Groups examine prejudice against battered mothers

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Women in Franklin County, who are victims of abuse at the hands of their boyfriend, spouse or significant other, may face an uphill battle for custody if children are involved. This is because, while domestic violence is no longer hidden in the shadows, many courts still operate under the impression that battered women's claims are an attempt to alienate the children from their other parent, usually a father, and therefore are to be disregarded. This is the argument being made at a conference recently held at George Washington University Law School, according to The Washington Post.

The gathering, called the Battered Mothers Custody Conference, has been taking place for the past 10 years, assembling experts, advocates and victims of domestic violence to discuss how to change a legal system they say still doesn't believe mothers' claims.

Abusive fathers fight harder for custody

The Advocates for Human Rights say that abusers will often fight harder for child custody in an effort to further inflict abuse upon the mother. While the physical violence may have ceased, abusers continue to harass their victims by dragging them through the court system, filing countless motions and doing everything they can to show that the mother is the aggressor with claims of parental alienation. They will engage in legal battles that last for months and even years, leaving their victims emotionally and financially broken. However, the fact is that often abusive spouses do not take an interest in their children and in 30-60 percent of cases, may subject them to abuse as well.

Court beliefs about domestic violence allegations

In 2011, the University of Michigan presented a report to the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the beliefs that child custody evaluators, judges, legal aid and private attorneys and domestic violence program workers have when it comes to child custody and domestic violence claims. The findings of the report indicate that many professionals still disbelieve battered mothers but that old beliefs are slowly changing.

Among the findings:

  • Professionals with history or personal knowledge of domestic violence were more likely to believe a battered mother.
  • Judges, custody evaluators and private attorneys were less likely to believe a battered mother.
  • 40 percent of evaluators were still willing to recommend joint custody in half their cases where one parent was clearly the abuser.
  • Female evaluators believe the battered mother more than their male counterparts.
  • Evaluators who understood domestic violence and had undergone specialized training favored sole custody to the battered mother.

The study does show that attitudes towards battered mothers are beginning to shift as court professionals acquire more education about domestic violence and its effect on victims. Many states have even set up special family courts for cases involving domestic violence with staff that has been trained and prepared in how to handle such situations. If you are the victim of domestic violence, you should meet with an experienced attorney who can help you use the legal system to protect your children.