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Fighting Against Awarding Child Custody to Abusers

The cases are too numerous to cite. Custody awards to abusive fathers. Good mothers who sought court protection for their children from their abusive parent where the preponderance of evidence was clear from confirmed hospital reports of injuries suffered from beatings and molestations only for the mothers to be deemed unfit to care for their children thereby placing the children back into the hands of their abusers.

A widely known 2012 STUDY by Echo A. Rivera, from the Department of Psychology, Michigan State University documents:

“Family court custody arrangements determine physical and legal custody of children, visitation arrangements, and thus, abusers’ level of legal access to women and their children (Hardesty & Ganong, 2006; Kernic et al., 2005). The U.S. court system is obligated to determine custody based on what is in the “best interests of the children” (Dalton, Carbon, & Olesen, 2003; Hardesty & Chung, 2006; Jaffe et al., 2003). Although the definition of these interests varies by state, family court typically encourages joint custody because of the assumption that frequent and prolonged contact with both parents is always in the best interests of the children (Kelly, 2004). This assumption, however, is based on post-divorce impact studies that have failed to account for interparental conflict, leading several scholars to discredit this assumption (Jaffe et al., 2003; Salem & Dunford-Jackson, 2008; Zorza, 2007).”

Studies show that Family court leans heavily on court mediation in divorce child custody arrangements. But the efficacy of mediators in cases of intimate partner abuse, commonly known as IPA, is highly questionable. (SECONDARY VICTIMIZATION OF ABUSED MOTHERS BY FAMILY COURT MEDIATORS)

More studies add to the research in the consideration of abuse in custody recommendations, showing mediators favor joint custody or sole custody to fathers even with a proven domestic violence history. (ABUSED MOTHERS’ SAFETY CONCERNS AND COURT MEDIATORS’ CUSTODY RECOMMENDATIONS)

Still other research shows mediating cases where IPA is a known concern, which guide mediators’ behaviors to follow linear formulas of custody outcomes due to their lack of sufficient training and knowledge of IPA and fears of mediating domestic violence cases.

Which raises the question of courtroom reform to better handle cases that involve domestic and/or sexual abuse to child victims and protect women from being secondarily victimized in court. What policy and legislative changes can be made? Maralee McClean shared her efforts to protect and seek justice for her daughter from her ex-husband’s alleged sexual abuse in the book Prosecuted But Not Silenced. Ms. McClean states in an interview article for CHILD LAW PRACTICE , “The failure of various systems when child sexual abuse is reported and how these cases are turned against the protective parent in family court illustrates a Catch-22 situation. Mothers who report sexual abuse nearly always lose custody. Research shows children are placed in full or partial custody of their identified sexual abusers 90%of the time. Unfortunately, many judges, attorneys, and mental health professionals do not understand the overlap of domestic violence and child abuse.

One thing is consistent throughout the research: cases like these are not isolated. They are worldwide. Praise to the mothers who fought for their childrens’ right to be safe and protected and never gave up. Some endured financial hardships after court and attorney costs, others suffered stress-related health issues as they faced the many challenges in seeking justice for their children.

That’s because Moms Fight Back.


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I have been a single parent twenty two years now. Single parenthood is filled with tears , loneliness, and holding my breath to survive.

This piece was submitted to our 100K STORIES PROJECT by Alana K. Haase. Alana has been a nurse for 27 years and a Mom for 18.

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