House Bill would create domestic violence court
By Jim Mendoza
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The bruises on Maria Styke-Marquez’s arms and torso testify to the savage beatings she said she suffered at the hands of her boyfriend. She said telling him she was pregnant and refused to get an abortion triggered his rage.
“His right fist just comes smacking down. That’s what knocked me out. He was kneeing my stomach — jumping up on top of my stomach,” she said.
He was arrested, charged and convicted of abusing a household member. But when he got out of jail a Family Court judge granted him sole custody of their two-year-old daughter, despite letters Maria produced declaring her a fit and loving parent.
“I’m the only one that she’s ever known. She’s my angel,” Styke-Marquez said through tears, clutching a photograph of her child.
Advocates for domestic violence victims told lawmakers Monday that this happens often in Hawaii Family Court when child custody is involved in abuse cases. Dara Carlin, a domestic violence survivor advocate, said even though the state has a statute that says perpetrators of domestic violence should not receive sole or joint custody, it’s sometimes overlooked to keep both parents involved with their kids.
“In theory it looks really good. You want to have friendly parents. You want to have cooperation between parents and create a ‘Brady Bunch’ situation. But that’s not reality,” she said.
Attorney Michael Ostendorp has represented many victims of domestic violence. He said Family Court does not work for many of them who are caught in a custody battle. He said some judges force victims to pay for psychological evaluations then ignore the results.
“When the psyche evaluation comes back unfavorable to the abuser, then he disregards it and awards custody to the abuser. That makes no sense,” he said.
House Bill 772 calls for the creation of a separate Domestic Violence court within Family Court. Judges would be specially trained to handle custody cases involving domestic violence. It’s one of several domestic violence bills Styke-Marquez wishes were in place when her case happened.
“If they were in when all this happened to me, I would have my daughter. And he would be in prison,” she said.
Instead her daughter is in Minnesota with the man Styke-Marquez said caused her so much pain.