For decades, protective mothers have been complaining that family courts are tilted to favor abusive fathers and that they face corruption. Court officials have tended to respond defensively and dismissed the domestic violence victims as disgruntled litigants. Over the years an ever growing collection of research, media investigations and preventable tragedies have supported the mothers’ position, but in a form of confirmation bias, court officials have ignored inconvenient findings.
In my first book with Mo Hannah, Sharon K. Araji and Rebecca L. Bosek wrote an interesting chapter in which they looked at surveys of protective mothers in five states which showed consistent court failures to protect children. It might be easy to dismiss the research because mothers with bad outcomes might be biased, but the authors compared the mother’s complaints with credible research and found the findings supported the mothers. The courts were routinely treating the mothers as if they were not credible but the scientific findings supported other research that found protective mothers rarely make deliberate false complaints.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Studies from the CDC demonstrated that domestic violence and child abuse are far more harmful than previously understood and that physical abuse is not required to ruin children’s lives. In other words the courts have been minimizing the seriousness of DV and child abuse and basically ignoring non-physical tactics. Despite the research, courts are still not focused on reducing the fear and stress from abuser tactics that cause children so much harm. And most of the standard court practices undermine the needed healing.
The Saunders’ Study was designed to consider the knowledge and training about domestic violence possessed by evaluators, judges and lawyers. The Study found many of these professionals do not have the specific knowledge necessary to respond to domestic violence. Those without the needed training tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make deliberate false reports and unscientific alienation theories. These mistakes lead to outcomes that harm children. Five years after the release of the Saunders’ Study these mistaken assumptions continue to predominate. Saunders also looked at harmful outcome cases in which alleged abusers win custody and safe, protective mothers are limited to supervised visitation. These decisions are always wrong and based on flawed practices but remain common in the family courts.