Child Custody: The Judicial Challenges Domestic Violence Victims Face
Courts often favor shared custody even though one of the parents may have a history of abuse. A 2011 study concluded that court custody evaluators would benefit from further education.
In Orange County there are women every day who are victimized by their domestic partner and, to complicate matters further, many of these women are mothers. While domestic violence has come out of the shadows over the last several years many victims remain trapped in a world of intimidation and harassment, especially when their abusers are their spouses.
Battered mothers and the courts
In May of this year a conference was held at George Washington University Law School, according to The Washington Post. It was the Battered Mothers Custody Conference and consisted of legal professionals, victims of domestic abuse, experts and advocates. The purpose of the conference was to discuss how to improve the court system so that it protects battered mothers and their children.
Often abused mothers are denied custody by the courts or are forced to share custody with their abuser. This puts the children in a potentially dangerous situation. To make things worse, according to The Advocates for Human Rights, the current legal system punishes a battered mother for her attempts, allowing the abuser to continue his behavior through legal harassment and intimidation.
An uphill battle
While many court systems have created special family courts for battered mothers and their children, there is still an uphill battle that these women face. When it comes to child custody, courts often favor shared custody as they consider this is in the best interests of the children. It becomes more complicated when a mother has been abused but the children have not. The University of Michigan School of Social Work points out that in many cases, courts dismiss claims of domestic violence and will accuse mothers of trying to alienate the children from their fathers. This results in the abuser being given part or even full custody.
One study released in 2011 shows that more needs to be done to help battered mothers retain custody of their children. Some of the important findings from the study include:
- Judges, custody evaluators and private attorneys often do not believe that claims of domestic violence are true.
- 40 percent of custody evaluators admit recommending joint custody with the abuser in at least half of their cases when there are clear signs of abuse.
- Unsupervised visitation was recommended in one-third of the cases involving serious domestic violence.
- Custody evaluators were more prone to believe that a mother would make false accusations of abuse than a father.
- Male evaluators were more likely to believe that domestic violence victims are making false accusations and alienating children from their fathers; female evaluators were more likely to believe the mother's claims.
- Personal experience with domestic violence was found to influence an evaluator's recommendations on custody.
The study found that there is a need for further education of court custody evaluators on domestic violence. The education should include training on understanding the psychological effects that domestic violence can have on a victim. The study also found that current programs needed to be adjusted in order to provide support to battered mothers and children.
When mothers are the victims of domestic violence, it is important for them to pursue legal action and they should speak immediately with an attorney who can help them.
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