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New custody resolution sides with accuser in domestic abuse cases

Judges in family courts in New York and across the country make difficult decisions every day. They must weigh the best interests of the child against accusations of parents and suppositions of experts. Often the courts make wise decisions, but other times – as in some domestic abuse cases – the decisions can have tragic consequences.

In one example from another state, a judge sided with a court-appointed psychologist when he upheld a father's right to unsupervised visits with his three children despite the mother's pleas that the man was a danger to them. About a year later, the father drowned the children in a hotel bathtub. After a failed suicide attempt, the man turned himself in to police and was subsequently sentenced to three life terms.

The U.S. Congress is preparing to hear similar testimony as legislators consider a resolution to reform family court decisions that involve accusations of domestic violence. Currently, court psychologists rely on the controversial theory of parental alienation in which one parent -- often the mother -- accuses the other of abuse to increase the likelihood of gaining custody of the children. Because of this, courts may miss circumstances in which abuse is an actual danger and use parental alienation as a reason to unknowingly award custody to a violent parent.

Studies are being made of the work of psychologists in New York family courts, and child advocates hope those studies will add strength to their cause. Rather than relying on psychologists who may not have experience in domestic abuse cases, the proposed resolution would suggest that accusations of violence be independently investigated prior to child custody decisions. In past attempts at family court reform, judges were asked to err against the parent who is accused of abuse. Child advocates would like to return to that standard.  

Source: longislandpress.com, "Call in Congress for Family Court Reform", Joaquin Sapien, Sept. 18, 2016

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