Endless $tupidity: domestic violence victim advocacy for supervised visitation centers (Endless stupidity or professional self-interest -- there's no other choice.)


Endless $tupidity: domestic violence victim advocacy for supervised visitation centers

(Endless stupidity or professional self-interest -- there's no other choice.)

Is there some reason that anti-dv advocates just can't get it? Is there some reason that researchers and activists keep recommending this idiocy? It's a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea. Why:

(1) Supervised visitation cannot continue indefinitely, and controlling, violent, or child molesting parents aren't going to change. So what is the point? (No. "Anger management" therapies don't work.) It's not a child custody solution for abusers. It's not a solution for children who have 5, 10 or 18 years left in their childhoods. It's a band-aid for 10 weeks, or 6 months, or whatever, and then the abusive parent will most likely go back to court, after behaving "safely" or "nicely" in the presence of supervisors, and get unsupervised visitation. The supervised visitation center will have made money, the parents will have lost money, the litigation will have remained open, the abusive parent will be even more angry and resentful, additional therapies and interventions will be recommended and tried (all as the abuse fades into the past and claimed irrelevancy), and overall, the entire situation will be even more miserable than it was before for the victims. [See comment by JG]

(2) If it is to be some kind of extended supervised visitation, then it also chains the victim family to the geographical area where the perpetrator is located in order to further what are usually non-beneficial visitation rights. The battered mother cannot relocate for job or family support, and while getting no real parenting help, and having to do it all, now also has an often inconvenient and intrusive visitation schedule to adhere to (not to mention what this does to the child's life). The parent in supervised visitation isn't "parenting". Someone else is doing all the parenting. Maybe there's a rationale for this kind of thing when the State removes someone's children into foster care, and the parent is working out the parent's substance abuse issues, but otherwise? Children don't need visitation with violent or molesting parents. If they already have one safe caregiving parent, and the State is not involved, they simply don't need this. And if we're talking about a parent who is merely negligent but not violent or intentionally abusive, and it's a custody issue between two parents of young children, well, then the competent parent can "supervise" in a more natural visitation setting in one or the other parent's home or on outings until the children are old enough that the lack of judgment of the parent needing supervision isn't an issue. That's going to be way better as well for the children and their relationship with the supervised parent.

(3) Once supervised visitation professionals or institutions invest in facility and marketing to do this work, they become "stakeholders" whose most immediate concern will be the need to pay their bills and salaries, further their business interests, and expand. Doesn't matter whether it's a private business or a government budget. Doesn't matter whether it's a dv activist organization or a "nonpartisan charity". Once the system and facility and employees with salaries are in place, it looks for continuing customers. There's going to be a limit to the number of abusers, and perhaps some competition as well, so what will happen next is marketing, i.e. making a market, i.e. expanding the market. The cross-pollinating professionals they work with, the inter-disciplinary group associates and referral sources, such as custody evaluators and judges, will start sending them new kinds of business. Soon, supervised visitation gets recommended for all kinds of pretextual reasons. Such as "therapeutic visitation", and "reunification counseling", and "parenting training", and as punishment for parents who badmouth each other, and for "evaluation" purposes (as if any parenting could possibly be evaluated in such an artificial setting.)

(4) Over the past two decades, supervised visitation centers have been established by abuser lobbies and parental alienation proponents, psych and interdisplinary trade promotion groups, and money-grubbing mental health professionals who can't make a go of practice without glomming captive divorce court litigants -- and who for some goddamn reason are always more clever than victim advocate groups. Once they have opened up their visitation centers, they commence doing what entrepreneurs will do: market their services, concoct new services and programs, network, and promote themselves (which in the case of these ill-advised ideas, also frequently includes getting -- and justifying and maintaining -- some amount of charitable or government funding.)

(5) It's yet another big waste of the family's money and children's college funds via "therapeutic jurisprudence". Because of the need to keep the facility going, and because of the lucrative therapeutic referral work, overwhelmingly, what has happened in recent years is that perfectly acceptable parents are being ordered into supervised visitation schedules for some of the most frivolous reasons. Especially those who can pay. And the whole idea just increases the load on the court system by keeping the matter alive and encouraging judges to put the decision-making off for another day. Cases under endless management, in endless float.

Note that I didn't say that third-party supervised visitation was "never" appropriate. Supervised visitation may sometimes have its limited uses, but ONLY as a temporary arrangement. (I hesitate to admit this, because when it comes to therapeutic inverventionism in the court system, like potato chips, it seems that if you try to have just one...) One legitimate use of supervised visitation would be for times when truly serious abuse allegations have been levied against a parent, to last until a civil or criminal hearing can be held to render findings on the truth or falsity of the allegations (following which, if they're true, there should be NO visitation).

Dead children.  Justice's PosterousAnother limited use might be as a temporary arrangement during times when a parent is unable to exercise unsupervised visitation but reasonably is expected to be able to do so after a short transition or learning period, e.g. a young unwed father and an infant he needs to learn how to care for, or e.g. a parent who for some reason has not been in the picture and needs to transition into a relationship with a child, AND ALSO, in these latter examples when there is some very, very, VERY good reason the other parent in fact is not appropriate as the "supervisor". (The to-be-supervised parent's ego does not constitute a good reason, any more than it would in the de facto "supervision" of an intact family.)

So in limited situations, a child body guard or nanny parent's helper type of supervisor might have its uses. But not where there is a violent or abusive parent. Certainly not in a case like this one. (Case worker in Palm Beach supervised visitation center talked on the telephone while father molested child.) And this one is even worse (Washington father hatchet-chopped his young sons before setting house on fire while useless superviser sat outside in her car.)

What happens if there is a shortage of visitation supervisors, or no supervised visitation centers? That's easy. Parents who are not dangerous won't have to suffer this nonsense. And parents who are dangerous won't get visitation. As they shouldn't in the first place. Supervised visitation is not for the benefit of abuse victims. It's for the benefit of abusers, and for the benefit of therapeutic jurisprudenchers who make money off of the idea. Stop it. Stop it now.

-- liz


Why Supervised Visitation is not Fair for Children of Abusive Men

Troubling Admission of Supervised Visitation Records in Court

This webpage was inspired by the unbelievably bad methodology and recommendations in the taxpayer-funded psychology-in-court-promoting Child Custody Evaluators' Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations: Their Relationship to Evaluator Demographics, Background, Domestic Violence Knowledge and Custody-Visitation Recommendations, Final Technical Report Submitted to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (October 31, 2011). Principal Investigator: Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D., Co-Investigators: Kathleen C. Faller, Ph.D. and Richard M. Tolman, Ph.D. University of Michigan, School of Social Work, 1080 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor MI 48109-1106 USA. ("This project was supported by Grant No. 2007-WG-BX-0013 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice.") Kathleen Faller -- really? OMG. (And I don't believe for a second that all these battered women championed more expensive and time-consuming evaluations and supervised visitation. Talk about your cherry-picking...)

Addendum by JG:

"Supervised visitation also is used as a first step toward a custody switch away from protective mothers to abusive fathers.

"If his visitation goes well, that's used as 'evidence' that he did nothing wrong in the first place, and that the accusations against him were the result of parental alienation by the mother. His unsupervised visitation is restored, following which further complaints by the mother and/or child result in the mother losing custody to the abuser, with and without the application of additional lucrative court-ordered 'therapeutic interventions'.

"If the visitation doesn't go well, then the difficulty with the visits is blamed on resistance and interference by the mother. This accomplishes two things: it creates an alibi for the professionals for their failed 'reunification therapy' or wrong recommendations in urging his continuing visitation and involvement, and it creates the same desired end-result of blaming the mother.

"Many mothers who once laid allegations of abuse (or just believed the allegations of their children or others) ultimately find the tables turned on them and that they are the ones in supervised visitation and various court-ordered therapies. After this, they frequently lose custody -- and not infrequently, all contact with their children -- when they cannot any longer afford the cost of these 'therapeutic interventions', or are found to have been 'noncompliant', or the abusive fathers are granted permission to relocate by the court (which seems to be much more readily permitted by the courts for fathers than by mothers.)"



Child Custody Evaluators' Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations: Their Relationship to Evaluator Demographics, Background, Domestic Violence - Knowledge and Custody-Visitation Recommendations Final Technical Report Submitted to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice

Entire article follows below the excerpts or read here


High rates of domestic violence exist in families referred for child custody evaluations. These evaluations can produce potentially harmful outcomes, including the custody of children being awarded to a violent parent, unsupervised or poorly supervised visitation between violent parents and their children, and mediation sessions that increase danger to domestic violence victims. Past research shows that domestic violence is frequently undetected in custody cases or ignored as a significant factor in custody-visitation determinations. Previous research also indicates that violence—and its harmful effects on victims and children—often continues or increases after separation.

Today the family law arena is increasingly identified as needing reform to protect battered women and their children (Goodmark, 2011). Research has documented the ongoing and sometimes escalating dangers faced by victims and their children after they leave violent relationships. Homicidal threats, stalking, and harassment affect as many as 25 to 35 percent of survivors who have left a violent relationship (e.g., Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Hardesty & Chung, 2006; Tjaden & Thoennes,2000a). In addition, as many as one fourth of battered women report their ex-partners threatened to hurt or kidnap their children (e.g., Liss & Stahly, 1993). Many abusers also use the legal system to maintain contact with and harass their ex-partners (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002).

Domestic abuse survivors and their children may experience serious harm as a result of family court decisions. Offenders may be able to continue their abuse of their ex-partners and children due to unsupervised or poorly supervised visitation arrangements (Neustein & Lesher, 2005; Radford & Hester, 2006); sole or joint custody of children may be awarded to a violent or potentially violent parent rather than a non-violent one; and mediation may be recommended or mandated in a way that compromises victims’ rights or places them in more danger. Tragically, in some cases post-separation contacts end in the homicide of a mother and/or her children.(Saunders, 2009; Sheeran & Hampton, 1999). Ironically, battered mothers’ attempts to protect their children may be used against them in custody and visitation decisions.

One widely cited educational booklet from the American Judges Association states that, “studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases” (American Judges Association, n.d., p. 5)

Gender Bias in the Courts

Battered women are at higher risk of negative custody-visitation outcomes due to gender bias by courts, as documented by many federal, state, and local commissions that have studied such bias since the 1980s (e.g., Abrams & Greaney, 1989; Czapanskiy, 1993; Danforth & Welling, 1996; Dragiewicz, 2010; Meier, 2003; Zorza, 1996)4. Negative stereotypes about women seem to encourage judges to disbelieve women’s allegations about child abuse (Danforth & Welling, 1996; Zorza, 1996). A lack of understanding about domestic violence also leads judges to accuse victims of lying, blaming victims for the violence, and trivializing the violence (Abrams & Greaney, 1989;Maryland Special Joint Committee on Gender Bias, 1989).

Gender bias is frequently uncovered in custody disputes (Rosen & Etlin, 1996) and often leads to mistrust of women—in particular to the belief that they make false allegations of child abuse and domestic violence. Dragiewicz (2010) provides a comprehensive summary of gender bias reports pertaining to custody decisions. In addition to the tendency to disbelieve or minimize women’s reports of abuse, or to disregard evidence for it, Dragiewicz also describes other problems uncovered during investigations. These include mothers being punished for reporting abuse.

Half of men who batter also physically abuse their children (Straus, 1983.

Beliefs About False Allegations of Domestic Violence in Relation to Other Beliefs and Recommendations

Among evaluators, the belief that allegations of domestic violence are usually false was part of a constellation of beliefs, including beliefs that false allegations of child abuse and parental alienation by DV survivors are common. DV educators need to provide accurate information on: the rates and nature of false allegations and alienation; the ways in which survivors are reluctant to co-parent out of fear of future harm; the mental health consequences of DV; and the importance of understanding coercive-controlling forms of violence. In addition, the significant relationships between beliefs about custody and broader beliefs about patriarchal norms, justice, and social dominance suggest links to deeper values. Professional educators can use value awareness exercises that may help change beliefs and behavior. These recommendations apply to judges as well, since their beliefs about DV and custody were significantly related to the outcomes recommended in the case vignette.

Friendly Parent Statutes

The friendly-parent standard works against survivors because any concerns they voice about father-child contact or safety for themselves are usually interpreted as a lack of cooperation (Zorza, 1996).

Survivors are therefore placed in a no-win situation: If they do not report abuse, then protections for them and solid grounds for custody are not available; yet reporting the abuse may be viewed as raising false allegations in order to gain advantage in divorce proceedings (Dore, 2004). Research shows that parents who raise concerns about child sexual abuse can be severely sanctioned for doing so (Faller & DeVoe, 1995). The sanctions include loss of custody to the alleged offender, restricted visitation, and court orders not to report further abuse or take the child to a therapist (Faller & DeVoe, 1995; Neustein & Goetting, 1999; Neustein & Lesher, 2005; Voices of Women, 2008). In practice, friendly-parent provisions, together with statutes presuming joint custody, tend to override presumptions against awarding joint legal custody with the abuser (Morrill, Dai, Dunn, Sung, & Smith, 2005).

Further compounding victims’ experiences are contradictory messages from criminal courts, family courts, child protection investigations, and visitation services (Hester, 2009). For example, criminal courts support victims’ testimony about the abuse, but in family court the same testimony might be interpreted as non-cooperation. To overcome these inconsistencies some states have introduced integrated DV courts (Aldrich & Kluger, 2010).

Labeling Survivors as “Alienating Parents”

Similar to the emphasis on cooperative parenting, use of the label “parent-alienation syndrome” (Gardner, 1998) or, more recently, “parental-alienation disorder” (Bernet, 2008; Bernet, von Boch-Galhau, Baker, & Morrison, 2010) can also place battered women in a no-win situation.

Battered mothers are vulnerable to these labels when they make formal child abuse allegations or raise concerns about the possible abuse of the children by an ex-partner. Many child abuse professionals believe that mothers coach their children to make false allegations in contested custody disputes (Faller, 2007).

Practitioners who apply parent-alienation syndrome (PAS) or parent-alienation disorder formulations tend to automatically label a parent as an “alienator” without a thorough investigation of the allegations (Brown, Frederico, Hewitt, & Sheehan, 2000; Brown, Frederico, Hewitt, & Sheehan, 2001; Meier, 2009). As a result, battered mothers may be viewed as both pathological and abusive.

Fathers’ Rights Groups

The influence of fathers’ rights groups on evaluators and judges is unclear outside of anecdotal accounts (Kurth, 2010). Some types of groups lobby for the presumption of joint custody and co-parenting and doubt the validity of most domestic violence allegations(Dragiewicz, 2008;Williams, Boggess, & Carter, 2004). For example, the National Fathers’ Resource Center (NFRC), along with Fathers for Equal Rights, “demands that society acknowledge that false claims of Domestic Violence are used to gain unfair advantages in custody and divorce cases” (NFRC, 2006). They further state:

Fathers’ organizations now estimate that up to 80% of domestic violence allegations against men are false allegations. Since society offers women so many perks for claiming that they are victims of DV (we call these perks “warm milk and cookies”), false or staged DV allegations now appear to be even more frequent in family court cases than false sex abuse allegations. . . . Simply stated, women know, and are often advised by their attorneys, that if they want to get custody of the children, they had better try to nail dad with some sort of domestic violence accusation (NFRC, 2006).

Underlying the patriarchal beliefs and victim blaming are likely to be deeper, “core” beliefs (i.e. general, value-laden beliefs) about justice and equality. For example, the belief that the world is basically a just place has been related to various forms of victim blaming or denigration. It asserts that good things can happen only to good people and bad things can happen only to bad people (Rubin & Peplau, 1975). Likewise, holding a basic belief that hierarchies are an inherent part of society (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999) and having inequality as a core value (Ball-Rokeach, 1976) are related to beliefs supporting gender inequality. 

In 2007, ten mothers and a victimized child (now an adult) and national and state organizations filed suit against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They claimed that the human rights of abused mothers and children were not protected because custody was awarded to abusers and child molesters (Klein, 2007).



Child Custody Evaluators' Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations: Their Relationship to Evaluator Demographics, Background, Domestic Violence - Knowledge and Custody-Visitation Recommendations Final