A recent conference was held to discuss flaws that exist in many courts across the nation and perhaps even here in Spokane County when it comes to battered mothers seeking custody of their children according to the Washington Post. Although domestic violence has emerged from the shadows over the last several years, there are still many hurdles that battered women face, especially when in a child custody dispute.
The extent of the problem
The Washington State Department of Health reports that at least one in five women in the state had been a victim of domestic violence according to a 2004 survey and that number has likely increased over the last several years. It is unknown how many of these women had children.
When violence erupts in the home, children are also affected whether or not they are direct victims of domestic violence according to The Advocate for Human Rights Group. Children may suffer psychologically or emotionally, affecting their ability to develop social and learning skills. Therefore, mothers often seek to protect their children but can find themselves revictimized in the legal system.
Using the legal system as a weapon
Domestic violence is based on control for the abuser and they often use whatever means they can to intimidate, harass and keep control over their victim. Evidence shows that abusive partners often fight their victim for custody of children because it is a way in which they can still hurt the mother, not because they really want to care for their children. It is not uncommon for abusive fathers to use the children as weapons, threatening the mother with their safety if she decides to get out of the volatile environment.
Many mothers who are victims of domestic violence find little support in the courtroom for a number of reasons:
- Dismissal of domestic violence claims
- Limited funds
- Traumatic stress symptoms often mimic mental illness, making a poor impression
- Many judges may not have a full understanding of domestic violence and its impact on victims.
- Mothers can be accused of exposing children to abuse, losing their custody rights.
- Women are unwilling to share custody out of fear that their abuser will harm them or their children.
The University of Michigan School of Social Work states that women are often in a catch-22 because nearly everything they do to protect themselves and their children can work against them in a custody case. Any attempt to prevent the abuser from accessing them or their children can be seen by the courts as parental alienation or simply being unwilling to cooperate, putting the abuser in a more favorable light. If you are a battered mother seeking to protect your children from an abuser, you should speak with an experienced attorney that handles these sensitive cases in order to make sure your parental rights are protected.