Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

Dear Judge Responding to DV Custody Cases

by Barry Goldstein

Dear Judge,
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges seeks to train other judges about important scientific research like ACE (adverse childhood experiences) and Saunders. We now have a specialized body of research and knowledge about domestic violence and child abuse that can help courts recognize true reports of abuse and craft responses that help protect children.

The purpose of this letter is to ask the court to be open to considering the research and avoid standard approaches the research demonstrates work poorly in domestic violence custody cases. Most custody cases are settled more or less amicably. The problem is the 3.8% of all cases that require trial and often much more. The research shows that 75-90% of contested custody are really domestic violence cases. These cases involve abusers who believe she has no right to leave, and they are often willing to hurt the child to protect their “rights.”

Many present practices were developed over 40 years ago at a time when little research about DV was available. It was based on the assumption that DV is caused by mental illness or substance abuse. The research demonstrates these assumptions were wrong, but courts have been slow to modify the practices. Mental health professionals are experts in psychology and mental illness but not DV or child abuse. Every year, 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers and since 2008, The Center for Judicial Excellence found over 850 children involved in contested custody have been murdered, mostly by abusive fathers.

ACE is peer-reviewed medical research from the CDC. ACE found that children exposed to DV, child abuse and other traumas will live shorter lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems. Most of the harm is not from any immediate physical injuries, but from the fear and stress abusers cause. This means practices that minimize older abuse; limit inquiries to physical abuse; assume the end of the relationship ends the risk; or ask children to just get over it have no chance to work.

Contested custody cases are usually the last chance to save children from the awful consequences. Medical doctors say children exposed to multiple ACEs can avoid the harm, but it requires two responses standard court practices prevent. The children will need medical treatment and therapy to respond to problems as they develop and to reduce the fear and stress. This means the safe parent must control health decisions because abusers use decision-making to block anything the mother wants and particularly to prevent or undermine therapy because the child might reveal his abuse. Shared parenting in these cases ends the child’s chance for a full and healthy life.

The second response the doctors say is needed is that the children cannot be exposed to more abuse or situations that renew the fear and stress. This means any visitation must be supervised until the abuser changes his behavior. When courts rush to resume or continue normal visitation without requiring fundamental changes by the abuser, courts take away the child’s chance for a full and healthy life. Fundamentally, without ACE, courts inevitably minimize the harm from DV and child abuse and err on the side of risking children.

The Saunders Study is peer-reviewed scientific research from the National Institute of Justice in the US Justice Department. The purpose was to review the domestic violence knowledge of judges, lawyers and especially evaluators. Saunders found court professionals need more than generalized knowledge about DV. They need knowledge about specific subjects that include screening for DV, risk assessment, post-separation violence and the impact of DV on children. Professionals without this specific knowledge tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports and unscientific alienation theories. This leads to recommendations and decisions that harm children. Most evaluators fail to screen for domestic violence in an effective way and judges and lawyers have spent their careers influenced by evaluator’s misinformation about DV and child abuse. As a result, Saunders found most court professionals do not have the specific DV information they need for DV custody cases. DV advocates have more of the specific DV information courts need than judges, lawyers, or evaluators. This makes sense because they are the only profession to work full time on domestic violence prevention and safety. Saunders recommends courts use a multi-disciplinary approach that would include DV and child abuse experts when this is important to the case. Without Saunders, courts routinely rely on the wrong professionals for DV cases and so often disbelieve true reports of abuse.

The first part of screening for DV is to avoid discrediting true reports based on non-probative factors. Common examples include: the mother left an alleged abuser, but returned; she sought a protective order, but didn’t follow-up; she has no police or medical reports; the professional failed to differentiate between an abuser’s public and private behavior; the child appears to be doing well on the surface; and a child shows no fear interacting with the alleged abuser in front of a professional. These are all common responses for safety and other reasons and tell us nothing about the validity of reports about abuse.

Instead, courts should consider which parent is afraid of the other parent. Courts should consider the motives of the alleged abuser. Is there evidence that the purpose of his tactics is to maintain power and control; coerce the victim to do what the abuser wants and based on the belief that the man has the right to make the decisions? The court should then look for the pattern of coercive and controlling behaviors. Most DV is neither physical nor illegal. This means there is much more evidence of DV available when we know what to look for. Common tactics include emotional, psychological, economic, litigation and physical abuse, plus stalking, monitoring, isolating and similar tactics.

Risk assessment refers to the fact that there are many common DV tactics that are associated with increased risk of lethality. These tactics should be taken even more seriously. Examples include strangulation, assaulting a woman while pregnant; hurting animals; forced or pressured sex; threats of murder, suicide, or kidnapping; stalking; access to guns; and the belief she has no right to leave. I have reviewed over 1000 evaluations and have never seen an evaluator report something like, “the mother alleges the father strangled her, and if this is true it raises serious concerns of potential lethality.” This failure is a common example of minimizing the risk from an abuser.

There are two parts to post-separation violence and neither have to involve physical violence. DV custody cases usually involve abusers using custody to regain control over the victim and punish her for leaving. Saunders found abusers sometimes use exchanges to harass or even assault their victims. More commonly, we see economic and litigation abuse as part of the cases. Courts often dismiss the issue as typical to litigation, but it means the abuser has not changed.

Significantly, abusers do not hurt their victims because of anything she said or did. This means they are likely to abuse future partners. If they already have a new partner, he is likely to treat her well because he needs her testimony, but eventually will resume his abusive tactics. This means children will witness more DV and therefore cannot heal.

At least 40 states and many judicial districts have created court-sponsored studies of gender bias. They have used a variety of methods over four decades but have found widespread bias against women litigants. Common examples include holding women to a higher standard of proof, giving mothers less credibility, and blaming the victim for her normal reaction to the father’s abuse. This is a difficult problem to overcome because gender bias is usually unintentional and subconscious. At the same time the needed discussions are discouraged because of the risk that reporting gender bias may result in defensiveness or even retaliation. The Meier Study from the National Institute of Justice found courts have made little progress in overcoming gender bias. A good way to check for gender bias is to ask how a situation would have played out if the genders were reversed.

Sexist alienation theories were deliberately developed to help abusive fathers gain custody. Richard Gardner and the cottage industry of lawyers and mental health professionals needed an approach to justify changing custody from safe, protective mothers who are the primary attachment figures to abusive fathers who often had little involvement in childcare during the relationship. Gardner concocted Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) for this purpose based on no research, but only his personal experience, beliefs, and bias. This included many public statements that sex between adults and children can be acceptable. I don’t believe judges would have wanted to be associated with this theory if they were aware of the heinous basis for its creation. DV is about control, including financial control. This means in most contested custody cases, the abusive father controls most of the financial resources. The cottage industry developed for these financial reasons and the financial incentive has contributed to custody courts receiving frequent and aggressive misinformation, particularly about alienation.

Gardner sought to include PAS in the DSM-IV which is the compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses. The American Psychiatric Association rejected it because there is no scientific research to support alienation. PAS developed a deserved bad reputation, particularly that it clearly is not a syndrome, and Gardner committed suicide. The cottage industry sought to continue using PAS but wrote articles offering a slightly milder version and used different names such as alienation, parental alienation, or gatekeeping. The cottage industry and male supremacist groups lobbied aggressively to include unscientific alienation theories in the DSM-V which is the present compendium. It was again rejected because there is still no valid research to support the theory. I am not aware of any other court that continues to rely on a theory that has been twice rejected by the leading professional association.

There is an interesting finding in the Meier Study. They found that when courts believe a father is being alienated, this provides a strong boost for the father and helps them gain custody. When the court believes the mother is alienated, it has no effect on the outcome. This means unscientific alienation theories are being applied in a gender biased manner that violates due process and equal protection. What is really happening is that in our still sexist society, mothers continue to provide most of the childcare and therefore have a stronger relationship with their children. Court professionals are less worried about the mothers’ relationship and so pay less attention to alienating behavior by fathers. This is another example of unintentional gender bias.

Some judges have suggested they don’t need research because common sense tells us that parents do make negative statements about each other. This is true, even in intact families. This approach would be acceptable if the courts didn’t then accept the rest of unscientific alienation theories. These theories assume a bad relationship with the father could only be caused by alienating behavior. More likely causes include DV, child abuse, limited involvement, or other bad parenting practices. The theories seek to ASSUME alienation based on speculation about what the mother must be saying. The father rarely has personal knowledge of what is said in the privacy of the mother’s home but are often allowed to speculate. The findings rejecting unscientific alienation theories from the DSM-V means it is caused by bad behavior rather than mental illness. This means that mental health professionals, and especially the cottage industry have no special expertise to inform the court. The alienation theories assume alienation creates the worst possible harm to children. In intact families, negative statements rarely have long-lasting effects. A false statement against one parent is more likely to hurt the relationship with the parent making the false statement. ACE demonstrates that domestic violence and child abuse have far more harmful consequences. There is no valid research that demonstrates the harm from alienation because there is no standard definition of alienation. The purported research, based on the original bogus PAS finds harm to children that is more likely caused by DV and child abuse. Indeed, Gardner assumed that almost all reports of abuse by mothers or children are false. Objective research like the Bala Study found mothers in contested custody cases make deliberate false reports less than 2% of the time.

A recent decision by the Oregon Psychology Board is particularly helpful in understanding the use of unscientific alienation theories in custody courts. A custody evaluator used other language in the DSM-V to claim alienation is supported in the DSM-V. This is false because it was specifically rejected despite aggressive lobbying. The evaluator was disciplined for diagnosing something that doesn’t exist (in the DSM-V). Hopefully more cottage industry professionals will face accountability and stop poisoning custody courts with their biased theories.

The reliance on unscientific alienation theories has done enormous harm to children, but also to the reputation of family courts. It is outrageous that an unscientific theory, twice rejected by the American Psychiatric Association has more influence in the courts than ACE and Saunders that are peer-reviewed scientific research from highly credible sources. ACE is used in many areas of society to benefit individuals. It is used by medical doctors to diagnose and treat patients; therapists to treat patients; schools to help traumatized students and public health officials to support reductions in diseases and social problems. ACE is often compared to the Surgeon General’s Report linking smoking and cancer. Both studies can be used to discourage harmful behavior (smoking, DV and child abuse) and in doing so save millions of lives and trillions of dollars. In contrast, unscientific alienation theories are only used to help abusive fathers gain custody.

The parent who provides most of the childcare in the first two years of a child’s life is and always will be the primary attachment figure. In most cases this parent is the one the children turn to when they need assistance; the primary parent is usually the better parent based on more practice and knows the children’s providers as well as their needs and strengths. Denying children, a normal relationship with their primary attachment figures increases the risk of depression, low self-esteem, and suicide. The importance of primary attachment is often minimized by custody courts in part because of gender bias.

There is a section in the Saunders Study about harmful outcome cases. These are extreme decisions in which the alleged abuser receives custody and a safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure is limited to supervised or no visitation. Saunders found harmful outcome cases are ALWAYS wrong and based on the use of flawed practices. The reason they are always wrong is the harm from denying children a normal relationship with their primary parent is greater than any benefit the court thought it was providing. In most cases, the flaws used by the court resulted in an arrangement that is the opposite of what works best for children.

Context is critically important in recognizing domestic violence. Courts often miss the context in an attempt to save time because of crowded dockets. Decontextualizing is a common abuser tactic. They seek to start the story immediately after their abuse and simply describe the victim’s response. At early hearings, courts often limit the discussion to the immediate issue and in doing so miss the long history of abuse. Arbitrary time limits for presenting a case are not neutral as they are intended. Victims need more time to explain the context and explain (as in this letter) that many standard practices favor abusers. The alleged abuser need only deny the alleged abuse and encourage courts to maintain the biased practices.

In the typical DV custody case, the father wanted the mother to provide most of the childcare during the relationship. In any other court, this would properly be understood as an admission by the father that the mother is a good parent, or else he would have sought a different arrangement. When the mother seeks to leave her abuser and report his abuse, fathers often retaliate by seeking custody and claiming the mother is suddenly unfit. They often claim the mother is mentally ill and/or alienating. What are the chances a mother suddenly becomes unfit because the relationship ended, and she reported his abuse? In the real world the chances are close to zero, but custody courts that fail to use current scientific research, rely on professionals without the needed DV expertise and miss the context often make this unlikely finding.


The use of shared parenting has pushed the court towards an ideological approach and away from the best interests of children. This was one of the purposes of the male supremacist groups that have pushed for equal parenting. There is a legitimate argument for shared parenting in cases with two good and safe parents. This was never intended for use in DV custody cases. The most favorable research for shared parenting says it can be beneficial for children when both parents want shared parenting; the parents can communicate effectively; neither parent is afraid of the other and they live nearby. This does not apply to DV custody cases. Saunders found shared parenting is never appropriate in DV custody cases.

One of the problems with “high conflict” approaches is that it immediately pushes the parents for co-parenting even though in most cases it would be a mistake. High conflict creates a false equivalency between a safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure and an abusive father. In many cases, victims are punished for trying to protect their children and the desire to save court time is substituted for the desire to keep children safe.

ACE and Saunders demonstrate that many standard court practices and many standard evaluation practices are harmful to children. The resultant mistakes are not neutral in the sense that they apply equally to both parents. All the mistakes caused by a failure to use current scientific research help abusive fathers and place children in additional risk. Practices that minimize the harm from DV and child abuse and make it harder for courts to recognize true reports of abuse are harmful to children.

Expert witnesses are the only witnesses allowed to give their opinions. Family courts rarely differentiate between subjective and objective opinions. Subjective opinions work great for the experts, particularly from the cottage industry because they just have to say what they believe or what supports their client. Cottage industry professionals do not have the specific knowledge Saunders says is needed and are biased in favor of abusive fathers. They should never be permitted to serve as neutral professionals. The subjective opinions are often contradicted by the research the experts fail to consider. Objective opinions are much more useful for courts because it is evidence-based information that focuses on what works best for children.

Dr. Vincent Felitti, lead author of the original ACE Study believes prevention is the most important use for his research, especially in Family Court. This research is so exciting because it can be used to reduce cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, crime and many other health and social problems. It is especially important for courts to use this knowledge in cases that are likely to be the last chance to save children from the awful consequences of exposure to multiple ACEs.

Barry Goldstein is a domestic violence author, speaker, advocate and expert witness. He is the author of six books concerning domestic violence and child custody. Barry is the author of the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive plan based on current scientific research that can fix the broken court system and make family courts safe for children.


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Open Letter to Family Court Lawyers from a Domestic Violence Expert

by Veronica York, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Custody Expert, Certified High-Conflict Divorce Coach

Most family court custody cases are
settled amicably. It’s only about 3.8% of cases that require trial and often
much more. These cases are typically deemed “high conflict” by family court
professionals. The reality is 75-90% of these cases are domestic violence
and/or child abuse cases. These cases must be handled differently. The “high
conflict” he said, she said approach is harming and sometimes killing children.
This approach is creating a false equivalency between a victim and an abuser,
which always favors abusers and risks children’s well-being.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges seeks to train other judges on the current scientific research that shows standard court practices are working very poorly for children in DV custody cases. The two main studies that must be applied to these cases are the ACE Study (adverse childhood experiences) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Saunders Study form the National Institute of Justice in the U.S. Justice Department. Fundamentally, without ACE courts are minimizing the harm abusers cause and without Saunders, they are relying on the wrong professionals who are making recommendations and decisions that have devastating consequences for the children they are required to protect.

A Few Common Mistakes Lawyers Make in DV Custody Cases

The Saunders Study found that court professionals need more than just a general knowledge of domestic violence. They need to have knowledge of four specific areas including screening for DV, risk assessment, post separation abuse, and the impact of DV on children. If you are a family court lawyer who is being retained for cases involving DV or child abuse, you should have some knowledge in these areas to be able to effectively advocate and litigate for your client. Not having this knowledge wastes their precious time, money, and ability to protect their children.

The first most common mistake lawyers make is disbelieving true reports of abuse due to non-probative occurrences. For example, a victim of DV may leave their abuser and then return, they may have filed for a protective order and not followed through, they may have no incidents of physical violence reported to law enforcement, they may not show fear of their abuser in public, or they might have stayed with their abuser much longer than you feel anyone should. All these circumstances are common in DV relationships due to safety and other good reasons, one of which is protecting their children. However, court professionals assume these are good reasons to dismiss abuse allegations- and this is just not true.

The second most common mistake lawyers make is not asking the question “Who is afraid of who in the relationship?” The majority of DV cases involve a male abuser and a female victim. This is a statistical fact and although there are exceptions, it is important to understand that a victim of DV will give up much more than they are entitled to in these cases so they can avoid as much conflict as possible and protect their children. It is not uncommon for mothers to give up substantial financial assets, child support, and other possessions to ensure their children are protected from the abuser’s emotional and sometimes physical abuse.    

Another mistake is missing the motive of the abuser. Most courts like to assume a father is acting out of love for their children. This could not be further from the truth in DV custody cases. Family court is the most successful venue for an abusive father to continue his abuse. He knows that the best way to hurt the mother is to use the children. Their motives are in plain sight but most often missed by court professionals.

For starters,
loving fathers understand that children need their mothers. The most important
thing a loving father needs to do for their children is support and treat their
mother with respect. In our society, mothers are still typically the primary
care giver. This means they are the children’s primary attachment figure. To be
clear, the primary attachment figure is and always will be the person who did
most of the childcare the first two years of the child’s life. The idea that
children need both parents equally is simply not true. They need their primary
attachment figure more than the other parent and they need their safe parent
more than the abusive one. In fact, in almost all DV custody cases, during the
relationship, the father either wanted or demanded that the mother do most of
the childcare. In any other litigation this would be viewed as an admission by
the father that she is a good mother. Otherwise, he would have made other
arrangements for childcare. What are the chances that because the mother left the
relationship and reported his abuse that she is suddenly unfit or crazy? In the
real world, the answer is close to zero, but he will almost always claim that
she now has a mental issue or is alienating the children. Their motive is to
hurt the mother and punish her for leaving. This is also made clear when they
refuse to follow court orders, refuse to pay child support, withhold contact
with the children during their possession time, neglect the children, and continue
to harass, stalk, belittle, and disparage the mother. These are just some
examples of the many abusive behaviors that show their interest is what’s best
for them and their goal of hurting the mother, rather than what’s best for the

Abuser Tactics in Custody Cases

If you are going to take on a custody case with alleged domestic violence or child abuse, you must be aware of abuser tactics. These tactics include lying (even under oath), counter-parenting, alienation allegations, neglectful/abusive parenting, isolation, harassment/stalking, legal abuse, financial abuse, and sexual abuse of the mother and/or children. Abusers will deny any wrongdoing unless you can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, even then they will blame someone else for their actions. They almost never accept responsibility unless they can spin a victim narrative and gain sympathy. They have learned that courts bend over backwards to keep fathers in children’s lives at any cost because they believe children who do not have a father in their lives are at greater risk. This is only true when the father does more good than harm. If a father is doing more harm than good, he should not be a part of their child’s life until he can change his behavior. Children can thrive with at least one loving and caring parent.

As an expert witness, the first thing we have the client do is a pattern of abuse. This is a document that lists all the tactics their abuser used during their relationship and post separation. It is imperative to show the court the pattern of behavior that has caused so much stress and fear in the victim and their children. The court tends to only focus on any physical abuse, but The ACE research tells us that most of the harm caused by domestic violence and child abuse is the fear and stress. For decades, domestic violence advocates have been saying that physical assaults are not the most harmful parts of DV.  No one paid attention to them because there was no research; they didn’t have advanced degrees; and they were women.  It turned out they were right, and the ACE Studies confirmed their understanding.  Additionally, Saunders found, domestic violence advocates understand DV issues better than any other profession. Experts know and research confirms that it is the fear and stress that leads to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicide. Not to mention, long term effects such as heart disease, cancer and a variety of other ailments and diseases.

The doctors
working on the ACE research were asked the question: “Is there something we can
do now to save these children who have been exposed to DV and child abuse?”
There answer was yes, but there are two things that need to happen. First, the
children will need therapy and medical attention as problems develop. This
means that the safe parent must have control over health decisions. Abusers use
decision making to block anything the mother wants to help their children,
especially therapy because they do not want their abuse to be exposed. Second,
the children cannot be exposed to more abuse. This means that the abuser must
be limited to supervised visits until he can change his behavior. The only
thing proven to change behavior is accountability and monitoring. The father
can be given a path to increase his visits to unsupervised, but the burden must
be on him to prove to the court that he has changed. The recommendation is for
the abuser to complete a 52-week batterer program that is focused on accountability.
Once he has completed the program, he must assure the court that he takes full
responsibility for his abuse, he understands the enormous harm that he has
caused, he promises to never abuse anyone again, and if he does, he understands
that could mean the end of his relationship with the children.

Best Practices

The first thing a family court lawyer should do when faced with a client who claims domestic violence is listen. Victims of DV need to be heard, believed, and validated.  Too often they are told by attorneys their experiences don’t matter or will not be taken seriously in court. Although, that may be the case in many courts in the United States, it’s something that needs to be changed, not tolerated. Do not ignore the abuser tactics that are causing so much stress and fear in the victim and their children. This is what causes the most harm and as an attorney you can help them get these tactics to stop in the litigation process.

Second, understand the research must be presented as soon as possible to the judge. The first thing to do is tell the judge that there is now substantial scientific peer-reviewed research from the most credible sources, that shows current court practices are harming children and you would like the judge to take a fresh look at the case considering the research. This is a reasonable request that goes to the best interest of the children.

Last, bring in a
domestic violence expert that can testify regarding the research and how it
applies to the facts and circumstances of the case. Most courts are used to
hearing from mental health professionals that conduct a psychological or
custody evaluation. They speak to both parties and the children and give the
judge the whole picture. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, Saunders found
these evaluators do not have the needed expertise to make the appropriate
findings regarding abuse issues in these cases. They give the judge their
subjective opinion based on their own beliefs and findings. A domestic violence
expert with knowledge of ACE and Saunders can give the judge an objective
opinion based on the research, which is much more valuable for the court.

A common objection
we hear is that the DV expert did not speak to the alleged abuser or interview
the children. An expert witness should only be giving the judge one piece of
the story. The judge should hear from multiple witnesses and experts to
determine and put together the whole story and make a fair and equitable
decision. A DV expert can provide information and recommendations to the court
that they will not hear from anyone else.

All too often, they continue to
rely on the same evaluators and hear the same misinformation that is causing a
crisis in our country of children, who according to ACE, will live shorter
lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems.


As a protective mother, certified high conflict divorce coach, and a domestic violence, and child abuse custody expert, I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of other protective parents across the United States and abroad. The issues and tactics are typically the same and I can realize the patterns and identify the many errors being made in family court system today. Most judges, GALs, lawyers, and evaluators have spent their entire careers learning the wrong information as it pertains to DV and child abuse custody cases. The most significant impact is the harm being caused to the children of these cases. In addition, the financial impact on protective parents and their families is absolutely devasting. Entire bank accounts, college funds, 401K, and savings have been completely wiped out and then some. These cases are being drug out for almost a decade in some cases costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and many years off the childhood of so many precious children. This must stop.

Typically, I get
involved in a case way too late, the mother has already spent her life savings
on lawyers who did not know how to fight for them, they have lost their
children to their abuser, or they are still being continually harassed and
abused by the court system even after several years going through the
litigation process.  It takes time to
help them, undo mistakes, and consult with their counsel to turn these cases
around. In contrast, just this past March of 2022, I did have a mother who
contacted me before she left her abuser. I was able to help her choose her
lawyer, bring in an expert, and help her navigate communication, documentation,
and strategy. Her case is now settled. From start to finish it took four months
and much less money than it would have otherwise. It really proved that having
the right knowledge, understanding the research, and finding a lawyer that is
willing to listen, work with an expert, present the research, and advocate for
her made all the difference in the world. Not only to her, but more importantly
to her two young sons.

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After a 20-year sales and marketing career in the Television Industry, Veronica York felt a passion and calling to make a career change. Due to her own experience with a “high conflict” custody battle that started in 2018, she realized that the best interest of children was not the priority in the family court system. Children are suffering unnecessarily due to outdated practices of judges, lawyers, evaluators, and other court professionals.

Veronica completed the High Conflict Divorce Coach Certification Program founded by Tina Swithin in March 2021 and immediately started her coaching practice. In addition to helping her clients navigate their custody battles, she works with Barry Goldstein, a leading expert witness in contested custody cases involving domestic violence and child abuse. Barry and Veronica work together to educate court professionals by exposing them to current scientific research such as the ACE and Saunders studies. This research strongly supports protective mothers’ cases and encourages reform of practices that work poorly for children. Veronica also serves as the Advocacy Coordinator at the Center for Judicial Excellence.

Veronica has advanced training in family law mediation, writes articles and performs speaking engagements on the topic of contested custody in domestic violence and child abuse cases. She also does training for family court professionals on the misuse of parental alienation and the tactics of Post Separation Abuse during a divorce.




THE CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATOR SCAM: $50,000 – $70,000 FOR A “CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION,” AND ANOTHER $20,000 FOR HER “EXPERT TESTIMONY” From people that I have talked with and reviews that I have seen, Alissa Sherry is one of the WORST child custody evaluators in Texas. EVERY PERSON that I have talked with about her cannot stand her and thinks she is incompetent, lazy, and terrible. Perhaps that is why anti-family attorney Marshall Thompson, Bar Card Number 24059139, of Thompson, Salinas, and Londergren LLP, wants to keep using Alissa Sherry as the evaluator. That and the fact that her “evaluation” and her “recommendations” put Dr. David O’Conner in a bad light. The Child Custody Evaluation Scam often does not get the attention it warrants. The Child Custody Evaluation is an OPINION, often given by a person who who skews the report based on his or her biases or influenced by money. In many cases, their reports are trash. The evaluators are often people who meet with parents and children just enough to give them stuff to write into a report to give them an air of erudition and validity, but are full of omissions and incorrect conclusions. Yet attorneys and judges rely on these reports and people to restrict a good, loving, and fit person of his or her rights, destroy parental bonds, and sometimes charge upwards of $50,000 for their “services.” Some child custody evaluators are corrupt, others are just inept. In most cases their services are unnecessary, but are just another way to deprive people of money for useless services ordered by a judge or requested by an attorney. They often cause more damage than good. They are an integral part of the family destruction industry. Even though all the EVIDENCE indicates Dr. David O’Conner is a great and loving father, and there was NO EVIDENCE that Dr. O’Conner is in any way the the slightest threat to their son, Marshall O’Conner wants to continuing proceeding with a lawsuit on behalf of Trish Ho, Dr. O’Conner’s ex-wife, based on “Dr.” Alissa Sherry’s report – and he wants to Dr. O’Conner to pay his ex-wife’s attorney’s fees so that he can continue litigating. #AlissaSherry #MarshallThompson #JudgeKarinCrump #250thDistrictCourtTravisCountyTexas

Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

Family Courts Need Domestic Violence Experts: 20 Common Mistakes in Evaluations Judges Miss

Essay by Barry Goldstein & Veronica York

The original sin family courts made in responding to domestic violence cases was turning to mental health professionals as if they were the experts.  It is not that psychologists have nothing to contribute, but they do not have the specialized knowledge of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and other critical issues.  The original mistake was based on the popular assumption at the time that DV was caused by mental illness or substance abuse.  We now know the original assumptions were wrong, but courts continue to rely on these outdated practices.

In one case, Barry was asked at least 15 questions about the fact he doesn’t have a mental health degree.  The academic work to obtain a mental health degree does not provide any knowledge about domestic violence or child abuse.  Psychologists may try to use general psychological principles, but much about DV is counterintuitive.

The Saunders Study found court professionals need training in very specific subjects that include screening for DV, risk assessment, post-separation violence and the impact of DV on children.  Most evaluators do not have this needed expertise.  They often attempt to screen for DV with psychological tests that tell us nothing about DV.  As a result, evaluators often use non-probative information to discredit true reports of abuse.  We have never seen an evaluation that says the mother reports strangulation and if this is true there is an increased risk of lethality.  Post-separation abuse analysis almost never mentions alleged abusers’ litigation and economic abuse as a continuation of domestic violence or the likelihood an abuser will assault future partners which means custody or unsupervised visitation will result in more exposure of children to domestic violence.  Few evaluators are familiar with ACE or focus on the harm caused by fear and stress.  This means evaluators are not using the specific knowledge Saunders says is needed to respond effectively to domestic violence.  In other words, the courts are relying on professionals who routinely minimize and deny true reports of abuse.  Many domestic violence cases do not include an evaluation, but the judges and other court professionals are influenced by the misinformation evaluators provided in other cases.

Few evaluators relied on by custody courts have the critical knowledge needed to recognize and respond effectively to possible domestic violence or child abuse cases.  They are unfamiliar with critical scientific research like ACE (adverse childhood experiences), Saunders, Meier, Bala, gender bias or child murders in custody cases.  The evaluators do not understand domestic violence dynamics or batterer narratives that help explain abuser motives.  Evaluators and other court professionals are oblivious to the widespread failure of custody courts to protect children.  All the mistakes caused by failing to use current scientific research minimize the harm from abuse and make it harder for courts to recognize true reports.  The courts are influenced by the superior financial resources of abusers who usually control family finances, and the cottage industry of lawyers and evaluators that make large incomes by promoting practices that favor abusive fathers.  The result is DV custody cases are severely tilted in favor of abusive fathers and towards risking children. 

Court professionals are satisfied with the present practices, and defensive about the painful tragedies they cause.  The Bartlow Study found judges and court administrators failed to create reforms in the face of preventable child murders.  They thought these tragedies were exceptions.  In the last 13 years, the Center for Judicial Excellence found over 800 tragic “exceptions.”

Domestic violence experts can recognize mistakes by evaluators in abuse cases.  This is why Saunders found courts should be using a multi-disciplinary approach.  Some judges cannot imagine how a DV expert can help a court recognize errors by evaluators regarding DV and child abuse.  Saunders found DV advocates have more of the specific knowledge courts need about DV than judges, lawyers or evaluators.  We quickly came up with a list of over 80 common mistakes about DV that evaluators routinely make because they don’t have the specialized DV knowledge needed.  In this article, we are sharing 20 of these common mistakes.  The full list of common evaluator DV errors will be available at

  1. Evaluator failed to make distinction between public and private behavior

    Most abusers are able to control their behavior and do so in public.  Attorneys for abusers often present evidence from friends, family, and colleagues about his good behavior and how he could not be an abuser.  Evaluators often rely on this non-probative behavior, but mothers and children see a very different side of the abusive father in the privacy of their home.

  2. Evaluator only considered physical abuse

    The purpose of domestic violence is not to cause great pain but to coerce and control the victim.  In DV custody cases there is often one or a few physical incidents and thousands of other DV tactics.  The abuser does not need to keep assaulting her because once he does, she knows what he is capable of.  The physical abuse can be “minor” as pushing or blocking a door and are combined with emotional, psychological and other tactics.  The other types of abuse serve as a reminder of what can happen if she doesn’t obey.  ACE tells us it is the fear and stress abusers cause, that does most of the harm to children.  Evaluators often pay lip service to other types of abuse but mainly or exclusively focus on physical abuse.  This is based on outdated beliefs from the 1970s.  This mistake reduces the available evidence and minimizes the harm abusers cause.

  3. Evaluator fails to understand most of the harm from DV is caused by fear and stress rather than immediate physical injuries

    The ACE Research is exciting because it could be used to dramatically reduce a wide range of serious illnesses and social problems.  This would greatly increase life expectancy and achievement.  Prevention is the key to providing these benefits and improving children’s lives.  Contested custody cases are often the last chance to save children from the consequences of exposure to ACEs.  In most cases the courts are not even considering this opportunity.

  4. Evaluator assumed unfounded child protective case meant the reports of abuse are false

    Caseworkers often face heavy caseloads that lead to reports of abuse being unfounded for non-probative reasons.  Examples include: child refused to speak to caseworker; not enough time to investigate; failure to take cases during litigation seriously; the child is living with the safe parent; caseworker manipulated or intimidated by abuser; reliance on the myth that mothers often make deliberate false reports; and the lack of expertise regarding DV and child sexual abuse.  Unfounded cases often prove to be true reports much later.  Evaluators save time and resources by treating unfounded cases as if they prove the reports were wrong.  Unfortunately, these practices don’t save children.

  5. Evaluator failed to consider ACE and Saunders

    Perhaps the biggest reason custody courts are failing children in abuse cases is the failure to use scientific research like ACE and Saunders.  They go to the essence of the well-being of children.  ACE tells us the fear and stress abusers cause will shorten children’s lives and cause a lifetime of health problems.  Saunders tells us courts are relying on the wrong experts for abuse cases and this results in courts frequently disbelieving true reports of abuse.  There are judges and evaluators that use ACE and Saunders and this results in better decisions for children.  Most courts however rely on outdated practices that do not include this research.  This mistake is not neutral.  It favors abusive fathers and risks children.

  6. Evaluator blamed mother for father’s abuse

    In a safe family, if a child came home complaining about something the father did, the mother would ask the father about it.  If a father heard the child was complaining about sexual abuse, he would want an investigation to find out who did it or if there was a misunderstanding such as an unintentional boundary violation.  When the father is an abuser, the mother is afraid to discuss the complaint with him and the father immediately claims alienation and tries to silence the child.  In these and other situations, untrained evaluators blame the mother for not cooperating and communicating.  If the evaluator is part of the cottage industry, she will be called an alienator.  And in each instance, it is the fear caused by the father’s abuse that created the problem, but mothers are often blamed.  This is an example of gender bias that most court professionals do not have the training or humility to recognize.

  7. Evaluator failed to recognize shared parenting is inappropriate in cases involving possible DV or child abuse

    Courts promote shared parenting because laws favor it, and co-parenting is viewed as the best way to promote settlements.  Shared parenting was never meant for domestic violence cases.  The unequal power in DV cases makes it dangerous.  Good research like Saunders says shared parenting should never be used in DV cases.  Abusers use decision-making to block anything the mother wants and particularly to prevent or undermine therapy where the child might reveal his abuse.  Shared parenting in inappropriate cases is great for court professionals’ bank accounts because more services will be needed but works poorly for children. Even in the rare cases where abuse reports are false, the bad relationship makes co-parenting a mistake. 

  8. Evaluator focused on how to pressure victims to accommodate the abuser instead of how abuser can reduce fear and stress

    Most contested custody is really DV cases involving the worst abusers.  They believe she has no right to leave so are using custody to regain control.  Accordingly, they will not agree to anything reasonable.  Evaluators who fail to understand DV dynamics, pressure victims and children to accommodate the abuser as the best way to promote a settlement.  ACE tells us that the fear and stress abusers cause will have lifelong negative effects on the children.  Accordingly, best practices require pressuring abusers to reduce the fear and stress they are causing if they want a relationship.  Evaluators unfamiliar with ACE don’t even know these best practices.

  9. Evaluator used psychological tests to screen for DV

    Psychological tests were developed for people who may need to be hospitalized.  They tell us nothing about domestic violence.  It was originally used when many believed the false assumption that DV was caused by mental illness or substance abuse.  There can be valid uses of psychological tests in some cases, but when evaluators use them to screen for DV, it says more about the ignorance of the evaluator than the circumstances of the case.

  10. Evaluator does not understand primary attachment so recommended a harmful outcome case

    Harmful outcome cases give custody to the alleged abuser and limit a safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure to supervised or no visitation.  The Saunders Study found harmful outcome cases are ALWAYS wrong and based on flawed practices.  The reason they are always wrong is that denying children a normal relationship with their primary attachment figure, a harm that includes increased risk of depression, low self-esteem and suicide is greater than whatever benefit the court thought it was providing.  The frequency of these always wrong cases, a decade after Saunders was published, exposes the failure of custody courts to adopt current scientific research.

  11. Evaluator used non-probative factors to discredit reports of abuse

    The Saunders Study says court professionals need to learn how to screen for DV. They need to know what information to look for but also how to avoid non-probative information.  Common examples include: she returns to her abuser; she seeks a protective order but doesn’t follow up; she doesn’t have a police report or medical records.  All of these are normal responses by women abused by their partners for safety and other good reasons.  Another example is a professional observes the alleged abuser playing with the children and the kids show no fear.  Unqualified professionals assume this means he cannot be abusive, but the children know he wouldn’t hurt them in the presence of witnesses, so it is safe to play with a father they still love.  Inadequately trained professionals often use these non-probative issues to discredit true reports of abuse.

  12. Evaluator assumes just because he hurts the mother doesn’t mean he will hurt the children

    This one is scary.  Evaluators, lawyers, and judges continue to say this out loud even after children have been murdered by abusive fathers because of this mistake.  Fathers who abuse mothers are 40-60% more likely to also abuse the children.  The worst abusers have learned the best way to hurt the mother is to hurt her children.  Many evaluators never consider this.

  13. Evaluator failed to make the health and safety of children the first priority

    The health and safety of children was always the most important consideration for custody courts and the ACE Studies make this so much clearer.  ACE did not make domestic violence and child abuse more harmful to children, but rather made us aware of the full harm caused by our long tolerance of behavior we now define as domestic violence and child abuse.  The courts cannot allow defensiveness, inertia, ignorance of scientific research, “father’s rights,” or the incomes of court professionals to be placed above the well-being of precious children.  Evaluators who fail to make children the first priority, other than with lip service, must be corrected.

  14. Evaluator failed to understand that a father who causes PTSD to the mother or child is an unfit parent

    PTSD cannot be caused from something benign.  It requires the most traumatic event or a series of traumatic events such as occur with domestic violence.  Abusers and too often court professionals minimize a father’s abuse to keep him in a child’s life.  This is based on the belief that a child benefits from having both parents in their lives.  This is usually true, but not when a parent is an abuser and certainly not if the parent was so abusive as to cause PTSD.

  15. Evaluator failed to recognize behavior associated with higher risk of lethality

    Saunders found court professionals need training in risk assessment.  There are specific behaviors associated with higher risk of lethality.  This would include strangulation; hitting a woman while pregnant; forced or pressured sex; hurting animals; violating court orders; threats of murder, kidnapping or suicide; violating court orders; access to guns; and the belief she has no right to leave.  Cases involving these behaviors should be taken extremely seriously and evaluators have a duty to make judges aware of these risks.

  16. Evaluator failed to consider the danger associated with offensive or threatening language based on research on batterer narratives

    Most evaluators do not have the DV knowledge needed for DV cases and research about batterer narratives is therefore rarely considered.  Most abusers would say it is wrong to assault a woman and then say EXCEPT.  The major exceptions are she did something he defines as improper, or she is a (insert the slur).  These offensive sexist terms tell women and should tell court professionals the mother is in danger.  It also sends horrific messages to children.  This information would help courts understand DV cases better, but not when this is never discussed.

  17. Evaluator treats dismissal of child sexual abuse complaints as proof of coaching

    The Bala Study reviewed child protective cases involving reports of child sexual abuse.  This is the definitive study about false reports, and found mothers make deliberate false reports less than 2% of the time.  Nevertheless, when fathers claim alienation, abuse reports are believed by the courts less than 2% of the time.  The alleged abuser gains custody 85% of the time.  The failure of our society and custody courts to protect children from sexual abuse is the next big scandal waiting to be exposed.  When mothers raise concerns about child sexual abuse there are several possible explanations.  The most likely is the report is true.  Other common circumstances include: no abuse but the child was uncomfortable because of boundary violations; exposure to pornography or sexual behavior; the evidence is equivocal or a good faith but mistaken report.  The least likely is coaching, but courts routinely only consider the report is true, which requires overwhelming evidence or they jump to coaching, based on assumptions rather than actual evidence.  As a result, courts are often never told about sexual abuse, so that they have no chance to protect children.

  18. Evaluator focused on unscientific alienation theories

    Most custody cases, like any litigation are settled more or less amicably.  The problem is the 3.8% of cases that require trial and often much more.  Between 75-90% of these cases involve domestic violence, which is obscured by high conflict approaches.  DV is about control, including financial control which means the alleged abusive father usually controls most of the family resources.  Richard Gardner understood this when he concocted Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).  He needed an approach that could be used to help abusive fathers take custody from mothers who are the primary attachment figures.  PAS was not based on any research but only Gardner’s experience, beliefs, and biases.  This included many public statements that sex between adults and children can be acceptable.  This was the start of the cottage industry for lawyers and mental health professionals who made large incomes by using bogus practices that hurt children.  The superior financial resources and manipulation skills helped promote PAS.  When it developed a deserved bad reputation, the cottage industry published new articles based on the old lack of research and changed the name to alienation, parental alienation, gatekeeping or whatever was convenient.  Twice PAS, was rejected by the American Psychiatric Association for inclusion in the DSM because there is still no research to support it.  The DSM is the compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses, so it is unethical when cottage industry professionals tell courts the mothers or children suffer from alienation.  Despite this repudiation by the leading professional organizations and the enormous harm to children, courts continue to listen to this biased and sexist theory.  The recent Meier Study from the National Institute of Justice found alienation is used in a biased way so that only fathers benefit from a finding of alienation.  In most cases alienating behavior by fathers against mothers is not even discussed.  This means this sexist theory with no supporting research is implemented to deny mothers due process and equal protection.  In most cases, the supposed alienation is assumed rather than proven with actual evidence.  The use of alienation raises ethical issues because it often creates the appearance of corruption even if the judge acts in good faith.  The extreme decisions and catastrophic harm unscientific alienation theories cause children makes it hard to believe corruption isn’t involved.

  19. Evaluator failed to recommend play therapy in disputed child sexual abuse cases

    Child sexual abuse is hard to prove for some good reasons.  Young children often have difficulty speaking to people they don’t know.  Caseworkers and evaluators often expect children to speak about the most embarrassing and painful episode in their lives without taking the time to develop a trusting relationship.  This is one cause of false claims of coaching.  Best practices for young children is play therapy.  The child will reveal whatever they need to through their play and artwork.  This takes coaching off the table because a parent can’t coach a young child how to draw a picture or play with Legos.  This is particularly helpful as inept and unscrupulous people seek to discredit reports and retaliate by claiming coaching and alienation.

  20. Evaluator focuses on approaches asking victims to just “get over it”

    Just get over it is often used to pressure children to interact with abusive parents they fear. ACE tells us this is a harmful approach.  Courts have the power to force children to spend time with an abusive parent but have no ability to remove the fear and stress the abuser causes.  This means the fear and stress will be pushed deeper inside the child where it will inevitably come out later in much more harmful forms.  Evaluators and judges need training to avoid these dangerous mistakes.


Evaluators have legitimate expertise in psychology and mental illness.  If they make mistakes, there are professional standards and other professionals who can flag their errors.  These are subjects the court hears often and can make judgments about.

The problem discussed in this article concerns issued related to domestic violence and child abuse.  The present evaluation system was created at a time when no research was available, and the courts have failed to update practices even after multiple research studies proved many common assumptions are wrong.  Today, there is rarely an expert available in a case to recognize and correct standard mistakes evaluators make regarding abuse issues.  Even if a protective mother calls a DV expert, judges may not understand that experts in child sexual abuse or domestic violence have a better understanding of their specialized areas than mental health professionals.

We are discussing clear errors that court professionals feel comfortable stating openly, but novice DV advocates would recognize immediately.  There can be no dispute that abusers usually act differently in public than in private, but courts routinely base decisions on non-probative public behavior.  Saunders says court professionals need training in risk assessment.  Law enforcement and DV advocates have been using this knowledge for decades, but custody courts still make decisions without risk assessment.

DV advocates have told us for many decades that physical abuse is not the worst part of domestic violence.  No one listened because the advocates usually do not have advanced degrees, there was no scientific research to support their knowledge, they were viewed as biased because they are always against DV, and they are mostly women.  The ACE Studies confirmed the advocates were absolutely right and still the courts routinely make the outdated mistakes of focusing mainly or completely on physical abuse.

The authors of this article are not qualified to analyze a psychological test or diagnose a parent.  We do know and can share with the court that psychological tests were not created for the populations seen in family court and tell us nothing about domestic violence.  We quickly found over 80 common mistakes evaluators make because they do not have the needed expertise in domestic violence and especially child sexual abuse.

This is why the Saunders Study recommends a multi-disciplinary approach to DV custody cases.  Custody courts have no other way to obtain needed expertise about DV and child abuse than from specialized experts.  Judges, lawyers, and psychologists usually want to get any training from other judges, lawyers and psychologists.  Although Saunders found DV advocates have more of the specific DV knowledge courts need, court professionals often don’t want to listen to people they view as less knowledgeable. 

Psychologists usually have far more formal education than experts in DV and child abuse.  Nevertheless, more than four decades since DV became a public issue, evaluators continue to make blatant DV 101 mistakes and none of the other court professionals recognize and discredit these clear errors.  Children pay an awful price for the insistence by court professionals on continuing to use the same outdated practices.

Contested custody cases are usually the last chance to save children from the life-altering harm caused by exposure to ACEs.  ACEs, evaluators rarely even discuss in their reports.


Barry Goldstein is a domestic violence author, speaker, advocate and expert witness. He is the author of six books concerning domestic violence and child custody. Barry is the author of the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive plan based on current scientific research that can fix the broken court system and make family courts safe for children.


v york profile photoVeronica York is a family court survivor and advocate to change the family court laws and works to educate court professionals on current scientific research such as the ACE and Saunders studies. 


Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Studies are medical research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACE tells us that exposure to trauma is far more harmful to children than previously understood and has lifelong consequences unless preventive responses are taken soon enough. There are ten ACEs. Having parents who are mentally ill or engage in substance abuse are two of the ACEs. Exposure to domestic violence, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are four of the other ACEs. All six of these ACEs are frequently relevant to child custody cases, but most courts fail to consider the ACE Research. As a result, they take mental illness and substance abuse far more seriously than domestic violence and child abuse.

Behavior that we would now consider domestic violence and child abuse has been tolerated for thousands of years. The present levels of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide and many other health and social problems are based on this history of DV and child abuse. The ACE Research is so exciting because if we reduce family violence, society would enjoy a substantial decrease in the illnesses and social problems described above and this would increase our life expectancy. Dr. Vincent Felitti, lead author of the original ACE Study now believes prevention is the best use for his research especially in our family courts. DV custody cases are often the last chance to save the children involved in these cases and family courts that fail to consider ACE and other important scientific research routinely throw away the children’s last chance.

A court might call a parent mentally ill and tolerate the other parent using the term crazy or worse. This would be allowed even without a valid diagnosis. Someone with a substance abuse problem would be labeled as an addict, alcoholic or substance abuser. Each term is intended to describe who the person is rather than an individual act or one part of that person. Fathers who commit domestic violence have usually committed hundreds or thousands of DV tactics and child abusers have often committed many abusive acts, but family courts usually limit the discussion to a few incidents rather than reaching the broader characterization.

Someone who commits acts of domestic violence or child abuse is quite properly referred to as an abuser. This is an important part of understanding ACE because interacting with your abuser is likely to cause the fear and stress that cause so much harm to children and adult victims. One of the charges against me that led to the suspension of my law license was that I referred to the abusive father as an abuser.

By the time I entered the case, the father had committed thousands of acts of abuse. He had been arrested and the mother had received a protective order. Nevertheless, the biased judge repeatedly said he didn’t realize it was an abuse case. I decided to help him by referring to the father as an abuser so the judge would understand our position. The judge ordered me not to use the term until he was proven to be an abuser. So, I stopped until we presented the evidence that confirmed he was an abuser and then I resumed. Again, the judge ordered me to stop using this term until the court made a determination which would never happen. I started referring to the father as an alleged abuser. The judge never objected to this normal and common designation until more than a year later when he filed the retaliatory bar complaint against me. The judge had no objection when the attorney for the father referred to my client as a liar, alienator and an ugly woman.

How Family Courts Treat Some ACEs Differently
Mental illness can have far different levels of seriousness. Many diagnoses would not undermine the ability to parent safely; while other diagnoses should be disqualifying. Victims who suffer PTSD as a result of their partner’s abuse can still be good parents, but a partner who causes PTSD is dangerous and unqualified. We know this because only very severe abuse could cause PTSD.
Evaluators in DV custody cases frequently recommend therapy for one or both parents. This is reasonable as most people can benefit from therapy and it certainly helps when someone has been traumatized by an abuser. The problem comes when victims are pathologized because evaluators fail to recognize the father’s abuse or consider the context. Unqualified evaluators may recommend therapy for the abuser in response to his domestic violence. This is a common mistake for evaluators unfamiliar with the research who don’t know DV is not caused by mental illness.
Similarly, evaluators are willing to recommend treatment for parents suffering from substance abuse. While some evaluators may minimize addiction, many will recommend therapy and a program like Alcoholics Anonymous. In cases involving serious mental illness or addiction, evaluators will limit visitation, usually to supervised visits, until the treatment can change the harmful behavior. This is appropriate because these parents are likely to do serious harm to their children.

Central to the courts’ response is the professionals they rely on. Mental illness is at the heart of the expertise of mental health professionals. They are used to diagnosing mental illness and proscribing treatment. They are also familiar with substance abuse and comfortable recommending appropriate responses. The problem for family courts is that they are not similarly expert concerning domestic violence or child sexual abuse. These are very specialized issues which is why The Saunders Study from the National Institute of Justice recommends a multi-disciplinary approach. If courts routinely turned to DV advocates and professionals who treat child sexual abuse full time, the court response to domestic violence and child abuse would be very different and much more effective.
Saunders confirmed that most evaluators do not have the specific domestic violence knowledge courts need. Taking a few workshops or seminars does not provide the needed knowledge and expertise to respond to domestic violence. Many evaluations acknowledge they cannot determine the DV issue and so focus on other, less important issues that the evaluator is more comfortable with. Other evaluators disbelieve true reports of domestic violence because they don’t know what to look for or they are focused on unscientific alienation theories. Even when the evidence of abuse is so clear that the evaluator agrees the father committed domestic violence, it is either minimized so as not to interfere with the desired shared parenting arrangement or they recommend therapy or anger management that do nothing to change the abusive behavior.

The Research says that only accountability and monitoring are effective in changing abusers’ behavior. Domestic violence is different than most crimes because until recently it was not treated as a crime. Accordingly, it is critical that courts send a message that domestic violence will now result in serious consequences to the abuser. There are already serious consequences to the victims.
Best practices in DV custody cases would be to initially limit the abuser to supervised visits. They should be required to complete an accountability program which can be a batterer program that focuses on accountability. If they complete the program, the abuser can seek unsupervised visits based on parallel parenting. Saunders found shared parenting is never appropriate in DV custody cases. The abuser should have the burden to prove he is safe and will cause more benefit than harm to the children. The court should consider: does the father take full responsibility for his abuse; does he understand the enormous harm he caused the children; is he committed to never abusing anyone again and does he understand any further abuse could end his relationship.

A Fairer Family Court Response to ACEs
A child’s ACE score is based on one point for each ACE they experienced and not each incident. Each ACE is not necessarily equal in the harm and there is good reason to believe DV and child abuse are the most harmful because they lead directly to the fear and stress ACEs cause. The almost exclusive reliance on mental health professionals creates a bias to find mental illness and substance abuse because these are subjects, they are more used to responding to. When the professionals are unfamiliar with ACE and Saunders and refuse to consult DV advocates, the resulting mistakes make it harder for courts to recognize DV and child abuse.

There is substantial unintended bias built into the present family court response to DV custody cases. Court-sponsored gender bias committees have found widespread gender bias against women litigants. The recent Meier study confirmed courts have made little progress to overcome this problem. Confirmation bias pushes courts to make findings of what they want or expect to see. This means high conflict approaches encourage a false equivalency between victims and abusers and its hard for courts to believe wealthy or successful fathers would commit abuse. The failure to consider important scientific research like ACE and Saunders tilts decisions in favor of abusive fathers and against protecting children. The overreliance on mental health professionals emphasizes issues of mental health and substance abuse while making it harder to recognize domestic violence and child abuse. Mental health professionals fail to recognize the distinction between mental health and domestic violence issues and so focus on therapeutic solutions when accountability is needed.

The problem is exacerbated by frequent economic inequality. Domestic violence concerns control, including financial control so that abusers usually control most of the family’s financial resources. The history of domestic violence and fundamental fairness would support court orders to level the playing field, but custody courts rarely take effective action to make sure both sides have the opportunity to present their full case. It is a standard abuser tactic to seek to bankrupt their victims. This often results in protective mothers forced to go to trial pro se. The result is courts do not receive information they need to understand the case and the risks the children face.

The unintended bias from these standard practices is compounded by the intentional bias of the cottage industry. As mentioned above, abusive fathers usually control most of the resources because of their control. This means if you are a lawyer or mental health professional who wants to make a lot of money and doesn’t care about hurting children, using approaches that favor wealthy abusive fathers can be very lucrative. This has led courts to hear a lot of aggressive and often false arguments in favor of abusers. The whole alienation scam that has had such a pernicious effect on the courts and ruined thousands of children’s lives has been promoted by the cottage industry. It is absurd that a theory that was created not based on any research, but only the belief that sex between adults and children can be acceptable; and has been twice rejected by the American Psychiatric Association for inclusion in the DSM which is a compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses is more influential in the courts than peer-reviewed scientific research like ACE and Saunders that comes from the most credible sources.

All of the flawed and outdated practices family courts regularly rely on have supported biases that favor abusive fathers and push courts to err on the side of risking children. This is the exact opposite of the best interests of children they are supposed to be following. There is inertia because the outdated practices have been used so long. There is defensiveness because court professionals, like any humans are reluctant to recognize they have been making mistakes and hurting children for a long time. The Bartlow Study asked judges in communities where court decisions led to child murders what they have done to reform their practices in response to the local tragedy. The shocking answer was none because they all assumed the murder was an exception. In the last 13 years there have been over 800 such exceptions. The same mistakes that lead to murders, more often result in a childhood exposed to the fear and stress abusers cause and an adulthood filled with pain and sickness ACE could help courts prevent. It is long past time to discuss this problem openly and create the needed reforms. Children continue to pay the price for court officials who are unwilling to face the harms they are causing.


Barry Goldstein is a domestic violence author, speaker, advocate and expert witness. He is the author of six books concerning domestic violence and child custody. Barry is the author of the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive plan based on current scientific research that can fix the broken court system and make family courts safe for children.


NY Assembly Passes Bill Mandating Ongoing Training of Forensic Evaluators of Child Abuse Cases

The advocacy efforts of protective mother, Jacqueline Franchetti, helped get a landmark bill passed related to child custody evaluations on Friday, June 11 in New York State. Bill A2375B creates new standards for those working in a profession that often holds significant influence in the outcomes of custody and visitation hearings.

The legislation was accelerated by the tragic death of Jacqueline’s daughter, Kyra Franchetti, and other young children who have been murdered by a parent who had been granted custody or visitation, despite known histories of violence and abuse.

Read more here.



Protect Children and Parents from Court Appointees including Mediators

Read the full article at Protect Children and Parents from Court Appointees including Mediators

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Although I was in a 7 year post divorce case initiated by the father, MRS. Family Court Helper referred to me throughout her report to the court as MRS. Was she a once a MRS. always a MRS. kind of person or was she just careless in her cut and paste of a report she had used many times before?

MRS. Family Court Helper follows the money and moves from role to role. The trend in the family court industry is to find another court appointee role without standards or standardized training (especially domestic violence training) and use this for divorcing families who end up in court. The latest trend is mediation. MRS. Family Court Helper is now a mediator.

But she still prefers to do a PRE (custody evaluation) even though the research is saying this approach is harmful to children. MRS. Family Court Helper has conducted over 100 PRE (custody evaluations). When asked how much follow-up she had done to see how the children fared, she was incensed. When she finally responded, the answer was she hadn’t done any. What kind of professional does that?

MRS. Family Court Helper now says on her web site that the mother filed a complaint with the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) because she was upset with the parenting time decision she recommended when serving as a parent coordinator. It was much more than that. BEWARE of any licensed mental health professional that uses this line. MRS. Family Court Helper suddenly became an SA/CFI (Special Advocate/Child and Family Investigator), the role the court appointed her to serve, again in her response to DORA. Interesting isn’t it?

• MRS. Family Court Helper double billed me. These were corrected when I pointed out the errors, but not before.

• When I asked for a recap of the billing it took MRS. Family Court Helper 4 months to get me a recap of the billing. It was submitted in her reply to my DORA complaint. Even though she says she was a parent coordinator on her web site and in previous billings to me, the billing and the response she submitted to DORA listed all her work as being that of an SA/CFI as the court document ordered. She’s sneaky.

• MRS. Family Court Helper failed to discuss or implement changes that would take my child out of the middle of the conflict. Suggestions were made by a school counselor with over 20 years’ experience as a counselor and parent. The counselor looked over the child’s records and shared what she had seen work and then made some recommendations based on the changes MRS. Family Court Helper was proposing. When the recommendations were shared with MRS. Family Court Helper, her response was maybe it should be her who goes to the school and talks to the school personnel. She didn’t implement any of the recommendations.

• MRS. Family Court Helper took a piece of research which spanned 25 years and included recommendations to a group of Colorado goons promoting the parent coordinator role and decided not to follow the research but the recommendations of the goons who had no back up research.

• MRS. Family Court Helper did not set session agendas and the sessions were totally out of control. According to other mental health professionals I shared my concerns with regarding the nature of the sessions; MRS. Family Court Helper allowed transference to occur but did not remove herself from the case per the standard recommendation when transference occurs.

• MRS. Family Court Helper’s bizarre suggestion—“I can hardly wait to tell you this, what about, what if, the parenting communication is just between you and the father’s girl friend?” The girl friend is long gone from the picture.

• MRS. Family Court Helper’s response to the child running away from the father’s house a second time was to say the child “said she/he could handle it”. If the child could handle it, why did the child run away? And why wasn’t this a red flag to MRS. Family Court Helper?

Not long after a complaint was filed with DORA and a motion was filed by me to have MRS. Family Court Helper removed as the appointed SA/CFI, a contempt charge was filed against me. MRS. Family Court Helper said she read every document but failed to note as did Jefferson County Magistrate Cecelia Curtis that the contempt motion was meaningless. Magistrate Curtis had failed to read the file and didn’t realize the document surrounding the contempt charge had not yet been signed by her and sent out to all parties.

MRS. Family Court Helper is sneaky. BEWARE. She was assigned to be a SA/CFI and decided she would rather be a parent coordinator—a Colorado role with no standards, no standardized training and no follow up on its effectiveness. Not knowing at the time that this was a specific ambiguous role a group of Colorado goons were promoting, I signed an agreement with her saying she was a parent coordinator. Please learn from my mistake. Do not trust a court appointee, regardless of credentials.

Lessons learned. Don’t sign any document with a licensed mental health professional working in a court-appointed role without having it first looked over by an attorney working specifically for your family. If the court appointee is in business with an attorney as MRS. Family Court Helper is, even more reason to consult with another attorney. Or better yet, avoid this type of arrangement all together. It is not good for you or your children in my opinion.

Better yet, don’t use a mediator who has worked extensively in family courts in other roles. It’s not about the children for them, it’s about the money. Avoid Colorado family courts if at all possible.

The post Protect Children and Parents from Court Appointees including Mediators appeared first on Moms Fight Back.


Texas House Bill 1449 – violated by the psychologists that helped enact the law

Status: Passed on June 20 2015 – Effective on 9/1/15

HB 1449 would make several changes to Family Code

The bill would require specific details to be included in a court order for a child custody evaluation, such as the name of each person who would conduct the evaluation, the purpose of the evaluation, and the specific issues or questions to be addressed in the evaluation.

Under the bill, child custody evaluators would be required to disclose potential bias or conflicts of interest in an increased number of scenarios. For example, disclosure would be required for any information where a reasonably prudent person would believe impartiality would be affected in conducting an evaluation.  The court would not be able to appoint a person who disclosed such information, and an evaluator would need to step down if such information was later discovered.

Child custody evaluators would be expected to include more information in their evaluation reports, including an assessment of how the reliability or validity of their report may have been affected by the extent of information received.

The bill also would increase protocols for the evaluators’ handling, keeping, and releasing of records and information obtained in the execution of a child custody evaluation

This bill also states that a child custody evaluator shall provide to the attorneys of the parties to a suit, any party who does not have an attorney, and any other person appointed by the court under this chapter in a suit a copy of the child custody evaluation report before the earlier of: (1) the third day after the date the child custody evaluation report is completed; or (2) the 30th  day before the date of commencement of the trial [changed from the 5th day].

HB01501 docs

WITNESSES: For — Charla Bradshaw and Steve Bresnen, Texas Family Law Foundation; Benjamin Albritton; Christy Bradshaw Schmidt; Aaron Robb; Alissa Sherry; 

WITNESSES: Against — Paul Andrews, Texas Psychological Association; Tim Branaman;


3 Ways To Make Family Court More Aware Of Narcissism

3 Ways To Make Family Court More Aware Of Narcissism

Family Court is set up to be adversarial. It pits one parent against another.  This unfortunately feeds into the narcissist’s ego defence which is to win at all costs.  They do this by masterfully playing the role of either hero or victim (often both at the same time).  They will claim you are alienating them or abusing them. They will even manipulate the children to confirm their story thus proving their prowess.

I have worked with hundreds of parents who have sought support and protection for them and their children from Family Court only to be disappointed and disillusioned to see that the court is easily duped by the narcissist and given more time with the children. In many cases the narcissist manages to use Family Court to cut the other parent completely out of the child’s life.

How can this happen?

The Problem

One would think that those highly experienced in law (solicitors and judges) would have what it takes to easily recognise deception, or at least know how to ensure that a person is examined thoroughly enough to make reasonably sure that they are telling the truth. But those in law are just as vulnerable to the highly skilled narcissist as the average person is. 

Narcissists love the court arena because they get to take centre stage and express their grandiosity.  It feeds their ego and they seek to control the process. Some will do this by not turning up, issuing last minute changes to mean you have little or no time to prepare.  Others will keep breaching the order so you have to take them back to court. They will all threaten court repeatedly as a way to control you and get their own way – “if that’s what you want, then we had best go back to court”.  The fact they get to financially ruin in the process is the cherry on the cake for them.

Because narcissist’s are naturally talented imposters, charmers, and deceivers, many judges get duped on a routine basis by narcissistic parents, who are simply using the court and the judge to continue to humiliate, exert control, and abuse their ex, and force their ex to react to them in some way. Narcissists live to manipulate and control others emotions, self-esteem, and behaviours. Many will describe the ‘high’ they get from manipulating others successfully, and if they get the judge to believe them, they will begin to brag that the judge is their ‘ personal friend’.


How Can They Get Away With It

Narcissist’s get away with what they get away with because they are so very talented at presenting themselves as innocent victims of their ex, their boss, their parents, etc. etc. They have an uncanny talent to manipulate situations and people and to twist the obvious facts to fit their lies. You know in your own relationship how they managed to convince you that they were worth falling in love with.  This is their own personal superpower – manipulating others.

Part of the problem is that in the context of family court, no one really believes that a parent (especially ones who presents so well) can be so cold, calculating and abusive to use their own children to hurt their ex in such extreme ways.  Nor do they believe that children would lie about such matters as being abused. I always found this very strange because, having worked in child protection, we know that child abusers ARE highly manipulative and deceptive AND that children will lie to protect the abuser. 

face with mask

Narcissists have survived by understanding people and how they tick.  They know exactly how to get others to do their bidding and convince them it is all of their own doing.  Charles Manson is a prime example of how charming and manipulative a narcissist can be at getting people to do the unthinkable.  The problem in Family Court is that no judge (or professional) will ever want to admit they have been manipulated like that. It hurts their ego as well and so very often, they will continue on the path the narcissist has led them down to save their own ego.  People are inherently selfish and so even those charged with protecting children rarely act from a completely unbiased and empathic place. It’s human nature. We all want to be seen to do the right thing and not be criticised. Narcissists use this to control others.  


How can court recognise a narcissist

Firstly I would always advise against labelling your ex as a narcissist (unless they have an official clinical diagnosis).  You are not a psychologist or psychiatrist and so you cannot diagnose them. To do so undermines you. There are ways however that you can alert the court and professionals to the behaviours which are problematic:

  • Narcissists will continuously be going back and forth to court sometimes with issues which barely make sense or are fully nonsense or are taken back to court for repeatedly breaching the order
  • They will be constantly changing legal representation
  • They may attempt to act as an equal or friend to professionals
  • They can be very demanding about the treatment they receive when attending court
  • They present as being very agreeable but breach the order within days (sometimes hours) of leaving court
  • They will refuse to take any responsibility for anything
  • There will be multiple, unsubstantiated claims of abuse/harassment against the ex 
  • There may be a pattern of behaviours in past relationships
  • There is inconsistency in what they say and how they behave
  • There may be multiple allegations of abuse against the ex but with NFA’s from the police
  • The children display very black and white thinking against the other parent (one is all good, the other all bad)
  • The narcissist has cut contact with everyone involved with the ex including all the children’s aunts and uncles 

How to make judges take notice

The reality is that within the court arena it is very hard for judges to decipher everything.  They are reliant upon other professionals, usually social workers, to provide them with reports and recommendations.  It is therefore important that, as a parent going through this process, you remain child focused and allow the narcissist’s behaviour to reveal itself. 

  1. The court can order both parents into counselling towards the goal of effective co-parenting. Once a custody order is made, the court can monitor the compliance of both parents. This is often when the narcissist begins to show their true colours. They just cannot comply with any authority other than their own self-inflated opinions and will.  In most cases, if they comply at all with the counselling (many do not even make it to one session), it only takes a short time before they will discredit the counsellor, petition the court for some other counsellor, and just stop showing up. What they really want is a counsellor that cannot ‘see through them’ and find one that they can manipulate for their own purposes, meaning supporting their position that their ex is persecuting them.
  2. Another option is for the family to undergo a psychological evaluation.  Usually this will entail the psychologist spending time with each parent individually, the children separately if possible and the children with each parent.  They will then evaluate the dynamics and make recommendations to the court about next steps. It really helps if the psychologist can include a thorough description of the IMPACT and capacity for change of the parents within these situations.  Unfortunately I have seen time and time again where psychological evaluations identify the issues but fail to inform the court what this means. Again, judges are not mental health or child development professionals. They need guidance on what this means for the children moving forward and the impact of any action taken.
  3. As the other parent, you can contribute to this process by not biting when the narcissist tries to bait you.  They will deliberately push your buttons in public to get a reaction out of you which they will then use as “evidence” of all the allegations they are making about you.  It is therefore important that you prepare fully for court both in terms of how you feel on the day but also dealing with your own trauma from the relationship. We have specifically designed our Get Court Ready programme to help you with this. It provides you with tools, insights and activities to rewrite the narcissists narrative, manage your own emotions and protect the children.  Find out more at the Get Court Ready page on our website.

Finally, it would greatly benefit all professionals involved in child protection (solicitors, judges, social workers, court workers) to undergo basic training on personality disorders, domestic abuse and parental alienation.  This will at least provide them with an additional theory to examine the evidence against. I personally have developed numerous courses on these areas which are CPD accredited and available online. Head to my other website, Child Protection Centre, for more details.


What are your experiences of Family Court?  What more do you think can be done?

The post 3 Ways To Make Family Court More Aware Of Narcissism appeared first on The Nurturing Coach.


Attn: Pete Flores Texas Senate

Pete Flores Texas Senate there are people living in your district in these videos. Please see the below petition


Attn:  Pete Flores Texas Senate, TSBEP Alissa Sherry Legal Consensus Psychologist Complaint  – TBHEC Texas Family Courts – Gloria Canseco, Darrel Spinks, Alissa Sherry, Legal Consensus


TSBEP, Custody Evaluation, Forensic Psychology, Texas Family Courts, TBHEC, Gloria Canseco, Darrel Spinks, Alissa Sherry, Legal Consensus,

#TSBEP, #CustodyEvaluation, #ForensicPsychology, #TexasFamilyCourts, #TBHEC