Family court decisions
frequently go against domestic violence victims and in favor of
the abuser for all the reasons we stated in Part I. These unjust
family court decisions against the real victim can range from
ordering a restraining order against you instead of against the
abuser, to opening child protective service investigations against
you, to ordering you to pay for expensive psych evaluations, to
ordering excessive visitation rights to the abuser, all the way
to what is unquestionably the most heartbreaking decision of all,
when family court gives custody of the children to the abuser.
If you are a victim
of family violence and family court has ruled against you and
in favor of the abuser, you're probably feeling devastated and
defeated. It's true, the consequences of family court decisions
which go against victims are usually severe. The abuser's grip
on the victim is strengthened, there's usually increased risk
of more violence against the victim and her children, and the
injustice, itself, leaves victims feeling defeated and in despair.
But don't give up hope.
It's not time to give
up. Here are some things you should know and some things you can
Don't despair. Family court decisions are usually not forever.
Unlike criminal court where convictions are rarely overturned,
family court decisions are frequently reconsidered and revised.
So don't give up hope. Start right away to inform yourself of
the steps needed to begin turning the case around.
Inform yourself right away of all the options for your soonest
opportunity to petition family court to reconsider the court orders
you feel are unjust. Depending on the circumstances
of your case and the rules of your family court system, it may
be that all you need is a new piece of evidence to re-open the
case. Or you may be able to petition the court in a month or two.
Or there may be other strategies available to modify the ruling
or to get a reversal. So find out the proceedures, requirements,
and the timeframes for getting the court to reconsider the ruling.
Much of this information
can be obtained for free from the family court clerk's office,
from the family court services office connected to family court,
or by talking with a family attorney connected to your local women's
shelter. Getting fully informed will not only guide you in preparing
the next step, it will also keep you from that horrible feeling
that you're doomed forever.
Even if you find out
that there's a long time period before the court will reconsider
the overall ruling, it's likely there are mechanisms for modifying
parts of the ruling before the time period is up. For example,
if the court has given custody to the abuser, it's probably going
to be a while before the court will reconsider the custody decision,
itself. But within that time period you probably can petition
the court repeatedly to get increases in your visitation schedule.
Re-examine the events of abuse to see if there might be the chance
of opening or re-opening a criminal case. If you can
get your abuser charged in the criminal court system with an old
or new criminal act of abuse - or even named as a suspect in a
new police investigation - you'll have very strong leverage for
turning the family court to your favor. (See next section, Section
V: A Rescue from Family Court Hell.)
Be on the lookout for new offenses being committed by the abuser.
Be ready to do what ever you can to get him caught this time in
his next bad act.
Remember, abusers rarely
stop abusing unless they are stopped by firm action of the law
and courts. If family court decided against you and in favor of
the abuser, not only is your abuser unrestricted by the court,
he's probably feeling a big boost of confidence, and feeling emboldened
by the court having taken his side. He's probably feeling more
invincible than ever. So, unfortunately, it's very likely that
sooner or later your abuser is going to commit new offenses. But,
at the same time, these new acts can be used against him in the
next family court hearing, or criminal acts that get him arrested.
Be ready! Be ready
to document, to make note of witnesses, to write down what they
say, to gather evidence, to preserve phone messages, take pictures,
to write down dates and times. Be ready to nail him this time.
And if he commits a
criminal act, don't hesitate to call police. If he makes threats
against you or the children, withholds the children from your
visitation rights, drives drunk with the children in the car,
breaks things, damages your car, starts stalking you, etc., call
police and make a report. And if the officer who responds won't
take you seriously, write your statement on a piece of paper and
tell the officer you want your statement put into a report. And
if the officer still won't take your statement, go into the police
station and ask for another officer to make the report. And if
you still can't get an officer to make the report, ask for the
This time, don't let
the abuser get away with a thing!
If you have to communicate with the abuser - regarding visitations,
child care issues, financial, or other issues - do so as much
as possible in writing. And always, always, always,
make copies and keep your original. Don't give the abuser any
opportunity to lie about whatever arrangements or agreements you
and he make. Communicating with the abuser in writing, instead
of in phone conversations or in person at child exchanges, will
also greatly reduce the opportunites for him to continue his abuse.
Keep Being Your Children's Mother, even if Family Court has given
full Legal Custody to the Abuser. There is nothing
more heartbreaking than when family court takes child custody
away from a domestic violence victim and gives it to the abuser.
And yet this is exactly what happens with alarming frequency.
If this happens to
you, do everything legally allowed within the court's orders to
continue being your children's mother. Remember, you still are
your children's mother, and they still need you very much, in
fact, they need you now more than ever. Make as many phone calls
to your children as allowed. Write to them often. Don't miss visitations.
Keep in touch with your children's school and activities to the
maximum allowed. The more creative you can be in keeping up your
mothering of your children, the less heartbroken you're going
feel. And the much better off they will be, too. And the more
likely the court will take notice and make future decisions in
Also, begin right away
to work toward increasing your visitation times and liberties
with the children, and to ultimately get the court order reversed.
Obey the family court orders to the letter, even when those orders
are completely unfair. Once family court rules against
you, it's near certain the abuser will be on the lookout to use
even your slightest violation of a court order against you. In
fact, many abusers will try to trick you into a violation. For
example, if the court orders specified visitation times, the abuser
might call you up all sweet and understanding and offer to have
you keep the kids overnight - and then nail you for it. Another
common trick is to lure you, one way or another, into connecting
with him in violation of your restraining order - and then call
the police on you.
So be aware. Always
follow court orders to the letter. Jump through all the hoops.
And don't let the abuser trick you into violating any aspect of
the court order.
Make good use of your free time to make your life better. If
the abuser has gotten full custody of your children, it may be
a while before you're able to regain custody. It's very difficult
to get past the heartache and make good use of the time you'll
have without the children at your side. But try. Try to use the
time to set a goal to put something new and positive into your
life - to find better housing, to learn a new skill, to find a
better job, to make new friends, to get counseling. Try to do
something that will make you feel better about yourself. And make
a better future for when your children come home to you.