Crisis In The Family Courts

Rates At Which Batterers Receive Custody

Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010


by Joan Meier, Esq.

One statement in Breaking the Silence: Children’s Voices that has provoked controversy was my statement that “the studies are showing” that up to 2/3 of accused or adjudicated batterers receive joint or sole custody in court.  While no empirical study can definitively determine a universal statistical rate, the key point is that the research consistently shows that accused and adjudicated batterers receive joint or sole custody disturbingly often.  This confirms the anecdotal experience of domestic violence attorneys and victims around the country.  The following research supports this perspective.

I. A History of Domestic Violence is Common among Contested Custody Cases.

The remarkably consistent research on this issue is compiled in my previously-issued statement , Research Indicating that the majority of cases that go to court as ‘high conflict’ contested custody cases have a history of domestic violence (Nov.  9, 2005).

One good example is a study cited by Janet Johnston, a leading researcher of parental alienation, which found that, among custody litigants referred to mediation, “[p]hysical aggression had occurred between 75% and 70% of the parents . . . even though the couples had been separated. . . [for an average of 30-42 months]”.  Furthermore, [i]n 35% of the first sample and 48% of the second, [the violence] was denoted as severe and involved battering and threatening to use or using a weapon.”

– Janet R. Johnston, “High-Conflict Divorce,” The Future of Children, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1994,  165-182) citing Depner et al., “Building a uniform statistical reporting system:  A snapshot of  California Family Court Services,“ Family and ConciliationCourts Review (1992) 30: 185-206

II. Domestic Violence Perpetrators are More Likely to Contest Custody than Non- Abusers.

The American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family, the leading review of the research as of 1996, found that men who abuse their partners contest custody at least twice as often as non-abusing fathers.  They are even more likely to contest custody if the children are boys.

– American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family (1996) at p. 40.

III. Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Receive Joint or Sole Custody Surprisingly  Often.

The research on this has only emerged in the past few years and most studies have been small and local.  Nonetheless, they document disturbing trends, which surprised even me when I first discovered them.

A. Multiple studies have documented gender bias against women in custody litigation.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that women are favored in custody litigation, both the experiences of battered women and the empirical research are showing that women who allege abuse are deeply disfavored in custody courts.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force was one of the first states to document the gender bias against women in family courts.  This court-initiated study expressly found that “our research contradicted [the] perception” that ”there is a bias in favor of women in these decisions.”  Moreover, it found that “in determining custody and visitation, many judges and family service officers do not consider violence toward women relevant.”  The Court’s study further found that “the courts are demanding more of mothers than fathers in custody disputes” and that “many courts put the needs of noncustodial fathers above those of custodial mothers and children.”

– Gender Bias Study of the Court System in Massachusetts, 24 New Eng.L.Rev. 745, 747, 825, 846 (1990)

More recently, and since the evolution and widespread adoption of “parental alienation syndrome,” a multi-year, four-phase study using qualitative and quantitative social science research methodologies by the Wellesley Centers for Women found “a consistent pattern of human rights abuses” by family courts, including failure to protect battered women and children from abuse, discriminating against and inflicting degrading treatment on battered women, and denying battered women due process.  Histories of abuse of mother and children were routinely ignored or discounted.

-  Wellesley Centers for Women Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project, Battered Mothers Speak  Out:  A Human Rights Report on Domestic Violence and Child Custody in the Massachusetts  Family Courts (Nov. 2002)(hereafter “BMTP”), Executive Summary at 2.

A comparable study by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that most of the women surveyed felt the history of abuse was not taken seriously and that they were ignored, disrespected and discriminated against by court personnel.

– Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project:  A Human  Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence (June 2003), pp. 47, 49, 6.

A study of the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court conducted by the Philadephia Women’s Law Project in cooperation with the court, found that litigants are often denied due process, and that applicable legal standards are “not always observed, particularly in the consideration of abuse in custody proceedings, leaving families at risk.”

– Tracy, Fromson & Miller, Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court:   A Report to the Community, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REPORT, Vol. 8, No. 6 (Aug/Sept. 2003), p. 94.

B. Studies show Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Receiving Sole or Joint Custody  Surprisingly Often.

My own survey of the case law in 2001 identified 38 appellate state court decisions concerning custody and domestic violence.  To my astonishment, 36 of the 38 trial courts had awarded joint or sole custody to alleged and adjudicated batterers.  Two-thirds of these decisions were reversed on appeal.

– Meier, Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and Child Protection:  Understanding Judicial  Resistance and Imagining the Solutions, A.U. J. Gender, Soc. Pol. & the Law, 11:2 (2003), 657-731, p. 662, n. 19, and Appendix.

These cases included a case in which the perpetrator had been repeatedly convicted of domestic assault;  in which a father was given sole custody of a16-month old despite his undisputed choking of the mother resulting in her hospitalization and his arrest;  in which the father had broken the mother’s collarbone;  had committed “occasional incidents of violence”;  and had committed two admitted assaults.   More such instances can be found in Meier, supra.

The American Judges Association has found that approximately 70% of batterers succeed in convincing authorities that the victim is unfit for or undeserving of sole custody.  Another way of saying this is that 70% of batterers obtain sole or joint custody.

– American Judges Association, “Domestic Violence and the Courtroom:  Understanding the Problem . . . Knowing the Victim”  (at “Forms of Emotional Battering. . . Threats to Harm or Take Away Children”)

A survey of battered women by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that courts awarded joint or sole custody to the alleged batterers 56-74% of the time (depending on the county).  Many of these cases involved documented child abuse or adult abuse.

– Arizona Coalit
ion Against Domestic Violence, Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project:  A Human  Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence (June 2003), pp. 33-34, 47-49

A study of 300 cases over a 10-year period in which the mother sought to protect the child from sexual abuse, found that 70% resulted in unsupervised visitation or shared custody; in 20% of the cases the mothers completely lost custody, and many of these lost all visitation rights.

– Neustein & Goetting (1999), “Judicial Responses to the Protective Parent’s Complaint of Child  Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 8 (4): 103-122.

The Wellesley Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project found that 15 out of 40 cases resulted in sole or joint physical custody to the fathers, all of whom had abused both the mother and the children.

– BMTP, supra at Appendix A.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force found that 94% of fathers who actively sought custody received sole or joint custody, regardless of whether there was a history of abuse.  While fathers received primary physical custody 29% of the time, mothers received primary physical custody in only 7% of the contested cases.  The Study also cited other research which similarly found that fathers who sought custody received primary physical custody 2/3 of the time, with mothers receiving it less than ¼ of the time; and another study which found that fathers seeking custody received joint or sole custody 79% of the time, with mothers receiving sole custody in only 15% of those cases (compared to fathers’ sole custody in 41% of the cases).

– Gender Bias Study at 831-832 and citing Middlesex Divorce Research Group relitigation study and Phear et al., 1983.

While the Massachusetts study and those it cited were not able to identify what proportion of the contesting fathers were batterers, the studies cited in my other Statement indicate consistently that 75% of cases have a history of domestic violence, with a substantial proportion of severe violence.  Hence, it is likely that a substantial proportion of the fathers receiving joint or primary physical custody in this study had committed domestic violence.

– Meier Statement, Research Indicating that the Majority of Cases that go to Court as ‘High Conflict’ Contested Custody Cases have a History of Domestic Violence (Nov. 9, 2005).

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The Friendly Parent Concept: A Flawed Factor for Child Custody

Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010

Published 2004, Volume 6, pp 41- 56 by Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law

by Margaret K. Dore


The so-called “friendly parent” concept presents what seems to be a reasonable idea for the resolution of child custody disputes. Children are thought to do better when allowed or encouraged to maintain a close relationship with both parents. Therefore, custody should be awarded to the parent most likely to foster the child’s relationship with the other parent, i.e., the “friendly parent.”

The friendly parent concept is sometimes referred to as the friendly parent doctrine. It is codified in child custody statutes requiring a court to consider as a factor for custody, which parent is more likely to allow “frequent and continuing contact” with the child and the other parent, or which parent is more likely to promote the child’s contact or relationship with the other parent.

For example, Florida’s child custody statute requires courts to consider two friendly parent provisions: which parent is “more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the nonresidential parent;” and “[t]he willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.”

As another example, Virginia’s child custody statute also requires courts to consider two friendly parent provisions: “[t]he propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;” and “[t]he relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child.”

On close examination, the friendly parent concept presents a paradox. This is because in a child custody dispute, the parents are in litigation against each other. The purpose of this litigation is to take custody away from the other parent, which by definition does not foster the other parent’s relationship with the child. The friendly parent concept, however, requires parents to make the opposite showing, that they will “most likely foster . . . the other parent’s relationship with the child.”

With this inherent contradiction, the results of a friendly parent analysis are unpredictable and at times, bizarre. The friendly parent concept also encourages litigation and conflict between parents; it renders parents unable to protect themselves and their children from abuse, violence, and neglect at the hands of the other parent. Because of these problems, this article argues that the friendly parent concept should be eliminated from child custody practice, and that existing friendly parent statutory provisions should be repealed or judicially overturned.

To read the full article (pdf) click here

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The Batterer As Parent

Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010


by Lundy Bancroft

Research on children’s exposure to domestic violence has tended to focus primarily on two aspects of their experience: the trauma of witnessing physical assaults against their mother, and the tension produced by living with a high level of conflict between their parents.1 However, these are just two elements of a much deeper problem pervading these children’s daily life, which is that they are living with a batterer. The parenting of men who batterer exposes children to multiple potential sources of emotional and physical injury, most of which have not been recognized widely.

This article looks at the characteristics of men who batter and identifies ways in which these characteristics also influence their ability to parent appropriately. Additionally, the article will address the implications of such parenting for child protective and custody determinations.

Characteristics of Men Who Batter

Most of the characteristics that are typical of men who batter have potential ramifications for children in the home. Batterers often tend toward authoritarian, neglectful, and verbally abusive child-rearing.2 The effects on the children of these and other parenting weaknesses may be intensified by the children’s prior traumatic experience of witnessing violence.3 Consider the following selected examples of characteristics of men who batter:

Control: Coerciveness is widely recognized as a central quality of battering men,4 and one of the areas of life heavily controlled by many men who batterer is the mother’s parenting. A man who batters may cause or forbid his partner to terminate a pregnancy, overrule her parenting decisions, or assault her when he is angry over the children’s behavior. Battered women are far more likely than other mothers to feel that they have to alter their parenting styles when their partners are present.5

Entitlement: A man who batters considers himself entitled to a special status within the family, with the right to use violence when he deems it necessary.6 This outlook of entitlement can lead to selfish and self-centered behavior on his part. For example, he may become irate or violent when he feels that his partner is paying more attention to the children than to him. It is difficult for children to have their needs met in such an atmosphere and they are vulnerable to role-reversal, where they are made to feel responsible to take care of the battering parent.

Possessiveness: Men who batter often have been observed to perceive their partners as owned objects.7 This possessive outlook can sometimes extend to their children, partly accounting for the dramatically elevated rates of physical abuse8 and sexual abuse9 of children perpetrated by batterers, and for the fact that these men seek custody of their children more often than non-battering fathers do.10

Other characteristics that can have an important impact on children include manipulativeness, denial and minimization of the abuse, battering in multiple relationships, and resistance to change.

Influence of Battering on Parenting

The characteristics discussed above influence the parenting of men who batter and have a negative impact on the children by:

    creating role models that perpetuate the violence

    undermining the mother’s authority

    retaliating against the mother for her efforts to protect the children

    sowing divisions within the family

    using the children as weapons against the mother

    Creating role models that perpetuate the violence:

    Boys who are exposed to domestic violence show dramatically elevated rates of battering their own partners as adolescents or adults.11 Research suggests that this connection is a product more of the values and attitudes that boys learn from witnessing battering behavior than of the emotional trauma of being exposed to such abuse.12 Daughters of battered women show increased difficulty in escaping partner abuse in their adult relationships.13 Both boys and girls have been observed to accept various aspects of the batterer’s belief-system,14 including the view that victims of violence are to blame, that women exaggerate hysterically when they report abuse, and that males are superior to females.

    Undermining the mother’s authority: Domestic violence is inherently destructive to maternal authority because the batterer’s verbal abuse and violence provide a model for children of contemptuous and aggressive behavior toward their mother. The predictable result, confirmed by many studies, is that children of battered women have increased rates of violence and disobedience toward their mothers.15 Some battered mothers make reports of being prevented from picking up a crying infant or from assisting a frightened or injured child and of being barred from providing other basic physical, emotional, or even medical care. Interference of this kind can cause the children to feel that their mother does not care about them or is unreliable. The batterer may reinforce those feelings by verbally conditioning the children through statements such as, "Your mother doesn’t love you," or, "Mommy only cares about herself."

    Retaliating against her for her efforts to protect the children: A mother may find that she is assaulted or intimidated if she attempts to prevent the batterer from mistreating the children, or may find that he harms the children more seriously to punish her for standing up for them. Therefore, she may be forced over time to stop intervening on her children’s behalf. This dynamic can lead children to perceive their mother as uncaring about the batterer’s mistreatment of them, and can contribute to her being labeled by child protective services as "failing to protect."

    Sowing divisions with the family: Some batterers use favoritism to build a special relationship with one child in the family. As some researchers have noted, the favored child is particularly likely to be a boy, and the batterer may bond with him partly through encouraging a sense of superiority to females.16 Batterers also may create or feed familial tensions deliberately. These manipulative behaviors are a likely factor in the high rate of inter-sibling conflict and violence observed in families exposed to battering behavior.17

    Using the children as weapons: Many men who batter use children as a vehicle to harm or control the mother18 through such tactics as destroying the children’s belongings to punish the mother, requiring the children to monitor and report on their mother’s activities, or threatening to kidnap or take custody of the children if the mother attempts to end the relationship. These parenting behaviors draw the children into the abuser’s behavior pattern. Post-separation, many batterers use unsupervised visitation as an opportunity to further abuse the mother through the children.19

    Implications for Child Protective and Custody Determinations

    Determinations regarding child protection, custody, and visitation in the context of domestic violence need to be informed by an awareness of the destructive parenting behaviors exhibited by many men who batter, and their effects on children and their mothers. These behaviors have especially important implications for children who are struggling with two sets of psychological injuries, one from exposure to the battering behavior and the other from their parents’ divorce or separation. Some elements to examine closely when crafting interventions for families include:

    Addressing the healing needs of children: There is a wide consensus that children’s recovery from exposure to domestic violence (and from divorce) depends largely on the quality of their relationship with the non-battering parent and with their siblings.20 Therefore, in addition to safety consideration, court determinations shou
    ld take into account whether the batterer is likely, based on his past and current behavior, to continue to undermine the mother’s authority, interfere with mother-child relationships, or cause tensions between siblings. Because children need a sense of safety in order to heal,21 juvenile and family court decisions may not want to include leaving the children in the unsupervised care of a man whose violent tendencies they have witnessed, even if they feel a strong bond of affection for him.

    Making appropriate assessments, especially in custody determinations: A batterer’s history of abusive behavior, and how such abuse reflects on his parenting, needs to be investigated carefully, assessing for the presence of any of the common problems described above and paying particular attention to that children may become a vehicle for continued abuse of the mother.22 Courts need to ensure that custody evaluators have extensive training on the multiple sources of risk to children from custody or unsupervised contact with the abusive parent.

    Safely fostering father-child relationships: Except in cases where the children are terrified of the battering parent or have been abused by him directly, children tend to desire some degree of ongoing contact with their fathers. Such contact can be beneficial as long as adequate safety measures are provided for the mother and children and the abuser is not given the opportunity to cause set-backs to the children’s emotional recovery. These goals can be fostered through custody arrangements that take into full consideration the violence in the home caused by the battering parent and through the use of professionally supervised visitation, ideally based in a visitation center. Where unsupervised visitation is found to be safe, the use of relatively short visits that do not include overnight visits can reduce the batterer’s ability to damage mother-child relationship, limit his negative influence on the children’s behavior and value-systems, and ensure that the children feel safe and secure—while still allowing them to feel a continued connection to their father.


    The Batterer As Parent,  by Lundy Bancroft


    1. See for example, Rossman, R., Hughes, H., & Rosenberg, M. (2000). Children and interparental violence: The impact of exposure. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.

    2. Bancroft, L. & Silverman, J. (2002). The batterer as parent: Addressing the impact of domestic violence on family dynamics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    3. Margolin, G., John, R., Ghosh, C., & Gordis, E. (1996). Family interaction process: An essential tool for exploring abusive relationships. In D. Cahn & S. Lloyd (Eds.), Family violence from a communication perspective (pp. 37-58). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    4. Lloyd, S., & Emery, B. (2000). The dark side of courtship: Physical and sexual aggression. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    5. Holden, G. & Ritchie, K. (1991). Linking extreme marital discord, child rearing, and child behavior problems: Evidence from battered women. Child Development, 62, 311-327.

    6. Silverman, J., & Williamson, G. (1997). Social ecology and entitlements involved in battering by heterosexual college males: Contributions of family and peers. Violence and Victims, 12(2), 147-164.

    7. Adams, D. (1991). Empathy and entitlement: A comparison of battering and nonbattering husbands. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (Available from Emerge, 2380 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA, 02140.); Lloyd & Emery, op. cit.

    8. E.g. Straus, M. (1990). Ordinary violence, child abuse, and wife-beating: What do they have in common? In M. Straus & R. Gelles (Eds.), Physical Violence in American Families (pp. 403-424). New Brunswick: Transition; Suh, E., & Abel, E.M. (1990). The impact of spousal violence on the children of the abused. Journal of Independent Social Work, 4(4), 27-34; and several other studies.

    9. E.g. McCloskey, L.A., Figueredo, A.J., & Koss, M. (1995). The effect of systemic family violence on children’s mental health. Child Development, 66, 1239-1261; Paveza, G. (1988). Risk factors in father-daughter child sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 3(3), 290-306; and several other studies.

    10. American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996). Violence and the family. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    11. Hotaling, G., & Sugarman, D. (1986). An analysis of risk markers in husband to wife violence: The current state of knowledge. Violence and Victims, 1(2), 101-124; Silverman & Williamson, op. cit.

    12. Silverman & Williamson, op. cit.

    13. Doyne, S., Bowermaster, J., Meloy, R., Dutton, D., Jaffe, P., Temko, S., & Mones, P. (1999). Custody disputes involving domestic violence: Making children’s needs a priority. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 50(2), 1-12; Hotaling & Sugarman, op. cit.

    14. Hurley, D.J., & Jaffe, P. (1990). Children’s observations of violence: II. Clinical implications for children’s mental health professionals. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 35(6), 471-476.

    15. Jaffe, P., & Geffner, R. (1998). Child custody disputes and domestic violence: Critical issues for mental health, social service, and legal professionals. In G. Holden, R. Geffner, & E. Jouriles (Eds.), Children exposed to marital violence: Theory, research, and applied issues (pp. 371-408). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; Dutton, M.A. (1992). Empowering and healing the battered woman. New York: Springer.

    16. See for example Johnston, J., & Campbell, L. (1993b). Parent-child relationships in domestic violence families disputing custody. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 31(3), 282-298. (Johnston & Campbell seem to overlook the implications of many of their own observations – see Bancroft & Silverman, op. cit., for an extended discussion.)

    17. op. cit.

    18. Erickson, J., & Henderson, A. (1998). "Diverging realities: Abused women and their children. In J. Campbell (Ed.), Empowering survivors of abuse: Health care for battered women and their children (pp. 138-155). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    19. Bancroft & Silverman, op. cit.

    20. See review of studies in Heller, S., Larrieu, J., D’Imperio, R., & Boris, N. (1998). Research on resilience to child maltreatment: Empirical considerations. Child Abuse and Neglect, 23(4) 321-338.

    21. van der Kolk, B., & McFarlane, A. (1996). The black hole of trauma. In B. van der Kolk, A. McFarlane, & L. Weisaeth (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society (pp. 3-23). New York: Guilford.

    22. For a detailed assessment guide, see Chapter 7 of Bancroft & Silverman, op. cit.

    © 2006 Synergy 6(1) P 6-8 Ncjfcj Newsletter

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    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010

    Parental Alienation Theory (PAS)


    Here is an excerpt:

    Since 1985, the claim of parent alienation syndrome (PAS) has represented the extreme collusion of male entitlement, the mental health profession, and family courts. PAS is a pseudoscientific theory used to prevent battered women from protecting their children from exposure to violent and abusive fathers. It asserts that children who resist parents’ visits are not legitimately seeking protection from their fathers but have been “alienated” from their fathers by their mothers. This article examines the impact of PAS on families, its admissibility in courts, and the role of social workers and other mental health practitioners in custody cases through the lens of a social worker, a social justice activist, and a mother who is involved in a PAS custody case.

    To view the entire article, “Criminal Rewards: The Impact of Parental Alienation Syndrome on Families” by Andrae L. Brown,  please click here.  It is very good…it should be required reading for all family court judges.



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    UPDATE: Neighbors, family offer views of Father accused of abandoning toddler, slaying mother (Views???) WTH?

    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010

    Views??? He is a cold blooded murder!! PERIOD!!!

    Parental Alienation Theory (PAS)

    UPDATE: Neighbors, family offer views of father accused of abandoning toddler, slaying mother



    Neighbors on Weldon Road in Edison say Dwayne Jackson is a typical suburban family man who spent time with his children and was always willing to help a friend.

    Prosecutors say he is a killer who asphyxiated his mistress – the mother of his daughter – and dumped her burning body in a New York state park.

    Patricia Belizaire, the woman Jackson is accused of killing, is remembered as a devout Christian and devoted mother.

    But friends and neighbors say she made bad relationship decisions and ended up living in fear and moving from home to home.

    Their daughter – 20-month-old Hannah Jackson – ended up locked and crying in the bathroom of a Newark, Del., gas station, according to police and prosecutors.

    New Castle County (Del.) Family Court decided Wednesday that Hannah will stay indefinitely in Delaware, where she has been living with a foster family since Feb. 21, the day she was found at the gas station.

    Hannah was not at the hearing Wednesday, but some of Belizaire’s relatives from New Jersey turned out to express an interest in caring for the girl, said Nick Krayer of the state Office of the Child Advocate, who represented the girl in court.

    "There are some relatives that have come forward," Krayer said, adding they will not be allowed to see Hannah until they are investigated by authorities in Delaware and New Jersey. "We are going to explore them to determine if they are appropriate and hopefully in the future … we can get her to her relatives."

    As soon as family members are deemed fit to be with Hannah, Family Court will allow visits, he said.

    "She wouldn’t just be dumped from one foster home to the (adoptive) parents," Krayer said. "She would start by being reintroduced to each family member and they would gradually build up trust with her because obviously she’s been through a traumatic experience."

    Family members had not officially filed for Hannah’s custody as of Wednesday, he said. While some have come forward, others are still learning details about what happened to Belizaire, who left Florida for New Jersey shortly after turning 18. They include her father, Ernest Belizaire, who flew from Florida to New Jersey Wednesday but has not been able to talk to an official to discuss his daughter’s death.

    "I need to go to New Brunswick," he said, referring to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. "I went there, but their office was closed."

    Ernest Belizaire, reached by cell phone Wednesday, also was looking for his granddaughter, asking reporters to take her to where he is staying.

    Patricia Belizaire was born in Haiti. Her family moved to southern Florida, where she grew up, her father said. Her mother died in a car accident when Belizaire was 3, he said. Ernest Belizaire didn’t know why Patricia moved to New Jersey after turning 18, though her mother had relatives there.

    "Teenagers sometimes they are crazy for no reason," he said. "She just made the decision."

    Ralphie Belizaire, a distant cousin of Patricia’s, said through Facebook e-mail that she was interested in family, adding they found each other on Facebook. "(We) happened to run across each other because of our last names."

    She added that her cousin always called if they hadn’t spoken in a few days.

    "She was a sweet person and loved her daughter," Ralphie Belizaire said.

    Patricia Belizaire’s friend, Mary Dareus Belcher, said through Facebook that she was in an abusive relationship, though she didn’t know details.

    "The only thing I know is that he was abusive and he wanted her gone," she said in a Facebook message.

    New Jersey prosecutors, who said Jackson is Hannah’s father, will not comment on the abuse allegations.

    "It would be premature and really, really improper for me to comment on that," said Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Sewitch, whose office is handling the murder case.

    Tamara Moss, who knew the victim, said Belizaire lived in fear and confided in her about a bad relationship. At one point, Belizaire moved out of her Oakleaf Village apartment to get away from someone, Moss said. After she moved, the apartment was broken into and vandalized, she added.

    Moss said the incident was reported to North Brunswick police, who referred comment to Middlesex County prosecutors. Belizaire eventually returned to the Oakleaf Village apartments, where she lived in a one-bedroom apartment with Hannah. Middlesex County authorities say she was killed in the apartment. "She lived a very sad life," Moss said, adding Belizaire was often sick and sometimes suffered seizures. Yet, she was a positive person reminding people to pray."

    "She had faith and hope," Moss said. "It still hurts — what happened to her."

    Belizaire once worked at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where Jackson was a security guard. Though she no longer was an employee there, she continued to work in the medical field, Moss said.

    "I considered her as my angel," she said.

    Jackson is accused of killing Belizaire the morning of Sunday, Feb. 21, at her Oakleaf Village apartment. He took Hannah that same day to Delaware, where he left her at the College Avenue Shell station, police said.

    Sewitch, the New Jersey prosecutor, did not know if the child witnessed the killing. After abandoning the girl, Jackson returned to North Brunswick, where he picked up Belizaire’s body, authorities say.

    "Then, under cover of darkness in the early morning hours of the 22nd, (he) took the body to Ramapo, N.Y., where he set the body on fire in a park," Sewitch said. "We do have an idea of a motive," Sewitch said. "We are investigating further, so at this time it would be premature to comment on that."

    The accusations against Jackson have left neighbors in disbelief.

    "This is something that really surprised us," said Gloria Garcia, who along with her husband Tulio, lived next door to Jackson for about a decade. Jackson lived on Weldon Road in Edison with his wife, Lizette, her 12-year-old daughter, and the couple’s two young boys.

    Although snow still covered the front lawn of Jackson’s home, a clean sidewalk led to the white one-story ranch house. A wrought-iron mailbox stood between the home’s entrance and a wooden bench and seat. The home’s curtains were closed, preventing anyone from looking into the house.

    The couple originally lived in a back section of the ranch-style home while Jackson’s in-laws lived in the front portion. But when the in-laws left, the Jacksons moved to the front of the house and rented the back. In one of his first conversations with the Garcias, Jackson told them he had been in the Marines.

    Jackson joined the Corps three months after 9/11, and left active duty in December 2005, Marine Maj. Shawn Haney said. He achieved the rank of lance corporal and worked as a personnel clerk, Haney said. His last assignment was at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

    His house is now vacant, neighbors said. They suspect Lizette Jackson moved to her parents’ house in Pennsylvania.

    The last time Gloria Garcia saw Jackson’s wife was Ash Wednesday as she walked to St. Matthew the Apostle Church a few blocks away.

    Among their memories of Jackson are the times he spent
    playing with his young sons, the neighbors said. He set up a fireworks display in his backyard during the last Fourth of July and asked the Garcias if the children could watch from their yard to keep from getting hurt. Before leaving for work that night, he gave the children sparklers, Gloria Garcia said.

    About the only thing the Garcias found odd about Jackson was that during the recent snowstorms, he would walk out of his house with no shirt and no shoes to get the mail or throw out the trash.

    "Aren’t you cold?" Tulio Garcia asked him, to which Jackson replied, "No. I’m just preparing myself for the Polar Bear Plunge."

    Gloria Garcia, who said her legs shook when she learned of the charges against Jackson, still wonders if she and police are talking about the same person. But she admits hearing about Hannah Jackson being missing and wondered what sort of parent would abandon her.

    "I am positive something big happened to him," she said. "You know when you are mad you never know what you are doing. Who thinks their neighbor would do something like that?"

    This article was written by Esteban Parra, a reporter for the News-Journal, a Gannett newspaper in New Castle, Del. Home News Tribune staff writer Ken Serrano contributed to this report.

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    Family Violence Rises, and Becomes More Brutal

    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010



    Kisha Ward has been paralyzed from the waist down ever since a bullet tore into her spine in 2004.

    Where to Find Help

    Yahoo! Buzz

      Parental Alienation Theory (PAS)


    By Peter J. Holley – Express-News

    Like so many times family violence is perpetrated, police say that Tabari Strong made his violent intentions known.

    Hours before police allege that Strong burst into Vernita Bardwell’s Northwest Side apartment Nov. 14 with a shotgun, killing her and her friend Tamika Coleman, he told the mother of his son that he intended to take her life, said Bardwell’s mother, Rose Sledge.

    After several days of arguing, Bardwell was at Strong’s apartment to pick up their son, Sledge said, when Strong showed her the shotgun shells he had stored beneath his bed.

    “We just thought he was rambling,” Sledge recalled after her daughter told her about the threat. “He had said those kind of things before, and so I don’t think Vernita was too worried about it.”

    Bardwell reported the threat to police later that evening, but by then it may have been too late. Embittered by child support payments, Strong, 35, was charged the next day with double murder. Police say he also abducted his 8-year-old son and led them on a frenzied, mid-morning search for the child.

    Like thousands of women across San Antonio, Bardwell fell victim to a wave of aggravated family violence in the city over the past year.

    While police reports of family violence cases increased 3.5 percent from 2008 to 2009, those that involved more serious injury have soared 87 percent, according to the San Antonio Police Department. In addition to the statistics, those who work with domestic violence victims report that the nature of the violence has grown more brutal.

    It’s a problem found across the country and officials believe it’s caused, in part, by the recession. Family violence is known to parallel unemployment.

    Police were called to family violence incidents nearly 10 percent more times last year than in 2008, and the city saw 24 family violence-related homicides, up from 23 the year before, according to a San Antonio Express-News tally.

    The surge in aggravated family violence has captured the attention of Police Chief William McManus.

    The stoical face he offers to the public at crime scenes doesn’t reflect the anguish he expresses to community leaders in private, according to Patricia Castillo, executive director of the Putting an End to Abuse through Community Efforts Initiative.

    Only then, according to those who have spoken with him, does the chief’s frustration over increasing numbers boil over.

    “The numbers are up for family violence,” McManus acknowledged in a recent interview. “I’d rather the numbers be up because more women are reporting the violence, than see the numbers down and know that women are not reporting it.”

    Castillo agreed, arguing, paradoxically, that increased violence may be a sign of progress.

    “When a woman is trying to escape, that’s when the abuser comes down on you even harder — they’re losing control,” she said. “That’s when the situation becomes the worst and the most dangerous. Right now, we’re in the middle of the storm.”

    McManus may have to wait for the economy to improve before he sees a change in the numbers, according to Brian Withrow, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University.

    Withrow said fluctuations in family violence are closely tied to a city’s unemployment rate.

    At 7.7 percent, the San Antonio area’s January unemployment rate is below the national average of 9.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the area’s unemployment rate — the highest in two decades — has more than doubled since it was 3.6 percent in spring 2008, roughly following the same rise in aggravated family violence reports.

    “It’s extremely common to find family violence increasing during periods of economic stress, when families tend to break their routines,” Withrow said. “Suddenly, you have one or more parents at home all day, unable to work. There are financial challenges as well as ego issues that create an immense amount of stress for a family that suddenly finds itself in close proximity day after day.”

    The lucky ones

    At the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, a steady stream of women arrive in the middle of the night with missing teeth, knotty, swollen faces and bloodied patches of hair ripped from their scalps. Maybe they’ve had time to pack a suitcase, maybe not. Often, a trash bag suffices.

    They are the lucky ones. Not only have they managed to get out, officials said, but they’ve found shelter from the violence and abuse that threaten to destroy their lives.

    After polling 600 domestic violence shelters nationwide last year, the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation reported in May that 75 percent saw an increase in women seeking assistance since the recession intensified in September 2008. About 73 percent of the shelters attributed the rise to financial stres.

    San Antonio’s shelter is no different. Its population has ballooned 73 percent over the past year to more than 170 residents a day, according to Martha Pelaez, the director.

    Lounges have been converted into bedrooms, the dining room remodeled and extra kitchen staff hired to handle the meal-time onslaught. Cramped bedrooms that used to hold one family now hold three. Quiet hallways now echo with the sound of rambunctious children who make up three-quarters of the facility’s population.

    The shelter’s expenses have increased more than 50 percent over the past 18 months while donations have dropped 20 percent over the same period, staff members said. As the shelter teeters on the brink of capacity, Pelaez has begun contemplating the possibility of opening up her own home to the swelling number of victims.

    “There are patterns throughout the year when domestic violence increases — football season, late summer, Fiesta and the holidays,” Pelaez said. “But there is no seasonal pattern that can explain what’s happened in San Antonio over the last year. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

    Pursuit in hours

    The increase in violence over the past year comes as authorities are more aggressively pursuing offenders by
    “walking warrants.” In addition, police have added a Community Response Team to each substation and increased the use of Family Assistance Crises Team volunteers.

    Started by McManus in February 2007, the change in the warrant process has officers walking arrest warrants to the district attorney’s office, where they are filed on the spot when the cases are deemed aggravated. That means there are signs of strangulation, the presence of weapons, a history of violence or when a suspect has fled.

    Under the previous policy, officers filed arrest warrants with the district attorney’s office, and it could take days — if not weeks — for the warrant to be filed in court and an arrest to occur. Now, officers with warrants in hand can pursue alleged attackers within hours of a family violence incident.

    That could explain, in part, the increase in aggravated family violence warrants from 426 in 2007 to 798 last year, according to police.

    The addition of a Community Response Team to each substation brings to six the total number of police officers and caseworkers who respond to family violence at each of the city’s six stations.

    FACT volunteers — who provide family violence victims with counseling and refer them to city services — not only work out of the substations, but as of July began riding with officers.

    The volunteers — many of whom are social workers or former victims — are seen as more approachable than officers, said Jane Schaefer, a Community Services supervisor who oversees the program.

    Though ride-alongs are limited to the north and west substations, Schaefer said she plans to expand them to every substation by the summer. In written evaluations of FACT volunteers, Schaefer has noticed a shift in how police view their work.

    “The relationship with police is getting better and better,” she said. “Compared to 10 years ago, there’s a lot more acceptance of the volunteers, the role they can play and the skills they have.”

    That acceptance begins with police training, Castillo said.

    Nearly a decade after she last spoke to officers, Castillo has begun teaching the weekly family violence portion of the state-mandated training. She discusses the dynamics of family violence, explains recent trends and reminds the classes about community resources. Though she used to encounter skepticism when she spoke to SAPD’s largely male audience, Castillo said attitudes have evolved.

    “Challenging our Police Department to act in a different way is not an easy feat — it’s a big change,” she said. “We’re going up against deeply rooted, strongly held attitudes of etitlement that have been with us since the beginning of time. We’ve got to put it in that big picture context.”

    She added, “Nevertheless, McManus gets it.”

    For many family violence victims, such as Kisha Ward, changes in police protocol didn’t come soon enough.

    Ward displays the marks of her last relationship: a faded line marks the spot where the butt of a pistol cracked open her head in 2000, requiring nine staples. Indentations on her right biceps are tooth marks. But the obvious tell-tale sign is her wheelchair.

    For the past five years, Ward has been paralyzed from the waist down after a bullet tore into her spine. Shot by the father of her two children on a rainy afternoon in 2004, she still can’t tolerate the smell of an approaching storm.

    These days, she takes comfort in counseling other women who find themselves immersed in family violence as a FACT volunteer and taking care of her two elementary school-age daughters, who are prohibited from uttering their father’s name.

    “It’s been five years of hell on earth,” she said, looking at her legs. “But I’m still not rid of him.”

    Retirement on hold

    Four months after her daughter was killed, Sledge and her two grandchildren are slowly adapting after their family was ripped apart. Left homeless by their mother’s killing, the grandchildren have moved into Sledge’s Northeast Side house.

    A decade after her parenting days ended, Sledge, a full-time manager at Chester’s Hamburgers, feels like someone hit the rewind button. Thoughts of retirement have been replaced by piles of laundry and more household chores.

    “Can you imagine being 52 years old and trying to raise two young children all over again?” she said, contemplating ideas for dinner after a long day at work. “I thought I was done.”

    There are moments during her granddaughter’s basketball games when Sledge catches Aiyanna, 12, gazing into the stands after a big play, her eyes bouncing from face to face. It is unusual behavior for the talented power forward, whose on-court focus has led coaches to mark her as a potential college prospect.

    Not only did Aiyanna lose her mother, Sledge said, she also lost her biggest fan — a woman whose megaphone voice bellowed instructions and encouragement from the sidelines.

    “You can see it on her face,” Sledge said. “She’s used to looking up and seeing her mom cheering in the stands, but she’s not there anymore.”

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    Domestic Violence Remains Pervasive – Human Rights

    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010

    Parental Alienation Theory (PAS)


    March 8, 2010, 4:27pm

    An international human rights group Monday deplored the persistent cases of domestic violence among women despite the existence of a law that criminalizes violence against Filipino women and children.

    Amnesty International Philippines section director Dr. Aurora Parong said victims of rape, sexual, and domestic violence worldwide are continuously denied access to justice due to gender discrimination and assumptions about the sexual behavior of victims of rape.

    She pointed out that domestic violence in the Philippines remains pervasive despite the passage in 2004 of the Anti-Violence against Women and Children Act (Anti-VAWVC) or the Republic Act 9262.

    “Stories of women who courageously broke their silence about domestic violence show that protection by government from violence of husbands or other intimate partners have not completely eradicated traumatic experiences in the family,” she said.

    A report titled “Breaking the Silence, Seeking Justice in Intimate Partner Violence in the Philippines” was recently launched by Amnesty International Philippines together with the Women Working Together to Stop Violence against Women Network, which reviewed the implementation of RA 9262.

    “The law is considered as a significant victory for women because many of its provisions are based on the inalienable right of women not to suffer discrimination and violence most especially within an intimate relationship,” Parong said.

    However, she said, “Protection of women’s rights does not end with the enactment of a law. It needs a follow through in implementation. Six years later after the birth of RA 9262, we see many loopholes in the implementation.”

    In commemoration of the International Women’s Day yesterday, members of Amnesty International Philippines joined the march from España to Mendiola, Manila calling for the stop of violence against women in all its forms.

    In the AI report, six recommendations for the six years of failure in implementation of RA 9262 were outlined.

    It urged the legislative body to amend RA 9262 to allow the renewal of the Barangay Protection Order (BPO), which they said is the most accessible protection for women victim and children victims of violence.

    It also included recommendations for the local government units (LGU), the courts and the Commission on Human Rights to diligently do their share for the full implementation of RA 9262.

    “We call on the Inter-Agency Council on Violence against Women and Children (IAC-VAWC) to comprehensively assess the effectiveness of all programs towards providing services to women and children victim-survivors.

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    Woman hurt in Hit and Run Domestic Violence (Lawrence, KS)

    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010

    Woman hurt in hit-and-run

    Lawrence police arrested a man Sunday evening in connection with a hit-and-run domestic violence incident that sent a woman to a Kansas City-area hospital with serious injuries.

    Sgt. Mark Warren, of the Lawrence Police Department, said officers were called at 4:34 p.m. to a residence at 1203 Almira, on the east side of the Douglas County city, after a woman was run over by a car.

    Warren said witnesses indicated the woman was injured after a domestic dispute in the driveway of the residence.

    The victim and witnesses identified the man who ran over the woman. Lawrence police located the man at 4:53 p.m. and arrested him in connection with aggravated domestic battery and traffic violations that stemmed from hitting a parked car.

    The victim was transported by air ambulance to a Kansas City-area hospital, Warren said.

    The extent of her injuries and her condition weren’t available Sunday night.

    Almira is a one-block street, located just east of Haskell Avenue.

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    Sellersburg man shot his wife to death in the kitchen of their home Friday, then killed himself, police said.

    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010


    A 57-year-old Sellersburg man shot his wife to death in the kitchen of their home Friday, then killed himself, police said.

    Police believe Peter Strojny shot his wife, Brenda Strojny, 57, multiple times with a handgun, then turned the gun on himself in the bathroom of their home in the 300 block of Popp Avenue, said Detective Sgt. Mark Levesque of the Sellersburg Police Department.

    Strojny left a short note telling family members how he wanted his personal possessions distributed after his death, but didn’t explain why he killed his wife and himself, Levesque said.

    A family member found the couple Saturday and called police about 4:30 p.m., he said.

    Based on evidence at the scene, police believe the murder-suicide happened sometime in the late afternoon or evening Friday, Levesque said.

    The couple had some “domestic issues” several years ago, and recently Peter Strojny had sought help for an alcohol problem, he said.

    An Indiana State Police evidence technician helped process evidence at the scene, Levesque said. He said there are no plans to perform autopsies.

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    Excellent article and great views on the recent studies into Shared parenting (it doesn’t work)

    Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 8, 2010

    Parental Alienation Theory (PAS)

    Post-separation parenting

    [ The University of Melbourne Voice Vol. 6, No. 3  8 March – 12 April 2010 ]

    The shared parenting laws central to the 2006 Family Law reforms are in need of some fixing, says Professor Belinda Fehlberg, but there is continuing debate on how best to move forward. By David Scott.

    Children are often at the centre of disputes between separated parents in Australia, and they were at the centre of major changes to the Family Law Reform Act of 1995, which introduced the principle that children have the right to know, be cared for, communicate and spend time with both their parents, except when contrary to their best interests.

    These amendments were significantly extended by far-reaching changes in 2006, which introduced the presumption (or starting point) of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’.

    Only when the presumption of equal shared responsibility applied did the court have to consider ordering equal shared time. Other changes were designed to encourage separated parents to reach agreements without recourse to the legal system.

    However, three years on from the most recent reforms, the scorecard on how the latest amendments are working is very mixed, according to family law expert and Melbourne Law School Professor Belinda Fehlberg.

    “The 2006 reforms were aimed at encouraging separated parents to share care and responsibility for their children more equally and without going to court, if this was safe. In reality, shared care means more time for children with fathers, which is not instinctively a bad thing,” she says.

    “However what we’re now discovering is that shared parenting is sometimes being used in a way that is harmful to children.”

    It appears that 2010 will be something of a watershed year in the family law arena, with reports having been already released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Family Law Council, as well as a report on the Family Courts’ treatments of family violence by former Family Court judge Professor Richard Chisholm.

    Professor Fehlberg herself is in the middle of completing a three-year longitudinal study into post-separation parenting. She says given all the reports on the subject are so detailed and complex, it’s little surprise there are misunderstandings about what they say and what the next step is for shared parenting arrangements.

    “Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis claimed, after the release of the AIFS report, that there was no need for more reform, based on the AIFS’ broad conclusion that in general the 2006 reforms are working well. He also suggested that the AIFS’ findings were inconsistent with Chisholm’s.

    “His view is a vastly oversimplified summary of both reports and overlooks key consistencies between them,” she says.

    Professor Fehlberg says a major consistency is that fathers have been encouraged by the 2006 reforms to seek shared care and that mothers often feel pressured into it.

    “Shared care isn’t the norm but it is increasing, especially among litigating parents – up from two per cent to 13 per cent. This is worrying as litigating parents often aren’t good at managing day-to-day negotiations and interactions needed for successful shared care.

    “It’s also clear that many people now mistakenly assume the starting point is that children should spend equal time with each parent. Parents and lawyers report fathers feeling entitled to 50-50 care and believe the reforms have favoured fathers.

    “The legal starting point is in fact equal shared parental responsibility for major decision-making. The current misconception of parental rights as equal time has led some fathers to seek more time with children as a way to reduce child support payments rather than out of a wish to care for them. Separated mothers are receiving less of the family property than pre-2006, worsening what is often their more disadvantaged financial position.

    “These reports consistently find that shared parenting reforms discourage mothers from raising family violence concerns due to the emphasis on facilitating the child’s relationship with the father, and the perception that family courts will order shared care anyway,” she says.

    It’s also clear from the reports that a more diverse group now uses shared care, including a substantial minority with high parental conflict, substance abuse and/or mental health issues and concerns for their children’s safety.

    “The evidence includes emotional and psychological harm in high-conflict families, as well as risks to children arising from constant disruption, parental neglect, violence, mental ill-health or substance misuse issues.”

    The reports consistently find that shared care is not in children’s best interests in these sorts of cases.

    “Shared care is inappropriate where there are real safety concerns. Yet the AIFS found that parents with safety concerns were just as likely to have shared care as parents without such concerns.

    “The reports clearly show that we need to change the message so the emphasis is on what works best for each child, rather than a one-size-fits-all emphasis on equal time.”

    For Professor Fehlberg, a more positive way forward involves careful consideration of all the available data, acknowledging the important consistencies across the recent bodies of work, and acting on these to support children.

    “Our data shows that children appear to fare better when shared parenting arrangements are mutually agreed to, while parents reporting less positive experiences are describing conflicted parental relationships, lack of paternal competence and greater involvement with family law system professionals.

    “It’s clear we do need to change the law. Chisholm rightly suggests that equal parental responsibility needs to be distinguished from shared time. We need to make clear that there is no one preferred parenting arrangement, and re-focus on which of the available options is in the particular child’s best interests,” she says.

    “The question remains whether, in an election year, the political will exists to act on strong and consistent research messages to improve the lives of many of our children,” says Professor Fehlberg.

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