A southern California mother recently found her two children reported missing 15 years ago using Facebook. The Huffington Post reported that the children’s father, Faustino Utrera, took the children in 1995. The children are currently placed in custody by the State of Florida. Initially, the daughter did not wish to re-establish a relationship with her mother. Utrera has been charged with two felony counts of kidnapping and violating child custody orders. Stories like this one illustrate the complications of child custody, both legally and emotionally. Our Court Services Coordinator, Lindsey, discussed her experience with custody issues and domestic violence with me.
It is more difficult to get custody of one’s children than most people realize, even if someone is the victim of domestic violence. While victims (and DV advocates) understand why they ought to be awarded full custody, judges do not always agree with giving one parent sole custody of a child(ren). But, as we know, domestic violence is a learned behavior. Many batterers either become abusive towards their children or begin teaching their children abusive behaviors. So, leaving children with an abusive parent can be dangerous for the child in more ways than the obvious.
Additionally, child custody issues require an attorney, a cost that many victims cannot afford. Victims are often left to rely on informal custody agreements which can be broken without penalty. If both parents have legal rights to the child*, one parent can take the child to another county or even another state without informing the other. Many times victims will call the police if their abuser takes the kids away but if no formal custody agreement exists, no legal recourse exists. Victims also often feel frustrated with the duration of custody battles. While many victims might feel the need to leave abusive situations immediately, fear of losing their children can keep them in a violent, unhealthy environment.
Sadly, while victims can take their children and leave their abusers without any legal difficulty, victims who leave their children to escape abusers can be charged with abandonment and often have an extremely difficult time gaining custody of their children in the future.
How do you feel about how difficult it is for abuse victims to gain custody? Leave us your thoughts!
*meaning both parents are listed on the birth certificate