When the Maryland General Assembly meets for its legislative term on January 13, lawmakers will consider the proposed recommendations on custody procedures, which could be among the most comprehensive in the country.
Some of the proposals include identifying the role, responsibilities and costs of a custody officer, implementing an “earnings-related fee structure” for custody assessments and other legal costs, and incorporating specific definitions of child abuse and neglect.
A working group that held 14 meetings between June 2019 and July this year summarized two dozen recommendations for lawmakers to evaluate during a joint briefing on Monday, December 7, before members of the Senate’s judicial and judicial committees.
The group, chaired by Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, was formed in a bill passed last year to assess how state courts process allegations of child abuse and domestic violence and analyze scientific research on children in traumatic situations.
“You put Maryland at the forefront of addressing this problem, which is a terrible problem nationwide,” said Wobensmith. “Lawyers, attorneys and protected parents in the US have followed the work group’s activities and look forward to our next steps.”
A focus in the working group report stresses the need for judges to receive more rigorous training in domestic violence and child abuse cases.
A judge currently receives around 20 hours of training. The report suggests triple that number to at least 60 hours and a further 10 hours every two years for a judge who continues to serve on custody cases related to domestic violence and child abuse.
Part of the training would include learning about the dynamics and effects of physical and emotional child abuse. Providing protection for families and sealing of records; Setting standards for the knowledge, experience and qualifications of assessors and providers of child sexual abuse.
“The whole nation is watching what Maryland does,” said Joan Meier, professor of clinical law at George Washington University. “Maryland is the only state that is currently ahead on these issues.”
Family relationship training required
The working group’s report cited a nationwide study by Meier highlighting how parental alienation was “regularly” used to devalue mothers’ allegations of abuse of adults or children.
Among the domestic violence abuse claims, the court “credited” the mother’s abuse against a spouse in around 45 percent of the cases. The numbers fall when it comes to physical abuse of children by 29 percent and sexual abuse of children by 15 percent. These cases were not about parental alienation claims, but about fathers who testify in court how mothers allegedly try to isolate or separate a child from a parent through words and actions.
When an alienation lawsuit is filed, the numbers are lower among all three offenses, at 37 percent for domestic violence, 18 percent for physical child abuse, and 2 percent for child sexual abuse.
About 13 of the 4,300+ cases highlighted cases from Maryland, according to the report.
The study did not determine whether women were telling the truth in these cases, but rather shows that they are the norm.
“Empirically, there is no support for the notion that women are lying or wrong about intimate partner violence or child abuse to the extent the courts claim they are,” said Meier, who also serves as director of the university’s National Family Violence Law Center. “What it means is that these children were not protected.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic struck Maryland earlier this year, attorneys and prosecutors have said the number of calls about domestic violence and child abuse has increased.
Joyce Lombardi, a lawyer with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, said the leading call she receives is from parents reporting allegations of abuse when they are at home.
“You have to go into this process and you don’t have a lawyer,” she said. “Unfortunately, the judges and court staff don’t understand enough. We have a lot of training with court staff [and] Lawyers involved in these cases. The demand is enormous. “
The committees legislature had several questions like Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles County) asked if some of the recommendations looked through a social, cultural, and racial “lens”.
Paul Griffin, member of the working group and legal director of Child Justice Inc. at Silver Spring, said anecdotal evidence shows that black mothers are “treated worst in custody proceedings that I have observed”.
Without the name of the judge, he said a woman was “a doctor. He referred to other people as doctors. she was [addressed as] ‘Young lady.'”
Del. Frank Conaway Jr. (D-Baltimore City) asked about cultural and environmental differences in dealing with child discipline such as corporal punishment.
“Sometimes boys have to be beaten by their fathers. You might not agree with this, but that’s something that happens, ”he said. “If you are experienced, you are sure of it.”
“I am aware that it is happening, I don’t know that I am okay with it,” Griffin said. “I don’t think science supports this as an effective way [of discipline]. If [judges] When they found out there was beating, they agreed it would be child abuse. “