Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domestic violence + child custody = no winners

CourtWatch's focus is to monitor the criminal and injunction courtrooms. But many cases that cross paths with those courtrooms also find their way to the family courts for custody and divorce matters.

We frequently receive pleas for help from victims in those cases. Because the people who have written fear retribution from the judges in their cases, I have concealed their identities. Here is a sample of just a few.
Dear Laura,
     I am the mother of an abused woman who has temporarily lost custody of her child to the abuser. My daughter is forced to go to 12 weeks of parenting classes because the abuser said she couldn't make oatmeal. Forced to do drug testing because he says she is on drugs. She has passed 50 drug tests and 6 hair follicle tests. The judge thinks she is altering her test. The judge will not let any evidence of domestic violence be presented. We have police reports, pictures and witnesses. The judge will not allow the older 12-year old child tell what he has witnessed. The judge said she would not listen to a "kid" say nice things about his mother!
      The father (abuser) is a criminal defense attorney. The father has had a 10-year cocaine habit. The judge threatens my daughter with contempt of court. We were told by our 4th attorney that a change of venue may give us a worse judge or make her very angry and she will be harder to deal with. These judges need to be accountable for ruining children's lives. My 5-year grandson is so depressed he tells his mother "when my daddy dies he won't be your boss anymore and when he dies I will not have to live with him anymore." He asks if he will be able to come home and live with his mother and brother. It breaks my heart. The older 12-year old has always been an honor student until now. He too is in counseling. We are broke from wimpy lawyer fees. Seems nobody gets it. We don't know where to turn. Legal Aid will not take my daughter's case because no lawyers are available. It disturbs me that the father has custody. I have tried to call different organizations for help. Most all organiztions are either a recording or refer to Legal Aid or you have to be on Welfare or the child in the system before anyone will help us. We do not have the money to do much of anything. 
Another woman writes:
Dear Laura,
     Not all victims are female and not all the abusers are male. My brother is a case in point. And he has not been able to get anyone to listen to or believe him throughout all these battles.
     As you referenced in your report, the last time DCF was called, they said if there were called again they would put my nephew (age 16) in foster care until he was 18. What's a father to do? The divorce was granted, but the mother was awarded 50% custody, so he cannot make any moves without her approval. So if it's something my nephew wants, she will automatically reject it. And if he refuses to live with her every other week, she has threatened to have my brother arrested for kidnapping and interfering with custody, and to take 100% custody herself. My nephew has tried not going with her, and the results were not pretty.  She is a very convincing psychopath and a pathological liar. Yes, there are witnesses, but no one will listen or give any credence.
     I truly fear for my nephew's long-term safety and security. Two more years is still a long time. And she will still end up the loser - why can't she see that? Those scars do not resolve overnight.
Another victim, with a criminal case pending against her abuser, wrote:
I am currently in a mess of criminal and family cases with my baby's father who was arrested for domestic violence against me. He also beat up his current girlfriend and was arrested for that assault 2 months after the incident with me. I have gone through all the steps that I have been told to do, and many I have not been told to do. I am so thoroughly exhausted and upset with the system and I feel like I have no one I can talk with.
    My ex is scheduled for his sentencing on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery and culpable negligence next month. Our [preschool aged] son was present and in the midst of the violence that night. I did not know about my ex's plea date until 2 days beforehand and I made sure I showed up. He did not accept what was offered to him and asked for a pre-sentencing investigation, thus the August sentencing date. I was contacted by the PSI [Pre-Sentence Investigator] and asked to send a letter to the judge that he will attach to his report. I keep hearing that this judge is lenient and from what I saw in court that day, he is. Another man who was charged with battery and false imprisonment was only given probation!
      We also have an injunction violation hearing in the civil case. My ex has been approved for a phone in hearing and he entered a Motion for Modification of Timesharing to be discussed on that day. He is attempting to get my son up to the state where he has moved since being arrested in Tampa in March (the other battery case). The judge has allowed him 2 additional opportunities for visitation through Family Ties after he failed to sign up the first time.
      He managed to bring in custody issues at the Injunction Hearing in February and pretty much get what he wanted even though he is not on the birth certificate and has not spent much time around the baby.* He claimed I was keeping him from his son, and the judge twice looked at me and said "Both parents have equal rights and time with the child, there is no custodial parent." I was a bit naive to this whole scenario so I did not bring in his criminal history that day other than the 9 violent incidents I included in my injunction paperwork. That, I have learned, was a big mistake! Written in the Injunction Paperwork I am not allowed to leave Florida except to visit my family in another state 2 weeks at a time and that I must provide equal access to his family who also lives up there. That would not have been a problem for me but now he has moved up there with his family and now I have been advised to stay away from my home state from the Sheriff's office.
     My ex shows defiance to laws, court orders, and people. He has abused the system and his family by being given chance after chance throughout his mounting criminal career. He lives a high risk and deviant lifestyle by choice. He scoffs at any rehabilitation efforts and manipulates his way out of consequences. He is now a violent alcoholic, habitual offender and con artist with no remorse for his behavior. He has lied in court about his violence and bragged about spending only 30 days in jail for a 4th DUI.
     In the battery case, my ex was drunk and his intent was to kill me with no concern for our son. He was angry that he could not get to his alcohol and that I was calling for help. I have been in fear for my son’s safety and future, as well mine, since that night. To date, he has suffered no real consequences for his criminal actions. That is the reason I continue to be in fear.
*Legally speaking, a man is not considered to be a child's father unless he was married to the mother or unless paternity has been established by a judge in a Paternity Action. He has no legal rights to visitation, nor obligation to pay child support, unless paternity has been established. Some judges understand this. Others, unfortunately, do not.

It is heartbreaking when families break up and the children are used as a rope in a tug-of-war between the parents. Abusers know that engaging in a custody dispute is a surefire way to further harrass their ex.

I've also seen too many attorneys be less than vigorous in representing their clients in these courtrooms, primarily because they don't want to upset a judge before whom they have other cases. And their clients repeatedly pay exhorbitant amounts of money in a futile effort to protect their children.

Domestic violence + child custody = no winners, with children as the biggest losers in this equation


  1. What can be done about this? We complain about the system failing us but how can we change this? There is no excuse and any violent offender should always be accountable for actions. The courts should have specific guidelines or judges that are trained and capable to make decisions re: domestic violence. They all seem to have their own agendas and no real standard.

  2. I have been going through a divorce for almost three years now and my wannabe ex has numerous dv charges and the judge awarded him a 6 week temporay visitation from thurs to mon every week i never have a weekend with him and its been over a year since that ruling!! this is unjust and im fed up i know his father has rights but he doesnt deserve that much time with him and i dont know what to do and the divorce keeps gettin put off becasue of what they call pending criminal charges well i dont care if he goes to jail or not or if hes found quilty or pleds it casue he is quilty but i still want to be divorce and move on