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Court-Ordered Domestic Violence
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Training of Judges

1.  Training of judges, children’s attorneys and other professionals relied on by the court must include the specific topics of “Recognizing Domestic Violence” “Gender Bias” and “The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children.”  The truly frightening thing about the courts’ mishandling of domestic violence custody cases is not that they get such a high percentage of cases wrong, but that they often reach a decision that is the opposite of what up-to-date research has found best provides for the safety of children and helps them reach their potential.  In the typical case the mother has provided most of the child care and has made allegations regarding domestic violence and sometimes child abuse.  The father has countered with claims of alienation.  The limited training judges and other court professionals have had does not help them know what to look for to determine domestic violence allegations, but creates a false sense of confidence so they are often not open to expertise based on up-to-date research.  Many courts use information to discredit claims of domestic violence that in fact has no probative value and then fails to know what evidence is important to confirm domestic violence allegations.  In his chapter for the book DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY, Judge Mike Brigner describes his training of other judges.  The judges often ask him what to do about women who are lying.  When he asks what they mean they say that she went back to her abuser, withdrew petitions for protective orders, failed to press criminal charges and didn’t go to the hospital.  There are many good reasons why women would act this way particularly when she is still living with her abuser and none of this supports the belief she is lying. Nevertheless, this widespread view of judges demonstrates how courts invalidate many honest claims of domestic violence because they are not familiar with up-to-date research.  In the same book, Judge Thomas Hornsby wrote that in his 19th year on the bench he finally learned the proper way to handle certain requests for orders of protection.  It says something positive about Judge Hornsby that he has the openness and integrity to acknowledge that he had more to learn because many judges have refused to hear genuine domestic violence experts on the grounds that the judge had many years of experience and knew everything.  Inevitably the judge then sent the children to live with an abuser. Courts often look only to conclusive evidence of physical abuse and fail to look for patterns of controlling behavior. Actions like monitoring his wife’s odometer, keeping her away from friends and family, controlling finances or insisting she do the “woman’s work” are not illegal, but they demonstrate a belief system and a practice of coercive control that educated professionals can use to recognize a pattern of domestic violence.  Courts often punish the mother for believing the father presents a danger or trying to protect her children.  This results in extreme and punitive actions against the protective mother. The problem is exacerbated by widespread gender bias in which a mother’s greater parenting skills are expected rather than rewarded and an assumption the father should be favored because the mother’s relationship with the children is stronger.  The problem with gender bias is that good people can engage in this bias without realizing they are doing so because in reality they are just relying on common stereotypes.  Every state changed its laws to at least require consideration of domestic violence evidence in custody and visitation cases in response to conclusive research of the harm of domestic violence to children.  Nevertheless courts rarely use this and updated research to understand the importance of protecting children from such abuse. Courts often create tremendous pressure and sanctions to force mothers to stop believing the father is abusive, but rarely use their authority to pressure the father to stop his abuse. Unqualified professionals often assume that once the parties separate the danger of domestic violence is ended, but in reality men commit domestic violence not because of anything the woman did, but because he feels entitled to use abusive tactics to get his way.  Accordingly children living with an abuser are likely to witness more acts of domestic violence involving the father’s future partners.   Although there is no research that negative statements by the mother create long-term harm to children, courts routinely make alleged alienation by mothers their major focus.  In reality all studies demonstrate that most prisoners grew up in homes with domestic violence and/or child abuse.  In other words the present practices in the custody courts will inevitably create tremendous harm to society.  Accordingly it is critical that court professionals have not just limited general domestic violence training, but extensive and very specific training in the topics they need to respond intelligently to domestic violence custody cases.

 

2.  Domestic Violence Training Should be Overseen by Domestic Violence Organizations:  There is only one profession that works full time on domestic violence issues and they work for domestic violence organizations.  They typically have hundreds or thousands of hours of training in addition to working full time on these issues.  Courts often rely on “experts” with one or two hours of domestic violence training and then send children to live with abusers.  The problem is that domestic violence advocates are treated as if they are partisans because they always oppose domestic violence.  No court or government body would dream of responding to arson without relying on the expertise of the firefighting community even though firefighters are always against arson.  Every state and every court has a settled policy against domestic violence.  Domestic violence advocates understand how to recognize domestic violence and what practices work best to prevent it.  They are the most important resource in their communities regarding domestic violence. Many courts and institutions have mistakenly treated extreme groups that seek to eliminate child support, scale back or eliminate domestic violence laws and in some cases encourage sex between children and adults as an equal and counter group to domestic violence agencies. These groups have a right under the first amendment to spread their manipulation and hatred, but domestic violence is settled policy.  We no longer need to hear both sides of disputes about the Holocaust, flat earth believers, man-child sex supporters or those seeking to justify domestic violence. Obviously there are two sides to an individual case and the alleged abuser has every right to challenge the accusations.  A court must give him fair consideration, but does not have to take seriously claims that he has a right to abuse his partner (or does in response to some action he opposed).  Giving authority over training to the experts in the community will make sure the professionals get the most up-to-date research about domestic violence and hopefully help the courts start thinking of domestic violence advocates as important resources rather than partisans.  States will have to provide additional resources to domestic violence agencies to provide this important service, but they already spend money on professionals without the necessary expertise.

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