About Barry

Barry Goldstein is the co-author with Elizabeth Liu of Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor REPRESENTING THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVOR, co editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY and author of SCARED TO LEAVE AFRAID TO STAY. He has been an instructor and supervisor in a NY Model Batterer Program since 1999. He was an attorney representing victims of domestic violence for 30 years. He now provides workshops, judicial and other trainings regarding domestic violence particularly related to custody issues. He also serves as a consultant and expert witness.

Barry's new book, The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion demonstrates how we can dramatically reduce domestic violence crime with proven practices.

Contact Barry today to speak at your event, consult or as an expert witness!

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About Veronica

After a 20 year Sales and Marketing career in the Television Industry, Veronica York felt a passion and a calling to make a career change. Following a 10 year marriage that was both mentally and emotionally abusive, and going through a difficult custody battle, she started her High Conflict Coaching practice. During her experience with the family court system, she realized that the best interest of the children was not the first priority. Parental rights are trumping children’s rights and children are suffering unnecessarily due to the outdated practices of judges and other court professionals. Along with helping her clients navigate their custody battles, she is also an advocate for change in the family court system as well as a champion for Domestic Violence training and education. Veronica is certified with the High Conflict Divorce Certification Program and has advanced training in family law mediation. She performs speaking engagements and writes articles regarding the topics of Child Custody Issues that involve Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse. She also does training on the misuse of Parental Alienation and the effects of Post Separation Abuse during a divorce.

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Child Abuse and Custody in Family Court: Are Children Being Heard, Believed and Protected by Family Court Professionals? - Photo by Mikhail Nilov - Pexels

Article by Veronica York


I believe we are all aware that child abuse is real, and parents hurt children way too often- but are you aware that the legal professionals who are required to protect these children are quite frankly failing at the very profession they have chosen? Most people are unaware that family courts are getting it wrong in these custody cases and children are being forced to live with their abuser. There has been extensive research done on this topic and the research confirms that children’s rights are being ignored, while parental rights are prioritized ahead of the best interest of the children. Abusive parents are gaining custody of children in family court cases due to out-of-date practices and misinformation that has been perpetrated on the system for many years. The most prominent one being the myth of Parental Alienation Syndrome and the misuse of the Parental Alienation theory. The resolution is that all family court professionals need to be trained and educated in the nuances and dynamics of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse when determining child custody cases. We all need to be a voice for these children who do not have one and support legislation that will keep them safe.

Child Abuse and Custody in Family Court: Are Children Being Heard, Believed and Protected by Family Court Professionals?

How is our Family Court System Failing?

Every year almost 60,000 children are being forced to live with or have unsupervised visitation with an abusive parent. Abuse can be emotional, physical, or sexual and these children have no choice but to stay and endure it. There is a desperate need for training and education for family court professionals such as judges, lawyers, Guardian Ad Litem (GALS), evaluators, therapists, and others. The fact of the matter is that there are far too many cases of children being ignored, dismissed, and ultimately harmed as a result of poor judgement and lack of knowledge from the very people who vowed to protect their “best interests”.

Judges admit that they are overwhelmed with cases, have no way of determining who is lying or telling the truth in custody battles and they rely heavily on 3rd parties, such as the professionals mentioned above, to tell them what to do. Most court professionals are not trained in child abuse or domestic violence and are unable to effectively advocate for the protective parent and their children.

Research shows that, all too often, these family court professionals take the money of an abused mother and fail to provide them with the protection and guidance they need. As a divorce coach, I hear the horror stories of savings, retirements and bank accounts being drained to protect children from an abusive father and it still isn’t enough. Custody battles can drag out for several years with no solutions, while the children suffer. Protective parents come to family court relying on them to provide justice and protection for them and their children. Unfortunately, they find out that more times than not, the system is very broken. It lacks the resources, training, and research to truly do what it should, which is to guard the best interest of the children and keep them safe.

What Can be Done to Protect the Children?

The issue lies in lack of training and understanding of child abuse and domestic violence in these cases. Protective mothers are often times labeled as “high conflict” and their allegations of abuse are not taken seriously by court professionals. All court professionals in the family court system should be trained in these four key areas: Screening for Abuse, Assessing the Risk of Abuse, Post Separation Abuse, and the Effects of the Abuse on children.

Screening for Abuse

Court professionals should know what to look for when determining alleged abuse by a protective mother. There is always a pattern of abuse in these cases, but they are often overlooked due to outdated and unreliable biases in family court. First and foremost, reports of abuse should not be discredited based on factors that are not prohibitive, such as: the mother leaves and returns, no police reports are filed, children show no fear in presence of their father, there no physical signs of abuse, or their father just seems like such a nice person. Many of these factors can actually be indicators that the mother’s behaviors were done for safety reasons. Courts need to be open to hearing the research, changing the discussion, and asking the question: “What can we do to reduce the fear and stress on the children and the mother they depend on”.

Assessing the Risk of Abuse

A victim of abuse can give a very detailed description of high-risk behaviors they see in their abuser. Behaviors such as strangulation, coercive control, forced or rough sex, hurting animals, the abusers’ belief that the victim has no right to leave the relationship, threats of suicide by the abuser, threats of kidnapping or taking the children away, access to guns, etc. These are all indicators that the domestic violence involved is associated with greater risk of lethality. Steps should be taken swiftly by the court to order temporary supervised visitation and/or protective orders to avoid any further possible abuse.

Post Separation Abuse

Contrary to what most believe, abuse does not stop when a victim leaves the relationship. In fact, abusers find new ways to harm their victims and continue his abuse. Types of Post Separation Abuse include: counter-parenting (when abusive parents make decisions regarding the children that are driven by anger and their desire to hurt the other parent), allegations of parental alienation, discarding, Isolation, harassment & stalking, legal abuse, and financial abuse. Abusers use the children to get back at their victim for leaving the relationship. They lash out during custody exchanges, they use financial abuse to bankrupt their victim with long custody battles, they go on smear campaigns to discredit their victim, and accuse them of trying to turn the children against them (Parental Alienation).

Effects of Abuse

Research has been done and training is readily available on the effects of abuse on children. An article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows a relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults (Felitti et al., 2019). The The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention [CDC], 2020) has training available for anyone who wants to help prevent violence. The SAFeR Approach training (Battered Women’s Justice Project [BWJP], 2020) and focuses on the above mentioned four key areas and advocates for the voices of abused children. The Saunders Study (Saunders, Ph.D. et al., 2012) funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, tells us that abusers use shared parenting to manipulate and use coercive control on children, so they do not expose their abuse. In addition, the Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations (Meier et al., 2019) funded by the National Institute of Justice concludes that alienation claims are more powerful for abusive fathers than the protective mother. This research needs to be studied by family law professionals and made a priority in custody cases.

So, why aren’t the ones who have the most impact on the lives of these children, involved in high conflict custody cases, aware of or knowledgeable about these studies? The problem lies in the way things have “always been done,” but these ways are failing our children and they need to be changed. Unfortunately, the current legislation being introduced right now will only make matters worse.

Parental Rights vs. Children’s Rights

Parental rights are trumping children’s rights and this needs to stop. Equal parenting bills, such as HB803 in Texas, and others just like it in states across the country aim to make matters worse for children with abusive parents. On the surface, equal parenting time seems logical and reasonable – and it is when- both parents are loving and put the needs of the children first. In these divorces the parents are typically able to effectively co-parent and agree on the best interests of their children without any major involvement from the court system.

The issue lies in the 3.8% of divorces that result in contested custody. These cases are considered "high conflict" and nearly ALL of them involve Domestic Violence or Coercive Control from one parent. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges provides training on both the above-mentioned ACE training (CDC, 2018) and The Saunders Study (Saunders et al., 2012) and found that courts are not imposing supervision on alleged abusive parents. They are focused on the "rights" of abusive parents, rather than the child's well-being.

We cannot assume that all parents are good and should have equal parenting rights, especially in cases where psychological, mental, physical or sexual abuse is being alleged from one side or the other. Children's rights are not being addressed in such proposed equal parenting laws.

Children are being abused and even murdered due to the failure of the family court system to protect them. 50/50 shared custody agreements are rarely in the best interest of the children. Children need stability and a sense of normalcy on a daily basis. Even when there is little to no conflict in a divorce, children tend to get put in the middle. When you factor in a high conflict situation between parents, the children suffer greatly. In any marriage you will typically see a primary parent that takes on the majority of the parenting duties such as: getting them up and ready for school, daily care and nurturing, etc. Children should not be expected to switch homes and routines every week, have needed medical procedures delayed because their parents cannot agree, and be put in the middle of conflict because the court system wants to impose 50/50 custody.

Children should have a voice in these situations and be able to depend on our justice system to put their best interest above the "rights" of their parents. The courts responsibility is to make sure they know where the conflict and abuse is coming from and to keep the children away from it as much as possible.

How Can You Help?

Children deserve to be heard, believed and protected by the family court system. The research shows that the current trend of courts is not believing the child’s or their protective parents’ allegations of abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, or psychological, causing horrific outcomes including custody going in favor of their abuser, and in some cases, the murder of that child. Over 750 children have been murdered by an abusive parent in the last 10 years. This is why we need to support initiatives such as Kyra’s Law and Kayden's Law which puts child safety first. You can be a part of changing the laws and helping to fix the broken family court system. For more information, go to: Kyra's Champions. This is a global trend, and it will take our voices as parents, advocates, and communities to give a voice to those who need it most- our children.



Battered Women’s Justice Project. (2020). SAFeR: Screening, Assessing, Focusing on the Effects, and Responding to Abuse. https://www.bwjp.org/our-work/projects/safer/safer-approach.html
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (2019). REPRINT OF: Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 56(6), 774–786. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2019.04.001
Meier, J. S., Dickson, S., O’Sullivan, C., Rosen, L., & Hayes, J. (2019, October). Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations (No. 2019–56). GWU Law School. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3448062
Saunders, Ph.D., D. G., Faller, Ph.D., K. C., & Tolman, Ph.D., R. M. (2012, June). Child Custody Evaluators’ Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations: Their Relationship to Evaluator Demographics, Background, Domestic Violence Knowledge and Custody-Visitation Recommendations (No. 238891). https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/238891.pdf