Batterers Use the Court System to Continue Their Abuse

Posted: 05.15.2018

 

Even if survivors of abuse succeed in leaving their abusers, there is another arena in which an abuser can continue his abuse: family court. If a batterer wants to, he can turn dissolution, child support, custody, and visitation proceedings into a nightmare; he can turn the courts into a new forum that allows his abusive behavior to continue. Through a variety of tactics, batterers have found ways to manipulate the justice system and abuse the process in order to further coerce and control survivors and their children.

 

If there are children present in the abusive relationship, she is unlikely to give into his custody demands and will continue to fight for her children while they are at risk, even after she’s given into all of her abuser’s other demands during the separation and/or dissolution process. Because of this, survivors of domestic violence who are trying to escape their abusers often find themselves trapped in family courts, trying to retain custody of their children. Sadly, experience shows that they often fail—courts frequently grant visitation and custodial rights to fathers despite a history of violence against mothers.

 

In fact, abusive fathers are more than twice as likely to seek sole custody of their children as are nonviolent fathers. And, with studies confirming that courts award sole or joint custody to fathers in 70 percent of all custody cases, then statistically speaking, it is undeniable that men who abuse women can and do end up with control over the children after the relationship is over. Thus, family court has become one of the final and often unavoidable battlegrounds between survivors and their abusers.

 

Perpetrators like using the court system because:

  • It may be the only opportunity left to have contact with the victim.
  • Court battles allow batterers to reassert themselves as the authority figure in the relationship.
  • Batterers tend to have the upper hand in court because they usually have greater financial resources than survivors (while women are likely to see their income drop by 32% post-divorce, men are likely to see their incomes rise by 82%) and batterers are more likely to have legal representation.
  • Lack of finality to the proceedings. Whereas final judgments and settlements end litigation in most other areas of law, verdicts in child custody cases do not put an end to the dispute, which can last for years and drag survivors back into court again and again.

 

Some of the remedies recommended by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges include:

  • Payment of mother’s attorney fees and costs related to responding to excess motions.
  • Reimbursement of mother’s lost wages and other similar expenses.
  • Prohibition of any discovery directly involving the children.
  • Ensuring that the abusive parent does not manipulate discovery by requiring relevancy determinations for depositions and other potentially harassing discovery requests.
  • Prohibition of contact between the parties, particularly during visitation exchanges.
  • Prohibition of court appearances without prior court approval.

 

Similarly, the court may excuse or institute unique options for an abused mother by:

  • Excusing her from appearing at hearings, unless deemed emergent or necessary or, alternatively, allow appearance by telephone.
  • Ensuring protection of abused family members by providing security or orders limiting the presence of the abusive parent at hearings and depositions.

 

While there is no simple, perfect solution to this complex, difficult problem facing our society and the courts, it seems logical that awareness and recognition will go a long way towards ensuring that existing and available remedies are applied by the justice system and that new remedies are found, to help ensure that the battered women and children who come to the doors of our courts expecting protection and fairness will not leave in a worse condition than when they entered.

 

 

Adapted from Prezkop, M. (2011). One more battleground: Domestic violence, child custody, and the batterers’ relentless pursuit of their victims through the courts. Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 1053-1106. Read full Article