Law Reform

Bridging the Justice Gap for Survivors 

There is a misconception that the legal system is set up to protect domestic violence survivors, particularly in situations where an abused woman seeks divorce and custody of the children. However, this is a myth. All too frequently, survivors are denied the ability to protect themselves and their children when abusive fathers falsely claim to be victims of "mutual abuse" or "parental alienation." Another common tactic by abusers is using the court process to force their former partners to undergo psychological testing, custody evaluations, depositions and repeated court hearings, thereby dragging out the legal process for years. This strategy, which is a sign of coercive control, works against survivors who are unable to keep up with excessive legal fees and mental stress associated with prolonged litigation. Indeed, survivors frequently experience fear, anxiety, re-traumatization and financial ruin in connection with the legal case. 


To highlight the need for law reform, it is important to recognize that high conflict cases are twice as likely to involve abusers than non-abusers. (See "Batterers' Relentless Pursuit of Their Victims Through the Courts.") The majority of high conflict custody disputes are really domestic violence cases in disguise, though this dynamic is largely unrecognized by judges, lawyers, custody evaluators, mediators and legislators. Numerous studies show that courts award sole or joint custody to abusive fathers in 70 percent of all custody cases. Id. This makes family court the final and unavoidable battleground between survivors and their abusers. 


High rates of domestic violence also exist in families involved in custody evaluations. Aside from being expensive, intrusive and time-consuming, custody evaluations often result in custody of the children being awarded to the violent parent- an extremely harmful outcome. (See "Child Custody Evaluators' Beliefs About Domestic Violence.") Unfortunately, this problem exists because poorly trained custody evaluators and judges rely on the abuser's public demeanor, such as his articulateness, charm and good manners, as an indication of his lack of abusiveness. Yet this view is highly misguided and inaccurate because not all abusers fit the stereotype of being angry, disrespectful and out-of-control in their conduct with court professionals. It also says nothing about how the abuser behaves in private when no one else is watching. Thus, additional training and education is needed to address this problem.


Below is a short video and noteworthy studies by legal professionals detailing some of the problems that exist in family court. We invite you to join the fight for justice by educating yourself about the issues and getting involved. The time to bridge the justice gap is now!

VIDEO: The Problem of Gender Bias in Family Courts

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Learn More About Gender Bias in Family Courts

NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE

SEATTLE JOURNAL FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

INSTITUTE  OF JUSTICE

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

FAMILY LAW SECTION COUNCIL

INSTITUTE  OF JUSTICE

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www.soarforjustice.org