A Cancer Spreading in the Custody Court System


Until the court can cite evidence or research to support its assumptions, the extreme actions present at least an appearance of impropriety. I believe it is outrageous that the custody courts have not made children's safety the first priority.

A Cancer Spreading in the Custody Court System
The concept of Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases was developed because of the frequency of extreme results in custody cases in which children are endangered, safe, protective mothers are denied any meaningful relationship with their children and the results appear to be the opposite of what the evidence and the well being of the children would require. The Battered Mothers Custody Conference was started in response to what we believed were too many of these tragic cases to be viewed as exceptions.

In a well known Kansas case that I have discussed with the protective mother Claudine Dombrowski, the father has numerous convictions for domestic violence and other crimes and a poor relationship with the daughter. Despite this, the court gave custody to the father and imposed ever greater restrictions on the mother's access to the daughter. The mother has been active in exposing the broken court system and the court has wasted large amounts of time and money seeking to remove information from the Internet and silence the mother's concerns. The court has retaliated against the mother with reductions in visitation and a variety of sanctions.

To illustrate the problem, I want to look at four of these extreme cases not because they are exceptions, but because they represent the kinds of mistakes the court system routinely makes and will continue to make until it changes practices that were developed at a time when no research was available and have proven to be detrimental to the children the courts are supposed to protect.

One of the problems we have seen repeatedly is that when a court makes a mistake and fails to recognize or respond to danger caused by domestic violence, they will rarely admit to these mistakes. Instead we see the kind of retaliation and punitive measures harmful to children that was used in the New Jersey and Kansas cases. Nevertheless, the courts in California and Maryland would now admit they made the wrong decision. The case in California involved Katie Tagle as the protective mother. The father used the access given him by the judge to kill Baby Wyatt and then himself. Similarly, in Maryland, the mother was Dr. Amy Castillo and the father used the access provided by the judge to kill their three children and then himself.

The judges in California and Maryland are deeply disturbed by the outcome and genuinely sorry for their mistake. At the same time, they have defended their decisions saying they couldn't have known of the father's danger based upon the evidence in front of them. In one sense they are correct. The judges in these four cases all used the same outdated and discredited practices including the popular myth that women often make false allegations in order to gain an advantage in litigation. This contributes to the widespread inability of custody courts to recognize domestic violence and in turn led to the mistakes in these four cases and other cases endangering over 58,000 children every year.

If all or even a larger portion of the bad decisions led to an immediate and recognizable tragedy like the cases in California and Maryland, the needed reforms would have been adopted long ago and children controlled by custody courts would be protected. Most of the time, however, the cases are more like New Jersey and Kansas where the harm is better hidden and not as dramatic for the public. The children grow up without their primary attachment figure, often suffer private but horrible abuse and many become involved in a wide range of harmful behaviors in response to the direct and indirect abuse inflicted by their abusers. Most will never reach their potential as a result of the mistakes made in the custody courts.
The Kansas case is similar in that they have long since ignored or minimized the very real danger the abusive father poses to the child and instead concentrate all their attention on the supposed harm the mother can cause by continuing to believe the father is unsafe and posting information on the Internet that helps to expose a broken court system. Judges are ethically required to avoid actions that create the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. Although they phrase the demand to remove material as if it benefitted the child, in reality the real purpose is to hide the history of abuse of the father and the failure of the court to act in the child's best interests. Given the clear conflict of interest (they are seeking to remove materials that criticize the court), at the very least they would need convincing evidence that the mother's beliefs would create a long-term harm to the child. Similarly, the removal of the mother from the child's life, although she is the primary attachment figure creates a serious risk of harm to the child that the court has failed to address.
I believe it is outrageous that the custody courts have not made children's safety the first priority. In the California and Maryland cases where there was evidence of a history of domestic violence and threats to kill the children, the court had time for only a brief hearing and refused to protect the children's safety resulting in their deaths at the hands of their fathers. At the same time, In the New Jersey and Kansas cases the courts seem to have unlimited time and resources to investigate the "danger" the children might hear their mothers' concern for their safety and well being.

The courts in Kansas and New Jersey could have saved the children a lot of harm (and still can) by following this advice based on the most up-to-date research available.

We can still help the children in New Jersey and Kansas by taking a fresh look at the cases based on the up-to-date research now available.

The court system is at a crossroads. It now has the research to reform its training and practices so that they can better protect all the children. I hope they will treat the research as a gift and not an attack and use it to remove the cancer on the court system. In doing so the court system can support my view that the mistaken decisions are not based on corruption.

Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Source: Times Up!
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