In his article “Can Family Courts Protect Children Exposed to Domestic Violence?” psychologist David Adams says that family courts often fail to protect children from domestic violence. When that happens, family courts are contributing to harm done to children who are placed in the care and/or custody of abusive or dangerous parents.
This is a summary article only, please read the full article for more information: Can Family Courts Protect Children Exposed to Domestic Violence? (published by: HuffPost Divorce, Feb. 11, 2016)
Adams says children who are victims to abuse and/or exposed to abuse suffer not only physical and mental injury, but also “Children caught in these situations are more likely than other children to suffer a host of emotional problems like anger, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. They are more likely to perform poorly and to drop out of school. Children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs, engage in juvenile crime, become pregnant, make someone pregnant and engage in teen dating violence. They are also more likely to grow up to become abusers. (i.e. abuse is a learned behavior).” For children who have victims of domestic violence, their recovery and future outcomes are significantly shaped by intervention, and efforts to keep them safe from further harm.
Why then, are family courts failing to protect victims of domestic violence and their children?
Adams says that family courts fail to recognize domestic abuse when it happens, and also fail to recognize the danger an abusive parents presents to a child (and by extension, a former victim who is now forced to co-parent with an abuser). Reports of domestic violence are often mishandled by family court judges, GALs and professionals; meaning reports are minimized, rejected/not believed or dismissed as being the product of one parent’s (the victim of abuse) mental illness. Evaluators (and GALs) who are not properly trained in domestic violence often mistake a victim’s trauma and justifiable response to the abuse that has happened as being a mental illness (Adams), “Rather than seeing that a mother’s depression or anxiety might be the result of domestic violence, uninformed evaluators view it as a sign of mental illness that disqualifies her as a custodial parent.” As a result, victims of domestic violence and their children are re-victimized by the court system, and placed into dangerous situations where they are often further abused or put at risk of harm.
Adams says that criminal courts have improved their training on domestic violence in order to better identify abuse, and protect victims, and family courts should do the same.
Some additional solutions may include the following:
*The family court system to specialize in family law and family issues. Judges should be required to have experience, knowledge, and training in family law before they take the bench (in my case my family court judge has a business law background, and never handled a family law case before becoming a family court judge).
*Mandated and regular training for judges, GALs and family court professionals, with required subject areas such as domestic violence, child development, ethics, etc.
*Increased oversight and transparency for family law professionals, both public and private.
*Increased access to legal assistance and law clinics and victim advocacy service for litigants, offer incentives for professionals and community organizations to offer services or programs.
*Improvements specific to the Guardian as Litem program can be read at this link of reforms suggested by C2A: Proposed Reform Guardian ad Litem Program
What reforms or changes do you think are needed in family court? Please post your thoughts and comments below!
About the Author: David Adams, psychologist. Adams is the co-director of Emerge, the first abuser education program in the U.S. The Emerge program believes that domestic violence is a learned behavior that can be corrected with raised awareness of domestic violence issues and prevention, and improved community support and institutional (including family court) responses.
Additional Sources: Emerge (Massachusetts) Counseling and Education to Stop DV