domestic violence and child abuse, what will we do to minimize the potential harm? I would like to ask judges and court administrators if they agree this medical research requires a fundamental review of practices used to respond to abuse allegations. In order to better protect children, would the courts be willing to create meetings with leading researchers and domestic violence advocates to explore the best ways to protect our children. THE LOSS OF ONE YEAR FROM ONE CHILD’S LIFE IS ONE YEAR TOO MANY.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor, co authored with Elizabeth Liu is designed to train attorneys to present domestic violence cases and was released in April of 2013. Barry can be reached by email from their web site http://www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com
For more information about the new book, including access to the first approximately 50 pages or to purchase the book go to the publisher’s web site at http://civicresearchinstitute.com/rdv.html Elizabeth Liu and I have convinced our publisher to make available the last section of our chapter about GALs that lists and explains the best practices for GALs in domestic violence cases. You can now download and print this information and share it with your GAL. Everyone is welcome to share this information. I also hope you will check out my new Face book page, Barry Goldsteins Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor. Barry’s web site, www.Barrygoldstein.net is back up and running with new material.
Due to recent revelations by Janice Levinson and Lundy Bancroft of Protective Mother’s Alliance, as a contributor to this blog, I hereby denounce JL, LB and PMA. I do not support either of them, the organization with which they are affiliated, and in fact do believe by Levinson’s recent actions that both are needlessly and shamelessly throwing TRUE victims of horrendous abuse under the proverbial bus. If you decide to align with either Levinson or Bancroft, please do so with caution.
Mothers Loosing Custody: Kelly Rutherford on Her Ongoing Custody Battle, the Battered Mothers Custody Conference
Kelly Rutherford writes from her heart on why her ongoing child custody battle represents a greater legal issue. We asked Kelly’s ex-husband, Daniel Giersch, for a statement on the show and his attorney, Fahi Takesh Hallin, responded, “Daniel Giersch continues not to comment publicly about the parties’ custody case, in order to protect the children’s privacy.”
I am sharing my story with the world so that no other mother has to experience the pain and suffering that I am going through. We have a flawed legal system and there needs to be a change.
Although I did everything within my power to facilitate a positive relationship between my ex-husband and our children, and although I traveled far and wide to facilitate a shared custodial arrangement with my ex-husband, a judge effectively deported my two (2) minor children to accommodate a man who had his VISA revoked, for reasons unknown.
Without any inquiry as to why my ex-husband’s VISA was revoked, the Judge forced my young children, both of whom are US Citizens to reside in France, even though the children have no relationship to France, nor is their father a French citizen. Although, NY was the only home my children have ever known and the children’s own counsel recommended that the children be allowed to stay in the United States with me, the Judge made a decision in direct contravention of expert opinion.
Although my children are US citizens, the fact that they reside in France places them in legal peril. The longer they remain in France, the greater the chance becomes that they are afforded the status of French residents. This is particularly dangerous because France is in no way obligated to respect and/or enforce judicial determinations made in US Courts. In essence, French officials could modify a custody and visitation decision at any time, without any legal recourse for me or my children. Change needs to happen now.
Video one here: http://www.katiecouric.com/videos/kelly-rutherford-custody/
- “Gossip Girl” star Kelly Rutherford sits down with Katie to speak out about her custody battle that’s making headlines.
Kelly Rutherford’s lawyer, Amanda Shaked, explains the steps she’s taking to get Kelly’s kids back.