Leaving an abusive relationship does not free a victim from the abuser’s control when they are forced to co-parent. Rather, children become the pawns in the abuser’s fight for control.
In juvenile Court cases, if a parent-victim fails to leave a relationship where there is domestic violence, the Court will remove the victim’s child for failure to protect. Why then do victims who do leave and attempt to protect their children get accused of alienation or gatekeeping in domestic relations court? This conundrum leaves victim-parents in a no-win situation.
Judges are invited to attend family law continue education trainings for free. These trainings are hosted by various family law groups. However, these trainings are not required of judges. New judges, regardless of their professional background as attorneys, are typically placed on the Domestic Relations bench. This means that judges with no family law experience and no training could find themselves presiding over a complicated divorce or custody battle. This is dangerous. Without having practiced family law and thus represented victims of domestic abuse (or represented known abusers), these judges may issue custody orders that fail to adequately protect children. The most extreme situations have resulted in children’s deaths simply because a parent trying to protect a child from the abuser was viewed as an alienator or gatekeeper. Unfortunately this means that a large percent of our bench has not been receiving regular or even a single training on domestic abuse and the effect on children, despite the fact that every single judge may serve over a protection order case or case involving these dynamics due to the two-year rotation of judges and the fact that your protection order request may be heard by any judge.
Bottom line: Don’t assume your judicial officer has training on these issues: training is available but not mandatory, and not all judicial officers are knowledgeable about the impacts of domestic abuse on children. Until these trainings are made mandatory, attorneys and parties should be prepared to educate the bench, as needed.
Currently in most districts, judges rotate about every two years between dockets. Some advocates believe the solution to the above scenario is the implementation of a dedicated domestic relations bench. The reasoning behind this is that trained family law practitioners have a better understanding of protective parenting and child endangerment, and therefore are better equipped to preside over these types of cases. While a dedicated domestic relations bench would seem to help alleviate this issue, what is really needed is thorough initial and continuous training to ensure the dynamics and concerns are at the forefront of the judge’s mind, regardless of background.
Children would benefit greatly from judges and family lawyers having regular complete and gender-neutral CLE training on the dynamics of domestic violence. Attorneys must learn how to present evidence and get past hearsay rules in a protection order matter involving children. Thorough training would introduce judges and attorneys to basic dynamics of domestic violence. Attorneys would benefit from a roster of experts available to testify in cases where domestic violence is an issue. Complete education around domestic violence would reduce the mischaracterization of protective parenting as alienation.
Colorado Children First will work with the judiciary and Legislature to ensure all judges receive the proper training regularly in order to thoroughly understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and the effect on children, including victim manipulation. Especially in a custody case, judges must be educated on the difference between protective parenting and gatekeeping, and must understand that abusers are experts at presenting themselves as agreeable and charming to win over the judge.