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Study: Child Custody Decisions are Dangerously Made

Family law cases create the necessity for crucial, life-altering decisions to be made regarding the future of innocent children. Those decisions are often left to outside professionals when, for example, a couple cannot come to a child custody agreement and the court requires that a professional determine the suitability of each parent in a case involving domestic violence.

Child custody evaluators step in during those situations, and they are responsible for investigating each parent's disposition and likelihood of continuing domestic violence in the home after a divorce or separation.

A recent study turned the evaluating around on 23 child custody evaluators. The evaluators were not being judged based on whether they were violent; rather, the study aimed to discover how evaluators make their decisions in their work and whether they were effectively preventing children and spouses from being put in an abusive situation.

Researchers from the University of Illinois came up with answers that disturbed them and their hope that the family law system is set up to protect families, especially children. According to the study, they found that there were two "teams" of child custody evaluators:

  • The first group believes that domestic violence in a family's past is largely created due to parents living together, and once the parents separate and attend anger management or other counseling, the abuse is likely to stop.
  • The second group thinks that professional help only helps some people and that abuse is not necessarily a result of living under the same roof. These evaluators recognize that post-divorce families can be in great danger of domestic violence.

Researchers claim that the second group better protects children and mothers from abuse by taking signs of abusive tendencies more seriously and, therefore, creating safer custody arrangements.

The conclusion of this study is a call to action to change the family law system throughout the country. Currently, only California requires that child custody evaluators be trained in domestic violence, and the researchers argue that this is dangerous.

Not only do they believe that thorough training is necessary for all, but the researchers advocate that the evaluation process in domestic violence cases should be standardized. By leaving child custody decisions up to subjective decisions of individual evaluators, researchers believe that the safety of children and mothers is too often put at risk.

Medical News Today: Moms and Kids Endangered by One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Child Custody (7/28/2010)

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