Do Alabama courts discriminate against battered mothers?

When a marriage or relationship falls apart in Jefferson County there are often many reasons for it. In some cases, the reason is domestic violence and this can have a drastic effect on the children in the relationship. It can also have a large impact on the outcome of a child custody dispute, especially if it is the mother who is the victim of violence.

The Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center reports that there over 20,000 domestic violence offenses that occurred in 2012. Girlfriends and wives were the leading victims at 27 percent and 18 percent. It is unknown how many of these cases involved children.

Conference centers on battered mothers

Earlier this year, domestic violence victims, advocates and experts met at George Washington University to attend a conference on battered mothers and the courts. According to The Washington Post, the conference, which has been held for 10 years, seeks to discuss the court system and the disadvantage that battered mothers face.

Part of the problem seems to be the attention that courts are placing on joint custody and part is attributed to the attitudes held by many child custody professionals towards mothers who claim they are victims of domestic violence. Many of these victims often lose custody of their children to their abusers, which can put the children in danger.

Child custody evaluator report

A report presented to the National Institute of Justice in 2011 focused on the beliefs of child custody evaluators when it came to allegations of domestic violence. The report was based on a study conducted involving judges, domestic abuse survivors, attorneys, domestic violence program workers and child custody evaluators themselves. The findings of the study include:

  • Many of the people who participated in the survey were not educated on post-separation violence.
  • In cases where domestic violence was obvious, 40 percent of evaluators said they recommend joint legal custody with physical custody given to the victim in half to all of their cases.
  • Evaluators who had personal experience with domestic violence were more likely to believe the victim's allegations.
  • Domestic violence education influenced an evaluator's beliefs concerning allegations of abuse.

The study showed that battered mothers often found themselves having to deal with their abusers on a regular basis because the abusers were granted visitation and joint custody of the children.

Using the court system as an abusive weapon

The Advocates for Human Rights point out that for many abusive parents, especially fathers, the court system becomes another weapon they can use against their victims. Abusive fathers tend to be more aggressive in pursuing custody of the children and often take advantage of the child custody case to further their harassment of the mother. The abuser may argue that the victim is trying to alienate the children against him, an issue that courts are now taking seriously.

It is important for abused mothers to seek out the help of an experienced attorney. An attorney can help them protect their rights and the safety of their children.

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