Do We Really Need Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Unfortunately, Yes

October was national Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Every year, recognition of domestic violence month touches off a month-long storm of controversy. Women’s groups and groups representing the interests of abuse victims of both genders and all ages seize the opportunity to raise awareness of domestic violence, including child abuse.

Some men’s groups resent it and respond that men can be and are victims of domestic abuse too. Some other men’s groups resent it and react by accusing women of asserting false allegations and complaining that the legal deck of the Violence against Women Act and state domestic violence statutes is stacked against them. They insist it is too easy for alleged victims to receive protection at the expense of an alleged abuser. They want to put an end to Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

But during domestic violence awareness month, according to an article in the Washington Post, a Maryland domestic violence judge lifted an existing protective order, despite the wife’s pleading, because the husband wrote in a letter to the judge that he wanted to go to marriage counseling. The judge admonished the woman looking to him for protection, “Get a lawyer and get a divorce. That’s all you have to do.” According to the article, the husband, instead of pursuing marriage counseling, subsequently showed up at his wife’s workplace, where he set her body on fire.

Also during domestic violence awareness month, an adult male prosecutor’s abused childhood was recounted. He was victimized by having to witness his mother being subjected to physical abuse repeatedly. The abuse scarred him for life.

Some women are themselves domestic abusers. Some, men are victims of domestic abuse, and sometimes they are too “gentlemenly” even to defend themselves against abuse from women. Even when they are gender-neutral, the laws are not always applied to give men equal protection of the law. Some women do make false allegations of domestic violence against men. All granted.

But does that mean there is no need for a Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Given the articles above and all the sad cases of domestic violence that we family lawyers see regularly, clearly not. Perhaps Domestic Violence Awareness Month should raise awareness of all forms of domestic abuse, which includes various forms of abuse of the domestic violence protection system – in some cases?

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PA: Possibly Hiding Assets? Go Directly to Jail – Indefinitely

Any spouse who has ever toyed with the foolish notion of hiding assets in a divorce should permanently extinguish the thought. Don’t take my word for it.

Heed the words of supporters of H. Beatty Chadwick, Esq. According to an editorial in The [Philadelphia] Daily Times, a now-elderly attorney has been in jail for ten years on his then-wife’s motion for civil contempt for the husband’s alleged non-compliance with the court’s order on property division.

A forensic accountant appointed by the court earlier this year audited the husband’s assets and reported to the court recently that it could find no evidence that the husband controlled the funds that he had been held in contempt over.

Further, the article suggests that, at the time of the original contempt hearing, the wife never had to prove that the assets in question existed in fact and were under her husband’s control before he was incarcerated.

No matter what the circumstances of your divorce are, hiding assets isn’t worth it.

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International Child Custody under Hague Convention on Child Abduction

New Jersey’s Star-Ledger recently ran an article about a pending appeal on a Hague Convention case. Most new clients (like other people) tend to view these cases as international child custody cases, that is, cases which award custody of a child to one of two parents (or persons acting in a parental role) who live in different countries. But that’s not correct.

Whether child custody disputes between parents are multi-state or multi-national, these kinds of proceedings decide jurisdiction only, that is, which country or state gets to make the ultimate decision over custody. In other words, these types of cases are really the first of two cases. It is the second case that actually decides which parent gains ultimate custody. The first case only decides where the second case will take place. And where the child will live while awaiting a decision.

If you face a situation like this … re-read the paragraph above…

Because I have found that that message is always very tough for clients to absorb – and accept. It would understandably be moreso for a casual reader – or a dabbling journalist.

The references in the Star-Ledger article to “deportation” are really about “return” of the child. What’s the difference? In a word, huge. Deportation suggests permanence and misconduct by the deportee. “Return” (in this context) is a legal process intended temporarily to return an an innocent child to the former home country from which the child was wrongfully removed by a parent, until the former country decides ultimate custody. After that, depending on the ultimate custody decision, the child may go back to the new home country from which he was previously “returned”.

If this sounds complicated and disruptive, it is. But things were pretty messy before the Hague Convention too. Kids spirited off to foreign countries with impunity. Conflicting custody judgments entered in different countries.

There is a reason behind the undeniably imperfect Hague Convention procedure. The relevant Hague Convention is “on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction“. The Convention was intended to deter and thwart such unilateral kidnappings and to assure that child custody decisions are entered in only one country, the country that is best equipped to make the ultimate custody decision, the child’s “habitual residence” or true home.

Similar themes have been covered in previous posts, in the context of interstate child custody disputes. See Interstate Child Custody / Visitation Dispute by Lesbian “Second Mother” and Conflicting Child Custody Orders from Different Courts.

Essentially, the same rationale governs both trans-national and cross-country child custody disputes, even though the nuts-and-bolts procedures do differ significantly.

In the case in the Star-Ledger article, the father alleged that his daughter had been kidnapped. The mother alleged that the father had abused mother and child violently and sexually.

Despite the ruling that the mother is appealing, the Hague Convention does not mandate return of a child where return will clearly place the child in grave physical danger and at grave risk of psychological harm. (There are other exceptions too.)

What is true is that laws (and treaties) are relatively generalized principles metaphorically etched in stone. But cases are many complex and subtle circumstances that very real people bring about or get caught up in.

And judicial decisions depend on many variables, such as: how a particular judge weighs conflicting admissible evidence actually before him and how a particular judge interprets and applies the laws (and treaties) to the evidence.

Any way you cut it, any particular case, this one included, always boils down to the particular individuals involved (the actual parties, their actual attorneys, the actual judge, the actual witnesses) and the actual documentary and physical evidence admitted and presented.

And, sadly, sometimes the best that can be said of the outcome in a particular case is that it doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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Our Father Is Donor 150, Can We Talk?

The New York Times gives us a fascinating article inspired by an online Donor Sibling Registry started by a donor-conceived teenager and his mother.

The Registry facilitates two tiers of connections: the larger community of donor-conceived kids generally and smaller “families” of kids who are being raised in separate families but who are genetically related through one common biological parent.

The article hints at complex psychological, social, medical and legal issues surrounding donor-conceived children.

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