Are Family Courts Failing Abused Mothers?

In case you missed the recent interview with Stop Abuse Campaign’s research director, Barry Goldstein, Domestic Violence expert Julie Owens and author Lupe Moreno, no worries. The transcript is below.


Welcome to Donell Edwards: VIEWPOINTS, I am your host, Donell Edwards. Today’s program is Are Family Courts Failing Mothers and Their Children? Our distinguished guests are Ms. Julie Owens and Mr. Barry Goldstein.

Ms. Owens is a nationally recognized violence against women consultant who has worked in the field of violence against women and women’s empowerment since 1989. She has founded a hospital domestic violence crisis response team, a transitional shelter, advocacy groups and training programs.

Mr. Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate. He has worked in the domestic violence movement since 1983. Barry has written some of the leading books about domestic violence and custody. Barry practiced as an attorney for 30 years ; most of his practice involved representing protective mothers. He is currently National Research Director for the Stop Abuse Campaign, and is a board member of We welcome both of you to Donell Edwards: VIEWPOINTS.
In preparation for tonight’s program I read an article, Mapping Gender: Shedding Empirical Light On Family Courts’ Treatment Of Cases Involving Abuse and Alienation, written by Joan S. Meier, a professor of clinical law at George Washington University Law School and Sean Dickson, who both acknowledge the work of author Catharine A. McKinnon and her book, Toward A Feminist Theory of the State as the basis for their work.

The article discusses the domestic violence community’s alarms about the failure of family courts to appropriately adjudicate abuse—including substantiated allegations—which appear to have had minimal impact on typical family court and evaluator practices. The Mapping Gender Study is a three year study to find the empirical data required to support the claims of those in the domestic violence community of gender inequity in child custody cases in family courts.

Since Mr. Goldstein has years of experience as an attorney, and much of our discussion centers around the article written by Ms. Meier and Mr. Dickson, we will be calling on Mr. Goldstein to use his legal expertise to help put much of this information into the proper context for our audience.

In the introduction of the article, Ms. Meier states that Ms. McKinnon “…awakened millions to the fundamental gender inequality at the foundations of our legal system and culture.

MacKinnon’s insight is profoundly applicable to today’s state family courts—civil courts adjudicating child custody. Where MacKinnon pointed out the male-gendered assumptions often hidden within law and culture, an extensive scholarly literature and thousands
of reports from the field suggest that men’s violence in the family is often rendered invisible by family court practices.”

BARRY: Can you explain what all of this means in layman’s terms please?

JULIE: This runs counter to the beliefs among most people, that in the 21st century, victims of violence are well-protected by the courts, and that there is an increased awareness and understanding of domestic violence. So, is this new research telling us that those assumptions are incorrect?

BARRY: So, in reality, what does this mean in terms of affecting the outcomes of child custody cases involving domestic violence related to who gets custody in many instances?

BARRY: According to the new data now available, what observations have experts and litigants made regarding the attitude of many courts toward domestic violence and child abuse in child custody cases?

JULIE: A study conducted by the California Protective Parents Association stated that there appears to be a trend toward reversal of custody from protective mothers to allegedly abusive fathers, which, according to this report, has been estimated to occur in up to 58,000 cases per year. In your experience, would you say this information is accurate and supports the findings of the work done by Ms. Meier and Mr. Dickson?


BREAK: We’re going to take a brief break, and when we return, we will discuss how all of this affects children who are sometimes a forgotten part of this issue.

Welcome back. If you just joined us this is Donell Edwards: VIEWPOINTS, and our special guests this evening are Ms. Julie Owens and Mr. Barry Goldstein, both of whom are domestic violence experts and advocates for victims of domestic violence. Our topic this evening is Are Family Courts Failing Mothers and Their Children?

JULIE: When we left we mentioned the affect these new findings, that indicate that family courts too often favor the abuser rather than the abused in child custody proceedings, have on children. Just how are children affected when they have witnessed the abuse of their mother by their father, and then the courts appear to dismiss any charges of abuse?

BARRY: Is this something that only occurs in a certain area or region, or is the problem more extensive?

JULIE: Despite all of the research and information available that appears to support the alleged gender inequities in child custody cases in family courts, why have family courts too often failed to consider evidence of intimate partner violence, disrespectful treatment of battered women, and granting physical custody to perpetrators of intimate partner violence, in rendering decisions in child custody cases?

BARRY: According to the Meier/Dickson article, studies have shown that a primary mechanism used by evaluators and the courts for rejecting or ignoring abuse allegations is the theory of “parental alienation (PA),” originally called “parental alienation syndrome (PAS). Please explain just what this is and why evaluators and the courts appear to rely on it so much.

BARRY OR JULIE, EITHER OF YOU: How can this or does this claim, of “parental alienation,” affect the child?

BARRY: What remedies have been applied by the courts in an effort to counter what they believe is parental alienation in a case, and what have been the consequences to the child and the mother?

JULIE: Is PAS still as widely used as it once was by litigators, evaluators, and the courts, and why or why not?
BREAK: We’re going to take another short break, and when we return we will hear from a mother who was in an abusive relationship, and what happened when she filed for child support. Thanks for joining us. My name is Donell Edwards and I am your host for Donell Edwards: VIEWPOINTS. Our special guests this evening are Ms. Julie Owens and Mr. Barry Goldstein, both of whom are domestic violence experts and advocates for victims of domestic violence. Our topic this evening is Are Family Courts Failing Mothers and Their Children?
As I mentioned before going into the break, we will now hear from a mother and survivor of domestic abuse, and her experience with the courts. Lupe Interview.
We have been listening to comments from Ms. Lupe Moreno, who is a domestic violence survivor, and is currently the Founder of Building Resilience and Strength and is also co-author of the book “1 Word: Discover, Reflect & Connect with Words That Can Transform Your Life.” Her latest book, Unmasking the Silent Killer: The Many Faces of Domestic Violence, will be released later this year. Ms. Moreno is also certified as a Breakthrough Coach, Neuro-Linguistic Programming Coach, and Resilience Trainer of Trainers. Ms. Moreno is also the host of Breaking Our Silence on The CWR Network. Ms. Moreno now joins our discussion, welcome to Donell Edwards: Viewpoints.
Lupe, I’m sure Julie and Barry have questions for you, so I will allow them at this time to ask their questions relevant to our discussion, or other questions they may have for you, then we will all continue our discussion about the family courts. So Julie and Barry, the mike is yours. (NOTE: Ask questions relevant to Lupe’s comments about her experience with the courts and the affect the abuse she experienced from her former husband had on her children.)

BREAK: Thank all of you for those comments. Right now we are going to take another break, and when we return we will talk more about parental alienation and the fact that although PAS has been largely discredited by experts, scholars, and even some courts, how the concept is still used against mothers in child custody cases.
WELCOME BACK to Donell Edwards: VIEWPOINTS, with our special guests, Ms. Julie Owens, Mr. Barry Goldstein, and Ms. Lupe Moreno. As I mentioned before going into the break, although parental alienation syndrome has been largely discredited by experts, scholars, and even some courts, the concept is still used against mothers in child custody cases.

BARRY: What diversionary tactic in regard to PAS is being used in many child custody cases and with what intent?
We have been talking about the use of parental alienation, or PA, as an instrument used by family courts in child custody proceedings to discredit claims of abuse by the mother, and other tactics by evaluators and courts, that would indicate a failure on the part of the courts to give a fair hearing that results in justice being served for all parties. Before moving on, I would like to hear from each of you on your viewpoint on the question, Are Family Courts Failing Mothers and Their Children? Let’s start with you Julie, then Lupe, and then you Barry please.
Thank you again for your comments. Now, I would like to further discuss the impact all of this has on the children of domestic violence, both from the stand point of witnessing the abuse, as well as suffering the consequences of going through child custody proceedings which, based on what we have discussed this evening, often ignore the claims of abuse and in some instances award custody to the parent accused of being the abuser.

JULIE: What are some of the ways children who witness the abuse are affected?

LUPE: In your interview that we listened to earlier, you mentioned how your child reacted to witnessing the abuse in your marriage. Are you aware of other children who have witnessed violence against their mothers, and how it has affected them?

BARRY: Two questions for you. The first, what are the short-term and long-term affects on children who witness domestic violence between their mom and dad, and the second question is, what do you believe the impact of the Mapping Gender Study will be on the manner in which family courts adjudicate child abuse cases in the future?
We thank you Julie, Barry, and Lupe for sharing your knowledge with us tonight about this most important issue, and we hope to see you again in the future, since The CWR Network is committed to the fight against domestic violence. We also want our listeners to know that you may get more information about domestic violence from listening to Ms. Moreno on our network every first and third Thursday at 7:00 PM Eastern and 6:00 PM Central time with her domestic violence program, Breaking Our Silence. Visit our website, for more details.

We thank our nationwide audience, we appreciate your support very much. Until the next time. This is Donell Edwards, and your Viewpoint matters.




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