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What the National Center for State Courts needs to know

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Our state’s custody courts can better protect America’s children from abuse and maltreatment. Today the 3.8% of of custody cases requiring trial represent a critical exception to the court’s success. These are overwhelmingly domestic violence cases and the research and evidence is now irrefutable that outdated practices are preventing judges from protecting children or adult victims.


Preliminary findings from research by Professor Joan Meier for the National Institute of Justice show that in 69% of abuse cases and 81% of sexual abuse cases the alleged offender is successful and children are placed in jeopardy. Other major pieces of research show the impact and demonstrate the problem:


  1. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study from the CDC demonstrates the harm to children of maltreatment, including sexual abuse and witnessing domestic violence. They co occur in more than 40% of domestic violence cases.

    It is common for children who witness domestic violence to have an ACE score of four or more. Founded on this they will lead dramatically shorter, sicker lives. They cost communities in health care, criminal justice and education. Our estimates, based on CDC research, are over $1 Trillion a year. They are 40% more likely to be intravenous drug users.  One in ten of this community will attempt suicide each and every year.  ACE establishes that it is the fear and stress from abuse that cause long term harm so physical abuse is not required, but most court professionals continue to require physical assaults before they will consider protecting children.

  2. The Saunders Study from the National Institute of Justice demonstrates that many evaluators, judges and lawyers do not have the specific domestic violence knowledge needed to recognize and respond to abuse. This research supports a more multidisciplinary approach than the current practice of limiting experts to mental health professionals.  The inadequate training leads directly to what Saunders calls “harmful outcome” cases that are always wrong and based on the use of flawed practices.


No judge wants to hurt children. The courts often dismiss complaints as those of disgruntled litigants and the mothers say it is corruption. The reality is a far more complex, and increasingly supported by a gathering consensus from research and media stories.


  • On January 30, 2016, the Boston Globe published the results of a lengthy investigation concerning child custody and sexual abuse.  Although the story focused on the court and child protective failures in Massachusetts, it found widespread failure to integrate current research and use best practices, and that is true in every state.   

  • On December 1, 2016, reporter, Laurie Udesky posted the first article from her lengthy investigation of custody in crises.  Ms. Udesky is associated with the 100 Reporters web site and the GW Williams Center for Independent Journalism.  Her investigation covered 9 states and demonstrated how poor practices and bias led to the widespread failure to protect children.  

    Included in the Udesky article are the preliminary findings from Professor Joan Meier’s research for the National Institute of Justice showing that although deliberate false reports by mothers occur less than 2% of the time, in 69% of abuse cases and 81% of sexual abuse cases the alleged offender is successful in obtaining custody or unsupervised visitation.

  • At least two other prominent journalistic institutions, one of which recently won a Pulitzer Prize, are conducting research into the failure of custody courts. One is focused on sexual abuse cases and the other on cases where courts gave fathers the access needed to kill their children. Courts tend to focus on each case and issue separately.  As advocates and researchers, we are working with media and establishing patterns.


Here is an article (in two parts) I recently wrote for the Stop Abuse Campaign website. It provides twenty examples of standard court practices that make it harder for judges to protect children.  Part 1     Part 2

Custody courts cannot protect children unless they integrate the latest scientific research, and adopt a multidisciplinary approach to replace the current practice of limiting experts to mental health professionals; the equivalent of using general practitioners to respond to cancer or heart disease.


Consequently today, and every day, more than 100 children will see their lives ruined by custody courts using approaches first developed in the 1970’s.  Some children will be killed by abusers the courts found safe.  More will die in their teens and early twenties from poor decisions related to ACEs such as substance abuse, suicide and crime.  Most of the children will have painful childhoods that lead to premature deaths in middle age.  Today’s science connects many of these preventable tragedies to flawed practices in custody courts.


There is now a specialized body of research and expertise in domestic violence and sexual abuse. This can help judges recognize abuse and save children. And when they do rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, suicide, substance abuse and crime will go down and life expectancy will improve.


The courts can become part of the solution instead of the cause of ruining children’s lives.  At our meeting we can provide a brief introduction to the research and introduce practical proposals that courts can adopt. I look forward to hearing back from you.

1 in 5 New York Kids Are Sexually Abused. Help Prevent That

The CDC reports that 1 in 5 children are sexually abused.

9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are never brought to justice and never appear on sex offender registries.

They are protected by New York State laws.

Sign this petition and change that. Protect NY Kids.

Sign Petition Now
Barry Goldstein

Barry Goldstein

Research Director

Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate.
Barry has written some of the leading books about domestic violence and custody.
Barry has an ACE score of 0.

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