Mothers Of Lost Children – Indiana

Support for Noncustodial Indiana Moms

When Battered Women Lose Custody

with 17 comments

This article is summarized in part from the article, Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases: Legal Trends, Risk Factors, and Safety Concerns (Revised 2007) by Daniel G. Saunders (, and published by VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The article can be retrieved from their website.   See this source for a complete list of supporting citations. 

This is a very good paper, and should be manditory reading for all court personnel.

When a mother enters a visitation/exchange program as the visiting parent, workers may be quick to assume she failed as a parent or, worse, that she’s dangerous. After all, her referral to the center probably came at the end of a lengthy process of expert evaluation and court hearings. However, in all too many domestic violence cases, community systems have failed her. There is growing evidence that gender bias and myths about battered women stack the cards against them in child custody disputes. Ironically, their very attempts to protect their children may make it more likely they will lose custody to an abusive ex-partner. 

Slowly, battered mothers have received increased legal protections. For example, some states in the U.S. exempt them from mandatory mediation or make it easier for them to move a safer distance from an abuser. Approximately half of all states have a legal presumption that an abuser should not have sole or joint physical custody. In the remaining states, the judge must consider domestic violence in custody and visitation decisions, but as just one of many factors for consideration. Canada has no presumption in its federal law against granting custody to abusers and the law states that maximum contact should be given to the noncustodial parent. However, protections are increasing in some provinces through consideration of domestic violence as a factor in decisionmaking. Some provinces also apply conditions to temporary protection orders and order abusers into treatment as a condition of visitation. With new legal protections have come more domestic violence training and resource manuals for judges, custody evaluators, and others involved in custody decisions.

Despite this progress, misconceptions and faulty practice continue. One common misconception is that allegations of domestic violence are common in disputed custody cases. There is also no evidence, despite claims from fathers’ rights groups, that false allegations of domestic abuse or child abuse are common, especially from mothers. On the contrary, evidence shows that false allegations are rare. In addition, a recent comparison of mothers’ and fathers’ abuse allegations showed that mothers’ allegations were substantiated more often. Another misconception is that cases labeled as “high conflict” do not involve domestic violence. It is now clear that domestic violence is a current or past reality in the majority of these “high conflict” relationships. Domestic violence simply goes undetected in many cases, an oversight that increases danger to children and their mothers. 

More alarming are findings that, even when detected, domestic violence is often not considered or taken seriously in court decisions and mediators’ and evaluators’ recommendations. A 1990s study found that custody evaluators did not consider domestic violence to be a major factor in their recommendations, yet they often considered parental alienation to be crucial. In a more recent study, evaluators reported that domestic violence weighed heavily in their recommendations, but only a third of them attempted to systematically detect the violence. The impact of the violence must also be considered. Psychological and custody evaluations can be misleading when a survivor’s trauma history is ignored. Her traumatic stress symptoms can mimic severe mental illness or personality disorders. Survivors are usually at a disadvantage due to the effects of overwhelming stress, not only from domestic violence, but from the intense fear of losing a child to an abuser.

Several studies show that knowing the history of domestic violence appears to have little influence on judges’ decisions and mediators’ recommendations. A likely explanation for courtroom outcomes is gender bias. Gender bias commissions over the last decade report frequent, negative stereotyping of women, especially about their credibility. When domestic violence is not adequately understood, victim-blaming, accusations of lying, and trivializing the abuse are more common. Judges may hold images of the “good” or “typical” victim — terrified and submissive – and lack understanding of those who are angry or with a history of substance abuse. A study of cases brought to appeal showed reversals in the mothers’ favor when domestic violence was considered. Not surprisingly, there is some evidence that female judges show more support for victim protection. Training also seems to matter. In one study, judges with domestic violence education and more knowledge of domestic violence were more likely to grant sole custody to abused mothers. 

A further barrier for battered women is that some laws and psychiatric theories often put them in a “Catch-22.” As a result of the “friendly parent” legal standard and the nonscientific “parent alienation syndrome,” actions to protect themselves and their children often work against them. In many cases, battered women are reasonably reluctant to co-parent out of fear that their ex-partner will harm them or their children. These women may sense that separation increases the risk of homicide, which in reality it does. In addition, physical abuse, harassment, and stalking of women continue at fairly high rates or escalate after separation, affecting as many as 35% of survivors. Up to a fourth of battered women report that their ex-partner threatened to hurt the children or kidnap them. Women may be reluctant to reveal their address or allow unsupervised visits. Yet such reluctance means they are more likely to be seen as “unfriendly” or “uncooperative,” which counts against them in the custody criteria of most states and the Canadian Divorce Act. Claims of “parent alienation syndrome” (PAS) similarly place women in a Catch-22. If mothers report child abuse or even raise concerns about danger to their children, some evaluators and courts immediately label them as “alienators.” In the original formulation of PAS, no investigation of her allegations has to occur and she is labeled as pathological simply for exercising a legal right. The syndrome assumes that programming has occurred if an allegation is made and thus has a circular definition. PAS does not have legal standing, yet the general concept or label may influence decision makers. 

What are the implications of these findings for supervised visitation/exchange programs? First, providers would be wise to check for their own potential biases about visiting mothers who are survivors. Second, comprehensive provider training is essential. Topics need to include methods for detecting abuse and assessing danger, the impact of domestic violence on children, the ways that abusers often manipulate court and social systems, and, in particular, the impact of violence on survivors. Visiting mothers are often depressed and have post-traumatic stress symptoms as a result of being battered and losing their children. Providers need to realize that depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms often manifest as anger or apathy. Without such understanding, providers may be quick to label these mothers as “hostile,” “uncooperative,” or “disinterested.” 

Third, although supervised visitation/exchange programs cannot act as advocates for individual women who lose custody disputes, they can raise concerns about apparent systems failures with their community’s domestic violence coordinating councils. Building a close collaborative tie with your local coordinating body can place visitation/exchange programs in a position to help make changes in local policies and practices. (For more information on advocacy roles for supervised visitation programs, see “Guiding Principles: Safe Havens Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program” at 

In addition, providers may need new skills for protecting mothers and their children. Supervised Visitation Network (SVN) standards require that programs “refer any victim of domestic violence to a resource expert that can assist and help the victim in developing a personal safety plan.” This assumes that program staff have the skills and screening tools to detect domestic violence among their clients. In addition, a referral for safety planning may not go far enough. A referral for legal advocacy, such as help with stalking, threats, and restraining order violations, may be necessary to protect a mother and her children. Recent evidence shows surprisingly high rates of stalking and threats occur between visits and exchanges. Close working relationships with domestic violence programs will help make the most meaningful and effective referrals – through first hand knowledge of these programs and the ability to learn detection and referral skills from them. By failing to take steps to help, supervised visitation centers risk being one of a long line of so-called “helping systems” that fail survivors, adding another blow to their psyches. (For more information on domestic violence practice in supervised visitation see “Beyond Observation: Considerations for Advancing Domestic Violence Practice in Supervised Visitation” at 

Providers may be reluctant to make referrals or give other help for fear of violating a standard of “neutrality.” However, SVN Standards are clear: “Neutral/neutrality means maintaining an unbiased, objective, and balanced environment. . . . Being neutral does not mean providers disregard behaviors such as abuse or violence of any kind.” Centers can create a neutral  “environment” for parents to visit with their children, but they should never be neutral toward violence against either children or adults. Specialized help can also be given to abusers without violating the standard of neutrality. Supervised visitation programs are in a unique position to encourage men to become responsible fathers, which in turn can increase their motivation to participate in abuser intervention and fathering-after-violence programs. (For more information on fathering-after-violence programs, see “Fathering After Violence: Working with Abusive Fathers in Supervised Visitation” at

On a broader level, programs can work with other agencies and professional organizations to ensure that judges, mediators, custody evaluators and other professionals have adequate domestic violence training. Systems advocacy can mean working to remove “friendly parent” standards for cases of domestic violence. In this way, programs can help those who have suffered doubly – from the personal injustice of intimate partner abuse and from the social injustice of “helping systems” that fail to help. A likely result will be greater long-term safety for the children and parents who are your clients.

17 Responses

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  1. This is the most unthinkable think that could happen. The website is now my life After the children were escorted out of the court by the Judge and the supervised visitation brochure was handed to my sister by the Judge, I walked in hearing my sister and her attorney saying – how could the judge say I have that Aunt Deb person to thank for losing my kids. my sister has not to this day almost 4 years, has she been on the stand for more than 5 minutes, since the first court date 8-22-05. and that 5 minutes was on 10-31-07.
    I am Aunt deb. Since 2001 I have been the on and off again Family-Nanny for my sister and her husband. in 2005 they separated. in 06 I had to go home and watch the k3 kids/ 2 were his and my sister’s. i came back because he wouldn’t pay his share of daycare. my sister was working 2 jobs and the 17 year old would get the 7 & 2 year old ready for daycare and school and put them to bed and care for them at nite. He was doing like so many other older siblings.
    I cared for the kids, helped them study, teach homework, feed and loved them. I an Nanny-Granny Auntie Deb. They were my life too, not just Mom’s
    the details can’t be discussed because there’s a hearing on 6-19, but he did abuse the Mom and the 3 kids. How could a judge or anyone make a ruling without testimony and no one in the court but mysister, her attorney and my estranged brother-in-law know me. He hates me because I didn’t kiss his a–.

    Read our website and leave an eamil. I can’t figure out how to make the blasted blog deal work right.

    Aunt Deb

    Debbie Nigro

    June 2, 2009 at 9:40 pm

  2. Hi Debbie,

    I hope your hearing on the 19th turned the decision around and the kids are back with mom and you! I would like to know what happened. I have a custody trial on the 29th of July against my abusive husband. He is claiming PAS and saying I am mentally unstable. He is a criminal and got off without so much as a night in jail and he almost killed me!

    Best wishes and prayers!



    July 3, 2009 at 6:04 pm

  3. Dear all:
    A female FCCC and a female GAL have recommended for my son moving to a different state with my abusive ex-husband and his new wife. Everybody is asking me to put myself together and move on. How can I do that? I am physically and emotionally exhausted, broke and broken. I have been a single mother for 11 yrs and all of the sudden my ex-husband and absent father files a motion and he is granted impass authority and physical placement. Describing me as argumentative, feisty, depressed, too career oriented, ambitiuos and not friendly with teachers, have been enough to remove my son from his only known home, hometown and family. After a Autism misdiagnose by a school psychologist, and after placing my son against my approval in special education because “emotional dissabilities,” my ex took advantage of the social phenomenon called structural violence against women and made his best show and won the case. Having more money, marrying the “perfect wife,” playing the system to his advantage has giving the perfect opportunity to trash and crash me. Moreover, having my son moving with him against my son’s wishes that nobody wants to hear or take into consideration, including the GAL.


    August 5, 2009 at 4:57 pm

  4. Dear Aunt Deb, I have a few questions if you don’t mind…The Judge said that you were to thank for your sister’s loosing custody due to your helping so much? Was that what you all got out the Judge’s comment? Crazy! I am really sorry! Awful! Dont have any ideas except possibly appeal. The system is broke-for sure!

    How did your trial go Lynn? I have one mid Sept. I also was abused and have had sole custody for most of the child’s life, as his dad was too busy whorring around to care for our son-even when I was in the hospital recovering from his inflicted injuries!

    Betzaida…I also am being described that way! I am not anything less than amazing to survive the abusive financial, mental and physical perpetrated on me by my husband and now the court system! And you are too! Legal aid is a joke here and attorneys just take the family borrowed money, try to settle and when they figure out it is going to be a hard case quit and say I fired them! A real racket! Good luck! We need change implemented and people who can help get the word in court since our attorneys won’t do it! I am on the end of my 6th!!



    August 6, 2009 at 1:11 pm

  5. I first want to say thank you to all of you who replyed and have helped me realize my family is not the only one going through such a bizzare and heartbreaking custody battle. I too am a devoted aunt to my 3yr. old nephew. My sister is a victim of domestic violence like many of you. It has been 3yrs now fighting for custody of my nephew and we recently lost that custody to the “abuser.” I say ‘we’ because I have been there from day one, (he was my first nephew), attended the majority of court dates and have researched until my fingers and head hurt of various ways to help this devastating situation for the safety and well being of my nephew. Everything written in this article was so true and really hit home. But there is still the question of “what do we do to get him back?-and safely!” There have been plenty of order of protection violations, threats, physical property damage, even past criminal history and domestic violence toward his previous girlfriends. It seems as though “the abuser” can do no wrong and no matter if I follow the courts orders, I am still labeled “unstable and unfit.”


    looking for the light in this dark tunnel

    Aunt Melissa

    September 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

  6. it is so easy to lose custudy of children . a guardian ad litem who’s trying to sleep with your ex + a referee who has no regards for mothers and who denies women OFPs are a recipe for destruction.


    October 19, 2009 at 8:02 pm

  7. it is so easy to lose custudy of children . a guardian ad litem who’s trying to sleep with your ex + a referee who has no regards for mothers and who denies women OFPs are a recipe for disaster.(correction)


    October 19, 2009 at 8:03 pm

  8. I, Heather L. Powers lost my children in the year of 2003 to an abusive husband immediately after I went to a woman’s shelter for help, with no visitation rights to them and stupidly I continued to fight for them in court for the next 6 years (evaluations, lawyers, visitation rooms and lots of court). Thanks to a wonderful support system, luckily, I started a new life, however, the old life and the loss of my 2 baby girls, keeps creeping in all while I try to push it out. I find it debilitating to my new life and continues to be very painful. I am sure that my daughters think that I abandoned them to a life with abuse, no Mother anywhere to be found. I fear they will suffer life long in the circle of abuse only to find abusive partners when they are grown. I also fear that they will associate abuse with love. This daily lie is being hardwired in their heads at this very moment with an untrue story. It truely sickens me knowing that I was right here all along, yearning to be their mother, loving them.
    MY ADVICE- for all women who find themselves with children married to abusive men (men who are fearless in court)…Leave home alone, take any valuables and go far away and start a new life. Fighting in court with these types of men only leads to slow, constant pain that you have to pay for with EVERYTHING you have, including your youth. So, yes, I lost my little girls too and have never seen them since. I sit here writing this at 45 years old. I am happy to say that I am raising my 1yr old daughter and am now happily married, and here is the kicker… all while paying child support to my abusive x-husband. I hope that nobody will experience this type of injustice.
    Heather L. Powers

    Heather Powers

    March 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm

  9. Hi! I married my mister wrong in 1998. We have 3 wonderful kids together. In 2003 I found out he was cheating on me. He’d physically, mentally, and emotionally abused me and our children the whole time we was together. In 2003 I left WV and moved 200 miles away to Ohio. I filed for a divorce in Ohio in 2005. From 2005 to 2008 I fought for my kids. He had several supervised visits he missed. Our oldest child barely remembered my ex. My two youngest were under 14 monthes old when I left him. So basically he was a stranger to them. The summer of 2008 I lost custody of my kids to him, and almost went to jail over trying to keep my kids safe. None of us live in Ohio now so WV has juristction of our case. I am working toward joint custody. Myself and my daughter which was his step daughter suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome because of what he put us through. The whole situation is hard but I see my kids dealing with it because they have no choice so therefore I know I have no chioce but to fight for them. I may die trying but atleast I know I done what was right.

    To everyone out there going through things like this its not fair to us or our children. I wish everyone the very best.


    April 11, 2010 at 1:37 am

  10. I was an abused wife who lost custody of my children because my husband had a friend who was a lawyer who helped cover his wrong doings towards me and their was a lot of junk in my childhood home that was also pretty much covered over. Thank you for such a great resource and website to help relieve some of the pain and lonliness I feel in this life.

    Stephanie Vang

    August 15, 2010 at 4:42 am

  11. I am so sorry Stephanie. There are many of us out here…many.


    October 2, 2010 at 2:37 am

  12. I too lost my kids to an emotionally and physcologically abusive husband. He lied to the court and the mediator. Had the children lie to the mediator. I am still fighting for custody after 3 years. He remarried last summer and is already getting divorced. The new wife realized what he was about. She now has a 1 year permanent restraining order on him. I am hoping this is my ticket to getting my kids back. Thank you for this website. it makes me feel better knowing there are others like me going thru this!


    March 8, 2011 at 7:57 pm

  13. Yes, there are many of us out there. My violent ex now has custody and he is denying me visitation AND telephone contact!

    Sherri O'Neal

    May 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

  14. Has anyone created a petition on to bring awareness to this mounting problem in the US courts?

    Sherri O'Neal

    May 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  15. My ex boyfriend was extremely abusive to me, and would physically abuse me in front of my children when they were toddlers. The legal system did little to protect me, and endured him sexually assaulting me, physically hurting me, emotionally living in terror that he would kill me. I went to local law enforcement when he would beat me up, always the police had a lame excuse why they wouldn’t press charges, restraining orders were ignored, as well judges issuing restraining orders. I was often forced to live on public assistance, because he or his lovers would stalk me at work, eventually I would be fired. I was forced into abortions because I couldn’t bare the thought of bringing another child into such a horrible situation. Courts continually allowed him out of financially contributing to his children. Eventually to escape him, I married another abusive man, but not nearly as bad as the first. There are no words to describe the terror I lived in, or the thought of dying and leaving my children to that heartless monster. I never received any justice, every judge sides with him, and his manipulations of the situation. My oldest son, suffers from depression, post traumatic stress, and leaves in terror he will be like his father. I will pray that you and women whom loose custody of their children to their abusers get’s custody. A long time ago I lost faith in our legal system, what a farce it is, especially family law. I am with a nice man now, it is a chance to walking on egg shells, wish all the mom’s bets of luck.


    May 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

  16. It has been almost two years since I posted. I still have my child, and the Judge has resigned. Through mistakes of my adversaries, and a Hollywood Co. which is wanting to televise the Judge, (picketing, petitioning, and complaining to the Judicial Committee), I was able to leave the State of AR with my child. I am not in hiding. Yet we are not out of the dark.

    I just want to encourage and share with you, Mothers of Lost Children, to let you know you are not alone. God Bless You all!

    Railroaded in AR

    June 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm

  17. After going to court on June 22 and filing explosive testimony from my ex’s new ex wife on how he was emotionally and physcologically abusive to the kids and her the Judge was hesitant about giving me full custody. Now we have to spend MORE money and do another evaluation. I even had documentation that he had asked his oldest daughter (16) from a previous marraige to “suck his d**ck”!!! The judge didn’t care. He will be a cameleon to the evaluator and the kids will obey him because they are terrified of him and the evaluator will let him keep custody.


    June 24, 2011 at 9:14 pm

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