A special Mothers Day Article
For many years, protective mothers have complained about a broken custody court system giving custody to abusive fathers. The courts dismissed the complaints by saying they came from disgruntled litigants. Now, a new book based on multi-disciplinary research has confirmed that common mistakes in the custody courts have resulted in thousands of children being forced to live with abusers. Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, co-edited by Dr. Mo Therese Hannah and Barry Goldstein includes chapters by over 25 of the leading experts in domestic violence and custody in the U.S. and Canada including judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, journalists and domestic violence advocates. Although the writers come from different disciplines and professional experience, there is remarkable agreement that the courts’ failure to use up-to-date research is responsible for placing children at risk and undermining laws designed to prevent domestic violence.
The custody court system developed practices to respond to domestic violence allegations over thirty years ago at a time when there was no research. The courts relied on popular assumptions such as the belief domestic violence was caused by mental illness, substance abuse and the victims’ behavior. They assumed domestic violence only involved physical abuse and children were unaffected unless directly assaulted. All of these and many other assumptions relied on by the courts have proven wrong, but the court continues to use outdated and discredited practices. Even worse, after hearing misinformation constantly repeated for over thirty years the myths and stereotypes are so deeply ingrained that courts often don’t believe accurate information based upon up-to-date research because it is so different from what they have heard repeated their entire professional careers. Hopefully by putting all the research together in one volume, the book will force the courts to take a fresh look at practices that have worked so poorly for children.
Most cases are settled more or less amicably. The problem is with the 3.8% of contested custody cases that continue to trial and usually far beyond. The courts think of these as “high conflict” cases and literally they are, but 90% of these cases involve abusive fathers which is why they can’t be settled. Male supremacist groups have developed an unspeakably cruel tactic of encouraging abusers to go after the children as a way to pressure the mother to return, punish her for leaving and avoid child support. As a result, the courts repeatedly see cases in which fathers who had little involvement with the children before the separation suddenly seeking custody, but the court system has been slow to recognize the tactic or respond to it. Judges have constantly been told that children do better with both parents in their lives but not that this is untrue if one of the parents is abusive.