Courts send kids back to abusive dads

U. MINNESOTA (US) — When battered women living abroad left their abusive partners and returned to the United States with their children, in half the cases U.S. courts sent the children back to live with their fathers.

A new study of court cases against battered women living abroad also shows that almost a third of these estranged husbands filed criminal kidnapping charges against their wives.

The study authors released the Hague Domestic Violence Survey as a way to help establish domestic violence as a factor in whether courts send children back to their fathers. The report and the related website will serve as a resource for women and lawyers faced with Hague petitions.

The children’s return is in accordance with an international treaty, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which affects thousands of children each year.

The Hague Convention does not explicitly factor in domestic violence in deciding whether to send children back to the country where they lived. But since the treaty was created 30 years ago, social science research has demonstrated that a child’s exposure to domestic violence is just as harmful as direct abuse. Children who witness domestic violence are at higher risk for emotional problems, and later in life, they have a greater risk for violence in adult interpersonal relationships.

Now social scientists say that it’s time for the law to catch up with science, especially as these cases are likely to dramatically increase as more binational families form and countries such as India and Japan consider adopting the treaty in the next few years.

“The social science literature is clear that child exposure to domestic violence against a parent represents a potentially grave risk to that child’s physical and psychological well-being, ” says study co-author Jeffrey Edleson, a researcher at the University of Minnesota.

“Judges and attorneys need to recognize this in Hague Convention proceedings. And social service professionals need to understand these dynamics and the international treaty to better serve battered women and children with whom they work.”

The report is the first effort in the United States to interview battered mothers and attorneys about their experiences with the Hague Convention, in hopes of better preparing mothers and their lawyers for court proceedings in these cases.

The report, funded and published by the U.S. National Institute of Justice, includes analysis and excerpts of interviews with 22 mothers and 23 lawyers who represented mothers and fathers in Hague lawsuits and an analysis of court decisions on published Hague cases involving domestic violence.

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