The keynote speaker had a question for the 200 or so women in the room during the Battered Women, Abused Children and Child Custody conference: “How many of you have been thrown in jail during your custody battle?”
Approximately 15 women raised their hands.
These women had been thrown in jail by the courts—technically on charges such as contempt of court or failure to pay child support. In reality, the women were jailed for trying to protect their children from abusive fathers. At least one woman was a fugitive, unable to return to her home state.
No one in the audience was surprised—except, perhaps, me.
Dr. Liane Leedom and I attended the conference, which was held this past weekend in Albany, New York. It brought together mental health professionals, lawyers, advocates, and victims of domestic violence. It was a sobering experience.
The victims at the conference represented the worst-case scenarios of pathological relationships: The women had been battered by their partners, and then battered by the court system. Most of them had lost custody of their children to the abusive fathers.
How did this happen? The fathers usually had the money to hire aggressive lawyers; the women did not. The abusers lied in court, coolly and calmly, while the women barely held their emotions together. When the women tried to keep the children from abusive fathers, the fathers claimed parental alienation.
The abuser tactics were straight out of the sociopath playbook. And as the tactics were discussed, all the women in the room nodded their heads. They’d experienced them all.
Dr. Liane Leedom says 50 percent of batterers are sociopaths, and the rest have sociopathic tendencies. I can say that the stories of violence and manipulation I heard at the conference were identical to the stories Lovefraud readers tell in e-mails and on this blog.
Still, there seemed to be little discussion about the relationship between sociopathy and abuse. And there was practically no discussion of abusive mothers.
Broken family courts
Many victims, when they gathered the courage to leave, believed the courts would recognize the truth and protect them and their children from the abusers. They were wrong.
I spoke to a woman from Virginia. She explained that in Virginia, custody battles are in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and divorces are in Circuit Court. She first went to the juvenile court to keep her child from her abusive husband. The psychological evaluation of her husband stated that he had antisocial personality disorder, the condition was deep-seated and the man could not be rehabilitated. The report recommended that he not have custody at all. The juvenile court judge agreed. The mother got full custody.
Then she went for her divorce. The circuit court judged changed the custody arrangement to 50-50. The father had not filed a motion, and there were no court arguments. The judge simply checked the 50-50 custody box on a standard court ruling form, and now the abusive father has child half of the time.
Many speakers at the conference proclaimed that the American family courts are broken. I think they’re right.
Domestic violence websites
We’ll talk more about the domestic violence and child custody issues in future blog posts. In the meantime, many of the conference presenters and attendees have websites related to domestic violence, child abuse, and the dysfunctional family courts. Here are some of them:
Stop Family Violence
A leading national organization working to bring survivor voices—and the voices of their allies—to bear on the social and political agendas affecting their lives.
Justice for Children
Dedicated to raising the consciousness of our society about the failure of our governmental agencies to protect victims of child abuse, and to provide legal advocacy for abused children.
New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Not-for-profit membership organization works to eradicate domestic violence and to ensure the provision of effective and appropriate services to victims of domestic violence.
Kourts for Kids
An organization of volunteers across America who are working together to protect abused children caught up in the family courts.
Hague Domestic Violence project
This study aims to better understand the experiences of women who have come into the United States with their children after leaving an abusive relationship and who then become involved in a legal dispute under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction.
Illinois Coalition for Family Court Reform
The organization has gathered more than 225 victim impact statements of family court cases that have gone wrong in Illinois.
Defend the Children
Website lists cases from every state in the United States in which child custody was awarded to an abuser and then the child, or children, were killed.
Experts in identifying court and legal corruption in family court litigation. Special emphasis on child sex abuse and porn cover-ups.
The definitive source of substantive news—unavailable anywhere else—covering issues of particular concern to women and providing women’s perspectives on public policy.
Battered Women’s Justice Project
Promotes systemic change within community organizations and governmental agencies engaged in the civil and criminal justice response to domestic violence.
Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Committed to empowering victims and eliminating violence by providing education and prevention information, supporting member programs and expanding quality services to all persons affected by sexual and domestic violence and stalking.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Hotline advocates are available for victims and anyone calling on their behalf to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies.