Are Battered Mothers In Georgia Disadvantaged In Child Custody Cases?

For women in Cobb County who are victims of domestic violence and have managed to leave their abusive husbands, their main concern tends to be the protection of their children. However, there is some concern nationwide that courts often fail in their responsibility to make rulings that protect these children in child custody cases involving domestic violence.

Recently, a group of professionals, advocates and domestic violence victims gathered together for a child custody conference in Washington to discuss related problems in family courts across the nation. Organizers of the conference claim that family court judges often give child custody to abusive fathers, disregarding the fears of battered mothers.

Domestic violence a serious problem

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that in 2006, law enforcement in Georgia acted on over 54,000 calls involving domestic violence. Over half of those incidents involved children, either as victims or as witnesses. According to the Georgia Fatality Review Project, 60 percent of domestic violence cases result in reduced charges or dismissal. In some cases, abusers are not even placed in police custody.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources states that for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44, the leading cause of injuries is domestic violence. Moreover, many domestic violence victims are eventually killed by their abuser; Georgia has consistently been in the top 20 states for men killing women since studies tracking these rates began.

Women often re-victimized by the judicial system?

For abused women, seeking child custody in a divorce proceeding can be as traumatic as being abused by their husbands. Legal Momentum, an organization that seeks to advance women's rights, makes a number of claims on this issue:

  • An abusive father contesting child custody is twice as likely to win custody over the abused mother.
  • Women who attempt to protect their children with protective orders or seek supervised visitation with the abuser parent have lost custody of their children.
  • Courts often require abused women to accept child custody arrangements in which the abuser has access to their children.
  • Abusers often seek child custody in order to maintain their abusive behavior over their estranged spouse, dragging the mother into court and exhausting financial resources.
  • Some courts have taken action to terminate the parental rights of an abused mother for failing to protect her child or for child abuse allegations.

It's not clear whether this has happened in a Georgia family court, but it is possible given the fact that many courts approach decisions with what is in the child's best interests, and may disregard unproven fears and concerns on the part of a mother who was abused. There is also some stigma still attached to domestic violence and some judges may feel that a mother is using it as a weapon against the father. If you are the victim of domestic violence and are trying to protect your children in a custody dispute, you should meet with an experienced family law attorney for help.