Custody and Mediation

For many victims of domestic violence, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial and physical abuse, stalking, and harassment often continue post-separation, and may become more severe (P. Jaffe, N. Lemon & S. Poisson, Child Custody & Domestic Violence: A Call for Safety & Accountability. 2003). Even as courts struggle to balance protection for adult and child victims of abuse and the parental rights of both parties, child custody disputes can become the arena for backlash against battered mothers. Custody determinations in the context of domestic violence are indeed complicated, more so because culture, class, race, and financial resources come into play. At the national level, multi-disciplinary attention from policy makers, researchers, and legal and social service practitioners is engaged in analyzing procedures, policies, data and trends in order to mitigate gender bias and address the problems, assumptions, and inequities in the system.

Wingspread Conference on Domestic Violence & Family Courts: The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), in 2007, convened a working group of 37 practitioners and researchers. They identified and discussed the theoretical and practical tensions that have permeated the work with families in which domestic violence has been established or alleged. The five sets of issues that emerged – differentiation among families experiencing domestic violence, screening and triage, participation by families in various processes and services, appropriate outcomes for children, and family court roles and resources – are indicative of the efforts to capture contexts and complexities, so that victim safety, equality in adjudicating parental rights, and the best interests of children, prevail.

Recommendations for Working with Clients with Limited English Proficiency

  1. Use professional interpreters for all parties with Limited English Proficiency at evaluation sessions and at proceedings.
  2. Arrange for certified or qualified interpreters prior to the evaluation session and be well informed about how to work with interpreters and their ethical responsibilities regarding confidentiality, avoidance of conflicts of interest, limitations of practice, and impartiality.
  3. Do not ask or allow interpreters to proffer opinions, explanations or commentary on cultural practices, marriage contracts, how disputes are handled in the home country, etc. Interpreters are not cultural brokers or anthropologists.
  4. Do not have spouses, adult or child family members, friends, or other bi-lingual individuals interpret in any situation.
  5. Immigrant or refugee families who lack proficiency in English should not be considered uneducated or disadvantaged at parenting; and greater credibility should not be attached to more acculturated, English-speaking fathers.
  6. Utilize the Family Law Interpreter Program to fund interpretation services – it is designed to provide assistance to trial courts in funding interpreter services for litigants with Limited English Proficiency in cases where domestic violence or elder abuse protective orders have been issued or sought, and in general family law cases. Depending on which state you are in, courts may utilize program funds to provide interpreters in court hearings, family law facilitator sessions, court-connected self-help sessions, and family court services mediation sessions, and to pay for interpreter coordinator services. Contact your local court administrator to find out when the court pays for interpreters.

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Technical Assistance & Training on Asian Families and Custody Considerations

Differing dynamics of domestic violence in Asian families, socio-cultural norms and barriers, and assumptions about mothering and fathering have implications for custody determinations. We can provide training and technical assistance to advocates and mediators.

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National Resources on Custody and Supervised Visitation

Battered Women’s Justice Project

  • - A national multi-disciplinary project to protect the safety and wellbeing of children and their parents in the family court system by crafting a more practical framework for identifying, understanding and accounting for the contexts and implications of domestic violence in custody arrangements and parenting plans.

Futures Without Violence

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


Wingspread Conference

  • Family Court Review, Vol. 46 No. 3, July 2008
  • “Report from the Wingspread Conference on Domestic Violence and Family Courts” by Nancy Ver Steegh and Clare Dalton. In: Family Court Review, Vol. 46 No. 3, July 2008 454–475. Copy of article may be provided on request (permission pending).

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