Custody Courts Need to Expand Sources of Information in DV Cases

by Barry Goldstein

A few years ago, the Canadian Institute of Health hired me to help review grant proposals about gender, violence and health. I participated in a meeting in Ottawa with a few dozen researchers and representatives of organizations that use this research. It was an amazing discussion because all of the participants were familiar with the current scientific research about domestic violence. Few of the experts in that room are used by custody courts to provide information about domestic violence and current research and yet the discussions in Ottawa included exactly the information that is missing in dv custody cases. This is the same information the Saunders’ study found the courts to need. Interestingly the experts were paid $200 per day but were far more qualified than the professionals relied on by custody courts who are paid thousands of dollars per day but do not have the knowledge of specific domestic violence topics necessary to make an informed decision. This experience helped me see how custody courts are limiting themselves to a small group of often unqualified professionals and failing to tap current scientific research that could make their consideration of domestic violence cases far more informed.

In one case in which I represented a protective mother, the court pointed out that my client believed the judge, law guardian, evaluators and visitation supervisors were all wrong. To the court, this was unthinkable and demonstrated how unreasonable the mother was. In reality all of these professionals were using outdated and discredited practices and did not have the specific domestic violence training the Saunders’ study found necessary to make an informed decision. It is interesting, however that experts outside the custody court system all understand the practices and results in the custody courts are not working for children. As more research has become available the domestic violence community (which is the only professionals working full time on domestic violence issues), academicians, government agencies and health professionals all understand the fallacies of the standard approaches to domestic violence cases in custody courts. The Saunders’ study specifically found that the training received by evaluators and other court professionals does not provide the needed expertise. Even the criminal courts have an understanding of basic issues missing in the custody court. The research establishes that victims often recant valid allegations for many good reasons. Knowing this, law enforcement and criminal courts often attempt to continue the prosecution after the victim recants. Indeed when they are working most effectively, the defendant may be charged with witness tampering for pressuring his victim to stop cooperating with the prosecutor. In custody courts, however a recantation by a child or mother is not only treated as if it was convincing proof the allegations were false, but usually punishes the mother for seeking to interfere with the father’s relationship with the children. Such actions can only be understood as retaliatory because they are divorced from the best interests of the children. In most of these cases the complaint was made in good faith, but even if it was deliberately false, the harm of separating children from their primary attachment figure is usually more harmful than whatever benefits the court thinks it is providing. Perhaps custody courts should consider its own logic and determine why all these other entities with more familiarity about current scientific research rely on such different practices.

Use of a Limited Group of Professionals for Expertise

The United States has custody courts in 50 states and the District of Columbia (and territories) and thousands of counties. Certainly there are variations about how evaluators and other court professionals are selected. Nevertheless, we frequently hear of communities where the same small group of professionals, particularly evaluators, are the only ones selected. Perhaps the assumption is that conducting so many evaluations gives them a greater level of experience and expertise. This arrangement does not encourage the implementation of new and improved practices based on new research and outcomes of past cases. Instead there seems to be a defensiveness to justify the same standard practices.

One of the concerns about using the same small group or clique of evaluators all the time is that the Saunders’ study and other research suggests that the recommendations and conclusions about the parents often have more to do with the values, beliefs and biases of the evaluator than the parenting abilities of the parties. This is particularly true when the reports are based on clinical impressions rather than scientific research.

The problem is compounded a thousand times over when the evaluators are part of the cottage industry that makes its fortune by supporting abusers. These professionals have figured out that in contested custody cases, abusive fathers usually have the money so supporting approaches that favor abusers is good for the bank account (but not for children). We often see courts appoint evaluators, parenting coordinators and GALs that openly advertise for “fathers’ rights” business and make public their advocacy in support of positions promoted by abuser rights organizations. Nevertheless, these professionals are treated as if they were neutral.

More commonly the mistaken approaches by evaluators are caused by a lack of needed training and a desire to make the recommendations they believe the judge wishes to hear. The limitations on the professionals relied on in a court results in lawyers and judges hearing the same information or misinformation and failing to hear opposing approaches, particularly approaches based upon current scientific research. Unfortunately few judges demand conclusions be supported by current research or discredit evaluators unfamiliar with this needed training,.

Even if a judge has confidence in the evaluators and other mental health professionals regularly relied on, there would be significant benefits in hearing from other experts. This would particularly be true for experts with a substantial practice outside of the courts and ones familiar with current scientific research. The judge and other court professionals might hear new information and approaches that could improve the court’s response to domestic violence cases.

Need for Domestic Violence Expertise

The Saunders’ study found that courts specifically need experts who know how to screen for domestic violence, risk assessment and post-separation violence. It is not surprising that the widespread use of mental health professionals for expertise in domestic violence has worked poorly for children. Initially this was based on a widespread assumption that domestic violence was caused by mental illness, substance abuse and the actions of the victim. Although these assumptions proved to be wrong, courts have continued to rely on mental health professionals in domestic violence cases. Until recently, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers would complete their academic training without any information about domestic violence. Even now such training is very limited. They could obtain the needed information in workshops, trainings and reviewing professional literature, but today most mental health professionals who regularly work on custody cases do not have the necessary training in domestic violence. Indeed one of the most important findings in the Saunders’ report is that the standard and required training received by evaluators does not provide them with the expertise needed to respond to domestic violence cases.

In the Saunders’ study, many of the evaluators claimed to be screening their cases for domestic violence, but few were using tools relevant to the task. Most frequently evaluators were using some form of the MMPI or similar generalized tests that provide no information about domestic violence. This means that no effective screening for domestic violence was performed but the evaluators and in turn the judges believed the alleged abusers were safe. This is the worst of all possible situations because courts would have a false sense of confidence in the determinations. Similarly few evaluators used any tools for risk or lethality assessment.

The Leadership Council is a group of leading mental health, legal and academic professionals familiar with current scientific research about domestic violence and custody. Dr. Joy Silberg is one of the leading psychologists responding to domestic violence and child abuse. Her research for the Leadership Council found that every year custody courts send 58,000 children for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers. I suspect most judges are unfamiliar with this important research or discount it because they cannot imagine courts making such frequent and dangerous mistakes. These errors, however are inevitable when courts rely on evaluators who unable to screen for domestic violence or perform risk assessments.

It is easy to determine if an individual case was screened for domestic violence and safety concerns. The evaluation would include a tool to determine risk such as the Campbell Danger Assessment. The report would contain a discussion of the abuse allegations made by the mother and whether such behaviors, if true would suggest a higher risk of lethality or other danger. In thirty years of practice I have had many cases in which we presented evidence of the father engaging in unwanted sex with the mother, hitting her while she was pregnant, harming pets, strangling her and other behaviors that genuine experts associate with higher risks, but I never heard one evaluator discuss the significance of these behaviors. Similarly, evaluators and judges rarely explicitly discuss the risks of separating children from primary attachment figures or of children witnessing new incidents of abuse with whatever benefits the court believes it is creating by exposing the children to allegedly abusive fathers.

On the other hand, we frequently see discussion by evaluators and other court professionals that demonstrates a lack of training. When evaluators assume that the danger is ended because the parties are separated or he hasn’t assaulted her since he no longer had access, this demonstrates a lack of understanding of post-separation violence. Abusers often use controlling and coercive behaviors against a series of partners because domestic violence is based on his belief system and sense of entitlement. This means that giving custody or unsupervised visitation to the abuser is likely to result in the children witnessing more domestic violence.

Dr. Saunders found that evaluators (and other professionals) who do not have the domestic violence training they need tend to believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations, focus on bogus alienation theories and assume mothers’ attempts to safeguard their children are actually harmful. These issues can be more difficult because although the situations are rare, it could occur in an individual case. Courts should be suspicious of evaluators who focus on these issues. In most cases it will be based on their lack of training rather than the circumstances of the parties. If the evaluator regularly focuses on false allegations by mothers, alienation and protective mothering as a negative, this demonstrates the evaluator is unqualified to handle domestic violence cases. If there are valid reasons to focus on these issues, the evaluator should be able to articulate the evidence that makes this the unusual case in which the mother is making false allegations.

The Saunders’ study also found that inadequately trained professionals placed too much weight on mothers’ anger or emotions. This is all out of proportion to what it says about her parenting. Significantly this plays to gender stereotypes. Over forty states and many judicial districts have court-appointed gender bias committees. They have all found substantial bias against women and particularly women litigants. One of the common examples is blaming women for the actions of their abusers. It is normal and indeed healthy for victims of domestic violence to be angry and emotional at his mistreatment. When court professionals hold this against the mother, even if they do not express it directly, they are blaming mothers for a normal reaction to the fathers’ improper and often illegal behavior. We often see court professionals engage in this kind of gender bias without realizing they are doing so.

Problems with Reliance on Mental Health Professionals

Some courts routinely appoint an evaluator, usually a psychologist whenever they expect a custody case to be contested. I believe it would be better to use more critical thinking in the appointment of mental health professionals to assist courts in domestic violence cases. Many protective mothers and professionals would like to totally eliminate the use of mental health professionals because they rarely understand domestic violence issues, often pathologize safe, protective mothers and are responsible for many of the worst outcomes. I can understand this concern because under present circumstances these mental health professionals are doing far more harm than good. I believe the research would support the use of mental health professionals, but only when there is a legitimate mental health issue, something more than the alleged abuser saying the mother is crazy. If there is no real mental health issue, the appointment of an evaluator adds time and great expense to custody proceedings, but the evaluator has nothing to offer that will improve the decision making process.

With extremely rare exceptions, domestic violence is not caused by mental health problems, but many cases involve issues of domestic violence and mental health. It is important to understand that these are separate issues. An abuser would need to be treated for his mental condition but would also need to change his beliefs regarding control and entitlement. We sometimes see cases in which children are initially protected from an abuser because the evaluator can recognize his emotional problems, but the evaluator is unequipped to respond to his abuse. They often believe that resolving the mental health issues will make him safe and rush to give him unsupervised visitation or even custody despite his continued abuse. Research establishes that a multi-disciplinary approach tends to work better and these cases require cooperation between mental health and domestic violence professionals.

Mothers could also have mental health problems in addition to dealing with his abuse and in many cases the domestic violence is the cause of her emotional problems. In most of these cases the mother has provided most of the child care and has been a good mother. This would mean that the mental health issues are not preventing her from being a good parent. The best response is to stop the father from continuing his abuse and to help the mother heal. In these cases, the children need the mother much more than the father because she is the primary attachment figure, the safe parent and she is in a better position to help the children heal.

The Saunders’ study, the Robin Yeamans’ chapter in Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody and The Batterer as Parent and other research have all found that unqualified mental health professionals often pathologize battered women. This can occur through the use of psychological tests like the MMPI that were not made for the populations seen in family court. It magnifies minor personality differences into something that appears more serious. Mothers are often labeled as paranoid, delusional or histrionic because they continue to believe the father is dangerous after the evaluator or court failed to recognize the validity of her allegations. In most cases this is a result of inadequate training for evaluators and other court professionals. They do not know how to properly screen for domestic violence or recognize behaviors that demonstrate increased risk. The widespread myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse, that Saunders found to be associated with inadequate training, greatly contributes to these frequent errors.

In legitimate mental health diagnoses, the condition would impact all aspects of the patient’s life. We frequently see cases where the mother functions successfully in other parts of her life like school, work, parenting and family relationships, but receives some diagnoses because of her (normal) reaction to the custody court and to her abuser. These diagnoses are generally wrong and might be viewed as “crazy in the family court,” because that is the only place where this “condition” exists.

The Saunders’ study interviewed 24 mothers with cases having negative outcomes for the children. These were the extreme results in which abusers win custody and safe, protective mothers are limited to supervised or no visitation. These cases are virtually always wrong because the harm of separating children from their primary attachment figure is far greater than any benefits the court thought it was providing. In most of these cases, unqualified evaluators had pathologized good mothers by using their standard flawed practices (and biases).

Benefit of Listening to Domestic Violence Experts

The Saunders’ study sought responses from judges, lawyers and evaluators, but the group of professionals with the most knowledge and training about the critical issues directly related to protecting the safety of children were domestic violence advocates. They are the only group that works full time on domestic violence issues. They receive far more training about dv than court professionals and indeed often provide training for other parts of the community.

Saunders found that evaluators and other professionals often lacked the training to screen for domestic violence, perform risk assessment and understand post-separation violence. This is exactly the work that is at the heart of advocates’ responsibilities. Domestic violence agencies and shelters are underfunded in good times and severely so during economic crisis like the present. This means they do not have the resources to provide services to everyone who needs assistance. Accordingly they have to screen alleged victims to make sure they need the services. Therefore, advocates are more experienced and accurate than evaluators in screening for domestic violence.

Probably the most important part of an advocate’s job is safety planning. They understand what behaviors by abusers are associated with higher rates of lethality or other dangers. This information is critical to designing a safety plan for their clients. It is not coincidental that going to a shelter has proven to be the best action in promoting safety. In contrast we regularly see courts giving access to children and forcing battered women to interact with abusers who have engaged in the types of tactics and behavior shown to create the greatest danger.

Advocates understand and research confirms that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves her abuser and particularly when he understands she is not coming back. This is why 75% of men who kill their female intimate partners do so after she has left. Despite this clear research, unqualified court professionals often assume the danger ends when the parties separate and make recommendations and orders that place women and children in danger.

Another common error made by court professionals with inadequate domestic violence training is to focus on each issue and each incident separately instead of looking for the pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors. Judges often complain about the difficulty of making decisions in a “he-said-she-said” case, but their jobs would be far easier if they learned to look for the patterns so they could understand the significance of evidence that is now often ignored.

Domestic violence is not limited to what is often a relatively few incidents of physical assault. Instead the assault is part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviors designed to control the victim and allow the offender to make the major decisions in the relationship. Most domestic violence tactics are neither physical nor illegal. Typically a court is focused on a few incidents of physical abuse that the alleged abuser denies. Domestic violence experts would look to the context of these incidents and history of controlling behaviors. Evidence of psychological, emotional and economic abuse would be part of the pattern. So too would be isolating and monitoring behaviors.

Tactics like checking the victim’s odometer or phone, undermining her relationships with family and friends or controlling her access to money can be important clues to understanding motivation. Evidence that he threatened to separate her from the children or bankrupt her if she left him is critically important, but often overlooked. Why would a father who permitted or even demanded the mother provide most of the child care suddenly claim she is crazy or an unfit mother? Was he encouraging an unfit mother to care for his children? How does her decision to leave him or complain about his abuse make her unfit? Why would he want to harm his children by separating him from their primary attachment figure? These are all questions that experts who understand the importance of context would consider but court professionals rarely do. Similarly, researchers who have looked at large numbers of domestic violence custody cases see a pattern of courts failing to protect children because of outdated and discredited practices. Courts that look at each case separately and become defensive about any criticism deny themselves the valuable information these patterns demonstrate.

With the Saunders’ study and other research establishing that the evaluators and other professionals courts are relying on for advice in domestic violence cases do not have the needed training, it would seem that the obvious way for courts to obtain the needed expertise would be to use domestic violence advocates as witnesses and consultants. In the short-term, until other professionals can obtain the necessary training this would be the only available source of domestic violence expertise. In light of the findings that custody courts are placing 58,000 children in danger every year and that in a recent two year period abusive fathers involved in contested custody cases murdered 175 children, often with the unwitting assistance of the courts, it would seem mandatory for courts to have a great sense of urgency to make sure children are protected.

Despite the overwhelming need for domestic violence expertise, many courts have been reluctant or even hostile to listening to domestic violence experts in domestic violence cases. With the publication of the Saunders’ study, it should be considered malpractice for court professionals to attempt to resolve domestic violence cases without the assistance of domestic violence advocates or other genuine experts.

Why Are Custody Courts Reluctant to Learn from Domestic Violence Experts?

Attorneys representing abusers have been aggressive in seeking to create arguments to discourage the use of experts that would help expose their clients’ manipulations. This has led courts to accept invalid claims without using the kind of critical thinking we would normally expect. The widespread failure of attorneys for protective mothers to challenge false but accepted assumptions has contributed to these harmful practices.

Domestic Violence has not been Proven: Attorneys for abusers and judges often say that they don’t know if it is a domestic violence case because the allegations haven’t been proven. The implication is that they do not need domestic violence expertise unless it is established that the father abused the mother. The obvious problem with this reasoning is that the court needs domestic violence expertise in order to make an informed decision about the validity of abuse allegations.

Unqualified professionals often discredit allegations based on information that is not probative such as the mother returning to her abuser, seeking a protective order but not pursuing it and a lack of police or medical reports. Battered women often act in this manner for safety and other good reasons, so if these common and normal behaviors are treated as if they disprove her allegations, the court will deny a lot of valid complaints. At the same time unqualified professionals often fail to look for the pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors that would confirm the mother’s complaints. As discussed earlier, inadequately trained professionals tend to believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations and these assumptions are often self-fulfilling.

Domestic Violence Experts are Biased because they Always Oppose Domestic Violence: Acceptance of this false assumption is again based on a lack of critical thinking. The law and the practice in every state and every court is also opposed to domestic violence. Domestic violence advocates seek only to develop the best practices and policies to accomplish what the legislatures have required and the courts are supposed to accomplish.

It is useful to imagine how a court and a legislature would respond to a series of arson fires. They would seek the experts who in that case would be the firefighting community. No one would suggest the firefighters are biased because they always oppose arson. We treat the two groups of experts differently because of three important differences. Arson has always been a crime, but domestic violence has only been treated as a crime more recently. Most firefighters are men and most domestic violence advocates are women and in our still sexist society we pay more attention to what men say. Finally there are no arsonist rights groups that courts or legislatures believe must be treated equally with the firefighters.

Many landlords fail to keep their properties safe and subject their tenants to unsafe and unhealthy conditions. We can understand a tenant would be angry at such a landlord, but if the tenant burned down the property, no judge would listen to claims of the landlord’s mistreatment of the tenant as a justification of arson. Custody courts routinely spend substantial and even most of the time listening to the various justifications abusers make to minimize his harmful abuse. In one case a father admitted calling the mother 20-25 times a day including as late as one in the morning when he knew the mother and children were sleeping. The judge refused to provide the mother an order of protection based on his belief the father was angry at the mother because he believed she denied him some of his phone calls with the children. While the law does not make an exception for when an offender is angry (justified or not), the lack of critical thinking is routinely used in failing to enforce laws against domestic violence.

Those who claim the advocates would be biased imply they would support false allegations. In reality protective mothers have been severely harmed by the myth that they frequently make false allegations. The rare times when a mother makes a false allegation undermines the credibility of the rest of the mothers so the last thing an advocate would do would be to support a false allegation.

Court Professionals Have the Needed Expertise: This was never true and the Saunders’ findings explode this myth. Saunders stated very clearly that there is a specialized body of domestic violence research. This was not true when courts first developed practices to respond to domestic violence. As the research became available, courts have continued to look to mental health professionals exclusively for expertise despite their lack of domestic violence training. Custody courts rarely use this research to inform their decisions. Judges, lawyers and mental health professionals have increasingly been required to attend some training about domestic violence. Some of this training is useless or worse and includes misinformation such as alienation theories and high conflict models. There are other trainings presented by genuine experts that include good research that is part of this specialized body of knowledge. In many cases, however the professionals believe they already understand domestic violence or are hostile to new approaches so pay little attention to the information. The amount of time for the trainings is usually inadequate even when it is mandated by law. These problems were confirmed in the Saunders’ study that found the usual and required trainings did not provide evaluators, judges or lawyers with the expertise they need in domestic violence.

How do Custody Courts Obtain Necessary DV Expertise?

It is important to place the problem in perspective in order to create the best response. Most custody cases are settled more or less amicably. Many abusers seek custody in order to gain a better settlement especially on financial issues. Eventually they agree to a settlement because they do not want to hurt the children. The present system allows them to take an unfair amount of the family resources which hurts children but does not take children from their primary attachment figure. The biggest problem is the 3.8% of custody cases that cannot be settled and continue to trial and often beyond. Court professionals are taught that these are high conflict cases, but a large majority, probably around 90% are domestic violence cases involving the most dangerous abusers. These are the cases that desperately need domestic violence expertise in order to properly protect children. I say they are the most dangerous abusers because they tend to believe she has no right to leave and often seek custody in order to regain control over her.

This is one reason why it is so important for court professionals to be familiar with the research in post-separation violence. Not only do we often hear unqualified professionals make statements to the effect that the danger is reduced by the end of the relationship, but other professionals rarely challenge this misinformation. In reality, abusers who believe she has no right to leave usually engage in one or more of the following tactics. They kill their partners which is why 75% of men who kill their female partners do so after she leaves. They kill the children which is why we found stories of 175 children murdered by abusive fathers involved in contested custody in a two year period. In many of these cases the courts facilitated the fathers’ access because they did not have the training to recognize the danger. More commonly the abusers seek to maintain control and punish their victims by seeking custody. In many cases they have threatened the mother that they will take the children from her and bankrupt her if she dares to leave. This is important evidence that demonstrates his motivation but inadequately trained professionals rarely understand the significance of this evidence. Courts rarely consider why a father who had limited involvement in child care suddenly demands custody or why he would risk the harm of separating children from their primary attachment figure.

The problems with the custody court response to domestic violence cases constitute an emergency and should be treated with the urgency the safety of children deserves. This week and every week thereafter the failure to use the specialized body of research will ruin the lives of over a thousand children and two of them will be murdered by abusive fathers. Ultimately the court professionals will need to be trained and really retrained because they need to unlearn a lot of misinformation that is now common in custody courts. New practices will have to be developed that better protect children’s safety and experts testifying in domestic violence cases will need the kinds of specific expertise outlined in the Saunders’ study. This could take months and more likely years to fully implement, but we should not allow children to be jeopardized as the courts wait to implement the needed reforms.

In seeking professional assistance for domestic violence cases courts should look for the relatively few mental health professionals like Mo Therese Hannah and Joy Silberg who have training in psychology AND expertise in domestic violence. In cases in which there is no genuine mental health issue there is no benefit to relying on a mental health professional. What the court needs are experts familiar with the specific topics referred to by Dr. Saunders such as risk assessment, screening for domestic violence, post-separation violence, effects of dv on children and domestic violence dynamics. In most communities the best and often only source of this expertise would be domestic violence advocates.

Fortunately, we have a model for how this would work. In many communities, they have adopted practices based on the Greenbook Initiative in which child protective agencies partner with domestic violence agencies. They cross-train staff and when a potential domestic violence case is reported, the caseworker consults with a domestic violence advocate. This practice has proven successful because it helps caseworkers to recognize domestic violence and develop plans that benefit children.

Custody courts can use similar best practices by seeking the assistance of a domestic violence advocate when there are allegations of domestic violence. At the very least court professionals should be required to consult with these dv experts. This would permit courts to immediately have access to the needed information so they can better recognize valid complaints and understand which abusers pose the greatest risk. The last thing a court should ever do is to refuse to hear testimony from a domestic violence expert. As uncomfortable as it may be, the courts also need to be aware that many of their prior decisions made with outdated and discredited practices have placed children at risk and they will need to be open to modifying orders that are working poorly for children.

Expanding Sources of Information

The three leading sources of domestic violence research are the Saunders’ study, Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody and The Batterer as Parent. The Saunders’ study repeatedly cited the other two leading works and found the training the evaluators, judges and lawyers receive has not provided them with an adequate understanding of domestic violence. This leads to frequent mistakes in which the courts fail to protect children.

How is it that the custody courts rarely look to the specialized body of domestic violence research to inform its decisions or seek advice and information from domestic violence experts? I believe the widespread practice of relying almost exclusively on a small group of mental health professionals discourages the courts from accessing a wider body of knowledge that most other parts of society seek when responding to domestic violence issues.

Although most evaluators and other mental health professionals regularly practicing in family courts do not have the needed domestic violence expertise, their findings and recommendations are rarely closely scrutinized and they are not discredited for failing to be familiar with current scientific research. These unqualified evaluators often focus on less important issues because they do not know how to screen for domestic violence or assess risk. Lawyers and judges are influenced by the misinformation routinely provided by mental health professionals. Saunders and other leading researchers regularly find serious errors by evaluators in cases that result in custody for abusers.

Judge Sol Gothard, who often trains other judges about domestic violence and sexual abuse wrote that if the courts commissioned a study to determine how their current practices are working for children they would receive the information found in Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody. Unfortunately, custody courts have reacted extremely defensively towards criticism of their practices and have not been open to testing the effectiveness of these practices. Even when they create committees to study the situation, such as the Matrimonial Commission in New York, it is filled with judges and lawyers with a bias towards supporting the status quo. In most cases domestic violence experts need not apply. Similarly if we ask evaluators how their recommendations have worked out for children or eventhe practices they use, they would not have an answer because there is no such research. Stare decisis is often used to assume the decisions were correct and to discourage considerations of subsequent events that demonstrate the court made a mistake.

There is a reason that academicians, government agencies, domestic violence organizations and even criminal courts recognize that so many of the standard practices used in custody courts are ineffective or worse. These other segments of society are open to new information and research. In fairness, the custody courts are influenced by professionals who are part of the cottage industry that makes a good living supporting abusers.

How can it possibly be wrong for custody courts to take a close look at the research that is now available and that the Saunders’ study found court professionals need in order to make informed decisions in domestic violence cases? This research is incompatible with the present practices that have placed so many children in jeopardy.

Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Barry can be reached by email from their web site