Crisis In The Family Courts

Race to Stop the Silence: Seventh annual 8K/5KRace to Stop the Silence in DC on April 23, 2011. (Stop Child Sexual Abuse)

Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 18, 2011

Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc.

The seventh annual Race to Stop the Silence (Stop Child Sexual Abuse) is nearly around the corner and back at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2011. It’s an 8K Race, 5K Fun Run and Walk, and 1K Kids’ Fun Run.  There is a fast, flat course. There are awards (e.g., fancy restaurant dinners, UnderArmour shirts, and more) and random prizes for overall winners, placers, and participants. Lots of yummy after-Race food and beverage.  Speakers. Entertainment. Lots more! Great for the whole family.  More than 1,200 are expected.  Come join us! For more information and registration, please go to:
Use the link below to register online now!
See you there!

Pamela Pine, PhD, MPH
Founder and CEO
Stop the Silence
P.O. Box 127
Glenn Dale, MD 20769
Join the Race to Stop the Silence on April 23, 2011. Register at

Join the Race Facebook event page at:!/event.php?eid=163268997034661


The Mission of Stop the Silence, a 501(c)(3) organization, is to expose and stop child sexual abuse (CSA) and help survivors heal worldwide. Our Goals are to: 1) help stop CSA and related forms of violence; 2) promote healing of victims and survivors; and 3) celebrate the lives of those healed. Through our work, we aim to address the relationships between CSA and the broader issues of overall family and community violence, and violence within and between communities. Our focus underscores a needed focus on positive development within social complexes (e.g., relationships between men, women, adults and children, cultural groups) to support peaceful – and to hinder violence-prone – relationships. Our areas of focus are: 1) support for services; 2) advocacy; 3) training of service providers; 4) community education and outreach; 5) policy; 6) research and evaluation; and 7) other prevention measures (e.g., a focus on offenders).

Claudine Dombrowski–Insanity? Nope. Family Court in Kansas

Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 15, 2011

Help Moms Protect

Help MOMS Protect—Claudine Dombrowski

Open Letter

High Profile Mothers

***Claudine Dombrowski


Please carefully view these pictures.  Notice the bruises on her arms above her wrists on both arms.  Do they look like this was a mutual fight or are those marks of trying to defend herself against the brutality inflicted on her?




Insanity? Nope. Family court in Kansas

Imagine that your home was broken into, vandalized and burglarized one night. You were roughed up and tied up while he ransacked your home. Fortunately, he left you shaken and hurt, but not seriously injured such as to require hospitalization. You were successfully able to identify him and his vehicle as he sped away.
Upon your call to the police, the offender is apprehended with the goods in his possession and brought to court to stand trial for his crimes against you.
You arrive in court and the first thing the judge asks you is if you are willing to go to mediation with the burglar. When you refuse, the judge labels you ‘uncooperative’ and ‘hostile’ to the burglar’s continued relationship with you. Even though the burglar was caught red-handed with your goods, and you were an eye witness to the crime, the judge now decides that he can’t possibly decide the case without first appointing a social worker termed a "burglary evaluator"
to assess yours and the burglar’s relationship.

When the social worker/evaluator can not determine what is best for your relationship or your stolen goods, they ask the judge to have both you and the burglar psychologically evaluated, because you seem "anxious", "angry" and "uncooperative" with the burglar. The court-appointed psychologist, who has no experience in being the victim of violent crime and has not studied the effects of such trauma, also determines that you are uncooperative, hostile, anxious, and you
have a negative opinion of the burglar that can’t be healthy. After all, the burglar had nothing but good things to say about you, your home and your belongings during his evaluation.

The psychologist recommends that you be restricted from access to your belongings until you can accept the burglar’s rightful relationship to continued access to your home and personal effects. He further recommends you attend weekly conjoint therapy with the burglar to work on being more cooperative with him in the future.
All at your expense of course.

The judge decides to wait a year or so to see how you work through your relationship with the burglar before he can decide upon the burglary conviction. He chastises you that you had better really work at the relationship or he may just grant the burglar’s request to maintain sole ownership of your property. None of these "experts" can be sued civilly for their negligence and incompetence because they have judicial or quasi-judicial immunity.
Insanity? Nope. Family court in Kansas.

Domestic violence victims walk into family court to ask a judge to protect their children from a known abuser. Instead, they face the above-described nightmare that can span years and put them into financial ruin, mental and emotional exhaustion, not to mention directly back into the path of the abuser. Judges pressure them to mediate, assign a custody evaluator who pressures them to accept 50/50 joint physical and legal custody with theirs and their children’s abuser.
They and their children are put through psychological evaluations by persons with little to no training in domestic violence, and some judges force co-parenting therapy and reunification therapy upon mother and child with their perpetrators. If they can not fit into the mold of cooperative "co-parenting" and the children continue to be reluctant to visit with the man that abused them, they face losing custody to him.

We have spent millions of dollars printing brochures and making public service announcements to victims of domestic violence encouraging them to leave violent relationships and telling them of the harmful effects on their children.

But when they do get the courage to leave, the same system tells them they are wrong to try to protect their children once they have divorced their abuser, and that they should now fully and freely support unsupervised visitation with the same dangerous person. Contrary to popular belief, children of batterers can be at just as much risk psychologically, sexually, and even physically after the couple splits up as they were when the family was still together. In fact, many children experience the most damaging victimization from the abuser at this point.

Most people assume that a fit mother never loses custody. If only that were true. The American Judges Association reports that "Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases." Unfortunately, the state of Kansas’s current laws also says that none of these people can be held accountable, either.
And so we go on, handing down family violence from one generation to the

KMFCJ-founded by Claudine Dombrowski,a Protective Parent and survivor of Domestic Violence and systemic abuse. The goals of KMFCJ is to publish informed news releases, links and commentaries relating to protective parents and their children who continue to be victimized by the abuser and or the court system.

Kansas Mothers For Custodial Justice BLOG|Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories-Abusers getting custody

‘An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”-Gandhi – All rights reserved


CLAUDINE DOMBROWSKI CASE, Shawnee County, Kansas. Claudine lost custody of her baby daughter  to  the man who did this, thanks to Judge James P. Buchele, who refused to permit adequate testimony at trial, shortening it to benefit his docket, and also ordered Claudine to move back to Topeka to live near the man who did this, for the sake of their "co-parenting." WHAT?! He is a man with multiple criminal convictions for violent behavior (Battery, Attempted Battery, Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer, Obstruction of Legal Process, Possession of Marijuana and violation of Open Container law), a man who has beaten and raped Claudine multiple times before and after her divorce from him, a man who has threatened to kill her and her child.
            Worse, Judge Buchele also ordered Claudine not to call the police any more without the permission of her case manager. When Judge James Buchele retired, Judge Richard D. Andersonaffirmed Buchele’s previous orders, including the illegal prohibition on Claudine’s being able to call the police. 
Guardian ad litem Scott McKenzie deserves a substantial portion of the credit for this travesty. I ask, how in hell can this happen in the United States of America?

The following is from   Please visit there site.

Claudine Dombrowski – Kansas

Claudine was a psychiatric LPN. Now she is disabled and though a cane is medically indicated, she continues to be mobile on her own. The father owns his own business in Topeka. The abuse started when she was four months pregnant when she found out he was married to another woman. The child was already 11 months old before they were married in late 1995. Four months after marrying, the father filed for divorce in March 1996. In May 1996, mother asked for permission to move with the child to another city in Kansas because of the closing of a hospital where she worked. She had obtained employment in the other city and it would help her escape from his unremitting violence. Permission to move was granted. Four days later, father filed to change custody of the child to him.

During the course of the litigation, he admitted hitting Claudine and that it was a reason for her to leave the home but claimed it was not the reason she left every time. He admitted he told her to leave, pushed her out of the home, and paid no child support. He admitted to twisting her leg and scratching her face. According to her, he beat her 2 – 3 times a week. He pointed and cocked a shot gun at her while she was feeding the baby. He cut up her military uniform. He beat her when the baby dirtied the house. She was kicked out, locked out and would leave 3-4 times a week to escape the violence. Often she was gone for 2-3 weeks to maintain her safety and that of the child. Though she had a perfectly valid reason to leave and was in fact protecting the child, court personnel later used that to claim she would hide the child and therefore he should have custody.

In one incident, he hit her in the head so severely she required 14 internal stitches and 14 external stitches. When the court questioned the parties about this on the stand, the judge was far more worried about where it happened and who was telling the truth than the admitted and verifiable fact that he did hit her in the head with an object that left that much damage. Whether he hit her in the head with a big stick in his driveway or he hit her in the head with a tire iron in her apartment – he hit her in the head resulting in severe injury. The judge however lectured both parties about lying. See Exhibit 1 for photos of the petitioner after beatings by the child’s father.

While the father admitted the abuse, he claimed it was mutual combat. However not only did she have a protection order against him, but the man has eight criminal convictions – three convictions for domestic violence against her, a conviction for a bar fight, a conviction for assaulting a police officer, a conviction for obstruction of justice, one for possession of marijuana and one for driving under the influence. Pursuant to his various convictions, he was ordered to attend alcohol treatment – he didn’t. He was ordered to a psychiatric evaluation – he didn’t go. He was ordered to anger management classes but was asked to leave because of his inappropriate behavior. Domestic violence professionals know that anger management is not a suggested treatment modality for domestic violence perpetrators.

Court personnel not only were blind to the violence, they were completely ignorant of safety issues for the mother and child. Dr. Bernie Nobo, a licensed social worker, testified that it was a volatile situation. He actually had to stop the father from assaulting the mother in a meeting. Still he said there was no danger to the child but suggested she might hide to protect herself. In fact, that would be a very sensible thing to do. He diagnosed her as primarily depressed and the father as adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features (depression or anxiety). Not only is depression a reasonable response to the situation, but as a social worker, he is not qualified to make such diagnosis. Nobo did say her parenting was fine and he recommended supervised visitation to father.

The court services officer knew of the domestic violence and in fact listed it as the biggest concern. But rather than deal with the perpetrator, she suggested that the child should be put into foster care – thereby punishing the child who would lose a perfectly good loving and protective mother and would punish the mother for being a victim of abuse. The officer claimed the mother was a risk to run though she admitted she had never had any trouble contacting her. The officer was more concerned that the father have access to the child than the safety of the child or the mother.

Kansas statutes require joint custody unless there is a reason for sole and the GAL recommended custody to father because he lived near the court while mother had moved out of town (with the court’s permission) and he wanted to keep this child near the other three step-children from other marriages of the father. The GAL never talked to the mother or child, to the day care or the child’s physician nor did he do a home study. The GAL said the violence was so far fetched he didn’t believe it though he only knew of one conviction for DUI and never talked to the battered women’s shelter. Astonishingly, the GAL recommended the mother go to anger management classes.

On April 17, 1997 during a settlement conference, the mother was stunned by her own attorney suggesting she agree to a joint custody arrangement with a man she knew to be extremely dangerous. Her lawyer and the judge threatened the mother that he would grant sole custody to the father because allegedly she would not work together with him. This of course completely discounts the impossibility of working with a man as violent as this perpetrator. Though admitting that the violence lessened when she moved away, the judge said he would give shared custody only if she moved back to Topeka where the father lived and where the violence occurred. Forcing her to resettle in Topeka near the perpetrator, a routine practice of family courts, is the state forcing her directly into danger. It is a violation of the fundamental rights of life, safety and to be free from torture and other maltreatment. Essentially the court required the mother to give up her right to life and safety for custody of child. She did. Only to lose custody as well. She agreed to the settlement only to change attorneys and file a motion to set aside four days later.

In 1998, the child’s doctor reported the child had very poor hygiene when staying with father. The day care provider reported a change in her behavior after being with the father. She became either withdrawn or aggressive. A nurse requested an investigation of psychological abuse because of his treatment of the child.

On 31 July 2000, without any motion from either party and without a hearing, the judge simply issued an order that the mother had to relocate to Topeka if she wanted any possibility of obtaining custody. She did so but then in August, the judge ordered the child to remain with the father. In December 2000, supervised visitation was ordered for mother because she had allegedly returned the child late to the fathers over Christmas. They suspended all contact for several months and then she was allowed two hours a week supervised. The bizarre behavior of the courts was evident from as early as 1998 when they granted a divorce twice as evidenced by their own records – April 17 and October 28, 1998.

At the time of this filing, the mother had supervised visits once a week after having had no contact for 10 months based on an ex parte order without an evidentiary hearing issued 3 February 2004. At time of this filing, the mother had last seen the child on 15 April 2007 for one hour.

Over these 11 years of litigation, the judge was changed several times. One judge limited each side to five witnesses at trial and then continued to call them liars when they could not prove what they had said or disprove what the other had said because they were prohibited from calling witnesses. While the judge chastised the father for game playing in the court, he then berated the mother for not coming to agreement with the father. He could see how unreasonable the father was and the judge was not subject to violence from the man but yet he blamed the mother for not reaching an agreement. He said any child in this situation would grow up damaged but then blamed the mother rather than the father who was the one committing the violence. The judged focused on the mother’s move to escape the violence rather than the harm of the violence itself. The court excluded evidence of his extensive criminal record, medical records and other records of violence. In addition to mother, other witnesses knew of the violence and that the child witnessed it. But still the court saw no danger to the child.

In spite of an order of protection against the father and his eight criminal convictions, three against her, one judge said it was mutual violence and besides she provoked it. He said there was no evidence that the father mistreated the children and ordered joint custody and both parties to anger management. She was ordered not to call law enforcement about the father without getting permission of the case manager. In other words, he could assault her freely and she was not allowed to even call the police. She was told to stop gathering evidence against the father. In March 2005, she was ordered not to file any more motions in the court without permission from the case manager – she had filed a motion to remove that case manager. In other words, she was even denied access to the court.

ex parte order without an evidentiary hearing issued 3 February 2004. At time of this filing, the mother had last seen the child on 15 April 2007 for one hour.

Over these 11 years of litigation, the judge was changed several times. One judge limited each side to five witnesses at trial and then continued to call them liars when they could not prove what they had said or disprove what the other had said because they were prohibited from calling witnesses. While the judge chastised the father for game playing in the court, he then berated the mother for not coming to agreement with the father. He could see how unreasonable the father was and the judge was not subject to violence from the man but yet he blamed the mother for not reaching an agreement. He said any child in this situation would grow up damaged but then blamed the mother rather than the father who was the one committing the violence. The judged focused on the mother’s move to escape the violence rather than the harm of the violence itself. The court excluded evidence of his extensive criminal record, medical records and other records of violence. In addition to mother, other witnesses knew of the violence and that the child witnessed it. But still the court saw no danger to the child.

In spite of an order of protection against the father and his eight criminal convictions, three against her, one judge said it was mutual violence and besides she provoked it. He said there was no evidence that the father mistreated the children and ordered joint custody and both parties to anger management. She was ordered not to call law enforcement about the father without getting permission of the case manager. In other words, he could assault her freely and she was not allowed to even call the police. She was told to stop gathering evidence against the father. In March 2005, she was ordered not to file any more motions in the court without permission from the case manager – she had filed a motion to remove that case manager. In other words, she was even denied access to the court.

The complete failure of the court to protect the victim continued after father received custody. When she complained that the father forced her to have sex if she wanted to see the child, the case manager said that it was just part of co-parenting so deal with it.

She appealed twice to the Supreme Court of Kansas. In the appeal, she alleged not just for herself but that the policies and procedures of the Kansas courts denied the right to a full and fair hearing, denied equal protection and due process, and violated fundamental rights. She first filed in 1997, the appellate court affirmed the lower court in 1998 and the Supreme Court rejected review in 1999. She appealed again in 1999 and again the appellate court affirmed the lower court in 2000.

In July 2002, mother again regained unsupervised visitation.

On 25 August 2003, Claudine was attacked with a hammer and her arm broken by Kathleen Sales. Sales later admitted she was paid by the father who assured her no charges would be filed. They weren’t.

On 3 February 2004, false allegations were made against mother that she sought to have harm done to the father. The mother objected to the order and asked for an evidentiary hearing. The request was never even heard. By March 2005, mother had only supervised visitation that has remained to this day.

In March 2002, Dr. Dale did an evaluation for unsupervised visits with mother and recommendation for therapy. The evaluation cost $5,000 and father admitted violence and the mother was found not to be any danger to the father or child. She was however ordered to shut down her web site that she had constructed. On the website she expressed her opinion and her facts about the case and the danger the child was being put into by the court. In a second order later, she was ordered to remove the child’s photo from another website. After this evaluation, she had unsupervised visitation from May 2002 until 3 February 2004.

Repeatedly when father files motions, they are heard with negative consequences for mother and child based on the flimsiest of evidence or none at all. But when mother files motions, they are never even heard. A home study ordered into the father’s home in February 2006 was never done. On 14 April 2006, the court held a conference in chambers and refused to allow the mother to attend. The court changed the orders from a home study of father to a study of mother to assess her risk to the child. The evaluation found no risk and was positive for mother. Still supervised visitation was not changed.

In a hearing on 10 April 2007, the mother has asked yet again that the child be protected from abuse and at least she have unsupervised visitation. Again the court refused. The child spoke out in 2003 and three CPS reports have been filed but in all three, they claimed that the mother coached the child who is now 12 and certainly able to speak for herself and punished both mother and child by restricting visitation time further. The lesson is clear – don’t report abuse.

The latest in Claudine’s own words except we remove the child’s name per court order.


The written testimony that you have was filed at the inter American commission human rights known as Dombrowski v us 2007 For the Policy and procedure of Family/Juvenile Courts routinely placing battered mothers children with abuser and pedophiles. The Court’s record is complete, as well as a simple Google search of my name for any more information and court records on this case alone are available as they are to massive to even begin to present.

My name is Claudine Dombrowski, I am a US Army Veteran. I was a psychiatric nurse for thirteen years with the state of Kansas and the VA. Until December 2000 when I was placed on 100% physical disability related to violence inflicted by the batterer.

In May of 1996 I was given permission to relocate to western Kansas to avoid the unremitting violence that I and my daughter suffered at the hands of the batterer, this was after I had been beaten with a crow bar, by an admitted and convicted batterer.

In July 200o without any motion from any party the Judge simply on his own issued a 11 page Order by ‘snail mail’ giving complete custody of my 6 year old daughter to a man known to have a violent drug and alcohol addiction past.

In a hearing on 10 April 2007, the mother has asked yet again that the child be protected from abuse and at least she have unsupervised visitation. Again the court refused. The child spoke out in 2003 and three CPS reports have been filed but in all three, they claimed that the mother coached the child who is now 12 and certainlyable to speak for herself and punished both mother and child by restricting visitation time further. The lesson is clear – don’t report abuse.

In May 2007, I was enrolled automatically into the states Address confidentiality program Safe at home- a program administered by the secretary of state for victims of Domestic Violence-thereby protecting at least my address from the Abuser and the Courts by proxy.

In June 2007 the courts denied my daughter to see her grandmother for the last time (in supervised vists) related to her terminal illness- Grandmother had made her last trip to Kansas with child’s dog to say good bye to all her grandchildren- all except child ; however they did allow the dog to visit child.

November 4th 2008 The courts denied child to go to her grandmothers funeral. And further gave the batterer complete control in allowing mother to see child under the strict supervised visitation that had been implemented this past 11 years.

October 2009 Claudine spoke on a local television station regarding Domestic Violence. The next day, she was held in contempt of the court and her rights to see her daughter have been suspended.

I have never been shown to be a threat or harm to my daughter- yet for the last 11 years I have not been able to see her past the confines of extremely structured supervised visits at best when I have been allowed to see her. There are numerous psychiatric reports on the courts file that state that I am not a threat or harm to my daughter quite contrary to that of the well documented violence and substance abuse of the perpetrator.

Then points to add in: to the written testimony are the illegal 2000 custody switch after a 6 year litigation.

Keeping in mind that the this man had 8 criminal convictions of violence

· 2000 custody switch

· My mother was denied to see her granddaughter for her last visit as her health would preclude any future visits- my child in 2007- they did let the dog however

· In fall 2008 my mother died Rikki was not allowed to go to funeral

· Last week attys called DC iachr

· Abusers has 8 criminal convictions et el

· Ten years in SUPERVISED visits

Current order of the Courts and my sentence for contempt Dec 16th reads.


MISC. Petitioner in person and by Don Hoffman. Respondent in person and by Robert E. Duncan, II. G.A.L., Jill Dykes, in person. Court Reporter: Digital Div. 13. Matter comes before Court on Respondent’s motion for unsupervised visitation and Petitioner’s motion for contempt. Parties have agreed that motion for contempt will be deferred pending Petitioner’s locating and removing all referenced items to the minor child on the internet. Matter to be reset if disagreement between the parties about removal of items referring to minor child and her likeness from internet. Court interview minor child – no record per agreement of the parties. Court suspends parenting time of Respondent due to Respondent’s continued use of her website and the internet to publish photographs of minor child and statements reference minor child. Court will entertain motion to reinstate parenting time once Respondent deletes all photographs and likenesses of minor child, any reference to minor child on her website and the internet, agree not to discuss Court proceedings with minor child and not to discuss divorce with minor child. Review set for December 16, 2009, at 10:00 a.m. T. Duncan to do JE. DBD

Click for court documents

Click for Breaking the Silence

No way Out But One – Battered Mothers Loose Custody to Abusers

Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011

No Way Out But One is a documentary currently in post-production. It focuses on the first American woman to be granted asylum on grounds of domestic violence


This is WHY we March This is wht we Rally this is why we MUST make the Court Genocide against Mothers and their Children PUBLIC!!!


NEVER stop NEVER give up Not EVER!!!

How lawyers manipulate doctors in custody cases: Do-No-Harm vs. Take-No-Prisoners

Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011

By Anne Grant (about the author)

A 12-year-old sent his mother this note three years after he last saw her.



When soldiers are ordered to "take no prisoners," it means to annihilate their enemies. Physicians who vow to "do no harm" step onto a treacherous path when they sell their expertise to lawyers trained to take no prisoners in adversarial lawsuits.

For more than two decades, I have researched domestic abuse custody cases in Rhode Island Family Court, trying to understand how this publicly financed process crushes children and families. In many of these cases, lawyers, who are officers of the court, have manipulated clinicians. (Below I am naming only those lawyers and physicians specifically responsible to protect children.)

First Case: At Hasbro Hospital’s Child Protection Program (CPP), Providence, Rhode Island, in 1997, a 6-year-old girl sat rigid, a blanket over her head. Children often try to disappear when life gets intolerable.

The girl’s father had a documented history of aggression against his first two wives and their children. This child, the youngest, showed symptoms of sexual abuse. CPP Director Dr. Carole Jenny reported: "There is no doubt in my mind that some event happened because of the child’s clear and consistent disclosure."

The father harassed those who tried to help his families: a security guard, social workers, therapists, teachers, pastors. He bullied a Providence Journal editor. He took aim at Kevin Aucoin, chief legal counsel at the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), for not responding quickly enough after the father appealed DCYF’s findings against him. When he threatened to sue, Aucoin needed Dr. Jenny to revise her assessment.

She listed warning signs in the father’s behavior, then minimized them in a summary of court documents. Her new "forensic review" freed the father to demand possession of his children. He held them for thirty months, until the eleventh Family Court judge to hear the case denounced his behavior in 2003 and sent the children home to their mother with damage that has not yet healed.

Second Case: In March 2006, attorney Lise Iwon began writing letters to the CPP about a case in which she purported to be a neutral guardian ad litem. She secured an astonishing report from Dr. Nancy S. Harper at CPP. Instead of medical information, Harper’s report glibly summarized court documents Iwon had provided, repeating the conjecture, hearsay, and biased rhetoric in the father’s defense strategy.

Harper’s supervisor, Dr. Jenny, never saw or signed off on her CPP report before Iwon whisked it off to the judge who ordered DCYF to remove two young girls that day from their mother for a "psychiatric evaluation." Police arrived with a social worker to take them from their schools into "temporary" custody. The children remained in foster homes and a shelter at taxpayer expense for more than sixteen months before the state awarded the younger girl to the father she had accused of sexually assaulting her; the older girl went to yet another foster home. 

Scores of neighbors, teachers, and others wrote letters attesting to the mother’s superb parenting, but Iwon never interviewed them. Dr. Jenny told me the mother’s behavior sounded "bizarre" but candidly admitted she herself might seem bizarre if she believed her children were in danger.

Third Case: A German father, head of a vast multinational corporate empire, retained several law firms in the U.S. and Germany to retrieve his two American sons after his estranged wife brought them here to her parents for one to have surgery in 2007.

The mother told me she had confronted her husband in Germany with evidence that he was sexually abusing their sons. She said she had walked in on this happening and found disturbing photos on a laptop computer her husband had given her. She related that her sons had pointed out a store where their father got hardcore pornography. They allegedly told her that he forced them to watch it and act it out.

The father hired a former U.S. official (at $700 an hour) as one of his lawyers, who reached out to Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr., and paid the chief’s assistant David Tassoni over $2,300 to help. The father’s attorneys met alone in chambers with U.S. District Judge William E. Smith and intervened to end the involvement of Family Court, DCYF, and the FBI. They secured attorney Sharon O’Keefe, who had been assistant child advocate in Rhode Island, to serve as guardian ad litem.

O’Keefe contracted with Dr. Jenny to evaluate some of the father’s photographs and a stack of German legal documents with apparent translations. O’Keefe’s bill exceeded $13,000, including at least $2,000 to be paid directly to Dr. Jenny.

O’Keefe hardly talked with the boys, and Jenny never met them. Both concluded they saw no evidence the father was a pedophile. Judge Smith gave the boys and their American passports to their father, who took them back to Germany in April 2007. 

Judge Smith ordered the father to give the boys plenty of time with their mother. But she has not been allowed to see or communicate with them since 2007. On Mothers Day 2010, one son wrote a plaintive note asking why "these people" would not at least let them Skype her.

It is troubling that Dr. Jenny never talked to the boys, who might have helped her interpret the photos. Nor did she demand an independent search of the hard drive by state police who are trained and equipped to examine electronic evidence of child pornography–and who do not accept private payment for their services.

In January, I wrote expressing these concerns and asked Dr. Jenny to improve CPP’s protection of children by:

  • Establishing ethical standards that forbid CPP staff to produce reports for private clients in litigation without a full investigation into the family’s history;
  • Making a complete inventory of past reports produced by CPP or its staff to see how these have been used in litigation and to examine the outcomes for children;
  • Providing CPP staff with training in domestic abuse, coercive control, and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that clinicians need to recognize in protective parents who may seem "bizarre" in their appropriate efforts to protect their children.

Clinicians must recognize the pitfalls when officers of the court reach out to them. Lawyers are hired to zealously represent their clients, no matter who gets hurt. Doctors trained to "do no harm" are easy prey for them; children suffer the consequences.


In order to protect children’s identities, I am referring only to case numbers.

First Case: P92-4797 in Rhode Island Family Court; Carole Jenny, MD, signed the Child Safe Clinic #0629-23-38 report of January 14, 1997. After an extensive sexual abuse assessment by St. Mary’s Home (April 16, 1997), DCYF sent a letter (April 18, 1997) to notify the father he had been "indicated." He appealed and a year later  threatened to sue DCYF and its senior counsel Kevin Aucoin for failure to schedule a hearing. DCYF asked Dr. Jenny to review her records. Her report (July 29, 1998) was followed by a revised DCYF report (August 6, 1998), and Aucoin’s motions (August 6, 1998, etc.) to launch an expedited trial. DCYF investigator Edward J. O’Donnell sent a letter (August 18, 1998) to the father stating that the findings against him "are hereby overturned . . . pursuant to . . . a forensic review of the investigation and all associated material conducted by Dr. Carole Jenny" (DCYF Administrative Appeal of SCR 425142 I/6).

Second Case: N04-0106 in Rhode Island Family Court and 1676-86-32 AC 000119896231 at Rhode Island Hospital. The court file, which is now sealed and presumably held at the Rhode Island Supreme Court, contains Lise Iwon’s Motion (March 31, 2006) regarding her communications with Nancy Harper, and Iwon’s Motion (April 5, 2006) asking to release clinical reports and court documents to Harper, whose report (March 21, 2006, signed April 5, 2006), shows that Harper already had those documents. I interviewed the mother and secured documents from her and the court file until Judge John Mutter imposed a gag order forbidding all parties to disclose anything further about the case and sealed both the divorce and DCYF files, on or about August 16, 2007.

Third Case: 07-46S in the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, which holds transcripts, including the ex parte chamber conference of January 31, 2007, and court orders, including the decisive order of March 28, 2007; Jenny’s report to O’Keefe (March 15, 2007); and the father’s documentation of payments to Tassoni and others. The mother provided scores of documents, including the rental list from the German video store (October 2005), an initial DCYF report by Paul Ventura (January 31, 2007), O’Keefe’s bills (March 12 and 28, 2007),  hundreds of photographs from the laptop, and her son’s letter (Mother’s Day 2010).


Anne Grant writes several blogs about legal abuse in custody courts and wrote a chapter for Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues,  ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

In addition to her book reviews and general writing, much of Anne Grant’s research focuses on legal abuse in family courts and child protective services that place traumatized children at greater risk. She writes several blogs, including those that (more…)


Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011

Entry Citation:  Caplan, Paula J. “Mother Blame.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood. 2010. SAGE Publications.


Mother Blame

The blaming of mothers for virtually anything that goes wrong with their young or adult offspring, as well as for a host of societal ills such as juvenile delinquency and teenage pregnancy, has been described as similar to air pollution: it is pervasive but unnoticeable until one’s attention is drawn to it or the environment changes.

Revealing the Roots of Mother Blame

Mother blame may seem to make sense, since in contrast to fathers, mothers are still generally expected to do the lion’s share of child rearing and childcare. Societal pressures on mothers to be the ones to take children to doctors and therapists render them disproportionately available for scrutiny by clinicians and researchers, and thus more likely than anyone else to be blamed for their child’s troubles. In contrast, researchers Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale found that even when professionals wrote about fathers, it tended to be either complimentary or unrelated to the child’s emotional disturbance.


A tendency to blame mothers still pervades even when the host of other influences on children is taken into account: adults visiting or living in or near the home, teachers, other children, the media, books, and the children’s innate temperaments or predispositions. Nevertheless, in a study of 125 articles written by mental health professionals in scholarly journals, mothers were blamed for 72 different kinds of problems in their offspring, ranging from bed-wetting to schizophrenia. Each article was classified in relation to 63 types of mother blame, such as numbers of words used to describe mothers and fathers, direct attributions of children’s problems only to mothers, and unquestioning acceptance of mother blame from previous writers.

In no category did the authors blame anyone else nearly as much as mothers, and this was true of female and male authors alike. In many of the articles, the authors went to extreme lengths to blame mothers, despite facts presented within these articles that often strongly suggested another, obvious source of the children’s problems. In contrast, fathers—even those who are sexually abusive—are rarely blamed for children’s problems.

Different Standard for Fathers

Often, a mother’s presence in her children’s lives is considered potentially dangerous, so much so that some theorists and clinicians urge mothers to decrease their involvement with their children; however, the father’s presence is considered highly desirable, and even when the father’s absence is lamented, the father is rarely blamed for being absent. This curious pattern may be partly related to the common expectation for mothers to be the primary nurturer, which results in the labeling of lapses in a mother’s nurturance as unnatural. This standard is not expected from fathers, so even a father’s absence is often described wistfully or sadly but not with anger or blame. However, evidence has shown that very young babies smile at their fathers as well as at their mothers and can form strong attachments to both, and nurturance from both fathers and mothers can powerfully affect their children, as can the absence of nurturance from either.
Because of society’s tendency to blame mothers for children’s behavior problems, mothers often blame themselves as well.

Results of Mother Blame

Three major problems result from the use of mother blame in trying to understand the causes of problems. One is that blame easily leads to the neglect of factors other than the mother that might help in addressing the problem; a second is that most people, when blamed, tend to feel overwhelmingly responsible, guilty, and anxious, which can impede their efforts to help their child; and a third is that focusing only on mothers’ influence leads to a narrow view of human experience. The patterns of therapists’ mother blame that Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale reported in their articles have continued in a wide array of arenas. As just one example, Regina Edmonds has documented the ways that some of the most prominent family systems therapists have overwhelmingly pathologized and targeted mothers, despite the fact that a family systems approach is not supposed to be selective toward anyone in the family group.

The power of mother blame places mothers under immense pressure, creating conscious or unconscious worry that everything they are doing in raising their children could be wrong and that if anything does go wrong, they alone will be held responsible. Under the circumstances, a different perspective could include increasing attention to and appreciation of the good that mothers manage to do despite such pressure.

The consequence for fathers of the ubiquity of mother blame is a paradox about the visibility of their role and the frequent distortion of it when it is noticed. Research shows that the vast majority of fathers in two-parent, heterosexual households do less than one-third of the housework and child-care; however, this work becomes far more visible than the work of the mothers, because it is not generally regarded as their responsibility. In contrast, actual harm clearly caused by some fathers, such as sexual abuse of their children, is often less visible, because victims and others focus blame on the mothers for allegedly failing to protect the children from the abuser.

Mother blame is common among not just therapists but also laypeople, and is powerful in a sexist society. Caplan revealed that quite often, those who will not tolerate offensive jokes about women will not object to the identical jokes if they are about mothers. Mother-blame has been taken to extremes, such as hate speech that is intended to shame, silence, and/or render its victims powerless, helpless, and hopeless. Mother blame can be reduced by increased awareness of the prevalent myths and perceptions about mothers that give rise to mother blame, consideration of how these perceptions affect attitudes toward mothers, consideration of other factors that may contribute to children’s problems, and acknowledgment of mothers’ strengths and positive contributions to children’s development.


Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011

Million Mom March


We hope everyone will be able to attend the Mothers Day event on May 8-9, 2011 in Washington DC.  The bigger the crowd, the more of an impact we will make! More information is coming.

“Hearts Across America” — Million Mom March Mother’s Day 2011, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, D.C.

If you are not able to come to DC, please contact Amanda who is coordinating similar events in states. We plan to all wear white t-shirts  and white pants/skirts. That way, across the country people know we’re a team. 

Amanda is also compiling your one page histories, photos of you and your kids, 1 excellent piece of “proof” of abuse claims (such as a forensic interview) and 1 “outrageous” piece (such as a transcript where the judge says something really stupid!). Send to Amanda Hodges, 611 Burke Place, Auburn, AL 36803. She will present the histories to the White House advisor on domestic violence who is horrified at what is going on in family court.



We are going to be at the White House again on Mothers Day, to protest the use of taxpayer funds to support fatherhood initiative programs, which have been effective in helping abusive fathers in taking custody of children away from their victims.   Accommodations can be secured at the hostel or other lodgings in the DC area.

We had started collecting mothers stories on a sister website, but have since found out someone else is doing this, so here is information on where you can send your case information. 

Hello Moms!

I hope you are all well. I still need stories for our Really Big Box for Lynn Rosenthal (White House Domestic Violence Advisor).  Moms, please participate.

Send me a photo of you and your kids, 1 excellent piece of “proof” of abuse claims (such as a forensic interview) and 1 “outrageous” piece (such as a transcript where the judge says something really stupid!). If you have copies of any press stories, send them too.  I’ll compile a box for Lynn Rosenthal at the White House.

Moms, the White House has it’s first advisor on domestic violence, we CANNOT let this sit.  She’s there…waiting for us!!! Please take 10 minutes out of your day to put the copies together and send them to me:

Amanda Hodge
611 Burke Place
Auburn, AL 36830

Some of the organizations taking part and supporting the Million Moms March “Hearts Across America” include but not limited too:  Mothers For Custodial Justice, Courageous Kids Association, American Mothers Political Party, Chapters in California, Indiana, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin and Delaware, California Protective Parents Association, Center for Judicial Excellence, National Organization for Women, and the Battered Mothers Custody Conference. Many other organizations are also included.  If you cannot attend the event in Washington, D.C. on Mothers Day, something will be planned in other states that you can attend.  Other states will be holding similar events, and Ms. Hodge will be coordinating a lot of these as she has publicity contacts nationwide. See link here for more information.

We will NEVER stop until the practice of giving abusers custody of children stops.



Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011
Entry Citation:

Vallance, Denise. “Maternal Absence.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood. 2010.

Nearly 7 million U.S. children, about a third of all children with a nonresident parent, live apart from a biological mother.

Although this reference material includes mothers who chose to be noncustodial and other cases, it is excellent in it’s discussion on the effects of maternal absence on the children.

Maternal Absence

Most mothers expect to live with and care for their children from childhood through to adolescence. However, either through choice or force of circumstance or a combination of both, some mothers find themselves living apart from their children on a long-term or permanent basis. The process of maternal absence typically involves a physical, emotional, social, and sometimes legal shift in the nature and quality of a woman’s relationship to her birth children.

The last century has seen an increase in maternal absence, and the main reason appears to be the diversification of family structures. Among these changes are a decline in fertility rates, an increase in nonmarital cohabitation or common-law relations (including same-sex couples), an increase in the divorce rate, and an increase in the prevalence of reproductive technology. In the last 100 years, blended- and lone-parent families have replaced the nuclear family as the most common family structures in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Reasons for Maternal Absence

There is nothing new about mothers leaving their children or handing them over to other people, as has been seen throughout history. For example, the Greeks and Romans left their unwanted babies on the mountainside. One of the most well-known examples in the Bible describes how the mother of Moses sent her baby into the bulrushes to be found by the princess so that he could escape the fate of fellow Jews at the hands of the Egyptian enslavers.

In times of war and political unrest, children are often sent away to relatives or strangers who live in the safety of the countryside—as is the case of children who were evacuated from London to escape the bombings during World War II. On a grander scale, thousands of Jewish children were sent out of Europe to escape the Holocaust.

Economic policies and the demand for cheap labor also lead mothers to part from their children. Many women from the Philippines and from countries in south Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean leave their children in kinship care in order to care for other people’s children in North America and Britain. These women work for years, sometimes decades, in low-paying jobs so that they can send money home to educate their children. In some African countries, out of desperation, families sell their children into slavery.

Some mothers lose their legal rights to parent due to incarceration, institutionalization, abandonment, allegations of abuse, or history of substance abuse or addiction. Others may be separated from their children because their ex-partners engage in maternal alienation, in which the ex-partner refuses to let the mother see her children.

Other mothers may relinquish their children for the purpose of adoption due to emotional, relational, or social circumstances that will not allow for adequate care of their child. Military service, study, work, adventure, and personal growth are other reasons that some mothers leave their children in the care of others.

Stigma Related to Maternal Absence

Mothers living apart from their biological children are greatly stigmatized. The woman who disrupts the maternal bond by living separately from her children threatens the deeply entrenched, idealized image of the traditional family in which the woman’s primary (if not sole) responsibility is to care for her biological offspring. In a world that values maternal presence, mothers who live apart from their children are often seen as unfit, unnatural, improper, or even contemptible, thereby deviating from the dominant social and moral expectations of society. Because a mother often is held primarily responsible for her children, her absence is implicated in any negative outcome associated with her children.

Research suggests that noncustodial mothers who voluntarily gave up custody reported they felt stigmatized by strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family. Studies show that absent mothers feel pressured to explain their circumstances. Though women who choose to be childless are often seen as selfish, it is often seen as more socially acceptable than a mother who has abdicated the care of her children. Additional research indicates that absent mothers tend to be viewed more negatively than absent fathers in terms of interpersonal adjustment, psychological deviance, morality, and professional competence. These mothers are seen as lacking respect for themselves and for their children, and as irresponsible and avoiding family obligations. They have sometimes even been viewed as depraved, immoral, or crazy. The result for the mother is that any feelings of grief and loss of their children are intensified by the shame and social isolation at home, work, and in the everyday world.

Affects of Maternal Absence on Children

An abundance of theoretical and empirical literature focuses on the negative affects of maternal absence on children; however, absent fathers are not scrutinized in the same way as absent mothers. There is a disproportionate amount of scholarly attention given to maternal absence.

In the dialogue of “caregivers” or “parents,” the assumption is most often made that the writer’s intention is to refer to the mother. This is exemplified in the famous quotation by Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, who continues to be cited in texts on parenting: “There is no such thing as a baby,” meaning that without a mother, an infant cannot exist.

John Bowlby, whose career as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst spans from the 1940s to the late 1980s, is most well known for developing Attachment Theory, which has implications for understanding the effects of maternal absence on children. An attachment is an emotional bond or tie between a preferential caregiver and a child for the purpose of protecting children from danger and providing them with a sense of safety and security. Bowlby’s view had ethological/evolutionary origins, as he observed a biological predisposition in infancy within many species to obtain physical proximity with a parent in the event of danger, which ultimately provided for the survival of the species.

Infants develop attachments to adults who have been consistent care givers from approximately 6 months to 2 years of age. Secure attachments are created when the adult is perceived by the infant to be sensitive and responsive in social interactions, especially when the infant is distressed. Insecure attachments are created when the adult is perceived by the infant to be unavailable or unresponsive, or is inconsistently responsive, to the infant’s needs. Infants need to have secure relationships with adult caregivers, without which normal social and emotional development will not occur. When events interfere with attachment, such as an abrupt separation of a child from a significant caregiver, most often the mother, there are short-term and sometimes long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional, relational, and cognitive life.

Nearly 7 million U.S. children, about a third of all children with a nonresident parent, live apart from a biological mother.

Psychological Process of Separation

Bowlby describes the psychological process an infant goes through when he or she is deprived of, or separated from, his or her primary caregiver in terms of a framework of reactions to separation—where protest upon separation leads to despair and then detachment. Protest begins with the infant perceiving a threat of separation, and then upon separation, an urgent effort to recover the lost parent. Protest lasts as long as a week and intensifies at night, and it is marked by crying, anger, attempts at escaping, and searching for the parent. On occasion, the infant has feelings of hope and an expectation that the parent will return. Despair follows protest and involves apathy, diminished movement, intermittent crying, sadness, withdrawal from contact, and an increased likelihood of hostility toward another child or a favorite object brought from home. A phase of mourning for the loss of the attachment figure seems to take place. The final phase of detachment is characterized by a return to sociability, where attempts by other adults to offer care are no longer spurned. Interestingly, the infant who reaches this stage will behave in a remarkably abnormal way upon reunion with the primary caregiver, such as appearing to ignore or not recognize the parent, or alternating between crying and appearing expressionless. The detachment period can persist to some extent following reunion with the expression of clingy behavior suggesting a fear of further abandonment.

In older children who are beyond infancy (0–3 years), the process of grief related to separation and loss is more complex. Every person’s experience with grief will be different; however, people’s mourning responses tend to fall into three basic categories: early grief, acute grief, and subsiding grief. In early grief, there is a shocking, numbing alarm, denial, and disbelief. Acute grief typically involves longing, yearning and pining, searching, disorganization, and despair. Subsiding grief is characterized by integration of loss and grief, one in which a child is able to invest in a new life that takes the loss into account but is not preoccupied with it.

The effects of separation from a primary caregiver on children can be severe, lasting well into adult life if the grief is not resolved. However, studies suggest that children who have sufficient and positive information about the circumstances leading up to maternal separation and family reorganization manage better, irrespective of maternal absence.

—Denise Vallance


Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011

Linda Marie will be speaking at the White House on Mothers Day, May 8th.

Linda Marie and Children

Linda Marie Sacks and her two daughters

From the Spring 2011 National Organization for Women’s Family Law Newsletter:

In our Summer 2010 Newsletter, the NOW Family Law Committee posed the following question: What better way to control a mother than to take full control of her children?

This Spring 2011 Newsletter issue explores what can happen to a protective mother and her children when she does nothing more than try to protect those children.

The NOW ad hoc Family Law Committee is privileged to share the following personal interview of Linda Marie.

Linda Marie Sacks was a stay-at-home, soccer mom in Daytona Beach, Florida, known to be very devoted to her two little girls. Linda Marie’s daughters are currently 14 and 16 years old. In April 2002, Linda Marie was told by the preschool administrator that her daughter, who at the time was in kindergarten, had sexual knowledge beyond her years. A school teacher at the pre-school had heard Linda Marie’s seven-year-old daughter say “I suck my daddy’s penis.”

These education personnel never called the human services hotline even though they were mandatory reporters. Furthermore, Linda Marie saw the father wiping down the vaginas of her then elementary-school-age children. The daughter, who was eight years old at the time, drew her father as an erect penis on legs in the therapist’s office. The father also had a physical altercation with the eight year old daughter and gave her a split lip. Additionally, the father was verbally and emotionally abusing Linda Marie. Linda Marie filed for divorce in January, 2004. During the three and one-half year divorce proceedings, the father refused to leave the family home, and all of Linda Marie’s attempts to convince the court to protect her children were denied. In June 2004, the father was granted a protective order against the girl’s therapist, so she was prohibited from testifying. In April 2007, the court awarded sole custody of the two daughters to their father and Linda Marie was court-ordered to leave the home within 14 days.

Linda Marie was awarded only two hours per month of supervised visitation with them and must conduct the visits at a visitation center. Visitation is so restricted that it totaled only 80 hours in three years and 11 months. In August 2008, the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the custody issue for violating Linda Marie’s constitutional rights. This rare reversal provided no relief, as Judge Shawn L. Briese refused to protect the children, refused to hear witness testimony about the documented abuse, and refused to be disqualified from the case. In addition, he refused to vacate the unjust supervised visitation order. The events that led to this miscarriage of justice and the additional harm caused to these two children by a biased family court is well documented and, sadly, is typical of family court actions happening all over the U.S. Linda Marie continues to advocate for her daughters and to work to overturn the judge’s tragic decision by charging judicial misconduct.  She is speaking on behalf of her children, and all of America’s children affected by the failure of family courts to protect them. The NOW ad hoc Family Law Committee is privileged to share the following personal interview of Linda Marie.

Adele: Linda Marie, who was your children’s primary caregiver during your marriage?

Linda Marie: I was the primary caregiver, and I was the class Mom, car pool Mom, soccer Mom, and truly lived my life for the care and nurture of my children. I am a ‘squeaky clean Mom’ and never imagined that I could lose custody of my children in the United States of America.

Adele: It is public knowledge, Linda, that you are allowed only two hours of supervised visitation a month with your children. What reason did the court give for mandating supervised visitation?

Linda Marie: Yes, it is public knowledge that I am seeing my daughters for only two hours a month. I am the longest family law referral at the local visitation center. The family court has not given me a case plan or reunification plan, and every Motion to be re-united has been denied by the court. The court-mandated supervised visitation because I believed my daughters and tried to protect them. Judge Briese called my daughter a liar. Dr. Deborah Day, the court-appointed psychologist wrote that my daughter, R.S., has pediatric bipolar and that negates any [credible report of] child sexual abuse. My daughter has never had pediatric bipolar disorder, and the judge knew this. Dr. Day then thwarted the investigation by the police and Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), and said there is no abuse.

Adele: Do you believe the court punished you for doing a Channel 9 news interview in New York?

Linda Marie: Yes. Judge Briese said (on transcript) in his oral ruling June 2009 that my doing an interview at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference in New York was a “concern to the court,” and that while I was on supervised visitation I did not buy greeting cards for the children to give to the father. Judge Briese said because of this, I must continue to have my visitation with my daughters supervised. The judge was not concerned that the father admitted to abusing the children, and awarded him sole physical custody once again.

Adele: Linda Marie, why do you think your children should live with you and not their father?

Linda Marie: In the Retrial of Custody April 2009, Judge Briese heard the father admit to the physical altercation he had with our daughter, R.S., at eight years old that gave her a split lip and blood, and he admitted to wiping down the vaginas of our school-age daughters, S.S. and R.S., and admitted to verbally abusing me in front of the children. These admissions matched the police reports, DCF reports and the Injunction of Protection. This gives me great safety concerns for my daughters and my case is a Justice for Children (JFC) case. They advocate for children when “official avenues” have failed to protect them. JFC also has safety concerns for my daughters in the custody of their father.  JFC expressed concerns about DCF and said “the evidence collected was never
properly investigated by your agency” and this resulted in a verdict that was contrary to the best interests of the children.

Adele: Has there been confirmed abuse of your children by their father?

Linda Marie: Yes, the father admitted in the retrial (on transcript) that he abused the children, and Dr. Kathy Pearce has documented evidence of abuse by the father to the children, but Judge Briese has refused to allow her to testify.

Adele: What impact do you think the custody decision has had on your children?

Linda Marie: I can’t imagine what trauma this has caused them, but I hope it helps that they knew I believed them, and always will.

Adele: And what impact has the custody decision had on you?

Linda Marie: My daughters said in April 2006, “Mommy fight for us, and do something every day to get us back and don’t ever stop.” I have become a national spokesperson for my daughters and all of America’s children. I will continue every day to advocate for them. This is a national crisis all over the U.S., and I will continue every day to keep my promise to my children.

Adele: For how many years have you been involved in family court and at what financial cost?

Linda Marie: I filed for divorce in January 2004. Since April 2007, I have spent over $140,000 to be re-united with my daughters. The first appeal cost $80,000. For the last few years I have proceeded pro se, and now I am a formidable legal advocate as I have law books and I know Rules of Procedure in both the family law and appeals courts.

Adele: How many attorneys have you retained?

Linda Marie: Six.

Adele: Why have you had a number of attorneys?

Linda Marie: I had to terminate the first Dissolution of Marriage attorney in the first few months because she failed to protect my children, and then admitted, when I asked if she knew my husband or his family, that her husband’s (a partner in the law firm) parents were best friends with my husband’s parents, and she never disclosed this. The second dissolution attorney and third domestic violence attorney (who saw Judge Briese recuse himself, and when we accepted then he “Unrecussed” (on transcript)), the fourth was a slander attorney, the fifth an appeals attorney, the sixth a retrial attorney, and now I am pro se, representing myself.

Adele: How many judges have you had?

Linda Marie: Three.

Adele: How many courts have you appealed to and are you currently involved in an appeal?

Linda Marie: My case is now being presented to U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. on May 6, 2011, with my filing of my pro se Petition for Certiorari. My case has been at the Fifth District Court of Appeals three times.

Adele: Approximately how many organizations are you in that are fighting for the same cause?

Linda Marie: I am honored to be working with numerous groups such as the Battered Mothers Custody Conference, Center for Judicial Excellence, California Protective Parent Association (CPPA), Justice for Children, and Florida NOW Child Custody and Family Court Committee, as well as all of the advocacy organizations listed in the FL NOW Brochure on the Crisis in the Family Courts, and wonderful individuals all over the U.S. who are advocating for my daughters and all of America’s children.

Adele: Have you spoken out publicly about your case?

Linda Marie: Yes, after the custody was reversed for constitutional violations, I was sent back to the very same judge at the Fifth District Court of Appeals who denied my Writ of Prohibition showing documented violations of judicial misconduct. The family courts are broken, and I could
not be silent anymore.

Adele: Have you made any videos, web sites or any other media appeals about your case?

Linda Marie: Yes. I was chosen by the Center for Judicial Excellence and the California Protective Parent Association (CCPA) to be the spokesperson for the first public service announcements addressing the family court crisis. Mom Logic ( has featured my story two times. I am so thankful to all of the national advocacy groups, advocates, and mothers all over the U.S. who are part of the solution to the family court crisis and who help to publish press releases about this injustice, and who highlight my case and other cases in an effort to bring media attention.

Adele: If you had any advice to give to mothers planning to divorce, what would that be?

Linda Marie: Mothers should research this issue and see all of the resources in the NOW Ad Hoc Committee brochure “Crisis for Women in Family Court: What to Expect and How to Fight Back,” get the book “Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody Legal Strategies and Policy Issues,” by Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D. and Barry Goldstein, J.D., and read the book “Why Mothers are Running from The Family Courts” by Michael Lesher Esq. and Amy Neustein, Ph.D. Mothers of America must know that family courts are giving custody to pedophiles and batterers. The American Judges Association’s website states “Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases.” [See citation below.] Document, document, document! Become knowledgeable about the laws in your state, go to the Clerk of Courts and read your case file.

Adele: What sort of specific advocacy for mothers engaged in custody disputes would you like to
see from NOW?

Linda Marie: I am thankful to NOW for doing this story, and I hope that NOW can join with other national organizations like California Protective Parent Association and Center for Judicial Excellence to ask for congressional hearings to address this crisis. The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence states that “58,000 children a year are court-ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents after a divorce in the U.S.” This is an epidemic and is worse than the Catholic Church scandal. My daughter’s teacher said “America better wake up, if you of all mothers can lose custody of your children, anyone can.”

Adele: Linda Marie, thank you so much for sharing this valuable information with others who may need to hear it. I hope your story can spare another mother and her children from this experience.

The NOW Family Law ad hoc Advisory Committee sincerely appreciates Linda Marie Sacks allowing us to interview her for this publication. Mothers in similar circumstances may ask NOW leaders in any location for help. Perhaps the telling of Linda Marie’s story will encourage NOW members to help and support mothers who have lost or are in danger of losing their children while trying to protect them from violent or abusive fathers.  Additionally, the NOW Family Law ad hoc Advisory Committee would like to thank member Adele Guadalupe for facilitating the interview. Ms. Guadalupe was born in New York City. She has resided in Palm Beach County, FL, since 1985.  Ms. Guadalupe has been a member of the National NOW Family Law Committee since its inception in 2004. Additionally, she has participated in other organizations to advocate for mothers’ rights. She is an active member of the Florida NOW Child Custody/Family Law Committee and is one of the original founders of Families Against Court Travesties (FACTs), formed nine years ago, which is a local ad hoc committee of the Palm Beach Chapter of NOW, and may be located on the web at Having attended many hearings in family court as a member of FACTS Court Watch and testifying in judicial and governing body hearings, Ms. Guadalupe has also given numerous workshops related to women in the courts.

[Citation: American Judges Foundation, Domestic Violence and the Court House: Understanding the Problem…Knowing the Victim, available at]


Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011
Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases: Legal Trends, Risk Factors, and Safety Concerns (Revised 2007)

Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D.
In consultation with Karen Oehme

It may be hard to believe that an abusive partner can ever make good on his threat to gain custody of the children from his victim. After all, he has a history of violent behavior and she almost never does. Unfortunately, a surprising number of battered women lose custody of their children (e.g., Saccuzzo & Johnson, 2004). This document describes how this can happen through uninformed and biased courts, court staff, evaluators, and attorneys and how the very act of protecting ones’ children can lead to their loss. It also describes the major legal and social trends surrounding custody and visitation decisions and the social science evidence supporting the need to consider domestic violence in these decisions. It ends with some recommendations for custody and visitation in domestic violence cases.

Legal Trends

Over the past 200 years, the bases for child custody decisions have changed considerably. The patriarchal doctrine of fathers’ ownership of children gave way in the 1920s and ’30s to little formal preference for one parent or the other to obtain custody. When given such broad discretion, judges tended to award custody to mothers, especially of young children. The mother-child bond during the early, “tender years” was considered essential for children’s development. In the 1970s, “the best interests of the children” became the predominant guideline, although it remains somewhat ambiguous (Fine & Fine, 1994). It was presumably neutral regarding parental rights. Little was known then about the negative impact of domestic violence on women and children, and domestic violence was not originally included in the list of factors used to determine the child’s best interest.

States more recently came to recognize that domestic violence needs to be considered in custody decisions (Dunford-Jackson, 2004; Cahn, 1991; Hart, 1992; for legislative updates from 1995 through 2005, see NCJFCJ, Every state now lists domestic violence as a factor to be considered, but does not necessarily give it special weight. However, since the mid-1990s, states have increasingly adopted the custody/visitation section of the Model Code on Domestic and Family Violence developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ, 1994), increasing from 10 states using the code in 1995 to 24 in 2006 (NCJFCJ, 1995a; 2007). These statutes use the model’s wording, or similar wording, that there is a “rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest of the child to be placed in sole custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody with the perpetrator of family violence” (p. 33).¹ Although statutes have become increasingly precise regarding definitions of domestic violence, they may leave children vulnerable to psychological abuse when it is not included in the definition (Dunford-Jackson, 2004).

Statutes also address other issues about custody and visitation, such as standards for supervised visitation and similar safeguards (Girdner & Hoff, 1996; Hart, 1990; Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003), exempting battered women from mandated mediation (Dunford-Jackson, 2004; Girdner, 1996),² protecting battered women from charges of “child abandonment” if they flee for safety without their children (Cahn, 1991), and enabling a parent to learn if a person involved in a custody proceeding has been charged with certain crimes (see Pennsylvania’s Jen & Dave Program on the Web at Some recent statutes make it easier for victims to relocate if needed for safety reasons (Jaffe, et al., 2003; NCJFCJ, 1995a; 1999; see Zorza, 2000).

Other legal protections are also available. For example, in one state (Tennessee), if a parent alleges that a child is exposed to domestic violence, such allegations cannot be used against the parent bringing the allegation (NCJFCJ, 2004). In another state (Texas), a mediated agreement can be declined by the court if domestic violence affected the victim’s ability to make the agreement (NCJFCJ, 2005). Some states (Massachusetts, Ohio) now make the presumption that custody or visitation should not be granted to anyone who is found guilty of murdering the other parent (for a more complete review of the above trends, including legal reforms in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, see Jaffe, et al. 2003).

Unfortunately, courts nd the mental health professionals advising them (Johnson, Saccuzzo, & Koen, 2005; Fields, in press) and lawyers (Fields, 2006) may pressure women to stay tied to their abusers. In addition, “friendly parent” provisions in statutes or policies create another factor for courts to assess in custody decisions, favoring the parent who will encourage frequent and continuing contact with the other parent or foster a better relationship between the child and the other parent (Zorza, 1992). Despite a reasonable reluctance to co-parent out of fear of harm to themselves or their children, battered women may end up being labeled “unfriendly,” thereby increasing the risk of losing their children (APA, 1996).

Along with legal changes, training and resource manuals for judges and court managers are available, including guidelines for selecting custody evaluators and guardian ad litems ( Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006; Maxwell & Oehme, 2001; Goelman, Lehrman, & Valente, 1996; Lemon, Jaffe, & Ganley, 1995; NCJFCJ, 1995b; NCJFCJ, 2006; National Center for State Courts, 1997). One benchbook covers cultural considerations for diverse populations (Ramos & Runner, 1999). A recent trend is the use of “parenting coordinators” or “special masters,” a mental health or legal professional with mediation training who focuses on the children’s needs and helps the parents resolve disputes. With the approval of the parties and/or the court, they can make decisions within the bounds of the court order. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts provide guidelines for parenting coordinators and a discussion of implementation issues (AFCC, 2006; Coates, et al., 2004). The guidelines require that parenting coordinators have training on domestic violence and caution that “the parenting coordinator’s role may be inappropriate and potentially exploited by perpetrators of domestic violence who have exhibited patterns of violence, threat, intimidation, and coercive control over their co-parent” (AFCC, 2006, p. 165). When one parent seeks to maintain dominance over another, the parenting coordinator may need to act primarily as an enforcer of the court order.

Another legal trend is the ordering of “virtual visitation” (Flango, 2003; Shefts, 2002). Web cams and videoconferencing can supplement face-to-face visits or replace face-to-face visits in more dangerous cases. Parents can read and play games with their children and help them with homework. The practice may loosen restrictions on parents moving to different communities. In one court case, the judge ordered each parent to purchase and install computer equipment that would allow video-conferencing (Flango, 2003) . In 2004, Utah passed a law stating that virtual visitation should be permitted and encouraged if available. In some states, prisons provide virtual visitation services (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Virtual visits are untested in domestic violence cases and are likely to require the same type of monitoring that occurs with telephone and in-person visits.

Despite the above trends for improved protections, some parents and children believe the legal system has failed them. They may form grassroots support and advocacy groups, such as networks in Arizona ( and California (, that conduct court watches and help parents share common court experiences, especially when they lose custody when trying to protect children and themselves from abuse. The Courageous Kids Network in California makes suggestions to other children who are forced to live with an abuser or molester when professionals do not believe them. They describe themselves as “a growing group of young people whose childhood was shattered by biased and inhumane court rulings, which forced us to live with our abusive parents while restricting or sometimes completely eliminating contact with our loving and protective parent. We know how horrible it is to be forced into the arms of an abuser” ( A national organization, Kourts for Kids, works to better protect abused children in the family courts by increasing awareness and education for judges, attorneys, guardians ad litem, social workers, officers of the law, legislators, and advocates ( In 2007, 10 mothers and a victimized child (now an adult) and national and state organizations filed suit against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They claimed that the human rights of abused mothers and children were not protected because custody was awarded to abusers and child molesters (Klein, 2007; Stop Family Violence:

In summary, courts in all states must now consider domestic violence in custody and visitation decisions, but only about half of them make it the primary consideration. Legal innovations include protections for survivors who need to relocate due to safety concerns and exemptions from mandated mediation. Many states still have “friendly parent” statutes that do not recognize battered women’s realistic reluctance to co-parent. Domestic violence training materials and guidelines are increasingly available for judges, court managers, custody evaluators and parenting coordinators. Recent trends include the use of “virtual visitation” and the development of grass roots protective parent and advocacy organizations.

Parent Most at Risk for Physically and Emotionally Abusing the Children

Social science evidence can help establish which parent is most at risk to harm their children. The most convincing evidence that men who batter their partners are also likely to batter their children comes from a nationally representative survey (Straus, 1983). Half the men who battered their wives also abused their children. Abuse was defined as violence more severe than a slap or a spanking. Battered women were half as likely as men to abuse their children. Several non-representative surveys show similar results (reviewed in Saunders, 1994, and Edleson, 2001). When battered women are not in a violent relationship, there is some evidence that they are much less likely to direct anger toward their children (Walker, 1984). As expected, time away from the abuser seems to benefit battered mothers and their children (Rossman, 2001).

Emotional abuse of children by men who batter is even more likely than physical abuse because nearly all of these men’s children are exposed to domestic violence (Wolfe, Crooks, McIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2004). This exposure to domestic abuse by their fathers often constitutes a severe form of child abuse. The serious problems associated with witnessing abuse are now clearly documented (e.g., Edleson, 1999; Graham-Bermann & Edleson, 2002; Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003; Wolfe, Crooks, McIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2004). These include short- and long-term negative emotional and behavioral consequences for both boys and girls. However, one must be cautious about generalizing these findings to most or all children since many children find resources that buffer the ill effects of the violence (Edleson, 2006). Parents may not realize that their children can be affected, even if they do not see the violence. For example, children may be hiding in their bedrooms listening to repeated threats, blows, and breaking objects. They may be afraid their mother will be injured or killed and in many cases they intervene physically ( Edleson, Mbilinyi, Beeman, & Hagemeister, 2003) . However, they may have other reactions, such as divided loyalties toward their parents, guilt about not being able to intervene effectively, and anger at their mothers for not leaving (Margolin, 1998; Saunders, 1994). If mothers cannot find safety, their fears and depression may reduce their ability to nurture and support their children as they normally would (Jaffe & Crooks, 2005).

As a result of children’s exposure to domestic violence, mothers may be unjustly blamed for harming their children in cases where evaluators and practitioners do not understand the dynamics of abuse (Edleson, 1999). Cases are sometimes labeled as a “failure to protect” since mothers are supposedly capable of protecting their children from the physical and emotional abuse of their partners (Enos, 1996). Battered women may even face criminal charges ( Kaufman Kantor & Little, 2003; Sierra, 1997) or removal of their children into foster care ( Edleson, Gassman-Pines, & Hill, 2006) . However, battered women’s actions usually come from their desire to care for and protect their children. They may not leave because of financial needs, family pressures, believing the children need a father, or the fear that he will make good on threats to harm the children or gain custody (Hardesty & Chung, 2006; Hardesty & Ganong, 2006). They often leave the relationship when they recognize the impact of violence on their children, only to return when threatened with even greater violence or out of economic necessity (Anderson & Saunders, 2003, 2007). Innovative programs have been developed to address these concerns by helping to coordinate the actions of child protection, domestic violence, and family court systems. The “Greenbook Initiative” sponsored by the federal government is a notable example (Dunford-Jackson, 2004; for information see: On a policy level, a few states allow evidence to show that the non-abusive spouse feared retaliation from her partner and thus could not reasonably prevent abuse to the child. However, most of these states impose restrictions on how quickly the protective parent must provide this evidence and how it must be done (Jaffe, et al., 2003).

Factors Related to Risk to the Children

In a given custody case, a number of factors may correctly or incorrectly be attributed to the risk of child abuse and exposure to domestic violence. Several of these factors — parental separation, childhood victimization of the parents, the parents’ psychological characteristics, and abuser interventions — are discussed next.

Parental Separation

Parental separation or divorce does not prevent abuse to children or their mothers. On the contrary, physical abuse, harassment, and stalking of women continue at fairly high rates after separation and divorce and sometimes only begin or greatly escalate after separation (Hardesty & Chung, 2006). Homicidal threats, stalking, and harassment affect as many as 25%-35% of survivors (e.g., Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Leighton, 1989; Thoennes & Tjaden, 2000). In addition, up to a fourth of battered women report that their ex-partner threatened to hurt the children or kidnap them (e.g., Liss & Stahly, 1993), and children may witness violence more often after separation than before (Hardesty & Chung, 2006). Separation is a time of increased risk of homicide for battered women (Saunders & Browne, 2000), and these homicides sometimes occur in relation to custody hearings and visitation exchanges.

Many abusers appear to use the legal system to maintain contact and harass their ex-partners (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Hardesty & Ganong, 2006), at times using extensive and lengthy litigation (Jaffe, et al., 2003). Children may also be harmed if the abuser undermines their mothers’ authority, disparages her character in front of the children, and attempts to use the children to control the mother (Bancroft & Silverman, 2004); this appears to occur more often after separation by the most severe abusers (Beeble, Bybee, & Sullivan, 2007). Children are also likely to be exposed to renewed violence if their fathers become involved with another woman. Over half of men who batter go on to abuse another woman (Wofford, Elliot, & Menard, 1994). As a result, judges should not necessarily consider the remarriage of the father as a sign of stability and maturity.

Parents’ Characteristics

Evaluators may look to childhood risk factors of each parent to assess their child abuse potential. The link between being abused in childhood and becoming a child abuser is not as strong as was once thought, with about 30% of child abuse victims becoming child abusers (Kaufman & Zigler, 1987). Some evidence suggests that this link with child abuse is stronger in men than in women (Miller & Challas, 1981). Neither parent is likely to have severe and chronic mental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder) (Gleason, 1997; Golding, 1999). Personality disorders, as distinct from mental disorders, are much more likely to appear on the psychological tests of the parents. However, the parents’ personality traits and psychological disorders are generally poor predictors of child abuse (Wolfe, 1985). In addition, great care must be taken when interpreting parents’ behaviors and psychological tests. Men who batter often have the types of personality disorders–such as anti-social, dependent, and narcissistic ( Holtzworth-Munroe, Meehan, Herron, Rehman, & Stuart, 2000)–that may keep childhood traumas and other problems hidden from evaluators and judges.

To the extent that psychological disorders continue to be used to describe battered women, they can be placed at a serious disadvantage. Compared with the chronic problems of her partner, a battered woman’s psychological problems, primarily depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, appear to be reactions to the violence. These problems seem to decrease as victims become safer (Erickson, 2006). Many battered women may seem very unstable, nervous, and angry (APA, 1996; Erickson, 2006; Crites & Coker, 1988). Others may speak with a flat affect and appear indifferent to the violence they describe (Meier, 1993). These women probably suffer from the numbing symptoms of traumatic stress. The psychological test scores of some battered women may appear to indicate severe personality disorders and mental illness. However, their behaviors and test scores must be interpreted in the context of the traumas they faced or continue to face ( Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006; Dutton, 1992; Rosewater, 1987). For example, psychological test findings of borderline and paranoid traits can be misleading when the impact of domestic violence is not considered (Erickson, 2006). The psychological tactics used by abusers parallel those used against prisoners of war and include threats of violence, forced isolation, degradation, attempts to distort reality, and methods to increase psychological dependence (Stark, 2007). Severe depression and traumatic stress symptoms are the likely results (Golding, 1999). When women fear losing custody of children to an abusive partner, the stress can be overwhelming (Erickson, 2006; Bancroft & Silverman, 2004).

Interventions for the Abuser

Although there are numerous treatment programs around the country for abusive partners and parents, successful completion of a batterer intervention program does not mean that the risks of child and woman abuse are eliminated. The evaluation of programs for men who batter is in its infancy, including programs for men of color (Gondolf, in press; Saunders & Hammill, 2003). A substantial proportion of women (35% on average across a number of studies) report that physical abuse by their partners recurs within 6-12 months after treatment and psychological abuse often remains at high levels. In controlled studies, the recidivism rates average only 5% lower for the “treated” groups than the control groups (Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004). These results are less optimistic than those implied in the section of the Model State Statute on Domestic and Family Violence (NCJFCJ, 1994) that recommends the successful completion of abuser treatment as a condition for visitation.

Only two studies of programs for men who batter investigated the reduction of actual or potential violence toward the children (Myers, 1984; Stacey & Shupe, 1984). Both of these studies showed promising results but did not specifically focus on parenting issues. Special parenting programs for men who batter have developed in recent years, either as modules within existing intervention programs or as stand-alone programs (Edleson, Mbilinyi, & Shetty, 2003; Edleson & Williams, 2007).

In summary, contrary to what one would expect, separation is a time of increased risk of violence, abusers’ chronic problems may not be apparent, and the trauma from violence and continuing, intense fears may make battered women appear “crazy.” Furthermore, successful completion of an abuser intervention program does substantially reduce the risk of re-abuse on average.

Factors that Compromise Safety of Children and Survivors

Negative outcomes for domestic violence victims and their children include (1) dangerous offenders in contact with ex-partners and children due to unsupervised or poorly supervised visitation; (2) sole or joint custody of children awarded to a violent parent, rather than a non-violent one; and (3) urging or mandating mediation that compromises victims’ rights or places them in more danger. Such negative outcomes are likely to be compounded for women of color, lesbian mothers, survivors whose English is not proficient, and/or immigrant women with little or no knowledge of the U.S. legal system ( Barnsley, Goldsmith, Taylor, 1996; Ramos & Runner, 1999).

Joint custody can be quite beneficial for children of non-violent, low-conflict couples.³ However, joint custody–in particular, joint physical custody or “shared parenting”–can obviously increase the opportunities for abusers to maintain control and to continue or to escalate abuse toward both women and children. Enthusiasm for joint custody 4 in the early 1980s was fueled by studies of couples who were highly motivated to “make it work” (Johnston, 1995). This enthusiasm has waned in recent years, in part because of social science findings. Solid evidence about the impact of divorce and custody arrangements is difficult to find because most data are gathered at one point in time, and thus statements about cause and effect are not possible (e.g., Bender, 1994). There is increasing evidence, however, that children of divorce have more problems because of the conflict between the parents before the divorce and not because of the divorce itself (e.g., Kelly, 1993). Johnston (1995) concluded from her review of research that “highly conflictual parents” (not necessarily violent) had a poor prognosis for becoming cooperative parents. In a study by Kelly (1993), more frequent transitions between high-conflict parents were related to more emotional and behavioral problems of the children. If exposure to “high conflict” parents is damaging to children, then they are even more likely to be damaged by exposure to domestic violence. We now have evidence that a high percentage of couples labeled “high conflict” are experiencing domestic violence, and thus attempts to detect domestic violence within “high conflict” families are crucial (for further review, see Jaffe & Crooks, 2007).

In general, domestic violence is often not detected or not documented in custody/visitation proceedings (Johnson, Saccuzzo & Koen, 2005; Kernic, Monary-Ernsdorff, Koepsell, & Holt, 2005). In one study that interviewed survivors with documented abuse, there were frequent failures to consider documentation of domestic abuse and/or child abuse in the custody decision; unsupervised visitation or custody was often recommended or granted to men who used violence against their partners and/or children ( Silverman, Mesh, Cuthbert, Slote, & Bancroft, 2004). One study found that battered and non-battered women were equally likelyto be awarded custody; in addition, offenders were just as likely as non-offenders to be ordered to supervised visits (Kernic, et al., 2005). Similarly, in a random sample of court cases, only minor differences existed between the custody evaluation process and custody recommendations for domestic violence versus non-domestic violence cases (Logan, Walker, Jordan, & Horvath, 2002). Most fathers with protection orders against them were not awarded custody (Rosen & O’Sullivan, 2005); however, this was not the case when mothers withdrew their petitions, which may have been from pressure from their abusers. Mediators in one study were about equally likely to recommend joint legal and physical custody for both domestic violence and non-domestic violence cases; rates of supervised and unsupervised visitation also did not differ between violent and non-violent cases (Johnson et al., 2005). Similarly, O’Sullivan and her colleagues report two studies showing that a history of domestic violence has little impact on courts’ decisions regarding visitation (O’Sullivan, 2000; O’Sullivan, King, Levin-Russell, & Horowitz, 2006). (For further review, see Jaffe & Crooks, 2007.)

A number of reports from state and local commissions on gender bias in the courts have documented negative outcomes. For example, negative stereotypes about women, especially about their credibility, seem to encourage judges to disbelieve women’s allegations about child abuse (Danforth & Welling, 1996; Meier, 2003; Zorza, 1996). A lack of understanding about domestic violence leads to accusations of lying, blaming the victim for the violence, and trivializing the violence (e.g., Abrams & Greaney, 1989). When the abuse is properly taken into account, court decisions that awarded abusive fathers custody are often reversed on appeal (Meier, 2003). Research evidence is now growing that allegations of domestic violence are generally not more common in disputed custody cases; and one study shows that mothers are more likely to have their abuse allegations substantiated than fathers (Johnston, Lee, Oleson, & Walters, 2005).

The influence of fathers’ rights groups on evaluators and judges is unknown, but some groups tend to lobby for the presumption of joint custody and co-parenting and doubt the validity of domestic violence allegations (Williams, Boggess, & Carter, 2004). For example, the National Fathers’ Resource Center and Fathers for Equal Rights “demands that society acknowledge that false claims of Domestic Violence” are used to “gain unfair advantage in custody and divorce cases” (NFRC, 2007). They state, “Fathers’ organizations now estimate that up to 80% of domestic violence allegations against men are false allegations.” Consistent with what might be expected from the gender bias reports, female judges in one study showed more knowledge of domestic violence and greater support for victim protections (Morrill, Dai, Dunn, Sung, & Smith, 2005). Women of color and immigrant women can expect to be placed in “double jeopardy,” as many states report racial and ethnic bias in the courts, in addition to gender bias (Ramos & Runner, 1999).

Research is also illuminating the negative impact of “friendly parent” provisions. Zorza (1996; in press) notes that “friendly parent” statutes and policies work against battered women because any concerns they voice about father-child contact or safety for themselves are usually interpreted as a lack of cooperation and thus the father is more likely to gain custody. A woman might refuse to give her address or consent to unsupervised visitation (APA, 1996). Parents who raise concerns about child sexual abuse can be severely sanctioned for doing so. The sanctions include loss of custody to the alleged offender, restricted visitation, and being told not to report further abuse or take the child to a therapist (Faller & DeVoe, 1995; Neustein & Goetting, 1999 ; Neustein & Lesher, 2005). Even in jurisdictions with a presumption that custody should be awarded to the non-abusive parent, a “friendly parent” provision tends to override this presumption (Morrill, et al., 2005). At least 32 states have statutes with “friendly parent” provisions (Zorza, in press). “Unfriendly behaviors” generally include only those of the custodial parents and not behaviors of noncustodial parents, like nonpayment of child support (Zorza, in press).

The beliefs and training of custody evaluators and judges in relation to outcomes have received very little attention. Evaluators and judges may need more information on the continued safety risks to children from abusive fathers, the likelihood of post-separation violence, risks of mediation, the inadmissibility of Parent Alienation Syndrome (Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006), false allegations, and the limits of criminal justice and treatment interventions (Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003; Saunders, 1994). Ackerman and Ackerman (1996) found that psychologists who conducted child custody evaluations did not consider domestic violence to be a major factor in making a recommendation. However, three-fourths of them recommended against sole or joint custody to a parent who “alienates the child from the other parent by negatively interpreting the other parent’s behavior.” In a more recent study of evaluators, Bow and Boxer (2003) found that many sources of information were used in evaluations, but evaluators did not tend to use domestic violence screening instruments — only 30% administered specialized questionnaires, instruments, or tests pertaining to domestic violence. When domestic violence was detected, it weighed heavily in their recommendations. In one study of judges, those with domestic violence education and more knowledge of domestic violence were more likely to grant sole custody to abused mothers (Morrill, et al., 2005). Some states require initial and/or continuing domestic violence education for judges, 5 custody evaluators, and mediators, which is essential to close the gap between professional standards and their implementation (Jaffe & Crooks, 2005).

Recommendations for Custody and Visitation

Some recommendations can be made based on practice experience and the growing body of research reviewed above. The past and potential behavior of men who batter means that joint custody or sole custody to him is rarely the best option for the safety and well-being of the children. In addition to their propensity for continued violence toward children and adult partners, these men are likely to abuse alcohol (Bennett & Williams, 2003), be poor role models (Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003), and communicate in a hostile, manipulative manner ( Holtzworth-Munroe, et al. , 2000). As noted earlier, the Model Code State Statute of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges states that there should be a presumption that it is detrimental to the child to be placed in sole or joint custody with a perpetrator of family violence (NCJFCJ, 1994). The model statute emphasizes that the safety and well-being of the child and the parent-survivor must be primary. In addition, states should repeal friendly parent provisions or, at a minimum, say that they have no weight in cases where domestic or family violence has occurred.

The perpetrator’s history of causing fear and physical harm, as well as the potential for future harm to the mother or child, should be considered. A parent’s relocation in an attempt to escape violence should not be used as a factor to determine custody. Courts sometimes label battered women as “impulsive” or “uncooperative” if they leave suddenly to find safety in another city or state. The model statute specifies that it is in the best interest of the child to reside with the non-violent parent and that this parent should be able to choose the location of the residence, even if it is in another state. The non-custodial parent may also be denied access to the child’s medical and educational records if such information could be used to locate the custodial parent.

The model statute (NCJFCJ, 1994) states that visitation should be granted to the perpetrator only if adequate safety provisions for the child and adult victim can be made. Orders of visitation can specify, among other things, the exchange of the child in a protected setting, supervised visitation by a specific person or agency, completion by the perpetrator of a program of intervention for perpetrators, and no overnight visitation (NCJFCJ, 1994). If the court allows a family member to supervise the visitation, the court must set the conditions to be followed during visitation (O’Sullivan, et al., 2006). For example, an order might specify that the father not use alcohol prior to or during a visit and that the child be allowed to call the mother at any time (see Bancroft & Silverman, 2002, for a description of different levels of supervision).

Unsupervised visitation should be allowed only after the abuser completes a specialized program for men who batter (APA, 1996) and does not threaten or become violent for a substantial period of time. Practitioners need to be aware of the strong likelihood that men who batter will become violent in a new relationship and that they often use non-violent tactics that can harm the children. Visitation should be suspended if there are repeated violations of the terms of visitation, the child is severely distressed in response to visitation, or there are clear indications that the violent parent has threatened to harm or flee with the child. Even with unsupervised visitation, it is best to have telephone contact between parents only at scheduled times, to maintain restraining orders to keep the offender away from the victim, and to transfer the child in a neutral, safe place with the help of a third party (Johnston, 1992). Hart (1990) describes a number of safety planning strategies that can be taught to children in these situations.

In response to the need for safe visitation, supervised visitation and exchange programs are expanding rapidly across North America. Many programs follow the standards of the Supervised Visitation Network, an international organization. The standards include a special section on domestic violence that requires policies and procedures designed to increase safety for domestic abuse survivors and their children ( In addition, a number of authors and programs have described the special features needed at these programs to increase the safety of domestic abuse survivors, including heightened security, staff knowledge of domestic violence, and special court reviews (Maxwell & Oehme, 2001; Sheeran & Hampton, 1999). Close coordination with family courts, lethality assessment prior to referral, and recognition of common abuser behaviors are some of the ingredients needed for effective operation of these programs (Maxwell & Oehme, 2001). Programs also need to be aware of the risks of keeping detailed intake, observation, and other records because currently they cannot be kept confidential in family court proceedings (Stern & Oehme, 2002, 2007). The evaluation of visitation programs has occurred only on a small scale thus far (e.g., Tutty, Weaver-Dunlop, Barlow, & Jesso, 2006). Finding promising practices is complicated by the growing recognition that not all men who batter are alike and that interventions need to be tailored to different types of abusers, with variations occurring by levels of dangerousness and the motivation to control. A “think tank” of advocates and legal and mental health professionals met in 2007 to explore the implications of such differences for custody and visitation decisions (Dunford-Jackson & Salem, 2007).

In 2003 the Office on Violence Against Women of the U.S. Department of Justice began the Safe Havens program in order to increase awareness of visitation/exchange programs and their community collaborators of the special needs of domestic violence cases. “Safety audit” reports from four demonstration sites are available, covering the role of visitation/exchange centers in domestic violence cases, how to increase culturally sensitive practices, centers’ relationships with courts, and many other topics related to the infusion of domestic violence knowledge and awareness into programming (

Finally, termination of access needs to be considered more seriously than in the past. Those with a history of severe abuse and who have engaged in high levels of antisocial behavior may never be able to provide the safety and nurturing that their children need (Jaffe & Crooks, 2005; Stover, Van Horn, Turner, Cooper, & Lieberman, 2003).

In conclusion, although there is a need for much more practice experience and research, our current knowledge of risk factors for continued abuse of women and children means that decision-makers must exercise great caution in awarding custody or visitation to perpetrators of domestic violence. If visitation is granted, coordination with the courts, careful safety planning, and specific conditions attached to the court order are crucial for lowering the risk of harm to children and their mothers.

Author of this document:

Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D.
School of Social Work
University of Michigan 


Karen Oehme
Program Director
Clearinghouse on Supervised Visitation
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 

Distribution Rights: This Applied Research paper and In Brief may be reprinted in its entirety or excerpted with proper acknowledgement to the author(s) and VAWnet (, but may not be altered or sold for profit.

Suggested Citation: Saunders, D. (2007, October). Child custody and visitation decisions in domestic violence cases: Legal trends, risk factors, and safety concerns.. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved month/day/year, from:


1 A few states set specific standards for meeting the definition of “domestic violence”; for example, “conviction of domestic abuse” and “convicted of a felony of the third degree or higher involving domestic violence.”

2 The term “mediation” can cover many different practices and is not easily defined.   Although many regard it as always unsafe for battered women, this view is not universally held, especially if risk assessment is done properly (e.g., Ellis & Stuckless, 2006).

3 Recently, however, concerns have been raised about how well joint custody works in general (e.g., Wallerstein, 2000).

4 Generally, joint physical custody is being referred to here rather than joint legal custody. There is a trend toward the term “shared parental rights” instead of “joint custody.”

5 As of October 2006, 18 states required education on domestic violence for judges (from a document obtained from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: “State Legislation: Mandatory Domestic Violence Training for Judges”).


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Resources for Battered Mothers

Helping Children Thrive: Information for Mothers who Have Left Abusive Relationships, 2004
by Linda Baker & Alison Cunningham
Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System
London Family Court Clinic
254 Pall Mall St., Suite 200
London, Ontario N6A 5P6   Canada 

When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, 2004
by Lundy Bancroft
New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Little Eyes, Little Ears: How Violence Against a Mother Shapes Children as They Grow, 2007
by Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker
Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System
London Family Court Clinic
254 Pall Mall St., Suite 200
London, Ontario N6A 5P6    Canada 

Supervised Visitation: Information for Mothers, 2007
Family Violence Prevention Fund
383 Rhode Island St. Suite #304
San Francisco, CA 94103-5133 

Managing Your Divorce: A Guide for Battered Women, 1998
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
P.O. Box 8970
Reno, NV 89507


Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on April 14, 2011

Bill Berkowitz, Media Transparency

April 25, 2007

Former Department of Health and Human services official signs on as a consultant with Deloitte Consulting LLP after questions are raised about federal government grants and abstinence-only sex education programs

While it’s difficult to really know exactly what Wade Horn was thinking in the days prior to his resignation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), perhaps he didn’t relish the thought of having to defend his pouring of millions of dollars in taxpayer money into abstinence-only sex education programs that have been thoroughly discredited. Perhaps he was worried about being brought in front of a congressional committee and asked to account for some of his other grant-making decisions.

According to OMB Watch, HHS gave the National Fatherhood Initiative a five-year, no-bid contract for $12 million

Perhaps he was concerned about being subjected to charges of cronyism — involving contracts to organizations he had been closely affiliated with — and/or nepotism — involving the subcontracting of his wife’s company with organizations that received faith-based money. Perhaps he was thinking that the revelation “shortly before his resignation” that the nearly $1 million he gave to the National Fatherhood Initiative(NFI), where he was the president for at least three years until joining the Bush administration in 2001, was only the tip of the iceberg.

Perhaps it was all of the above.

Whatever the reasons, in early April, Wade Horn opted to resign from his post as theAssistant Secretary for Community Initiatives at HHS. During his tenure at HHS Horn was the Bush Administration’s point man for welfare reform, Head Start and abstinence-only education, and as such, he was a veritable faith-based slot machine for religious organizations, some of which he had longtime close relationships.

Despite charges by David Kuo, the former second-in-command at the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives who, in his book “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction” claimed that the Bush Administration short-changed Christian faith-based organizations, Horn was responsible for placing hundreds of millions of dollars in the religious right’s and conservative philanthropy recipients’ collective coffers.

On April 18, a little more than two weeks after his rather unexpected resignation, Horn joined Deloitte Consulting LLP as a director in the organization’s Public Sector practice.According to PR Newswire, Horn “will be a key advisor to health and human services clients of Deloitte Consulting’s state government practice”


In two recent postings at Talk to Action, Cynthia Cooper, a playwright and the author of several nonfiction books, carefully tracked some of Horn’s shenanigans. In a post called “Hand That Feeds” (March 3, 2007), Cooper wrote that Horn, who oversaw a budget of $47 billion, was “very kind to Religious Right organizations, including the one that he founded in 1994 with Religious Right money — the National Fatherhood Initiative (website) in Gaithersburg, Maryland.”

According to Cooper, Horn gave “the National Fatherhood Initiative a … ‘Capacities Building’ grant in the amount of $999,534 from a program he started in his agency and called by the familiar-ringing name of the ‘Responsible Fatherhood Initiative.’”

Cooper also pointed out it was Horn who “approved the hiring of columnist Maggie Gallagher” — who also worked for the National Fatherhood Initiative — “to promote marriage”; and “gave money to writer Mike McManus to support marriage promotion, while also giving money to McManus’ organization, Marriage Savers (website) (‘a ministry that equips … local congregations to prepare for lifelong marriages …’).” Horn was also a founding board member of Marriage Savers.

In addition to the NFI grants, in 2006, the organization received a $2.279 million no-bid contract from the Assistant Secretary’s office, investigative reporter Mike Reynolds toldMedia Transparency. That money, according to OMB Watch, is part of a $12.382 million contract that runs through the year 2011, three years after the end of President Bush’s second term.

Before Horn resigned, Cooper notes that he had been “recently handed additional money to dispense — the $157 million in abstinence-only education. He has a nifty idea that abstinence programs could go beyond students, and become engaging programs for adults, as well.”

After Cooper’s story on Horn appeared in early March, several other commentators added to the conversation. In a posting titled “Blowing the Whistle on Wade Horn”, the revealer asked: “Why is Wade Horn invisible to the press? Is it because the media is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy? Is it because reporters hate women and queers? Not likely. Rather, it has more to do with a decades-long decline in press coverage of the federal government’s middle managers, who oftentimes have more influence over our everyday lives than the boldface names. Such stories don’t sell papers, but they do serve the public interest.”

In her regular column for the National Organization of Women, Kim Gandy, president of NOW wrote “Right Wing ‘Father’land” in which she pointed out that Horn, “Opposing everything NOW stands for (from abortion rights to economic justice), … founded theNational Organization of Fathers [which later changed its name to the National Fatherhood Initiative], and openly stated his belief that ‘the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.’ He even advocated that federal benefits, such as Head Start and subsidized housing, should only be available to children of married couples, not single parents. So of course the Bush administration put him in charge of all the welfare and public assistance programs that primarily serve those very same single mothers he so detests. And did he find a way to derail the funding away from single moms? You bet he did.”

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association said in a statement that in his position, Horn “administer[ed] both the Abstinence Education Grants to States program (Title V) and the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program. During Horn’s tenure, the CBAE program saw major funding increases, bringing the current total for federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs to $176 million per year. Horn also oversaw a dramatic tightening of HHS restrictions on how abstinence-only funds can be used, and promoted an increased emphasis on marriage and faith-based initiatives.”

In her follow-up post after his resignation titled “Wade Leaps” (April 3), Cooper pointed out that there were other troubling things going on during Horn’s reign: “Horn had stonewalled successfully for years. A legal action filed with the HHS Civil Rights division by Legal Momentum, pushed some buttons. It alleged sex discrimination in 34 of 100 programs funded under the ‘Responsible Fatherhood’ initiative, and cited the funding that went directly to Horn’s old program as running as high as $5 million.”

“As Democrats control the House and Senate and Henry Waxman is driving the House Oversight committee, Wade Horn had to know that he and his discredited faith-based abstinence-only programs and their funding were smack in Waxman’s crosshairs,” Mike Reynolds, author of a book on politics, money and the religious right to be published by St Martins Press in 2008, told Media Transparency in an e-mail exchange.

“Given the choice between answering subpoenas and facing the CSPAN cameras like the hapless Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or moving on to a more lucrative position at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu seems like a no-brainer to me,” Reynolds added. “And it’s no surprise that he landed at Deloitte since his old boss at HHS, Tommy Thompson, heads the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.”


Reynold has also been keeping a sharp eye on Horn’s wife Claudia, who founded and heads Performance Results Inc. (PRI), which according to its website is “an organizational services and support firm specializing in evaluation, evaluation training, and data systems to support evaluations.” PRI has worked as subcontractor for the Institute for Youth Development (IYD) and its sister nonprofit, the Children’s Aids Fund (CAF).

Reynolds pointed out that IYD, which has received millions of dollars from HHS, provides technical assistance and training to abstinence-only groups, crisis pregnancy centers, “healthy marriage” programs and other Bible-based ministries regarding how to receive government grants and how to manage their respective operations.

Claudia Horn also provides ResultsOnline, “a customized, web-based program evaluation system that enables users to design their own program evaluation, create customized surveys, input participant information, and create powerful summary reports.”

In the course of his research, Reynolds found that “according to its GSA filing, PRI’s ‘sales to the general public/state or local government’ for 2005 was $1.1 million, with an additional $250,000 coming from federal contracts. As project director … Horn charges $1,551 per day for training. PRI’s client list posted on their web page includes the Department of Justice, Office of Personnel Management, HUD, the Institute for Youth Development and the National Fatherhood Initiative. … With IYD and NFI — both so closely entwined with the [former] Assistant Secretary — regularly pulling in millions of federal dollars from his CAF for their ‘faith-based’ outsourcing and then subcontracting to his wife’s company to service those federally-funded programs appears to be far less than six-degrees of separation.”

Claudia Horn is also the co-author, along with Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., Calvin W Edwards, Karen M Woods and Collette Caprara of a recent Heritage FoundationSpecial Report titled “Outcome-Based Evaluation: Faith-Based Social Service Organizations and Stewardship” (March 29, 2007).

The Special Report deals with something the authors call “Outcome-based evaluation (OBE)” which they claim “is a tool … [that allows] faith-based organizations to define specifically what success means for their programs and then measure the degree to which they achieve those goals. This discipline not only documents effectiveness, but also helps the organizations to refine the work they do and thereby begins a cycle of continuing improvement and greater success.”


Previously known as Deloitte & Touche, which, according to Wikipedia, was formed by the merger of Touche Ross and Deloitte Haskins & Sells (outside of the UK) in 1990, asection of its website, titled “About Deloitte” reads:

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a Swiss Verein [association], its member firms, and their respective subsidiaries and affiliates. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu is an organization of member firms around the world devoted to excellence in providing professional services and advice, focused on client service through a global strategy executed locally in nearly 150 countries. With access to the deep intellectual capital of approximately 135,000 people worldwide, Deloitte delivers services in four professional areas — audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services — and serves more than one-half of the world’s largest companies, as well as large national enterprises, public institutions, locally important clients, and successful, fast-growing global growth companies. Services are not provided by the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Verein, and, for regulatory and other reasons, certain member firms do not provide services in all four professional areas.

Wikipedia noted that as of 2006, the company had some 135,000 professionals at work in nearly 140 countries, “delivering audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services to more than one-half of the world’s largest companies. The US firm employs over 33,000 people (2005) and the UK firm employs over 10,000 people (2006).”

When asked about Wade Horn’s role at Deloitte, Mike Reynolds pointed out that Deloitte Touche “is a major player in social services and welfare privatization — a lucrative field where corporate and faith-based interests congenially feed. Horn is a perfect fit with both.”

“Deloitte did particularly well with Thompson heading HHS and Horn working there,” Reynolds noted. “Their contracts with the department increased more than tenfold. In the year 2000, Deloitte had $2 million in contracts with HHS; between 2005 and 2006 that figure increased to more than $25 million. With Thompson and Horn now in the Deloitte shop, one wouldn’t be surprised to see those contracts bump even higher over the next two years.”

Meanwhile, back at HHS, a statement issued on April 2 by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt indicated that Daniel Schneider, a deputy assistant secretary for children and families, will serve as acting assistant secretary until a replacement for Horn is named.