By Julia Fletcher
Updated August 15, 2010
Some people think the 20% increase in the number of domestic violence cases around Orlando, Florida this past year is because of the economy. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is this: When domestic violence and child abuse cases go to family court, abusive parents have rights and abused children don’t.
Mothers and fathers have a right to see their children no matter what.
Even if the economy’s bad. Even if there’s been more yelling at home than usual. Even if Dad starts to drink more and punches a wall and even if Mom starts to say mean things.
Moms and Dads still have rights and children still don’t.
If a battered parent tells a judge, “Your honor, my children and I are in danger because the other parent did X,Y and Z .”, that judge can go ahead and order safety assessments and psychological evaluations. Too many judges don’t when they should. Then we read about the graphic details in the newspapers about what happened next.
We are definitely seeing many more tragic cases because of the economy.
We’re seeing the 20% increase in Florida and California and Illinois and throughout the country – probably because there are no judicial guidelines or requirements for domestic violence cases which would supersede family court judges’ “broad discretion”.
There simply should be no “broad discretion” in child abuse cases in family courts. It should be mandatory for family court judges to order safety assessments and psychological evaluations in all cases involving abuse and allegations of abuse.
Employers are now discussing strategies to protect their employees from disgruntled pistol-packing co-workers. High schools are taking precautions too. Why aren’t family courts doing the same?
In family court in America today, evaluators have judicial immunity. Judges aren’t required to conduct safety assessments. We’re reading articles and seeing newscasts about way too many children being hurt and killed because there’s no safety net, no oversight and no accountability in our family courts.
During these the last four decades, there’s been no effective regulation of what has evolved to be a lucrative family court cottage industry.
Judges, Guardians ad Litem , custody evaluators and parental coordinators have total immunity in virtually all of these cases – keeping these cases in the family court system until the children “age out of the system”.
It looks like the family court system is ready for a bad economy. Ready and waiting.
20 Percent Rise In Domestic Violence Cases
The group blames the bad economy and unemployment.
A suspect runs his ex-girlfriend off Interstate 4 and then stabs her to death. Another man accused of shooting his wife is shot by police.
Serious cases of domestic violence in Central Florida are piling up.
“The cases that we’ve seen are much more brutal, much more frightening, and much more lethal than we’ve seen before,” said Carol Wick of Harbor House.
Carol Wick is with Harbor House of Central Florida. The group provides a 24-hour crisis hotline and a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
Wick said after 20 years on the job, things have never been worse.
Counselors call it a perfect storm. Orlando has historically been a hot spot for domestic violence. Add in a rising unemployment rate, and you end up with record numbers.
Over the last year in Orange County, there was a 20 percent jump in domestic violence cases, a 40 percent increase in victims fearing they could be killed and a 100 percent increase in domestic abuse-related deaths.
“It’s getting worse because the economy is getting worse,” Wick said. “One of the most dangerous warning signs is when a batterer has lost their job.”
Wick pleads with people at the first signs of trouble to call for help.
“The research shows that people who call an advocate and get a safety plan are 98 percent more likely to survive that relationship than someone who doesn’t take that one simple step,” she said.
You can go to the Harbor House of Central Florida’s website for more information.