I have been writing about, researching and studying the horrors of domestic abuse in the American family for several years. I guess that is what happens when a journalist becomes a victim.
It has been a painful and fascinating journey, too often exposing the serious flaws in our system and the serious effect on children and victims, some of it devastating.
I’ve learned, for example, that in nearly all states in the US and in many countries around the world, the current child custody standards and language is very new, based on little research and no historical evidence to back it up. In other words, we are living in a grand experiment that began in the 1990s to raise children of divorce and adjudicate broken families.
Time will tell as our children grow up and their hardwired, adult personalities take over if terms like “shared parenting,” “co-parenting” and “parallel parenting” and the house-hopping that followed really made a positive difference in their lives.
In the meantime, research is beginning to come in that swinging the pendulum from one side to another may not be doing families any good. And that the quest to solve all types of family divorces with one, simple piece of legislation or family court precedent, isn’t working.
I am currently collecting my own research on child custody and divorce with an anonymous Google survey posted on several social media sites, including Twitter. Please take this survey yourself and pass it along to others you know in a similar situation. It’s not scientific, but it is a snapshot of the broad experiences many are facing in family court with a domestic abuser today.
In a few days, I’ve already collected a couple dozen responses in a 31-question survey about divorce, child custody and domestic abuse. I have specifically sought people who were victims of abuse in the relationship in which they have children. This is NOT geared toward healthy divorces or no-conflict co-parenting.
- 91% of respondents are women and all respondents were referring in their answers to a heterosexual relationship.
- Most were once married to this partner, and all are no longer in a romantic relationship with this partner. The large majority initiated the breakup.
- 95% of respondents were abused by this partner during their romantic relationship and only 24% report that they are no longer being abused by this partner.
- Of the men who responded, only one report that he was abused by this partner during the union.
- All forms of abuse they reported here fit the definition of violence by the US Department of Justice.
- 76% of the women who responded report that this partner was physically violent with them, including hitting, pushing and grabbing and 33% were choked or wounded with a weapon by this partner.
- And yet, 72% share custody of their children with their abuser (represented by the pie chart to the right).
- They represent 12 states and two countries.
- 95% say the family court system needs reform and only 24% say they are happy with the outcome of their custody case.
- 95% of respondents say their children have witnessed this parent abusing them.
- 38% say this partner physically assaulted their child
Surprisingly, at least to me, domestic violence was NOT entered into evidence in the divorce/custody case in most of these experiences and 14% report that their attorney advised them not to.
Research is showing that judges, attorneys and parent coordinators often assume that domestic violence is entered into custody cases as a made-up ploy to gain advantage over the other parent. Also, since the new standard of custody is to place children with the parent most able to get along with the other, victims who say they are afraid, whether legitimately or not, of the other parent are seen as unable to fulfill that goal.
Further, only 14% of respondents say the domestic violence evidence was investigated by authorities once presented in any way. Wow, that one surprised me. Shouldn’t we as a society take the position that is better to err on the side of victims and children and investigate all claims of abuse?
One of the many comments posted by a respondent was particular poignant because she is now through this process with grown children. She said:
“My children are now grown. It was a complete & utter nightmare for 18 years. He still lies. He still manipulates. He is crazy & psychotic. I am learning more about this recently. Took years of recovery for me. I hurt for my kids they didn’t have normal father or life.”
I think that comment truly speaks for mothers (and of course the few fathers in this horrible club) who want the best for their children and know that an abusing father is not going to be the best and in fact, is likely to cause some serious emotional damage and pain for their precocious children let alone cause further trauma for them.
Stay tuned for more postings on this survey. I will post the results in the future as more responders come in.
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com, among many publications around the country. Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse. Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org