UMA 02: Forcing children into fire
in Family Court, sharing custody with abusers wins
Family Court has a domestic violence problem.
Despite police reports, heath care provider records, official arbitrator recommendations, photographs, videos, and declarations from friends, family members, and coworkers all documenting my son’s father’s history of violence, law-breaking, and alcohol dependence; for over a decade I have been court-ordered to hand over my child for visitation. “Residential time” with his biological father started before my son could talk.
My Family Court battles have been centered in Seattle. We’re a Blue city of book nerds with in this house we believe signs in our windows, but in my experience of our domestic justice system, King County courts lean conservative—judges err on the side of split parenting rights and residential time even when one parent is abusive.
Seattle’s not an outlier.
Apparently courts in Wisconsin are similarly enthusiastic about connecting and reuniting children with dangerous caregivers. According to ProPublica reporter Megan O’Matz:
“Wisconsin is considered a leader in the movement to treat fathers as equal caregivers, and its percentage of cases with shared custody is among the highest in the nation. But that model, while based on altruistic goals, still has not adjusted to the realities of domestic violence.”
In O’Matz’s staggering report on Wisconsin’s failure to protect mothers and children, He Beat Her Repeatedly. Family Court Tried to Give Him Joint Custody of Their Children, a horrifying picture of the state’s broken justice system is drawn around one mom’s harrowing fight to protect her son.
🚨 Trigger warning: This article includes graphic descriptions of abuse.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is happening across the United States and the crisis is clear: Our Family Courts are dangerously uninformed about domestic violence.
Exacerbating this problem is that courts aren’t listening to the people who understand domestic violence most intimately. Testimonies of parents who are abuse survivors—by far mostly mothers—are routinely dismissed in favor of thin reports from court officials who have limited or no training on domestic violence.
The result? Continued abuse of both parents and children is enabled through shared custody agreements that require not only residential time with abusive parents for kids, but also regular contact between survivor parents and their abusers for
In one horrible tragedy O’Matz cites from 2018, a woman was shot and killed by her children’s father as she dropped them off for a court-ordered exchange after her no-contact plea was rejected.
Despite the bleak picture O’Matz’s thorough report paints, it’s not without hope. In a twist I wasn’t expecting, the mother at the center of the story finds an unlikely ally: her abusive husband’s first wife. Their story of mutual support through parallel custody battles against the man who terrorized both of them is a rally call for women supporting women, and a powerful reminder that if you’re being hurt, you don’t have to fight back alone. ⬛
Everyone deserves safety. Find free and confidential help and resources through The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.
Did you miss last week’s inaugural issue of The Unwed Mother Agenda in? Here's a link and a glimpse into the story that bought me here: Single motherhood is like drowning and being on fire