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:
Some of the remedies recommended by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges include:
Similarly, the court may excuse or institute unique options for an abused mother by:
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