NOMAS Child Custody Task Group
The crisis in the custody court system in its response to domestic violence and child abuse has long been a high priority for NOMAS. The worst abusive fathers, male supremacist groups and the cottage industry that makes large incomes supporting abusers have been successful in manipulating the courts. The harm goes far beyond ruined lives in individual cases. Abusers using custody courts to regain control over their victims believe she has no right to leave. The flawed and outdated practices in the family courts have made it far more difficult for DV victims to leave. The progress previously made in reducing DV crimes and especially murders has been stopped and in some places reversed because Family Courts allow themselves to be used by abusers to prevent victims from escaping.
Male supremacist groups like to claim the dispute in custody courts is between mothers and fathers. In reality, the dispute is between the vast majority of men and woman who want courts to protect children vs the most extreme abusers who are willing to hurt children in order to maintain power and control over their partners.
NOMAS stands with protective mothers and seeks to help reform the broken system by participating in signing amicus briefs in individual cases; supporting letters and petitions seeking needed reforms; co-sponsoring and supporting the Battered Mothers Custody Conference every year; supporting needed reforms like the Safe Child Act and seeking to educate the public.
The broken court system has allowed a discredited alienation theory, twice rejected by the American Psychiatric Association and based on the belief that sex between adults and children can be acceptable, to have more influence on the courts than peer-reviewed scientific research from the CDC and National Institute of Justice. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges seeks to teach courts about ACE (adverse childhood experiences) Research and the Saunders Study, but most courts continue to make life-altering mistakes without the benefit of the most important research.
The ACE Studies found that children exposed to DV and child abuse will live shorter lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems. The Saunders Study found most court professionals, including evaluators, do not have the specific DV knowledge they need. This leads directly to recommendations and decisions that harm children. Without ACE, courts routinely minimize the harm from abuse and without Saunders the courts rely on the wrong professionals and routinely disbelieve true reports of abuse.
Many standard court practices for DV custody cases have been proven wrong by ACE and Saunders. Let’s consider just one example. The two states closest to passing the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive reform plan based on current scientific evidence are Pennsylvania and New York. In Pennsylvania the proposal is called Kayden’s Law and in New York, it is called Kyra’s Law. In both cases, the judges said that just because the father hurt the mother doesn’t mean he would hurt the child. In fact, fathers who hurt a child’s mother are 40-60% more likely to hurt the child, and there is an awful pattern of this result in DV custody cases. The judges assumed the fathers were safe based on their ignorant belief. In each case, the father used the access provided by the judge to kill the girl. And in each case, the court system rushed to justify the judges’ actions instead of learning from their mistakes.
Every year, 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers. Between 2008 and 2022, over 800 of these children were murdered, mostly by abusive fathers. The Bartlow Study followed-up on these murders and asked judges and court administrators what they have done to reform practices in response to the local tragedy. The shocking answer was nothing because they all believed the local murder was an exception. ACE tells us that other children will initially survive, and then die from drug overdoses, suicide, cancer, heart disease and other consequences of the fear and stress abusers cause. Contested custody cases are often the last chance to save these children from the awful consequences. Most courts treat contested custody as “high conflict” cases. This creates a false equivalency between victims and abusers and often results in punishing victims for trying to protect the children.
These horrific and preventable tragedies are almost too much to bear. The term “Gold
Star mothers,” those whose adult sons or daughters were killed in foreign wars could as well apply to mothers of young children killed by abusive men in their domestic war against US women. We are inspired by these mothers’ courage, their choice to accept the pain, and sometimes attacks from male supremacist groups to seek reforms so that no other child will suffer their child’s fate. On this page, we will continue to provide articles with current scientific research to help understand the failures in the custody courts. We will alert our readers to news and most of all to the reforms so badly needed. We hope this knowledge will lead to the activism needed to save protective mothers and their children.