"Coercive Confusion: The Nexus of Domestic Violence & Custody in the Time of COVID-19" by Mallika Kaur and Kelly Behre

Mallika Kaur, Attorney at ADZ Law, LLP and Law Lecturer at UC Berkeley School of Law partnered with Kelly Behre, Director of the Family Protection and Legal Assistance at the UC Davis School of Law to co-author an article entitled “Coercive Confusion: The Nexus of Domestic Violence & Custody in the Time of COVID-19”.

The full article can be found at: https://www.civicresearchinstitute.com/online/article_abstract.php?pid=18&iid=1448&aid=9416

Excerpts can be found below:

"This article addresses the urgent concern for Domestic Violence (DV) survivors and their children during the dynamic and unpredictable context of the pandemic in mid-April 2020, with an eye to the future when family courts are open and inundated again. We discuss how victim-parents of DV already separated from their abusers are missing from the national narrative about increased risks to DV victims during the pandemic. We highlight survey responses from 45 attorneys, DV advocates, mediators, visitation supervisors, and therapists from around the country about their experiences with DV victim-parents. COVID-19 is not a great equalizer, least of all for DV survivors. Legal statutes recognizing the danger posed by abuser-parents are the result of research recognizing how DV exposure causes children immediate and long-lasting harm. Yet many COVID emergency court guidelines and recommendations about child custody and visitation fail to differentiate between DV and non-DV cases. Now, more than ever, we highlight why recognizing the danger posed by DV is essential. Co-parenting recommendations and rules designed for former relationship must incorporate DV and safety considerations.”

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“For too long, “but he’s the father of your children” or “he doesn’t hurt the children,” was a mantra employed by society, judges, and even victims themselves to minimize abuse and prioritize co-parenting over victim-parents’ and children’s safety. Relatively recent neurobiology research indicates that exposure to DV has measurable adverse effects on the brain development of children; children exposed to DV are not passive bystanders. The toxic stress of DV also has inter-generational impacts: boys are more likely to themselves engage in domestic violence as adults, and girls are more likely to be victimized as adults. In their exhaustive work, The Batterer as Parent, Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman noted how fathers who are abusive to their children’s mother engage in harmful parenting practices including being typically rigid as parents, undermining the mothers as parents, and making disparaging remarks about women.”

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“Just as children are a primary barrier to victims leaving abusers, they are also a primary reason for separation. Many women make the difficult choice to leave because they recognize the harm that their partner causes their children. But children remain a site of control. After separation, abusers find new control tactics: using co-parenting as an excuse to ignore No Contact and Stay Away provisions in restraining orders; conveying messages through children; employing litigation abuse in an attempt to wear down a victim-parent; and arguing against the kind of detailed parenting plans that best protect victim-parents post-separation. Abusers also accuse victim-parents of engaging in “parental alienation syndrome” by conflating victim-parents’ well-founded safety concerns for themselves and their children with an unscientific and repeatedly rebuked theory that mothers routinely use allegations of abuse to brainwash their children against their fathers. By using such allegations, abusers use child custody litigation to lay claim to the label of victim and to further attack victim-parents at a time in which they continue to negotiate trauma recovery.

DV survivors need support long after the long process of leaving an abusive partner is complete….”

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“Practitioners report that abusive parents are emboldened by the current climate of COVID and are employing the confusion as an abuse tactic to coerce victim-parents into dangerous situations. Their responses include many early signs of elevated risk for victim-parents and children. The victim-parent who was convinced to “drop” her restraining order: “you have no childcare, I’m your best bet while you are at work.” The victim-parent who was talked into changing the painstakingly developed safety provisions in her custody orders: “the Walmart entrance is no longer a safe meeting place; the empty local park parking lot is better.” The victim-parent forced to forgo the safety provided through supervised visitation centers closed by COVID-19 and is vulnerable, alone in a Zoom room or actual room: “now you better play nice!” The victim-parent whose abuser did not return the children: “I am taking them for their own good, you are still working outside the home.”

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