Workgroup Seeks Modifications to Home Violence, Custody and Abuse Proceedings – Maryland Issues

The House and Senate judicial committees heard recommendations from the working group to investigate child molestation or domestic violence allegations at a joint hearing on Monday afternoon. Screenshot by Hannah Gaskill.

Ji’Aire Donnell Lee, three years old.

Maddie Davis, three years old.

Ayden Spoon, one year old.

Jaylin Wright, one year old.

Jayson Holland, three years old.

Laila Miller, three years old.

Chloe DavisGreen, two years old.

Kayla Thompson, three years old.

Daniel Dana, five years old.

Athena Castillo, two years old.

Austin Castillo, four years old.

Anthony Castillo, six years old.

Prince McLeod, one year old.

Chandler Wood, five years old.

Fiona Wood, two years old.

Gavin Wood, four years old.

Mya Carr, five years old.

Turner Jordan Nelson, three years old.

These are the names of Maryland children who have been murdered since 2008 by a parent involved in a Maryland divorce or custody case.

According to the Center for Judicial ExcellenceThey only account for 2% of those cases that have occurred across the country over the same period.

But child abuse takes many forms and can have devastating effects in unpredictable ways – sometimes after being judged in court.

“Most cases don’t end in murder,” Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobnensmith told the Senate Judiciary Committees on Monday. “Instead, countless children are sentenced to lifelong abuse by the courts in order to allow access and sometimes sole custody to an abusive parent.”

Wobensmith and other members of the Working group to investigate child custody proceedings or allegations of domestic violence presented his Final report to the House and Senate committees at a joint hearing on Monday afternoon.

The 24 Recommendations for Legislative Action aim to reassess the role of judges, child counselors and custody auditors in child abuse and domestic violence cases and to ensure that more caution is exercised when considering what is in the best interests of the minors involved.

“Maryland hasn’t reviewed our family justice system in over 20 years,” said Wobensmith. “We have not implemented any new scientific knowledge about trauma or negative childhood experiences or how domestic violence affects custody cases.”

“It is well known that too often courts make our children victim again.”

Since COVID-19 hit the state, child abuse and domestic violence cases have skyrocketed.

Camille Cooper, vice president of public order at RAINN – the national rape, abuse and incest network – said when the pandemic started in March, 50% of the group’s online hotline calls were from children.

“Sixty-seven percent identified their perpetrator as a family member. 79% said they were living with this perpetrator, ”she told the committee.

One in five of those calls were diverted to 911, according to Cooper.

“I cannot stress how bad the situation is,” she said.

Wobensmith said the General Assembly’s move to form the working group in 2019 put Maryland at the forefront of reducing the trauma children and protective parents endure in family court proceedings.

“Lawyers, attorneys and sheltered parents in the US have actually followed the workgroup’s activities and look forward to these recommendations and our next steps toward solutions,” he said.

The Working Group to Investigate Custody Proceedings Related to Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations includes the following recommendations:

  • Codifying factors judges consider in determining the best interests of children in custody cases Title 9 the state family law article and provide clear definitions of domestic violence and mental, physical, and sexual abuse and neglect of minors that conform to this standard;
  • Requesting the judges to explain the reasons for decisions that determine the custody and visitation rights of the parents in the file;
  • Amendment of the family law article 9-105 Prevent judges from viewing reports of child abuse or neglect by one parent as an attempt to compromise the visiting rights of the other parent;
  • Establishing a “rebuttable presumption” that having custody of a child with a domestic violence parent is not in their best interests;
  • R.Judges must assess whether the temporary suspension or restriction of custody or visiting is in the best interests of the child when domestic violence or abuse is reported;
  • Conducting specific training for child counselors, custody officers and judges who monitor cases of custody, abuse and domestic violence;
  • Urging the courts to refer domestic violence and child abuse cases only to judges who have received special training;
  • Requiring the courts to provide information to the parties about the role, cost and availability of custody officers in child support or custody cases, as well as extending the length of time they can attend deposits and an income-related cap on their hourly fees to set;
  • Request to the courts to make child counseling, custody checks, supervised visiting programs and lawyers financially accessible to parents in custody suits.

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