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HB2163 shot down by the Governor

Thank you Governor Abercrombie!!!

I was so depressed, disheartened and anxious at the end of this year’s legislative session when research and ignored warnings reduced me to begging. HB2163 Re: Parental Parity – which would require family court to consider the interests of minor children in custody decisions as they pertain to both parents – was destined to be placed on the Governor’s desk for signature. I just imagined looking into the eyes of the first DV survivor mom who’d be asking me why her little girl/little boy/children had to be killed when “everyone knew” the violence the abuser was capable of. “Parental parity” I would answer.

One last shot and then I’ll have to let it go – ‘Thy will be done’” I thought as I started writing letters to all the state representatives who had helped give birth to the well-intentioned piece of legislation. It was right before the Mothers of Lost Children event in Washington, D.C.; I dropped the letters into the mailbox then jumped on the plane headed east, leaving it all behind me. The next time I expected to hear about HB2163 was when it would be signed into law – nothing I could do but brace for impact – but then a Monday morning miracle: “Governor Sends Notice of Intent to Veto 10 Bills”. I tried not to get my hopes up, but there it was:

Because the State of Hawaii Constitution requires the governor to provide 10 working days’ notice for any measures that he may veto by July 8, 2014, the following measures on his intent-to-veto notice are still under consideration and further review

and on the list: HB2163! Even more exciting was the Governor’s reference to the research submitted that influenced his decision to veto HB2163 – finally, someone whose paying attention and giving merit to scientific fact over social fiction! And the scientific facts aren’t complicated/hard to understand either.

In 2011 the Department of Justice released a comprehensive 175 page report authored by Dr. Daniel Saunders entitled Child Custody Evaluators’ Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations” that explains in detail why legislation such as HB2163 is so harmful. The entire report can be found here: but these are just a few of the conclusions and determinations made from the DOJ report (nicknamed “The Saunders Report”):

  • Several studies reveal that, in many custody-visitation proceedings, domestic violence remains either undetected or is not documented when it is detected (e.g., Araji & Bosek, 2010; Davis, O’Sullivan, Fields, Susser, 2011; Johnson, Saccuzzo, & Koen, 2005; Kernic, Monary-Ernsdorff, Koepsell, & Holt, 2005; Voices of Women, 2008).
  • Although the majority of professionals reported knowing about post-separation violence, screening, and assessing dangerousness, judges, evaluators, and private attorneys reported the lowest rates of such knowledge.
  • Of particular concern was the relatively high percentage of evaluators who recommended that the victim receive physical custody, but that legal custody be shared by the parents. Evaluators must understand the potential negative implications of this arrangement, given the likelihood that many abusers will use the arrangement to continue their harassment and manipulation through legal channels (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003; Zorza, 2010).
  • The majority of states include a “friendly parent” factor that must be considered in custody determinations (Zorza, in press; 2007). Parents are expected to facilitate a good relationship between the children and the other parent. Despite a reasonable reluctance to co-parent out of fear of harm to themselves or their children (Hardesty & Ganong, 2006), survivors may end up being labeled “unfriendly” or “uncooperative,” thereby increasing the risk of losing their children (American Psychological Association, 1996).
  • The friendly-parent standard works against survivors because any concerns they voice about father-child contact or safety for themselves are usually interpreted as a lack of cooperation (Zorza, 1996).
  • Survivors are therefore placed in a no-win situation: If they do not report abuse, then protections for them and solid grounds for custody are not available; yet reporting the abuse may be viewed as raising false allegations in order to gain advantage in divorce proceedings (Dore, 2004).
  • In practice, friendly-parent provisions, together with statutes presuming joint custody, tend to override presumptions against awarding joint legal custody with the abuser (Morrill, Dai, Dunn, Sung, & Smith, 2005).
  • Further compounding victims’ experiences are contradictory messages from criminal courts, family courts, child protection investigations, and visitation services (Hester, 2009). For example, criminal courts support victims’ testimony about the abuse, but in family court the same testimony might be interpreted as non-cooperation. To overcome these inconsistencies some states have introduced integrated DV courts (Aldrich & Kluger, 2010).
  • Research has documented the ongoing and sometimes escalating dangers faced by victims and their children after they leave violent relationships. Homicidal threats, stalking, and harassment affect as many as 25 to 35 percent of survivors who have left a violent relationship (e.g., Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Hardesty & Chung, 2006; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000a).
  • Domestic abuse survivors and their children may experience serious harm as a result of family court decisions.
  • Offenders may be able to continue their abuse of their ex-partners and children due to unsupervised or poorly supervised visitation arrangements (Neustein & Lesher, 2005; Radford & Hester, 2006); sole or joint custody of children may be awarded to a violent or potentially violent parent rather than a non-violent one; and mediation may be recommended or mandated in a way that compromises victims’ rights or places them in more danger. Tragically, in some cases post-separation contacts end in the homicide of a mother and/or her children (Saunders, 2009; Sheeran & Hampton, 1999).

Look how many experts were involved and for how long the research was being studied to reach the conclusions that it did! A HUGE MAHALO to Barry Goldstein AND to Family Court Judge Mark R. Browning, who actually submitted sound research in opposition to HB2163 as well.

Everyone has their own unique gifts and talents from God that truly make them experts in their areas of expertise; a nutritionist can tell you what the healthiest foods are; a dermatologist can tell you what the best skin regime is and a taxi driver can tell you what the quickest route between Point A & Point B is – can a taxi driver tell you what he/she thinks the healthiest foods are? Sure, but wouldn’t you much rather hear it from the nutritionist? And whose word would you rather take on what’s healthiest?

When domestic violence and abuse cross paths with family court, the best and only voices that should be heard on how to proceed in such cases should come from the experts in domestic violence and abuse, no? Cause if you ask me, one life is too high a price for anyone’s best intentions and I’m so glad our Governor feels the same way.

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