Last week SHALVA welcomed back Lundy Bancroft for a Continuing Legal Education program :– Advocating for Survivors of Domestic Abuse on Parenting Issues. Here is one response he gave during the question and answer portion of the program.
Being aware that children being exposed to DV abusers is not ideal, what is the alternative when the court believes both parents are entitled to parenting rights? Should attorneys advocate that the children have no contact with the parent who abuses, knowing this is not likely to happen?
We want to ask the court to use a meaningful set of measures for whether the parent who abuses has dealt with their issues. For example, if someone’s on supervised visitation because of a mental health problem, the court is going to want two things. They are going to want evidence that the parent who abuses is in the right kind of program with appropriate psychotherapy and/or medication and they’re going to want indications that the symptoms are abating. Those same two things are going to be true for all kind of issues. If you’re on supervised visitation because of alcoholism, the court is going to want to know if you are in an alcohol treatment program and have you stopped drinking. If you’re on supervised visitation because of incompetent, reckless, dangerous parenting, the court will want to know if you are in a parent education program and if your parenting is improving.
So why is there a completely different approach to supervised visitation when there is domestic abuse? The parent who abuses should have to be in a high quality batterer intervention program, and there should be signs that they are overcoming the abusiveness. Are they starting to talk and think differently about the other parent, are they starting to accept responsibility for the damage they did to the kids, and have they stopped using the children as weapons against the other parent? We want proper steps in place to keep these children safe until the parent who abuses deals with their issues, and we want proper measures in place if they have not.
Practice Tip for Attorneys and Advocates
As Lundy states, courts should be holding domestic abusers to the same standards as others who are ordered to have supervised visitation to keep the children safe. Thank you, Lundy, for sharing your wisdom.