PLEASE NOTE: This blog is a bigotry free zone open to all persons, regardless of age, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, political affiliations, marital status, physical or mental disability, age, or sexual orientation. Further, this blog is open to the broad variety of opinions out there and will not delete any comments based upon point of view. However, comments will be deleted if they are worded in an abusive manner and show disrespect for the intellectual process.
Showing posts with label BARRY GOLDSTEIN. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BARRY GOLDSTEIN. Show all posts

Sunday, July 10, 2016


"The obvious answer is Tony Moreno, the father who manipulated the court to give him the access he needed to kill his son. Aaden’s mother recently filed a claim against the State of Connecticut for its failures that led to her son’s murder. When speaking about such an overwhelming human tragedy, we tend not to think about the financial price, but cost is important when considering public policy..."


Thursday, May 19, 2016


In an article on "The Huffington Post" Phyllis Chesler explains as follows:

Battered senseless, choked into unconsciousness over and over again, bones broken repeatedly, American mother, Holly Collins, received no justice, no protection, in Minnesota. She lost custody of the two children she was trying so hard to protect from their father’s rages and beatings. When Collins believed that her children might not survive another week — or another day — she fled and received political asylum in Holland. A powerful documentary exists about her case.

Collins was the first and only such American mother to do so. 

Other “protective” mothers, like Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, arranged for her parents to flee with her daughter to New Zealand, which had no jurisdictional reciprocity with the United States. Dr. Morgan sat in jail in Washington, D.C. for more than a year because she refused to disclose her daughter’s whereabouts. I personally talked to her daughter’s therapists who assured me that, in their view, her daughter was being sexually abused by her father.


Monday, February 1, 2016


Family Courts Exposed

By Barry Goldstein

I have long believed that whoever exposed the custody court scandal would be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Today, Boston Globe reporters Nestor Ramos and Evan Allen produced a well documented story showing the pattern of ignorance, bias and harmful practices by the custody courts and child protective agencies in their response to child sexual abuse and domestic violence. The custody courts should never be the same and considering the enormous harm they have caused the needed reforms must take place immediately.

The reporters focused on the story of a now eight-year-old girl who suffered five years of sexual abuse and systemic failure despite her repeated reports about her father’s abuse. The reporters interviewed national experts to demonstrate that the mistakes made in this case are part of a larger pattern of custody courts and child protective agencies mishandling child custody cases involving abuse. Especially revealing was their comparison of the flawed practices used by court professionals and child protective caseworkers with the best practices described in the Saunders’ Study from the US Department of Justice.

The failure to believe the child’s reports of her father’s betrayal were based not on the circumstances in the case but the mistaken assumption by the professionals that false reports are common. One of the most important findings in the Saunders’ Study is that court professionals without the needed training and expertise tend to focus on the myth that mothers and children frequently make false reports. This is an important factor that results in the alleged offender winning custody in 85% of child sexual abuse cases. Near the end of the article, the child is quoted as saying, ” I think my mom believes me.” Her mother did believe her, but the authorities who could have saved her from further torture failed to believe her. They work in a system that routinely errs on the side of risking children. Needless to say the failures of the custody court and child protective agency have left the child severely traumatized.

Why Is This Article So Important?

Professor Garland Waller wrote a prophetic chapter in the first volume of Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody that I co-edited with Dr. Mo Therese Hannah. The chapter explained the various factors including fear of lawsuits, lack of resources and difficulty in putting these kind of stories together that discouraged the media from exposing the scandal. Garland discussed the “Tipping Point” and predicted when enough people became aware of the scandal it could no longer be hidden and would have to be corrected. This story will either take us to the tipping point or bring us very close.

The Boston Globe reporters produced a powerful story. I believe it will encourage other journalists to cover an important topic they had previously avoided. The story should also encourage court and child protective administrators to consider needed reforms. They have been very defensive and routinely blame victims, but they will want to avoid further stories that would make them look bad and harm their careers. Legislators will want to show they are doing something to protect children. This should come in the form of more resources to improve the system and reforms that I hope will include the Safe Child Act.

Dr. Dianne Bartlow wrote an important chapter in the second volume of Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody concerning the 175 children murdered in a two-year period by fathers involved in contested custody. She interviewed many of the best judges who have the most training and expertise about domestic violence. One of the points they made is that courts need to err on the side of safety which is the opposite of what the reporters found. The Safe Child Act specifically requires courts to make the health and safety of children the first priority. It requires an evidence based approach by integrating important scientific research into court practices. The legislation promotes a more multi-disciplinary approach as supported by the Saunders’ Study. And our proposal requires a trauma-informed response based on the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research that found exposure to domestic violence and child abuse is far more harmful than previously understood.

Moving Forward

The only thing worse than the torture the court made the little girl suffer and the murders of the 175 children and the millions of children who have been forced to live with abusers is if society fails to learn from these tragedies. What frustrates me more than anything is that we now have the knowledge and practices that could save most of these children. The judge who made so many decisions to place the child in jeopardy surely did not want to hurt the girl. But the professionals in the broken system cannot prevent these frequent tragedies using the outdated and discredited practices that were developed in the 1970s. They are afraid of bad publicity which is why they use gag orders and retaliation in an attempt to silence anyone who would criticize their mistakes. The professionals who failed this child would like the story to go away, but our job is to make sure this girl is remembered. It is painful and traumatic to think about all these horrific stories, but we must remember our pain is nothing compared to what this little girl and so many other children are forced to suffer every day until we make it stop.

Friday, January 22, 2016



"This summer, following the tragic murder of Aaden Moreno -- the baby who was thrown off a Middletown bridge by his abusive father -- the Connecticut legislature appointed the Task Force on the Statewide Response to Minors Exposed to Domestic Violence (DV).

The numbers are staggering as almost 5,000 Connecticut families and their children had been affected by Domestic Violence in 2012-2014. Chaired by Karen Jarmoc, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Gary Lapidus, Yale Pediatrician, the task force includes respected DV advocates, medical professionals and state legislators dedicated to finding solutions for children exposed to DV

I was pleased the draft report repeatedly focused on the need for evidence-based, multi-disciplinary and trauma-informed approaches. The widespread failure to use these best practices in custody cases leads to decisions that fail to protect children from harmful abusers. I wish the task force had better explained what the improved practices would look like and how to implement needed reforms..."


Monday, January 11, 2016


Making Health and Safety of Children First Priority

My name is Barry Goldstein and I have worked in the DV movement since 1983 as a board member, lawyer, writer, batterer program instructor and supervisor, speaker, advocate, expert witness and Research Director for the Stop Abuse Campaign.  I have written some of the leading books about DV and custody that are based on current scientific research.  I appreciate the work the task force is doing and especially like your repeated mention of important terms like multi-disciplinary approach, evidence based and trauma informed.  A full integration of these important concepts would dramatically improve the lives of Connecticut's children.  At the same time multi-disciplinary cannot mean limiting input to professionals with expertise in law and mental health; evidence based is not reality when critical current research like ACE and Saunders have not been integrated into standard custody court practices and trauma-informed must mean that the focus is on protecting children from adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and helping them heal when they have been exposed to ACEs.  Trauma-informed also means that society responds to the tragedies like the murder of Aaden Moreno by creating reforms that can prevent such tragedies.
The courts in Connecticut developed responses to domestic violence that were not evidence based for a very good reason-there was no research at the time.  They developed responses based on popular assumptions that DV was caused by mental illness or substance abuse.  This led courts to turn to mental health professionals as if they were the experts in DV.  They developed practices based on the assumption that only physical abuse was harmful and the risk ended when the relationship was over.  All of these assumptions proved wrong, but the practices based on these 1970s assumptions continue to undermine the courts' ability to protect children.
Critical Current Scientific Research
There is a lot of valuable research that can improve our response to DV, but I want to focus on ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the Saunders' Study.  

ACE comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and its findings have been confirmed and expanded in five later studies.  Saunders comes from the National Institute of Justice (US Justice Department) so I am speaking about research with very strong credibility.
The ACE Research found that children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse will live shorter lives and suffer more illness and injuries throughout their lives.  Aside from the immediate risk of bodily harm, there is nothing that goes more to the essence of the best interests of children.  Significantly physical assault is not needed to create these catastrophic consequences. The essence of DV is that abusers use a variety of tactics to coerce and intimidate their partners to do what the abuser wants.  This inevitably creates fear in the direct victim and the children.  The children are afraid for themselves and for their mother.  Living with this fear causes the worst type of stress because they have no control over when the abuser engages in these scary tactics. Courts that tend to focus on physical abuse and individual incidents are only looking at what acts a parent committed.  In doing so they miss the pattern and most important for the well-being of children they fail to focus on who is afraid.  A victim might lash out at the abuser in frustration or self-defense and the abuser may embellish or make up assault claims so that courts mistakenly treat his abuse as if it were mutual.  In the Ray Rice case both parties were initially arrested.  Only one parent is afraid and the children are afraid for that parent.  And usually the victim is the primary attachment figure that the children most rely on to meet their needs.
Just as the Surgeon General's report linking cancer and smoking demonstrated the enormous health consequences for our tolerance of smoking, the ACE Research demonstrates the enormous consequences of tolerating and minimizing DV and child abuse.  Our present level of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, substance abuse, crime, school drop-out, suicide and other health and social problems is based on our long tolerance of these ACEs.  When custody courts fail to recognize or minimize abuse issues and focus on less important issues they are maintaining the present level of illness and social problems with unspeakable human consequences.  The courts in Connecticut are not using trauma-informed practices and we know this because ACE has not yet become central to the discussion of DV and child abuse issues.
The Saunders' study looked at the knowledge of evaluators, judges and lawyers regarding DV.  They found that DV advocates have far more of the specific knowledge courts need to respond to DV cases than evaluators, judges or lawyers.  This is one of the reasons a multi-disciplinary approach is so important and must include genuine DV experts when there are reports or information about possible DV.  It is useful for other court professionals to receive training regarding DV but that does not provide them with the level of expertise needed to respond effectively to potential DV cases. One of the problems we have seen is that DV training means different things to different professionals.  The Saunders' study found that the courts need knowledge in four very specific areas that include screening for DV, risk assessment, post-separation violence and the impact of DV on children.
We have seen many professionals discredit true reports of abuse based on information that is not probative such as a victim returning to her abuser, failing to follow through on a petition for a protective order and the lack of police or medical records.  All of these are common responses from victims for safety and other good reasons.  At the same time many court professionals fail to look for the pattern of coercive and controlling tactics.  

Professionals without knowledge of post-separation violence tend to assume the danger ends when the parties separate or after a few years without further physical abuse.  These mistaken assumptions routinely lead courts to disbelieve or minimize true abuse reports.  This is especially problematical for judges because they may be unaware the professionals they are relying on based their recommendations on information that is not probative.
The Saunders' study found that evaluators, judges and lawyers who do not have the specific knowledge and training tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports, unscientific alienation theories and the assumptions that mother's attempts to protect their children actually harm the children. These mistaken beliefs lead to recommendations that harm children.
The Saunders' study also has an important section about the extreme cases in which a court disbelieves mothers' reports of abuse and then limits mothers who are the primary attachment figures and always took good care of the children to supervised or no visitation.  Dr. Saunders' refers to these as "harmful outcome" cases.  These decisions are always wrong because the harm of denying a child a normal relationship with their primary attachment figure, a harm that includes increased risk of depression, low self-esteem and suicide when older is greater than any benefit the court thought it was providing.  The Saunders' study found these extreme outcomes are caused by the use of very flawed practices so that often the opposite result would have benefited the children.
Research on Child Murders: 
Erring on the Side of Risk

The tragic, but preventable murder of Aaden Moreno illustrates the need to look at research about child murders.  In a recent two-year period we found news stories about 175 children murdered by fathers in contested custody cases.  Dr. Dianne Bartlow interviewed judges and court administrators in the communities where these tragedies were committed.  The judges who participated tended to be those with the best training and most interest in DV which is why they took the time to be interviewed.  
Dr. Bartlow asked the question that should be the focus of court officials in response to these murders.  What reforms did the courts in these communities implement in response to the tragedies?  The surprising answer was nothing because they all assumed the tragedy in their community was an exception.One of the systemic problems with custody courts is that they tend to look at each case and each issue separately and thus miss thepatterns that can help officials recognize problems.
Unfortunately the response to Aaden Moreno was similar. Instead of focusing on what reforms could be implemented to better protect children, the court system sought to justify the actions of Judge Barry Pinkus.  I have no doubt that Judge Pinkus was sincerely horrified at the outcome and was simply following common practices, but the murder could have been prevented. The defensive response claimed the evidence did not support the requirement for a continuous threat of physical pain or injury.  This mistaken assumption is based on the lack of an evidence based approach and failure to use a multi-disciplinary response.  If Judge Pinkus had received necessary training from DV advocates or could have consulted with an advocate, he would have learned that abusers often use physical violence only once or a few times, but that is enough to make the victim aware of what he is capable of.  The other non-physical tactics serve as a reminder of the continuous risk of physical pain or injury.
One of the tragedies considered in the Bartlow research was a case involving Katie Tagle.  Ms. Tagle sought a protective order based on threats by the father to kill Baby Wyatt.  Judge Lemkau repeatedly said he believed the mother was lying and gave the father the access he needed to kill Wyatt.  Judge Lemkau apologized to the mother, expressed how sorry he was about the murder but said there was nothing he could have done based on the circumstances.  In a sense, he and Judge Pinkus are correct, as long as we continue the outdated and discredited practices that are commonly used in custody courts, we cannot protect the children.  
One of the points some of the good judges who participated in the Bartlow research made was the importance of erring on the side of safety.  I recently wrote a series of articles about this concept, because so many of the standard practices tend to err on the side of risk.  Most custody cases are settled more or less amicably. Even cases involving abusive fathers often settle because the fathers still love their children and are not willing to hurt them by denying them a relationship with the mother.  These cases are often settled with the abuser gaining an unfair financial settlement in return for the children living with their primary attachment figure.  The problem is the 3.8% of cases that go to trial and often far beyond.  Court professionals are taught to treat these as "high conflict" cases by which they mean the parents are angry with each other and act out in ways that hurt the children.
High Conflict Custody Case = Domestic Violence
An evidence-based approach would recognize that between 75-90% of contested custody are really DV cases involving the worst abusers-abusers who believe she has no right to leave, so they are entitled to use any tactics necessary to regain what they believe is their right to control her.  "Fathers' Rights" groups which are really controlled by the worst abusers encourage members to seek custody as a way to regain control and punish victims for leaving. A cottage industry of psychologists and lawyers has developed to help abusive fathers win custody.  We are dealing with DV cases and economic abuse is an important part of DV.  The cottage industry understands that abusers control the family resources so the best way to make large incomes is to support practices that help abusers.  

Parental Alienation Theory = Domestic Violence
The unscientific alienation theories referenced by the Saunders' study were concocted to give the cottage industry a way to support its clients.  It is based on the myth that most abuse reports are false and the remedy is to create "harmful outcome" cases- again, referenced by the Saunders' research.  Too often courts use these biased professionals as if they were neutral, and their misinformation poisons other cases.  Treating these bogus professionals as if they were credible contributes to widespread concerns about corruption.
The mistaken "high conflict" analysis contributes to approaches that err on the side of risking children.  Instead of pressuring abusers to change their behavior if they want a relationship with the children, courts routinely pressure victims and their children to accommodate the abuser.  When victims object to interacting with their abuser, they are treated as uncooperative and often punished.  In reality punishing the victims is also punishing the children.
I appreciate that court officials are proud of the difficult work they do and want to believe they are doing a good job.  It is normal to be defensive in response to criticism, but one of the first things I learned in the batterer program I teach in is that defensive responses always lose.  The task force spoke of the training judicial officers receive, but clearly there is a disconnect between whatever training is provided and the actual results.  I respect that court officials in Connecticut believe they are doing a good job under difficult circumstances, but this is not supported by any evidence based analysis.
Like the good judges in the Bartlow research, the Connecticut Judiciary responded to the Aaden Moreno tragedy by defensively seeking to avoid responsibility rather than an inquiry about what can be done differently.  More often, the same mistakes that lead to child murders result in children living with abusers and suffering longer-term but still harmful consequences.  In other words reforms that would immediately save the lives of children like Aaden will also benefit thousands of children whose names we will never know.
Nationally, the statistics show that every year 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers. Although mothers make deliberate false reports of abuse less than 2% of the time, in cases involving reports of child sexual abuse, the alleged abusers win custody 85% of the time.  The ACE research found that at least 22% of our children are sexually abused by the time they reach eighteen.  Similar statistics are not new, but by eliminating any possibility of false reports the ACE research is compelling on this issue.  Clearly society must improve the response to child sexual abuse.
Lest defenders try to suggest the national statistics don't apply to Connecticut, the standard practices are incompatible with any assumption that children are safe in Connecticut's courts.
Connecticut is not using a multi-disciplinary approach:  The task force wisely encouraged court professionals to learn about DV from DV advocates.  But right now most training of judges is done by other judges, lawyers train lawyers and psychologists train psychologists.  Expert reports and testimony come mostly from mental health professionals.  Children will be better protected when judges consider what specific expertise is needed instead of just turning to mental health professionals.
A recent tragedy in Westchester County, New York illustrates the problem of limiting an inquiry to mental health approaches.  A decorated, recently retired police officer killed his two teenage daughters while they were sleeping before committing suicide.  All the reports were that he was a wonderful man and father so much of the focus of the reporting concerned how he could have committed such a horrendous act.  The local Gannett Newspaper assigned a reporter to try to answer this question.
The reporter spoke to law enforcement professionals, some of whom knew the officer and they couldn't fathom why he would do this.  The problem was that most abusers act very differently with the rest of the world than they do with their immediate family.  The reporter interviewed various mental health professionals.  They tried to concoct some unlikely psychological explanation but even they admitted their speculation was unlikely.  Then the reporter interviewed me.  I was able to draw from the Bartlow research about the pattern of child murders in contested custody cases.  The most dangerous abusers are those who believe their partner has no right to leave.  It turned out his wife had recently requested a separation and made a report to the police.  
We desperately want to be able to prevent the kind of tragedy that occurred in Harrison, NY, but we must be able to understand the cause in order to prevent future tragedies.  The mental health professionals could not understand the cause because they were limited to psychological explanations, and DV is not caused by mental illness.  Courts must have access to DV expertise if they are going to recognize and respond effectively to possible DV cases.
The Connecticut courts have been slow to integrate important research like ACE and Saunders into their response to custody cases.  This means they are not using evidence -based practices.  The inevitable result is courts failing to recognize and believe true reports of abuse; minimizing the significance of a pattern of DV; and focusing on far less important issues.  
The courts are willing to consider unscientific alienation theories that were concocted not based on any research but rather the beliefs, biases and experiences of the founder of the cottage industry.  These beliefs include many statements to the effect that sex between adults and children can be acceptable.  I suspect few judges would want to be associated with such beliefs if they knew the origin of these bogus theories.  While bogus theories are allowed to poison the system, important, peer reviewed scientific research from the most credible sources is not used.
The Saunders' findings about harmful outcome cases are critical to understanding the problems with the court response to abuse cases.  Harmful outcome cases are all too common in Connecticut.  The existence of these cases continues only because flawed practices are permitted to continue, but the harm is even greater.
I have heard all too many stories from battered mothers and children about the impact of these harmful outcome cases.  The pain and the suffering are unspeakable.  The children are forced to endure horrific abuse and denied a relationship with their loving mothers.  Abusers use the power provided by the courts to undermine the mothers' relationships.  I don't know if the worst thing in the world for mothers is being denied any meaningful relationship with their children or knowing their children are being tortured.  
It is these horrifically mishandled cases that lead to the widespread belief that the custody courts are corrupt.  It is hard to imagine any other explanation when courts seem to ignore overwhelming evidence of abuse and repeatedly retaliate and punish victims for trying to protect their children.  As an expert I can recognize the many unintentional mistakes that lead courts to impose these tragedies, but it has to stop.
Courts cannot protect children when they are not trauma informed.  The ACE research demonstrates that exposure to DV and child abuse is more consequential than any of the other factors the courts are asked to consider.  And physical abuse is not required to create the catastrophic consequences.  But when court professionals are largely unaware of the consequences and don't know best practices to recognize DV, they can't protect the children.
The precious children of Connecticut will never be safe in its courts until they integrate and prioritize evidence based practices, multi-disciplinary approaches and trauma informed responses.  Fortunately there is a direct way to make sure the children are protected.
The Solution
The Safe Child Act is a modern, evidence-based solution to the problems custody courts face in responding to domestic violence and child abuse cases.  It requires what should be obvious; that the health and safety of children must be the first priority in all custody and visitation decisions.  This is accomplished by integrating important scientific research like ACE and Saunders, relying on a more multi-disciplinary approach when specific expertise is needed, and barring unscientific theories that only poison the process.
The Task Force has emphasized the need for training of judges and other professionals, but the research demonstrates present training approaches have not been effective.  Professionals need to unlearn misinformation based on earlier mistaken assumptions and deliberately promoted by the cottage industry that makes its money helping abusers.  
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recently invited me as one of the experts to discuss child custody evaluations.  I asked a judge from Colorado how a new law that had some aspects of the Safe Child Act was working.  He said  judges who previously sought to avoid training were begging to attend trainings about how to implement the new law.  In other words passing the Safe Child Act will cause judges to want the information needed to protect Connecticut's children.
I have noticed that there has been a lot of anger and controversy in recent discussions in the legislature about custody court reforms.  Victims have angrily complained about widespread corruption and court professionals have responded with defensiveness and anger.  While there is corruption within the cottage industry, I have seen no proof that judges are being paid off.  Instead, the appearance stems from outrageous decisions that seem to have no basis in the evidence or the well-being of children and so create the appearance of corruption.  The Safe Child Act will eliminate the outdated and discredited practices that sully the reputation of the court system and undermine the public's faith in the judiciary.
Lawyers on both sides of a case and the judges often phrase their arguments in terms of the best interests of children, but the Safe Child Act will actually make a wonderful difference in children's lives.  The lead author of the original ACE Study said that prevention is the best use for his research.  The Safe Child Act creates objective standards supported by evidence based research to determine the well-being of children.  Connecticut's children will live longer, healthier and more satisfying lives when the Safe Child Act is passed. I have been in tears too many times hearing the horrific stories that could have been prevented. It is up to the legislature to make sure the custody court system is not just about the judges, lawyers, evaluators or abusers.  We must protect our children.

Barry Goldstein is a leading expert and the author of books on domestic violence and custody including: Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody, 

"Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody will be instructive for policymakers, those working in the family justice system, and members of the media-which the authors say has by-and-large failed to expose custody court scandals. But it is a must-read for any mother involved in a child custody battle, and especially for mothers trying get free from an abusive relationship."

-R. Dianne Bartlow, Ms. Magazine Blog

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Barry Goldstein of the Stop Abuse Campaign speaks as follows:

"The Quincy Solution is a group of best practices that will dramatically reduce domestic violence crime and child abuse.  It means that women and children can be safe in their homes.  The Quincy Solution will make our society happier, healthier and richer.  Battered women and children will have the opportunity to reach their potential free from the obstacles imposed by abusive men.  And the Quincy Solution will save the United States $500 billion every year.

These life-changing and societal-changing benefits might seem like a miracle or even unrealistic, but we know these practices will work because they were successful in communities like Quincy, Nashville and San Diego.  The Quincy Solution starts with the original Quincy Model, updated by including new scientific research and technology, and overcoming a critical problem by reforming the broken custody court system.

The heart of the Quincy Model was strict enforcement of criminal laws, orders of protection and probation conditions together with practices that made it easier for victims to leave their abusers and a coordinated community response.  This required a pro-arrest policy and aggressively gathering evidence at the scene in case the victim is unavailable to testify.  Domestic violence is the most underreported crime so a complaint or other notification about a crime must be taken as an important opportunity to stop this abuse.  Only accountability and monitoring have been shown to change abusers’ behavior so effective law enforcement practices must avoid misguided approaches that permit offenders to avoid meaningful consequences for their crimes..."



Friday, September 18, 2015


Safe Child Act
by Barry Goldstein
"Purpose: Improve the Safety of Children involved in Child Custody Cases 


1. The paramount concern of all child custody decisions must be to provide complete safety when determining the best interests of the children. 

2. Whenever domestic violence or child abuse is raised as an issue either during or before a child custody matter is litigated any professional who provides advice or recommendations to the court must have substantial training and experience about Domestic violence and child abuse to fully understand safety issues including behaviors that are associated with higher lethality or injury risks; domestic violence dynamics; effects of domestic violence on children; ability to recognize domestic violence and research about batterer narratives. Any professional without this necessary expertise must consult with someone who has this knowledge prior to giving any recommendation to the court. 

3 A post graduate degree in mental health such as psychology, psychiatry or social work absent specialized and approved training shall not be considered proof of domestic violence expertise. A court shall not refuse to qualify an individual as a domestic violence expert because the witness does not possess a post graduate degree if the witness can demonstrate expertise based upon training and experience. 

4. In any custody case where either domestic violence or child abuse is raised during the litigation process and even where a court may have already heard and determined there is not significant enough domestic violence to warrant a restraining order and in which there is no substantial basis to believe the parties or children have a significant mental health impairment likely to interfere with parenting ability, courts should not order a mental health evaluation. The court may appoint a domestic violence expert to help the court understand the significance of evidence related to domestic violence and must permit parties to present evidence from a qualified domestic violence expert..."


Sunday, August 9, 2015


Barry Goldstein:

"Dr. Dianne Bartlow interviewed some of the best judges in the United States about the court response to the many murders of children by fathers involved in custody disputes. Some judges suggested a likely explanation for so many dangerous decisions that I believe influenced the original mistaken ruling in the Kelly Rutherford case. They said that because so many fathers abandon their children many judges unconsciously favor even bad fathers so that the children will have their father in their lives..."


Saturday, July 18, 2015


Crisis In The Family Courts

U. S. Department of Justice v. Custody Court System

Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on February 14, 2013
 Child Custody Evaluators’ Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations: Their Relationship to Evaluator Demographics, Background, Domestic Violence Knowledge and Custody-Visitation Recommendations, Final Technical Report Submitted to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (October 31, 2011). Principal Investigator: Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D., Co-Investigators: Kathleen C. Faller, Ph.D. and Richard M. Tolman, Ph.D. University of Michigan, School of Social Work, 1080 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor MI 48109-1106 USA. (“This project was supported by Grant No. 2007-WG-BX-0013 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice.”)

Protective mothers have been complaining about mistreatment by the custody court system, but have routinely been dismissed as “disgruntled litigants.” As recently as the beginning of the Battered Mothers Custody Conferences in 2004, there was little professional support for protective mothers. The mothers’ complaints have now been confirmed and supported by the domestic violence community, many women’s organizations, numerous governmental agencies, many in the academic community and a substantial body of research such as contained in our book DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY.
Last summer at the NCADV Conference, Dr. Daniel Saunders of the University of Michigan and some of his colleagues presented their findings from a major Department of Justice study that confirms the findings in our book and other research that the present custody court practices for domestic violence cases are deeply flawed. The publication of these findings has taken longer than expected as Dr. Saunders and the Justice Department seek to carefully present the information in a clear and accurate manner, but they should soon be available on the Department of Justice web site. Many of us who seek to reform the broken custody court system are excited about this study because it should be difficult for the courts to dismiss or ignore because of where it comes from. Significantly, the findings are incompatible with a continued belief that the present practices are working for the benefit of the children the courts are supposed to protect.
Custody Courts Frequently Disbelieve Valid Abuse Complaints 
Custody courts have a particularly poor record in responding to domestic violence cases. The research demonstrates that court professionals reject a high percentage of valid complaints by protective mothers. This problem has been confirmed in many ways. It is confirmed based on the frequency of mistaken outcomes. Although battered mothers make deliberately false allegations only one or two percent of the time, in contested custody cases the alleged abuser wins custody or joint custody over seventy percent of the time. Subsequent events regularly confirm courts’ mistakes. This occurs when men found safe by the court professionals are later convicted or otherwise found to have to have committed domestic violence, sexual abuse, murder or other similar crimes.
The revelations of the Courageous Kids Network further demonstrate the frequency in which courts fail to recognize valid complaints of abuse. Courageous Kids are young adults who have aged out of their custody orders and decided to speak out about the harm caused by these orders. The context is important in understanding their stories. These are cases in which the court disbelieved the mothers’ abuse allegations and gave the fathers complete control. The children have been threatened, coerced and punished if they continue to complain about their father’s abuse or seek a relationship with their mother. In other words the fathers have had tremendous assistance in silencing the children. Accordingly the children now speaking out represent a small minority of those mistreated by fathers the court believed were safe. The descriptions by the Courageous Kids demonstrate the fathers deliberately sought to hurt the mother and children based upon their belief system that the mother had no right to leave them. The children have had little or no contact with their mothers often for many years so we know the mothers could not be influencing the children’s decision to speak out about the fathers’ abuse. These are all too common examples of cases in which the court professionals failed to believe valid allegations of abuse.
The research not only demonstrates the fact that the custody courts get a large majority of domestic violence cases wrong, but also that the standard practices used by court professionals are deeply flawed and make it difficult for judges to recognize legitimate complaints about domestic violence and child abuse.
Court professionals routinely discredit allegations of abuse based upon factors that are not probative. At the same time these professionals do not understand the importance of looking to the abusers’ patterns of controlling and coercive behavior in order to recognize domestic violence. The court professionals often make the mistake of considering each incident and each allegation separately. Genuine domestic violence experts understand the importance of context in recognizing domestic violence, but the mental health and other professionals relied on by the courts do not understand the importance of context and thus make it more difficult to recognize valid allegations of abuse.
One of the big obstacles to recognizing valid abuse complaints is the common use of mental health and other professionals without expertise in domestic violence. The main purpose of considering domestic violence in custody cases is to protect the safety of children. Nevertheless the evaluators relied on by custody courts rarely know how to conduct a safety assessment or what behaviors have been associated with higher lethality and other dangers. The evaluators do not understand domestic violence dynamics and often are unfamiliar with the effects of domestic violence on children or other information based upon the specialized body of scientific research that could be used to better understand domestic violence issues and recognize truthful allegations of abuse.
The new Department of Justice study helps explain why the evaluators and other professionals relied on by custody courts routinely fails to recognize domestic violence. The study found that most evaluators and other professionals relied on by the courts do not have adequate domestic violence training and those with inadequate training are more likely to believe in the myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in litigation. The professionals who believe this myth, in turn are more likely to make recommendations that harm children. In other words judges have little chance to protect the children under their control as long as they rely on these unqualified professionals and tend to believe their deeply flawed analysis.
Judges often become defensive when protective mothers or their attorneys request that any evaluator or other court professional be required to have domestic violence expertise in order to be appointed. We have repeatedly seen judges refuse to listen to domestic violence experts offered on behalf of protective mothers. The courts often focus on the need for a mental health degree even though the academic training for most mental health professionals included no or virtually no domestic violence instruction and the law does not require advance degrees to qualify as an expert (a common example is a mechanic without a high school degree who can testify as an expert in automotive repair based on experience and training).
In recent years most court systems have encouraged and usually required some domestic violence training for court professionals. This is a good thing but has often been implemented in ways that undermine the purpose. Many of the trainings include substantial misinformation such as the belief most contested custody cases are “high conflict” when the research establishes a large majority are really domestic violence cases. Some of the trainings even include Parental Alienation Syndrome (sometimes by another name because of its deserved notoriety) even though it was recently again rejected for inclusion in the DSM-V because there is no scientific basis for it. Many of the trainings fail to include domestic violence advocates or other genuine experts in domestic violence.
We have also seen some really good programs used to train court professionals, but I have heard many trainers complain that some of the judges, evaluators and lawyers pay little attention to the valuable information presented. In one Queens County, New York case I cross-examined an experienced evaluator who went to a really excellent domestic violence training in order to qualify as a parent coordinator. They provided numerous excellent research studies that could have helped him recognize domestic violence and protect children. During my cross-examination it became clear he never read the research and was unfamiliar with the current scientific research he needed to understand the case. When I pressed him about the training he described it as “not a life changing experience.” This was a man who needed a life changing experience because he failed to recognize the obvious history of abuse by the father, demanded the mother cooperate with her abuser and when she continued to try to protect herself and her son, the unqualified evaluator recommended custody for the abusive father. The judge failed to discredit the evaluator based on his failure to read or consider the current scientific research provided at the training.
We need much more and better trainings for court professionals, but there is also the danger that attending trainings can give judges and other professionals a false sense of confidence in their understanding of domestic violence. The findings by Dr. Saunders and his colleagues that most court professionals have inadequate training in domestic violence confirms our concern that in most cases the professionals relied on by the court are not qualified to participate in a domestic violence case without the assistance of a genuine expert. Even if the judge has received good training the court is likely to be influenced by unqualified evaluators and other court professionals. 
The failure to possess adequate training in domestic violence means that it will be difficult for these professionals to recognize and respond effectively to domestic violence, but the widespread belief in the myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse is a bias that strongly undermines the cases of protective mothers. These mistakes result in frequent findings denying the mother’s abuse allegations which is exactly what the other research has found. If a professional believes the myth they will expect to see false allegations and without training in how to recognize domestic violence they have little chance to get these cases right and protect the children. Even worse, courts having found against the mothers because of the deeply flawed practices and biases are severely punishing mothers and children because the mothers continue to believe their true allegations despite the disbelief of the unqualified court professionals.
A few months ago, in this forum, I wrote an article about the extreme decisions we often see in domestic violence cases. These are decisions in which the alleged abuser receives custody and the mother who was the primary attachment figure is limited to supervised or no visitation. The primary attachment figure is the parent who provided most of the child care during the first couple of years of the child’s life. When children are separated from their primary attachment figure they are significantly more likely to suffer depression, low self-esteem and to commit suicide when older. It can never be right to separate children from their primary attachment figure unless she is unsafe such as a drug addict, someone who beats the kids or otherwise poses a danger. In most of these cases the father allowed or even demanded the mother provide child care until she decided to leave him. It should be obvious that her decision to leave a man she found to be abusive does not make the mother unsafe. Unqualified court professionals frequently limit the mother’s contact with her children based upon some version of alienation or pathologizing the mother based on psychological tests that were not made for the populations seen in custody cases. We know the diagnosis is not safety related because the mother functions fine in all other aspects of her life except interacting with her abuser and the court professionals supporting him. These are not safety issues so these extreme decisions can never be beneficial to the children.
The reliance on court professionals with inadequate training and belief in the myth takes place in the context of many other common mistakes discussed in earlier research. The courts cannot protect mothers and children in domestic violence cases if they cannot recognize domestic violence when it is present. The frequent decisions that harm children are confirmed by later findings and information, the extensive research court professionals routinely fail to consider and the new Department of Justice study and they provide multiple confirmations of the present inability of custody courts to recognize domestic violence and child abuse when it exists.
Misuse of Mothers’ Anger and Emotion 
Let’s look at this issue from the mother’s perspective and in the context of her experience. These are domestic violence cases. The father usually has a long history of controlling and coercive behaviors and the mother has finally gained the courage and resources to leave her abuser in order to protect her children. She is fearful because of the many threats he made of what he would do if she left and knowledge that the most dangerous time for a woman is after she has left. She is angry at the way he has mistreated her and often the children. She may be worriedabout her ability to support and protect her children because her partner has been telling her how useless she is throughout their relationship.
Even if the father’s physical abuse ends when he no longer has access to the mother (which makes unqualified court professionals believe he is now safe), he continues his domestic violence through litigation abuse and often other ways. The abusers often use any contact provided by the court to seek reconciliation and/or to harass and attack her verbally or psychologically. Many women expect the courts to protect her children because the evidence is so overwhelming and instead find the court pressuring her to cooperate with her abuser and punishing her if she tries to protect her children from a man they have found to be hostile and dangerous. In other words she has good reason to be angry and emotional and in fact this would be a normal reaction to her experiences.
The research contained in our book and elsewhere supports this understanding and analysis. We discussed the common mistake of custody courts that treat the mother’s actions as a litigant as if they were an indication of her behavior as a parent. Over forty states and many judicial districts have created court sponsored gender bias committees. These committees have found widespread bias particularly against women litigants. One of the common examples of gender bias was blaming women for the actions of their abusers. One of the typical examples of this bias is when courts blame mothers for their anger and emotion caused by the father’s mistreatment of them and their children. In many cases the abusers deliberately harass or pressure them shortly before a court appearance is scheduled in order to obtain an emotional reaction the court is likely to misunderstand. Abusers tend to be extremely manipulative and so after their abuse that the judge does not see, come to court calm and cooperative. Court professionals are often fooled by this act.
The new Department of Justice study confirms what we said in our book and other similar research. Dr. Saunders found that court professionals frequently treat mothers’ anger and emotion as far more important than it actually is in terms of the well being of children. These professionals may be uncomfortable with the mothers’ emotions particularly if she criticizes their response to the father’s abuse. Clearly these are difficult and unpleasant issues to confront. The misinformation treating contested custody as if it were “high conflict” when it is actually domestic violence contributes to the misunderstanding of the mothers’ anger and emotion. The professionals are focused on forcing the parties to cooperate even though this is not the best approach for children. When the parties have difficulty cooperating and certainly in domestic violence cases, parallel parenting is a more effective approach for children. The problem, as demonstrated by the Saunders’ study is that these professionals are focused on their beliefs and preferences rather than research about what works best for children. The custody courts did not get into the practice of looking to current scientific research and particularly the specialized body of research about domestic violence because there was no such research when the initial court practices were developed. We now have substantial research that would help inform court decisions and avoid the frequent mistakes but court professionals rarely look to this research to help them make better decisions. This is why we rarely see custody courts weigh the benefits and harms to children of a proposed resolution. The Department of Justice study establishes that these flawed practices lead to decisions that hurt children.
Cottage Industry Supporting Abusive Fathers 
We often hear complaints about corruption in the custody court system. This belief is supported by the many cases in which courts make findings that are far removed from a fair evaluation of the evidence and decisions that seem to be disconnected from the well being of the children involved. There are cases of outright corruption such as the Garson case in Brooklyn, New York, but more often, I believe courts create the appearance of corruption because of bias, ignorance and deeply flawed practices. One of my concerns with complaints about corruption is that it makes it harder for judges in the broken system to hear the complaints and create the reforms that are needed. An important contributing factor to the widespread belief in corruption is the cottage industry that has been created to support abusive fathers.
Most contested custody cases involve abusive fathers seeking custody as a tactic to pressure their victims to return or punish them for leaving. Domestic violence is all about control so these abusive fathers usually have controlled the family finances and have these resources to support their custody litigation. Somelawyers and mental health professionals have figured out that they can make a large income by supporting practices and approaches that support abusers. We often see them advertise as supporting “fathers’ rights.” In many cases we see fathers’ attorneys and GALs promoting the appointment of evaluators who support abusive fathers. It is particularly frustrating when judges refer to these professionals who regularly support abusers as “neutral professionals.”
Protective mothers often have no chance when these biased professionals are appointed regardless of how strong their cases may be. Many of the mothers have complained that the evaluators and GALs make misrepresentations to the court in order to justify findings in favor of the abusive fathers paying their fees. When such professionals lie to the court about the evidence or to justify fees they did not earn, the mothers are justified in complaints suggesting corruption.
Many of these biased professionals strongly support PAS despite a lack of scientific justification. Significantly, PAS is based upon the assumption that virtually every complaint by mothers about the father’s abuse is deliberately false. The Department of Justice study found a problem with inadequately trained professionals who believe the myth that women frequently make deliberately false allegations of abuse. The unqualified professionals supporting PAS are even worse assuming that virtually all such allegations are false. The courts have virtually no chance of making the right decision if they treat such biased professionals as having any credibility.
The Department of Justice study’s contribution to this issue is a finding that evaluators working for the court or the county made recommendations that worked better for children than those of evaluators in private practice. When Dr. Saunders described this finding at a workshop during the NCADV Conference I asked him if he thought the findings supported our concerns about the cottage industry that has developed to support abusive fathers. He agreed this was a good interpretation. Evaluators working for the court or county are not paid extra for each evaluation so they have no incentive to favor the wealthier parent.
Professionals often have fundamental conflicts of interest. Medical doctors who schedule tests or procedures will earn money from performing the services they recommend. Tests may be scheduled to shield the doctor from potential lawsuits rather than to benefit the patient. Lawyers who recommend going to trial, starting a lawsuit or making a motion will earn money when the client takes their advice. Similarly, mental health professionals benefit financially when patients accept recommendations for more services. The conflict of interest is largely unavoidable and the professionals are expected to have the integrity to act in their client’s best interests instead of their own. Unfortunately some of the evaluators and lawyers, particularly those supporting abusive fathers have not fulfilled this ethical obligation.
We have repeatedly seen problems in custody courts with mental health professionals and particularly ones sympathetic to abusive fathers making recommendations requiring protective mothers to use their unwanted and unneeded services. We see these biased professionals pathologizing mothers who have always taken good care of their children with diagnoses that are clearly wrong. This would include the frequent finding of rare conditions such as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, conditions like paranoia or delusional based on the mothers’ continued belief in the father’s abuse despite the failure of the court professionals to recognize his abuse and other emotional problems that magically seem to affect only her relationship with her abuser and the court. They seem oblivious to the fact that that she does fine in other parts of her life that under any unbiased circumstances would rule out the claimed diagnosis.
Some of these mistakes are clearly deliberate and qualify as corruption. Other cases may involve bias and ignorance and a lack of the needed qualifications as the Saunders’ study demonstrates. When the professionals who are part of the cottage industry engage in gender bias they usually do so without realizing it. Many actually believe in the theories and practices they use despite a lack of scientific basis. Some of this can be explained by confirmation bias where the professional focuses on information or accusations that support what the professional expects to find and ignores information that undermines their theories and assumptions. We see this kind of mistake frequently in domestic violence custody cases and the mental health professional is often unconscious that they are engaging in confirmation bias. In fact they are likely to become defensive and angry at the suggestion. The Department of Justice study demonstrates the harm of using professionals who are part of the cottage industry and the need for custody courts to screen court professionals to avoid relying on them. Even worse, courts often use these unqualified professionals to train other court professionals. This can only serve to spread misinformation which makes it harder for court officials to recognize the problems demonstrated by the Saunders’ study and other current scientific research.
The custody court system tends to look at each case and each issue or event in a case separately. This is based on a belief that just because a man slapped his wife on Monday does not mean he punched her on Friday. The court system uses stare decisis which means once a case or an issue has been decided the same parties cannot relitigate it. There are good reasons for these practices, but they work poorly in domestic violence cases because of the importance of context in understanding domestic violence. We often see cases where the court denies allegations of domestic violence and they may even have been right if there was insufficient evidence. Naturally the abuser continues his abusive behavior so more evidence becomes available, but many courts refuse to hear the new evidence or refuse to consider it in the context of the previous evidence because those issues were previously litigated. In doing this the court is denying itself the ability to recognize the pattern of the father’s abuse and protect the children. Domestic violence experts are confident that the custody court system is broken because we see the pattern of mistakes and harmful decisions, but the powers in the court system are offended at the criticism and cannot believe the problem because they refuse to look at the patterns.
The findings of the Department of Justice study, by itself, provides convincing documentation that the custody court system is getting a large majority of domestic violence custody cases wrong. It would be impossible for courts to get most cases right when most of the court professionals have inadequate domestic violence training, those with inadequate training tend to believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations, the courts are placing too much weight on mothers’ anger and emotion and the evaluators who earn additional money through appointment in custody cases are making decisions more harmful to children then those who do not have a financial incentive. This study was not made in a vacuum, but was produced in the context of a substantial and growing body of scientific research that establishes the custody courts are making bad decisions in contested custody cases that endanger children. The research also establishes that the standard practices used in the custody courts are deeply flawed and outdated.
I am hopeful that a study coming from the U. S. Department of Justice will be harder for the custody court system to ignore. They have a strong reputation and can only be considered neutral. Furthermore, the courts frequently seek grants and other funding from the Department of Justice. Protective mothers and their attorneys can cite this research and it should be harder for the courts to ignore. I can’t wait until it is published on the DOJ web site.

 Child Custody Evaluators’ Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations: Their Relationship to Evaluator Demographics, Background, Domestic Violence Knowledge and Custody-Visitation Recommendations, Final Technical Report Submitted to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (October 31, 2011). Principal Investigator: Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D., Co-Investigators: Kathleen C. Faller, Ph.D. and Richard M. Tolman, Ph.D. University of Michigan, School of Social Work, 1080 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor MI 48109-1106 USA. (“This project was supported by Grant No. 2007-WG-BX-0013 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice.”)