Friday, July 1, 2011

DV and Custody Evaluations

The Huffington Post has an article that looks at the differing beliefs about domestic violence held by custody evaluators based on whether the individual evaluator has ever had DV training. Really, this could describe anyone:
The custody evaluators whose views tended towards viewing aggression as situational violence reported less training in domestic violence. This group generally viewed domestic violence as stress induced, normative and mutual. As a result, these evaluators minimized spouse abuse as relevant to child custody decisions. They also thought that false allegations of violence were common. In terms of custody and parenting plans, they prioritized coparenting and father-child relationships.

On the other hand, custody evaluators who characterized domestic violence as intimate terrorism took a different view of custody. They were more likely to report extensive training in domestic violence. These evaluators viewed spouse abuse as a significant factor in determining child custody. They thought that false allegations of abuse were rare. This group of evaluators distinguished between types of violence and expressed strong views that custody and parenting plans should be different for each of these types of violence. In the case of intimate terrorism, they prioritized victim safety over ongoing contact with fathers.
The summary really is this: people who know a lot about domestic violence take it more seriously. People who don't really know much about it think DV isn't much of a problem.

This is especially scary when it comes to the courts. These evaluators make decisions about custody that can put both child and adult victims at risk. Many abusers use custody exchanges (the meeting of the two parents to physically pass the children back and forth) as a guaranteed opportunity to continue harassing or abusing their former partner. Abuser parents can also bring the children back late, insist on rearrangements to the schedule, refuse to bring the children back at all, etc. as a way to continue exerting control over their former partner's life. If the parent with a history of using violence has unsupervised access to the children, they also have additional opportunities to harm their former partner by threatening to harm or actually harming the children. In addition, men who batter pass on their beliefs about women to their children and model abusive and disrespectful behavior for their children that the kids often pick up.

If custody evaluators and others with the power to make custody decisions for a family do not take domestic violence seriously, they won't understand any of these things. If they do not consider the effects and dynamics of domestic violence when making custody decisions, they are opening that family to a continuation of the behavior instead of communicating to the batterer that his controlling tactics should end. Custody evaluators have a unique opportunity to make families safer by ordering supervised exchanges, supervised visits, or no custody or visitation, but most don't do so. Keep that in mind when you hear men's groups lamenting how judges are keeping good fathers away from their children. It actually takes quite a lot for an evaluator or judge to get to that point. More often, women and children who have experienced domestic violence cannot truly end their relationship with a batterer until the children are grown.

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