About Barry

Barry Goldstein is the co-author with Elizabeth Liu of Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor REPRESENTING THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVOR, co editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY and author of SCARED TO LEAVE AFRAID TO STAY. He has been an instructor and supervisor in a NY Model Batterer Program since 1999. He was an attorney representing victims of domestic violence for 30 years. He now provides workshops, judicial and other trainings regarding domestic violence particularly related to custody issues. He also serves as a consultant and expert witness.

Barry's new book, The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion demonstrates how we can dramatically reduce domestic violence crime with proven practices.

Contact Barry today to speak at your event, consult or as an expert witness!

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About Veronica

After a 20 year Sales and Marketing career in the Television Industry, Veronica York felt a passion and a calling to make a career change. Following a 10 year marriage that was both mentally and emotionally abusive, and going through a difficult custody battle, she started her High Conflict Coaching practice. During her experience with the family court system, she realized that the best interest of the children was not the first priority. Parental rights are trumping children’s rights and children are suffering unnecessarily due to the outdated practices of judges and other court professionals. Along with helping her clients navigate their custody battles, she is also an advocate for change in the family court system as well as a champion for Domestic Violence training and education. Veronica is certified with the High Conflict Divorce Certification Program and has advanced training in family law mediation. She performs speaking engagements and writes articles regarding the topics of Child Custody Issues that involve Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse. She also does training on the misuse of Parental Alienation and the effects of Post Separation Abuse during a divorce.

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Don’t Wait to Protect Children

A Rare Victory for Children Exposes Why Family Courts Usually Fail Abuse Victims

Article by Barry Goldstein and co-authored by Veronica York

The best beach trip ever was not from swimming, fishing or playing in the waves. Two girls aged 5 and 7 understood it was not the best because of the french fries, ice cream, or playing in the sand. Spending time with a safe and loving family was important, but it was the best because a custody court judge decided to protect them. The girls, who understand the world better than they should, will never be harmed again by their abuser who also abused their mother. The girls understand what too many judges don't, that best times can't be enjoyed when you live your life in fear of an abuser.

Family courts routinely decide the fate of children, and domestic violence custody cases are often the last chance to save children from short and painful lives. We had never witnessed the scene that played out in the courtroom as we waited to learn the future of two traumatized children. The case was unusual in many ways.

In the 10-15 minutes we waited for the judge to announce his decision, the tension gripped the courtroom and there was almost total silence. The attorneys for the mother, grandparents and children all supported protecting the children from the abusive father. The father sat holding his head in his hands knowing his case was weak.

The judge took less than ten minutes to announce his decision. The parents were granted a divorce and the mother received 80% of the marital assets. The mother would have supervised visits with the children. The grandparents were awarded custody. The children would never have any more contact with the abusive father because he lost all parental rights.

How Was this Case Different?

The ACE (adverse childhood experiences) Research would help courts understand the full harm to children from exposure to domestic violence and child abuse. The Saunders Study would help courts recognize true reports of abuse. This court had the benefit of this information, and together with the extreme circumstances of this case, the court was able to recognize the catastrophic risks faced by these children.

The father committed severe physical brutality against the mother. He repeatedly engaged in strangulation which research shows is extremely perilous. The mother is lucky to be alive. The abuser also repeatedly beat the mother causing visible wounds and injuries. The children witnessed some of the father’s physical abuse and the very visible marks and effects from his beatings.

The abuser’s position was that everything was consensual because the mother agreed to a BDSM relationship. The father prepared a detailed agreement giving him complete control and requiring the mother to refer to him as daddy or sir - giving the abuser complete power to punish her at will and engage in whatever activities he wanted. Some parts of his claims were true, but she never signed the contract or agreed to the strangulations. She only agreed to the BDSM arrangement because it included the use of safe words. He repeatedly ignored the use of safe words and over time she stopped using them, because he punished her more severely when she asked him to stop.

Since the mother’s consent was based on the use of safe words, his violation of that part of the agreement made his actions non-consensual. Furthermore, we now have research that strangulation is far more harmful and dangerous than previously understood. The father’s strangulation is equivalent to Russian Roulette and so cannot be consented to.

Most important, the children did not and could not consent to their exposure to the father’s abuse. The father ordered the mother to remain naked at home. This was a harmful example for the children to observe and even more scary because they constantly saw stripes, bruises, welts and other injuries on their mother’s body. She often could not sit down for days at a time. The father’s abuse had severe consequences to the mother and the children.

The mother suffered both physical and emotional wounds from the father’s abuse. She had to be hospitalized as a result of the mental health damage. The mother has courageously made significant progress and improvement but still could not be considered for custody. The children were severely traumatized from what they witnessed. The mother and children have been diagnosed with PTSD. This can only be caused by the most severe possible trauma which should make clear that the father is not a fit parent.

The abuser also used standard abuser tactics that courts routinely miss or minimize such as: coercive control, isolation and monitoring tactics, litigation abuse, and economic abuse. These tactics make it harder for friends and family to recognize the danger and pressure the victim to hide his abuse. The children had an ACE score of 8 out of ten and disappointingly, one of the ACEs that did not occur was the imprisonment of the brutal abuser. He hired an elected county attorney to represent him and this manipulation of the system prevented any criminal charges.

The father tried to use unscientific alienation theories to deny the harm he caused, but much of the children’s emotional injuries and acting out could not be coached, was not voluntary, and could only be caused by horrific abuse. Alienation is a theory deliberately concocted to help lawyers and mental health professionals make large incomes by creating approaches favoring wealthy abusers. These theories have twice been denied inclusion in the DSM which is the compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses. The American Psychiatric Association rejected alienation because there is no scientific support, but that has not stopped custody courts from being strongly influenced by these biased assumptions. Alienation assumes that when children don’t like or don’t want to spend time with an allegedly abusive father that the mother must have coached them. Significantly, all the professionals working with the children noticed that they regressed whenever they had even minor supervised contact with the abusive father.

The Many Similarities with DV Custody Cases that Abusive Fathers Win

It was far easier for this court to take the father’s abuse seriously because there were so many severe physical assaults. The evidence and the physical effects were concrete. However, to determine the well-being and best interests of the children, the real issue concerns the impact of his abuse on the children. An assault on the mother does not cause physical injuries to the children, but it does cause enormous harm. Many children have died because inadequately trained judges assumed that just because a father abused the mother doesn’t mean he would hurt the child.

The ACE Research says that children exposed to DV and child abuse will live shorter lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems. This goes to the essence of the best interests of children. And most of the harm is not from any immediate physical injuries but from living with the fear and stress their abusers cause. Physical abuse is likely to cause the fear and stress that leads to the awful consequences described by ACE, but so too do the far more common non-physical domestic violence tactics.

The scientific research is clear that limiting protection to abuse that is physical is a mistake. In a typical DV custody case there are only a few physical assaults together with hundreds or thousands of non-physical DV tactics. We don’t want to compare the damage in this case with a more typical case, but based on the ACE Research, all of the children in any DV case will face shorter lives and a lifetime of health and social problems. In none of these cases is it beneficial for children to have unprotected visitation with their abusers until and unless the abusive parent changes their behavior, yet that is a common if not routine outcome.

We have never heard an explanation from a judge or court administrator for how it can possibly be reasonable to try to make life and death decisions in DV custody cases without the benefit of ACE. ACE is peer-reviewed medical research that comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least five additional studies based on ACE have confirmed and expanded the original findings. ACE is used for medical diagnosis and treatment; in educational programs for students exposed to ACE; in criminal justice settings and for prevention.

At the same time, the courts have accepted the pernicious influence of an alienation theory that is not based on scientific research but rather the heinous belief that sex between adults and children can be acceptable. It is a theory that is only used to help alleged abusive fathers gain custody. The Meier Study found alienation theories are applied in a gender biased manner.

Law students are trained to use language and approaches previously approved by courts. Typically, language previously used in documents like contracts or wills are copied because the lawyer knows courts have interpreted the language the way they intend. Courts today are doing the same thing with outdated practices that good scientific research proves wrong. Courts might be able to recognize the kind of outrageous abuse in a case like this, but repeatedly miss abuse in cases slightly less obvious. And the consequence for children is catastrophic.

The father in this case admitted his assaults on the mother so there was no issue that the mother made up her reports. Instead, the father claimed it was all consensual and he had a justification for all his abuse. His claim was questionable in light of the strangulation and failure to stop when a safe word was used. His claim was destroyed in the light of his exposure of the children to behavior that caused PTSD, in addition to, harmful reactions and behavior that no one could possibly have coached.

Other, less obvious DV custody cases could also easily be recognized by custody courts if they used the knowledge discussed in Saunders and selected the right experts for cases involving DV and child abuse. These subjects require a specialized area of knowledge. Failure to use the research and the needed expertise is not neutral in the sense that the same approach is used for both parents. All of the mistakes made by failure to consider current scientific research tilt decisions in favor of abusive fathers and towards risking the health and safety of children.

Money is Usually a Factor in Outcomes

Domestic violence is about control, including financial control. This means that abusive fathers often control most of the financial resources. Abusers have plenty of money for attorneys and to extend the litigation in ways designed to bankrupt their victims. Many protective mothers start with attorneys but must continue pro se when their money runs out. The money differential is how and why the cottage industry of lawyers and mental health professionals developed to use approaches that favor abusive fathers. In many cases, cottage industry attorneys are able to get cottage industry evaluators and GALs appointed. Protective mothers have almost no chance when the court appoints cottage industry professionals to roles that are supposed to be neutral.

Judge Mike Brigner wrote a chapter in the first volume of Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody, co-edited by Dr. Mo Therese Hannah and Barry Goldstein. Judge Brigner wrote that most courts have the authority to level the playing field by requiring the wealthy abuser to pay at least some of the legal and other fees so the mother can present an effective case and the court can hear both sides of a dispute. The Batterer as Parent by Lundy Bancroft and Dr. Jay Silverman recommended that abusers be required to pay any costs, including legal fees that their abusive tactics made necessary.

In this case, the grandparents and the mother had attorneys while the father didn’t. The grandparents had to conduct extensive research and overcome professionals who sought to discourage their efforts to protect their grandchildren. The grandparents had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to create a team of experts to help the court understand the risks the father posed to the children. Protective mothers are often scared and saddened as they realize all the professionals take the side of their abuser. It could be because abusers are skilled manipulators; it could be from gender and other bias; it could be because of ignorance of current scientific research, but very often it is because there are financial incentives to support the abuser. As one-sided as the evidence was in this case, if the financial resources were reversed, the outcome could have been catastrophic for the children.

Learning from a Successful Outcome

The children in this case were both grateful and relieved that they would be protected. They will now have a chance for a full, happy and healthy life. The court heard and used current scientific research. The court made a decision that was based on the well-being of the children and not the “rights” of the abusive father. Sadly, the happy ending after the brutal start is all too rare.

One of the experts in this case told the court there was a good chance the children would not live past their teens or twenties if the children were forced to live with the fear and stress this father caused. This is also true in cases in which abusive fathers are given unprotected visitation; co-parenting; custody and even the harmful outcome cases Saunders says are always wrong in which the abuser gains custody and a safe, protective mother is limited to supervised or no visitation.

Saunders says courts need to use a multi-disciplinary approach, which means listening to DV experts in DV cases, and child sexual abuse experts where there are reports of possible child sexual abuse. Relying on the same small group of mental health professionals creates an insular atmosphere that discourages integration of important scientific breakthroughs and needed reforms. It encourages courts to use a defensive response, even to the most heartbreaking and preventable tragedies. We know that when a patient has cancer or heart disease, relying on a general practitioner is a mistake. Relying exclusively on mental health professionals who don’t have the specialized knowledge about abuse is similarly dangerous.

The precious little girls in this case were saved because the court heard the most important scientific research. It is time for the court system to explain how it can be justified to decide children’s futures without considering ACE and Saunders research. Whose child deserves less than the best information available? This is why we need to support proposed legislation that will require training for judges, GALs, evaluators, and other court professionals. Legislation like Kyra’s Law and Kayden’s Law that will promote and protect children and families at risk of family violence. There are 58,000 at-risk children ordered into unsupervised situations with their abusive parent each year. In the last ten years over 800 of these children have been murdered. In many of these cases, the court ordered the access to the children, abusive fathers needed to commit the murders. While the children in this case enjoyed the best beach trip ever, hundreds of other children forced by the courts to live with their abusers cower in fear and cry themselves to sleep.

BARRY GOLDSTEIN