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
With over thirty-five years of service and commitment to the judiciary, AJA continues to exemplify excellence in judicial
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.
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.
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…
…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
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
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
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 Custodyby 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.
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
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),
B. Studies show Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Receiving Sole or Joint Custody
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):
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or write
P.O. Box 1111, Los Gatos, 95031-1111.