by Barry Goldstein
Two of the most supportive allies of protective mothers are co-sponsoring a conference which will include extensive information and strategy sessions to help reform a system responding poorly to domestic violence custody cases. The conference will be held in Denver, Colorado from July 21-25. To learn more about the schedule, specific programs and other information, consult the NCADV web-site at NCADV.org.
Support from NCADV and NOMAS
At the first Battered Mothers Custody Conference, we heard a lot of complaints about the harm caused by men involved in “fathers’ rights” organizations and the lack of support from domestic violence agencies. Mo Hannah and I met with some of the dv organizations, particularly in the New York area to seek support and collaboration from them. Although we still sometimes hear concerns from protective moms that they did not receive the support they expected from their local dv agencies, we believe that in the ten years since the start of the Battered Mothers Custody Conference, the domestic violence movement has shown much more awareness and support for protective mothers dealing with a custody court system that has not yet learned how to respond to domestic violence and child abuse cases. I believe the dv movement now has a better understanding that the abuser tactics of seeking custody to pressure their partners to stay or punish them for leaving has been successful in undermining the work to prevent domestic violence and is responsible for the recent increase in domestic violence homicides after many years of decline.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is the leading organization in the work to stop domestic violence. Most of the 1600 domestic violence agencies in the United States are part of the NCADV. We have seen a strong commitment and indeed passion from Rita Smith, executive director of the NCADV in support of the protective mothers’ movement.
Rita has been instrumental in helping to get the word out about the failure of custody courts to protect battered mothers and their children. She helped create the groundbreaking roundtable presentation at the US Justice Department in which protective mothers, one super courageous young woman and many of the leading experts in domestic violence and custody provided the Justice Department with accurate information about the failed practices in the custody courts. There was such interest in this program that it was expanded to include all parts of the Justice Department, HHS, the ABA and the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges. President Obama and Vice President Biden sent representatives to the OVW roundtable. OVW is working on a report based on these presentation and we are hopeful in will lead to financial incentives for custody courts to make the kinds of reforms that are necessary.
Rita also helped set up a training for the advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline concerning custody issues. Mo Hannah and I were honored to provide this training. The advocates were already knowledgeable about dv so we could have a high level discussion of the causes and impacts of the failed practices in the custody courts. This training was important because it means that when mothers across the country call the national hotline, the advocates will have the research and resources available to help them.
At the 2010 NCADV Conference (also co-sponsored by NOMAS), Rita asked Mo and I to take the lead in creating a plenary session and workshop track devoted to child custody issues. The plenary featured Mo, Garland Waller, Judge Mike Brigner and myself and provided everyone at the conference with vital information about the crisis in the custody courts. The workshops were extremely helpful and featured Dr. Daniel Saunders and some of his colleagues with our first information about their research that was recently released as part of the U.S. Department of Justice Report.
Although the “fathers’ rights” movement takes the most extreme positions and has an agenda based on rolling back laws against domestic violence and requiring child support (and some even support sexual abuse of children), they have been largely successful in presenting themselves as if they were reasonable men seeking fairness. They often seek to act as if they are representing all men or at least all fathers. Accordingly, I thought it was important that responsible men step forward to challenge the abusers’ lobby and support protective mothers.
The National Organization for Men Against Sexism has a long history of working against oppressions. The chairperson of their child custody task force, Jack Straton had written a number of articles supportive of protective mothers. Accordingly, I decided to join NOMAS in hopes they could speak out as responsible men and fathers against the extremists working for male supremacy. Ben Atherton-Zeman and I put together a workshop about the role of men in supporting protective mothers after obtaining feedback and ideas from protective mothers.
I have repeatedly asked NOMAS to take positions on behalf of protective mothers and they have always agreed to do so. The last few years we have co-sponsored the Battered Mothers Custody Conference. We have signed on to letters and amicus briefs on behalf of protective mothers. Whenever an issue has occurred in which the protective mothers’ movement has sought groups or individuals for support on an issue, NOMAS has been willing to do so. NOMAS also issued a call to other men’s organizations to speak out for protective mothers. A Call to Men was one of the organizations that supported us in this request. We stand ready to challenge any attempt by the abusers’ lobby to claim they speak for anyone but a few extremists. They have launched personal attacks on our leaders, but we wear this as a badge of honor and know they have been much crueler to protective mothers and their children.
2012 NCADV-NOMAS Conference
Child Custody Institute
We are especially excited about the Child Custody Institute which will take place on the final day of the conference, Wednesday, July 25 from 1:30 to 6:30. Registration will be free for all conference attendees and there will be a fee for others who want to participate. I proposed having this institute to the NCADV and received an enthusiastic response from staff and the board. We will have six of the leading experts about domestic violence and child custody to discuss many of the most important topics in this field. As the audience will consist of people with strong knowledge and interest in domestic violence issues, we believe it will be a very high level discussion as there will be no need to take the time for dv 101.
In addition to me, the other members of the faculty have enormous knowledge and experience to contribute. Dr. Mo Therese Hannah is probably more responsible than any other individual for developing the protective mother movement. Mo is a psychologist and responsible for many books including Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody. Mo created the Battered Mothers Custody Conference along with Liliane H. Miller and has been running it ever since. Joan Zorza was one of the very few leaders of the domestic violence movement who participated in the first Battered Mothers Conference and has been a strong supporter ever since. For many years she served as editor of Domestic Violence Report and Sexual Abuse Report and still edits the former. She is the go-to person when anyone needs information about domestic violence research and resources.
Lynn Hecht Schafran is the Senior Vice President at Legal Momentum and has been the director of their National Judicial Education Program. More than anyone, Lynn is responsible for helping to create gender bias studies and is a leading expert regarding gender bias. Her article, “Evaluating the Evaluators” is one of the best in explaining the problems caused by gender bias in the courts. Alan Rosenfeld is an attorney who frequently represents protective mothers in contested custody cases and particularly cases involving child sexual abuse. Alan is probably best known for his representation of Holly Collins which successfully resolved the criminal charges against her so that she could return to the United States.
When I went to law school Nancy Erickson was a professor teaching family law. This would have been a golden opportunity to learn about family law and domestic violence, but I was a typical sexist man who knew nothing about either. Nancy has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and legal scholar and has written many important articles about the custody issue. I never met her until one of the Battered Mothers Custody Conferences and we have been friends and colleagues ever since. Nancy went back to school and obtained degrees in psychology so she could challenge the horrendous practices of unqualified evaluators.
The first four hours of the child custody institute will be divided among 12 key topics such as PAS, child sexual abuse, problems with evaluators, gender bias and the new Department of Justice study. This will be one of the first opportunities to discuss the impact of Dr. Saunders’ research. We will be focused on how these issues can be approached in specific cases in order to use current research in an attempt to obtain better results than we have seen in dv custody cases.
In the final hour, we will be joined by Rita Smith and will have a very interactive discussion about how we can use this research and information to create the systemic changes that are needed to protect children. We will be particularly focused on how dv advocates can help protective mothers and take a lead in their communities to create the needed reforms.
During the first session on Monday, July 23 there will be a workshop about how protective mothers should respond to CPS investigations. There is often a close connection between custody cases and CPS investigations, and at the start of a case, many mothers assume they will have a good outcome because the facts support them. The workshop will be presented by Dara Carlin who is a wonderful dv advocate and one of the leading supporters of the protective mother movement.
During the second session on Monday there will be a workshop about NY Model Batterer Programs that I hope to participate in. Phyllis B. Frank is my close friend and mentor. I teach in the program that she runs and receive training every week for ninety minutes. So much of my understanding of domestic violence that I have used on custody issues, I have learned from Phyllis. Greg White is the director of the NY Model Batterer Program run by Catholic Charities in Buffalo, New York. Remla Parthasarathy is a clinical director for the Women, Children and Social Justice Clinic at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School. At first glance it may not be clear what the connection is between batterer programs and custody, but the NY Model is based on accountability. The perspective recognizes that the information provided in a batterer program (or treatment for substance abuse, anger management or mental health issues) is unlikely to change abusive men’s behavior. The only approaches that have been shown to change their behavior are accountability and monitoring. This is why common approaches by custody courts of pressuring victims of “get over it” and cooperate with their abusers, or assumptions he no longer creates a risk once the relationship is over have failed so miserably. We rarely see custody courts hold domestic abusers accountable which is the approach that would better protect children.
I am most excited about a workshop I will be presenting during the third workshop session on Monday. The subject will be domestic violence in the higher education community and I will be presenting with my wife, Dr. Sharon Goldstein, Dean of Students at Passaic Community College. The frightening frequency in which men engage in rape and domestic violence on campus demonstrates the strong need for policies, training and education regarding domestic violence. We want to send a message that abuse will not be tolerated on campus and emphasize that men rather than women have the primary responsibility to stop sexual abuse and domestic violence. In custody cases we often see established professionals make decisions harmful to children because they do not have the training needed about the specialized body of current scientific research on domestic violence. This was an important finding of the U. S. Department of Justice study led by Dr. Daniel Saunders. While we hope to train and really retrain court professionals based on current research and best practices, many of these professionals have been using flawed practices throughout their careers and may be resistant to change. Accordingly it is especially important to provide students in the relevant disciplines with the information they need about domestic violence so they can share this information and approach when they develop careers in the court system.
During the first session on Tuesday, July 24, I will be reprising my workshop that created so much excitement at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference. The workshop compares the response to domestic violence in Quincy, Massachusetts (Quincy Model) that led to a substantial reduction in domestic violence crime and particularly homicide with the response in Poughkeepsie, New York where poor practices and frequent support of abusive fathers led to a series of domestic violence homicides. This research demonstrated that we could put together best practices that would drastically reduce domestic violence crime. In order to achieve this benefit, it became clear that custody courts must become part of the community response opposing domestic violence. Particularly exciting was research about the financial benefits of implementing these best practices. Society can save at least $500 billion a year by implementing these best practices which is the equivalent of $1500 per person annually. We believe the huge sum of money can provide the incentive for politicians to mandate these best practices.
I did this research for a chapter in the next volume of my book with Mo Therese Hannah, Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody. The breakthrough came when I found research that demonstrates we are spending $750 billion annually on health care costs related to domestic violence. I am now trying to expand this chapter into a book for the general public. If the public realized we were providing a trillion dollar subsidy for men abusing women, that the public pays for, I don’t think the faulty custody court practices would be long tolerated. The NCADV is considering a proposal to create a project to implement what we are calling Quincy Model 2.0. I like the idea of approaching health insurance companies for large contributions. They would save hundreds of billions of dollars if dv laws were better enforced so this would be their chance to do well by doing good.
The third session of workshops on Tuesday includes a very interactive workshop about domestic violence and child custody. The idea is to discuss strategies for reforming the broken system. This can be anything from community activism to lobbying to working on specific cases. This will be another opportunity to discuss the opportunities the Saunders’ study provides. So far we have Dara Carlin and Kathleen Russell joining me to facilitate the workshop and may add one other expert.
The final workshop session will take place on Wednesday morning, July 25. It features an important workshop about challenging both the use of evaluators and the common mistakes seen in evaluations. This should again be an opportunity to see some of the research from the Saunders’ report, which was focused on evaluators, used to demonstrate the reforms that are needed. The workshop features an all star cast with Nancy Erickson, Mo Therese Hannah and Alan Rosenfeld.
The final plenary session on Wednesday features one of my personal heroes, Jennifer Collins. Jennifer’s mother, Holly Collins was involved in a bitter custody dispute in which the court awarded custody to the abusive father even though the court knew he had abused Holly and the children. In one of his most serious assaults, the father fractured the skull of his young son. The court demonstrated what happens when it places more importance on alienation theories than the safety of children. Holly Collins risked everything to rescue her children and became the first American to receive asylum (in the Netherlands) as a result of the proven history of the father’s abuse.
Jennifer Collins has chosen to use her experience to try to save other children from the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of her father and the courts. When the abusers’ rights bully, Glenn Sacks attacked her mother for saving the children from a life of further abuse and misery, Jennifer exposed Sacks’ personal and professional tactics and lies. Now she is working with other Courageous Kids to reform the broken custody court system and protect children.
Other Exciting Events
On Sunday, July 22, NOMAS will present its annual Men’s Study Association research. This includes a variety of presentations that focus on men and masculinity. This provides an informal discussion of the latest research and information that is often not as readily available. For those of you interested in child custody issues, I will be giving a presentation about the findings of my research about Quincy and Poughkeepsie.
During the lunch sessions on Monday and Tuesday, Garland Waller will be presenting her award winning film, NO Way Out but One. The film tells the story of Holly Collins’ rescue of her children and obtaining safety by winning asylum in the Netherlands. The film is based on voluminous records that help debunk a lot of the deliberate information male supremacists have put out about the case. It is a very powerful film and you may need some tissues handy, but it is worth the pain because the story is so inspiring.
On Saturday night, July 21 from 8-9:30, Ben Atherton-Zeman will give a performance of his Voices of Men. For those who haven’t had the privilege of seeing this, Ben uses humor to make important points about the need for men to take responsibility for ending men’s violence against women. It is the kind of show in which you laugh and then cry, enjoy the entertainment, but most important see how men’s behavior is responsible for domestic violence and sexual abuse.
NOMAS will be conducting our Council meetings on the Saturday and again on Wednesday. This is truly an inspirational process as we seek to address the many oppressions in our society and take responsibility for our own transgressions. We will also be conducting business and discussing future events. These sessions are open to the public and I would encourage my friends to attend.
This article has barely scratched the surface of all the wonderful programs and information that will be available at the conference. I have tried to focus on child custody related presentations because that is an important priority of so many of my readers. There are others programs related to child custody and so many other incredible speakers whose programs I wish I had the time to attend.
The conference is also important for networking opportunities. Attendees will include domestic violence advocates from around the country and the world, the leading experts in domestic violence and related topics and many of the leaders in the movement to end domestic violence and reform the child custody system. It is a great opportunity to meet people you can work with on the issues that matter. It is also helpful to see what approaches people around the country are using. This often provides new ideas and offers context on the work we are doing. It is also an opportunity to receive welcome support and spend time away from the pretend world we often find in the custody courts.
I look forward to these conferences as a chance to get together with friends and colleagues. The conference is a great learning experience and an opportunity to feel the camaraderie. I hope to see as many of you at the conference as possible.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Barry can be reached by email from their web site www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com