Defend The Children.Org NEW

Custody in Abuse Cases

 
Divorce is very common today and fact is while most do involve difficult times and hurt feeling, the majority are resolved with both parents considering the best interest of their children.  Many states no longer have faulted divorces and the reason for the divorce is listed as nonfault.  This is not always good for it leads to the belief that both people are equally innocent of wrongdoings or equally guilty of wrongdoings.  This gives a tremendous advantage to an abusive and controlling spouse and tend to trap the victimed spouse into many additional years of being abused even after the divorce.
 
While we find that to be unjust, it would not concern us except when the divorced couple have children and the children are hurt.  Therefore we felt it was appropriate to place the following information here.
 
 
 
 

It is a misnomer that mothers are routinely granted custody.  When a father who is alledged to have committed abuse seeks custody, he is granted it in 70% of cases. 

Judges and Child Protection:

According to the American Judges Association approximately 70% of batters obtain sole or joint custody. Batters succeed in convincing authorities that the non-offending parent is unfit or undeserving of sole custody. If the American Judges Association knows of this why do they continue to put children at risk? Judges must be educated in child sexual abuse to help protect and prevent any re-occuring abuse. A study done by "Neustein & Goetting (1999) shows 300 cases they studied over a 10 year period in which the non-offending parent sought to protect their child/children from sexual abuse, found that 70% resulted in unsupervised visitation or shared custody; in 20% of cases the mothers completely lost custody,and many of these lost all visitation rights. The bottom line is that children are not being protected by the one person who has the final say, the Judge.

 

Domestic Violence & The Courtroom
Understanding The Problem... Knowing The Victim



The American Judges Foundation

With over thirty years of tradition and achievement, The American Judges Foundation is comprised of people interested in and dedicated to promoting education, fostering public awareness of the law and the legal system and furthering community involvement with the judiciary in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

This non-profit organization provides judges with resources vital for continuing their role as knowledge gatherers, information seekers and decision makers. Through conferences, forums, discussions and publications, judges are exposed to current trends within the legal system and kept current with societal issues that affect their jurisdiction.

Our society is growing more complex day by day. One of the side effects of this complexity is a court system burdened with an ever-expanding inventory of cases. It is crucial that the judges who steer these proceedings be in touch with issues, alternatives, and innovations pertaining to each situation and their long-term effects on victims, defendants, witnesses, lawyers and society as a whole. The American Judges Foundation's mission is to keep the judiciary at the forefront and provide the necessary educational tools needed to meet society's ever-changing needs.

The American Judges Association

The American Judges Association was originally founded as the National Association of Municipal Judges (NAMJ) in 1959 at Colorado Springs, Colorado, by 30 municipal court judges. As the association's membership grew to include judges from other types of courts and from a wider geographical area, its name was changed to the American Judges Association in 1973. Currently, AJA has a membership exceeding 3,000 members, which includes both present and former judges of courts of all jurisdictions in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and The Virgin Islands. Its Board of Governors is composed of representatives from fourteen districts.

The objective and purpose of the Association is: to promote and improve the effective administration of justice; to maintain the status and independence of the judiciary; to provide a forum for the continuing education of its members and the general public; and for the exchange of new ideas among all judges.

The AJA's impact on judicial education has been effective in a number of ways. In 1970, the Association cooperated with the American Judicature Society in organizing the American Academy of Judicial Education, the first such institute to sponsor formal, in-residence training programs for judges of courts of first jurisdiction. AJA has sponsored more than 30 annual conferences, bringing together leading jurists, legal scholars and law enforcement officers to discuss matters of importance affecting the judiciary.

With over thirty-five years of service and commitment to the judiciary, AJA continues to exemplify excellence in judicial education.

 

Custody Myths and How To Counter Them
by Aba Newsletter

Any attorney who represents clients in custody matters will recognize at least some of the following unfounded clichés about domestic violence and custody. Here are some resources that the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence provides for practitioners to use when representing victims of domestic violence.


 

MYTH 1: Domestic violence is rare among custody litigants.
FACT: Studies show that 25-50% of disputed custody cases involve domestic violence.


MYTH 2: Any ill effects of domestic violence on children are minimal and short-term.


FACT: “Children who are exposed to domestic violence may show comparable levels of emotional and behavioral problems to children who were the direct victims of physical or sexual abuse.”
FACT: Adverse effects to children who witness DV are well-documented, including aggressive behavior, depression, and/or cognitive deficiencies.

FACT: A continuing study by the CDC has shown a significant relationship between exposure to “adverse childhood experiences” (including witnessing domestic violence) and development of adult health problems, including pulmonary disease, heart disease, hepatitis, fractures, obesity, and diabetes (not to mention IV drug use, alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases and depression).


MYTH 3: Mothers frequently invent allegations of child sexual abuse to win custody
.


FACT: Child sexual abuse allegations in custody cases are rare (about 6%), and the majority of allegations are substantiated (2/3).

FACT: False allegations are no more common in divorce or custody disputes than at any other time.
FACT: Among false allegations, fathers are far more likely than mothers to make intentionally false accusations (21% compared to 1.3%)


MYTH 4: Domestic violence has nothing to do with child abuse.


FACT: A wide array of studies reveal a significant overlap between domestic violence and child abuse, with most finding that both forms of abuse occur in 30-60% of violent families.
FACT: Other studies have shown intimate partner violence (“IPV”) to be a strong predictor of child abuse, increasing the risk from 5% after one act of IPV to 100% after 50 acts of IPV.


MYTH 5: Abusive fathers don’t get custody.


FACT: Abusive parents are more likely to seek sole custody than nonviolent ones…
FACT: …and they are successful about 70% of the time.
FACT: Allegations of domestic violence have no demonstrated effect on the rate at which fathers are awarded custody of their children, nor do such allegations affect the rate at which fathers are ordered into supervised visitation. (i.e. abusers win unsupervised custody and visitation at the same rate as nonabusers)


MYTH 6: Fit mothers don’t lose custody.


FACT: Mothers who are victims of DV are often depressed and suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, and as a result, can present poorly in court and to best-interest attorneys and/or custody evaluators.


MYTH 7: Parental Alienation Syndrome (“PAS”) is a scientifically sound phenomenon.


FACT: The American Psychological Association has noted the lack of data to support so-called "parental alienation syndrome," and raised concern about the term's use.


MYTH 8: Children are in less danger from a batterer/parent once the parents separate.


FACT: Many batterers’ motivation to intimidate and control their victims through the children increases after separation, due to the loss of other methods of exerting control.


MYTH 9: Parents who batter are mentally ill, OR Parents with no evidence of mental illness cannot be batterers.


FACT: Mental illness is found only in a minority of batterers, and accounts for only 10% of abusive incidents.
FACT: Psychological testing is not a good predictor of parenting capacity.
FACT: Mental health testing cannot distinguish a batterer from a non-batterer.


MYTH 10: If a child demonstrates no fear or aversion to a parent, then there is no reason not to award unsupervised contact or custody.


FACT: Children can experience “traumatic bonding” with a parent who abuses the child or their other parent, forming unusually strong but unhealthy ties to a batterer as a survival technique (often referred to as “Stockholm Syndrome”).


The ABA Commission on Domestic Violence publishes its Quarterly e-Newsletter four times a year in electronic format. Subscriptions are free to all interested parties, and are distributed via e-mail and by download from the Commission website. Largeprint editions are available upon request. Quarterly e-Newsletter includes substantive articles by experts in the field, resources and tools for representing survivors of domestic violence, and caselaw updates and trends.

The ABA hereby grants permission for copies of the materials herein to be made, in whole or in part, for classroom use in an institution of higher learning or for use by not-for-profit organizations, provided that the use is for informational, non-commercial purposes only and any copy of the materials or potion thereof acknowledges original publication by the ABA including the title of the publication, the name of the author, and the legend “Reprinted by permission of the American Bar Association. All rights reserved.”

Requests to reproduce portions of this publication in any other manner should be sent to Copyrights & Contracts, American BarAssociation.

The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association or the Commission on Domestic Violence unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the ABA.

Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advicefrom their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only

Why Parents Who Batter Win Custody
by Sarah Childress


 It took six years for Genia Shockome to gather the courage to leave her husband, Tim. He pushed her, kicked her and insulted her almost from the moment they married in 1994, she says. She tried to start over with their children when the family moved from Texas to Poughkeepsie, N.Y. It didn't last long. Tim called her constantly at work and, after they split up, pounded on her door and screamed obscenities, she alleged in a complaint filed in 2001. Tim was charged with harassment. As part of a plea deal, Tim agreed to a stay-away order—but denies ever abusing her or the children. In custody hearings over the past six years, Tim has insisted that he's been a good father, and argued that Genia's allegations poisoned their children against him. The judge sided with Tim. This summer he was granted full custody of the kids, now 11 and 9. Genia was barred from contacting them.

Genia is one of many parents nationwide who have lost custody due to a controversial concept known as parental alienation. Under the theory, children fear or reject one parent because they have been corrupted or coached to lie by the other. Parental alienation is now the leading defense for parents accused of abuse in custody cases, according to domestic-violence advocates. And it's working. The few current studies done on the subject consider only small samples. But according to one 2004 survey in Massachusetts by Harvard's Jay Silverman, 54 percent of custody cases involving documented spousal abuse were decided in favor of the alleged batterers. Parental alienation was used as an argument in nearly every case.

This year the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges denounced the theory as "junk science," and at least four states have passed legislation to curtail its use in custody cases involving allegations of domestic violence. "It's really been a cancer in the family courts," says Richard Ducote, an attorney in Pittsburgh who has represented abuse victims in custody cases for 22 years. "It's made it really difficult for parents to protect their kids. If you ask for protection, you're deemed a vindictive, alienating parent."


It may seem hard to fathom how a judge could award custody to a parent accused of abuse. But battered spouses often don't file criminal charges—so no judicial finding is made against their mates—and family-court judges typically aren't trained to referee the complexities of abusive relationships. (Although men are sometimes battered by their wives, women are the victims in the majority of abuse cases.) Judges often throw out documented evidence of spousal abuse, arguing that it is irrelevant in a custody case. And experts say that family-court judges often look favorably on the alleged abuser because he seems more willing to share custody than the accuser—who is hellbent on keeping the father away from the child. According to a survey by Geraldine Stahly, a psychology professor at California State University at San Bernardino, attorneys will caution battered spouses against reporting abuse in court so they don't lose their children. (Stahly and other academics say the parental-alienation argument has more legitimacy in custody disputes that don't involve charges of abuse.)

Parental-alienation syndrome was first introduced by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in the 1980s. Fathers-rights groups picked up on the idea and began trying it out in court. These groups condemn abusers. But Dan Hogan, executive director of Fathers & Families, a nonprofit group that advocates for joint custody, argues that all too often the accusers lie in order to win custody of their kids.


There's a small but growing movement to ban parental alienation in custody cases, sparked by embattled parents bonding online. They've linked with lawyers and advocates for battered spouses across the country. At least four states, including California, have laws protecting parents who make good-faith abuse allegations. Others may soon follow their lead. Greg Jacob, an attorney who takes cases for abused parents pro bono, is drafting legislation to shop to Virginia and Maryland next month. Meanwhile, parents like Genia keep fighting. "It's so hard, having my children lost," she says, her voice breaking. "This was my life—my children."

Published on November 30, 2005
Rates At Which Batterers Receive Custody

by Joan Meier, Esq.

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

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

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

One good example is a study cited by Janet Johnston, a leading researcher of parental alienation, which found that, among custody litigants referred to mediation, “[p]hysical aggression had occurred between 75% and 70% of the parents . . . even though the couples had been separated. . . [for an average of 30-42 months]”.  Furthermore, [i]n 35% of the first sample and 48% of the second, [the violence] was denoted as severe and involved battering and threatening to use or using a weapon.” 
 - Janet R. Johnston, “High-Conflict Divorce,” The Future of Children, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1994,  165-182) citing Depner et al., “Building a uniform statistical reporting system:  A snapshot of  California Family Court Services,“ Family and ConciliationCourts Review (1992) 30: 185-206


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

The American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family, the leading review of the research as of 1996, found that men who abuse their partners contest custody at least twice as often as non-abusing fathers.  They are even more likely to contest custody if the children are boys.
- American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family (1996) at p. 40.


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

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

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

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

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force was one of the first states to document the gender bias against women in family courts.  This court-initiated study expressly found that “our research contradicted [the] perception” that ”there is a bias in favor of women in these decisions.”  Moreover, it found that “in determining custody and visitation, many judges and family service officers do not consider violence toward women relevant.”  The Court’s study further found that “the courts are demanding more of mothers than fathers in custody disputes” and that “many courts put the needs of noncustodial fathers above those of custodial mothers and children.” 
- Gender Bias Study of the Court System in Massachusetts, 24 New Eng.L.Rev. 745, 747, 825, 846 (1990)

More recently, and since the evolution and widespread adoption of “parental alienation syndrome,” a multi-year, four-phase study using qualitative and quantitative social science research methodologies by the Wellesley Centers for Women found “a consistent pattern of human rights abuses” by family courts, including failure to protect battered women and children from abuse, discriminating against and inflicting degrading treatment on battered women, and denying battered women due process.  Histories of abuse of mother and children were routinely ignored or discounted.
 -  Wellesley Centers for Women Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project, Battered Mothers Speak  Out:  A Human Rights Report on Domestic Violence and Child Custody in the Massachusetts  Family Courts (Nov. 2002)(hereafter “BMTP”), Executive Summary at 2.

A comparable study by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that most of the women surveyed felt the history of abuse was not taken seriously and that they were ignored, disrespected and discriminated against by court personnel. 
 - Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project:  A Human  Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence (June 2003), pp. 47, 49, 6.

A study of the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court conducted by the Philadephia Women’s Law Project in cooperation with the court, found that litigants are often denied due process, and that applicable legal standards are “not always observed, particularly in the consideration of abuse in custody proceedings, leaving families at risk.”
 - Tracy, Fromson & Miller, Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court:   A Report to the Community, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REPORT, Vol. 8, No. 6 (Aug/Sept. 2003), p. 94.


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

My own survey of the case law in 2001 identified 38 appellate state court decisions concerning custody and domestic violence.  To my astonishment, 36 of the 38 trial courts had awarded joint or sole custody to alleged and adjudicated batterers.  Two-thirds of these decisions were reversed on appeal.
- Meier, Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and Child Protection:  Understanding Judicial  Resistance and Imagining the Solutions, A.U. J. Gender, Soc. Pol. & the Law, 11:2 (2003), 657-731, p. 662, n. 19, and Appendix.

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

The American Judges Association has found that approximately 70% of batterers succeed in convincing authorities that the victim is unfit for or undeserving of sole custody.  Another way of saying this is that 70% of batterers obtain sole or joint custody.
- American Judges Association, “Domestic Violence and the Courtroom:  Understanding the Problem . . . Knowing the Victim”    
http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/domviol/page5.html  (at “Forms of Emotional Battering. . . Threats to Harm or Take Away Children”)


A survey of battered women by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that courts awarded joint or sole custody to the alleged batterers 56-74% of the time (depending on the county).  Many of these cases involved documented child abuse or adult abuse.
 - Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project:  A Human  Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence (June 2003), pp. 33-34, 47-49


A study of 300 cases over a 10-year period in which the mother sought to protect the child from sexual abuse, found that 70% resulted in unsupervised visitation or shared custody; in 20% of the cases the mothers completely lost custody, and many of these lost all visitation rights.
 - Neustein & Goetting (1999), “Judicial Responses to the Protective Parent’s Complaint of Child  Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 8 (4): 103-122.


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


The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force found that 94% of fathers who actively sought custody received sole or joint custody, regardless of whether there was a history of abuse.  While fathers received primary physical custody 29% of the time, mothers received primary physical custody in only 7% of the contested cases.  The Study also cited other research which similarly found that fathers who sought custody received primary physical custody 2/3 of the time, with mothers receiving it less than ¼ of the time; and another study which found that fathers seeking custody received joint or sole custody 79% of the time, with mothers receiving sole custody in only 15% of those cases (compared to fathers’ sole custody in 41% of the cases). 
- Gender Bias Study at 831-832 and citing Middlesex Divorce Research Group relitigation study and Phear et al., 1983.

While the Massachusetts study and those it cited were not able to identify what proportion of the contesting fathers were batterers, the studies cited in my other Statement indicate consistently that 75% of cases have a history of domestic violence, with a substantial proportion of severe violence.  Hence, it is likely that a substantial proportion of the fathers receiving joint or primary physical custody in this study had committed domestic violence.
- Meier Statement, Research Indicating that the Majority of Cases that go to Court as ‘High Conflict’ Contested Custody Cases have a History of Domestic Violence (Nov. 9, 2005).


Elize St. Charles, founder of the nonprofit, Los Gatos-based charitable organization Our Children Our Future, said in a recent interview that women need to know that family courts are unjust in many abuse and battery dispute cases. “The myth has to be shot that women prevail, as 70 percent of the women who divorce to get away from violent husbands will fail to either protect their children or themselves and custody will go to the father or to a foster family.” St. Charles, an MBA and business consultant was fortunate to regain custody of her own children after a kafkaesque-like custody battle and went on to found Our Children Our Future (OCOF) to help women in domestic violence and child abuse custody cases.

The suffering the children and mothers endure in abuse-based divorce and custody disputes and its effects on their lives is a national problem, reflecting legislative and judicial bias against women and disregard for the rights and safety of children.

OCOF’s mandate is to advise national organizations, host conferences, and provide educational material to the public and media while tracking a national trend of escalating judicial prejudice against women who report violence and abuse.

OCOF’s book, Exposé, The Failure of Family Courts to Protect Children from Abuse in Custody Disputes, an anthology of reports from professionals from 12 disciplines, documents these issues. Exposé has been endorsed by 70 organizations as well as by such national leaders as Gloria Steinem, Gavin de Becker, Dr. Paul Fink, Appellate Court Judge Sol Gothard, Bruce Taylor, Esq., Rita Smith, and Dr. Elizabeth Morgan. The book has been instrumental as source material for the California State Assembly members and senators in the passage of important child protection bills.

“What women and the many good men out there find most astonishing is that women are losing custody to men with power and control issues (i.e., abusive) at an ever escalating rate."

“In fact, if a mother mentions domestic violence or child abuse, she is much more likely to lose custody to the abuser. Batterers are twice as likely to seek custody and more likely than good fathers to gain custody of their children,” said St. Charles.

St. Charles cites a survey by California Protective Parents Association which found that 91 percent of the fathers named as the offender in cases of child sexual abuse were awarded full or partial unsupervised custody of their children. “Women need to be aware,” says St. Charles, “that if their custody of their children is contested by their ex-husbands during divorce or at any time thereafter until the children are 18 years old, they are likely to lose even joint custody.”

In seeking to alert the country to the issues and to promote zero tolerance for child abuse and domestic violence, OCOF collects and publishes evidence showing that children have no voice in custody disputes, that mothers are often held to a standard fathers do not have to meet, and that most mothers who attempt to protect their children from abuse or exposure to domestic violence are subjected to draconian or unexplained and unreasonable demands, and can be slapped with gag orders, denied access to their children and even jailed for their efforts.

In case after case, family courts hand down decisions that ignore medical evidence, witness reports, police records, and other such testimony that criminal courts accept without question.

Parents can even lose custody ex-parte, in other words, without an opportunity to present evidence in court. Family courts do not have to reveal their methods for arriving at their decisions nor publish their reasons.

Most of the nation’s custody disputes are settled out of court, but when they are contested, as they are more frequently in cases of child abuse and domestic violence within higher income or wealthy families, mothers are discovering that fighting to protect their children is costly, and they more often than not lose their homes, savings, and personal wealth from legal expenses. Women who seek the family court’s protection often will be demeaned, humiliated, and punished by a legal structure that is neither accountable for its decisions nor free from corruption.

Alanna Krause’s story is an example of what can happen in a biased family court. Her mother was unable to protect her against her abusive father (Marshall W. Krause) because of his status in the community — former counsel, board member, fundraiser for the ACLU of No. California and past president of the Marin County Bar Association — and his financial clout as an attorney.

During the many years she was forced to live with her father, (Marshall Krause) she made nine reports to Child Protective Services and several to the police without success because, she was told, she had no witnesses. In punishment, her father had her confined to jail and then in mental institutions.

She eventually ran away to Los Angeles where the juvenile court took her case and ultimately found her mother fit and her father dangerous. Her father has pled no contest and is under a domestic violence restraining order. http://www.newsmakingnews.com/krause,statebar,12,10,01.htm http://www.newsmakingnews.com/krausealanna1,7,02.htm http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/Research/PAS/PAS4/pas4.html

Mothers will fare better if they do not claim domestic violence or child abuse as grounds for divorce. The catch-22 in such a situation is that if a mother does not report abuse to the authorities she can be convicted of felony child endangerment, but when she does, the professionals who make recommendations and judgments tend to minimize the accusations or discount them as irrelevant, going so far as to find fault with the mother because she is an easy target. Mothers who were fit parents, more than likely the primary caretaker during the marriage, are all of a sudden deemed unfit to parent by the family courts.

Eileen King, the Washington, DC-based director for the national nonprofit organization Justice for Children, faults the family court’s intrinsic bias. “The system has failed children because child protection workers often assume that charges must be false if they were made in the context of a divorce.

“Also, prosecutors won't pursue such cases unless they’re certain they’ll win, and judges who don’t understand the dynamics of child abuse are often angered by the cases and react harshly to the protective parents by denying them custody of their children.”

The experience of enduring bad judgments and orders of the San Francisco family court is what one woman likens to the boxing term “dope-on-the-rope,” “You are placed in a helpless position and beaten mercilessly.”

Lower-income women will run to shelters despite the fact that their chances of being pursued and murdered is increased when they do so. Or they will stay in the marriage because of threats, poverty, dependency, ignorance, or because they believe they can reduce violence by their passivity.

Women in the higher economic brackets, often better educated and confident about their legal rights and the courts impartiality, will attempt to escape family violence through divorce. When they find themselves in court, they assume they can defend their parental and spousal rights. But as OCOF documents, these women are increasingly failing to protect their children or themselves against the judicial system’s too often erratic and prejudiced decisions.

The increase in the granting of custodial rights to an abusive father is due to many factors, although most evidence points to a gender bias that permeates the court system and misogyny still ingrained in our culture. This is thoroughly documented by government studies in 40 different states.

Lynne Gold-Bikin, chair of the American Bar Association’s family-law section, views this tendency as evidence of a backlash against feminism. “Judges tend to punish women who work while rewarding men who take even the slightest interest in their children.”

Many judges still believe that victims bear responsibility for their injury, that family violence doesn’t occur in white-collar families, that witnessing abuse is not harmful to children, or that preservation of the father’s ties to the children — no matter the gravity of the charges and legitimacy of the evidence against him or even the child’s feelings of strong aversion — must be maintained for the child’s welfare.

Two funding changes have materially contributed to the increase in father custody awards.

In 1992 the federal government mandated that states had to raise child-support payments or lose welfare funding which resulted in more men seeking custody to avoid child support payments.

The other major change is that since the 1970s, the Children’s Protective Services must focus on keeping families intact in order to receive funding. In order to fulfill its mandate and prove its success, this agency finds it expedient to downplay abuse in order to document that it encourages family togetherness by granting fathers access to their children.

Also, since the 1980s the bond between mother and child is no longer considered primary. Joint custody is now deemed in the “best interests of the child,” a theory reasonable on its face but often unworkable in practice and not recommended in high-conflict divorces.

Some family court decisions are based on pedophiliac and abuse tolerance, others on cronyism and misogyny, and still others on simple corruption. Since men most often have more money, the wealthier ones can hire the lawyers, the psychologists and other court-appointed experts (and thereby indirectly the judge) and thus ultimately control the family court’s disposition of cases.

All women and men should be concerned about the plight of mothers who fail to protect themselves and their abused children. Research and statistics confirm that family violence is passed from one generation to the next. Hence, inappropriate judicial decisions reinforce the vicious cycle of power and control dynamics within families.

Furthermore, attitudes that override fair hearings and due process in one area of state and national policy will override fair hearings and due process in other areas. We should be concerned because bad courtroom decisions eviscerate the legal system’s ultimate power and integrity. “Besides,” says St. Charles, “with a divorce rate of 40-50 percent, it could happen to you, to your friend, to your neighbor — even to your children.” ---------------------------------------------------- For information, or to find out what you can do to help OCOF, visit the website at www.ocof.org; email ocofcf@aol.com or write P.O. Box 1111, Los Gatos, 95031-1111.

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