Monday, November 17, 2014

In Re Daniel B. (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 17, 2014)

Mom and Dad have a one-year old child together, and are living in a small two-bedroom home owned by Dad's parents.  Mom and Dad get into a fight.

Dad stabs Mom with a knife.  In the left shoulder.  Not good.

When Dad stabs Mom, Mom's pregnant with Mom and Dad's next child.  Twenty-nine weeks pregnant.  Makes things even worse.

The only dispute between the parties is whether, when Dad stabbed twenty-nine week pregnant Mom in the left shoulder, she was also holding their one-year old child in her arms at the time (as Mom said), or whether Dad's right that she had just given this infant to Dad's parents.

As one might already imagine, a lot doesn't ride on the resolution of this particular controversy.  You know that Dad's in trouble.  He's going to jail.  And, not surprisingly, there's a dependency action.

The dispute in the Court of Appeal is not about what you might expect.  Or, depressingly, maybe it is.

Dad has a restraining order against him at this point, is homeless and living out of his car, and he has a 13-year methamphetamine addiction.  Mom seems completely clean, as far as I can tell.  Her only deficiency is essentially her relationship with Dad.

Which she might perhaps want to one day continue.

The trial court tells her that if she has any contact whatsoever with Dad, it's going to take her kids away from her.  “You are hanging by a thread with these kids. If there is any contact with this man, I guarantee you somebody is going to tell the [DCFS], and, if that is the case, your kids are gone. Got it?”  Plus it orders her, as a condition of keeping her kids in the interim, that she's got to attend group therapy classes for victims of domestic violence.  For as long as the therapists want.  Mom objects, saying she doesn't want a group, but rather individual therapy, and wants to know how long this will take, rather than an open-ended order that says she's got to participate indefinitely.  The trial court's response:  "“Not a chance. She needs to be in a group. She needs to have other people saying to her, you let him back in and you let him back in and you let him back in. That doesn’t happen . . . with Family Preservation. They are very nice people. They will do individual. No, no, no. She needs to be in a group."  As for length:  "This is up to the domestic violence treatment program and the domestic violence counselors to say how long Mother needs to be in. They may say four weeks. . . . They may say a hundred. That is their call, but it’s got to be a group.”

Mom appeals, arguing that she's the victim, not the perpetrator, but the Court of Appeal affirms.

You can see why all of this transpires.  Though, at some point, one has to be worried about the long-term consequences of approaches like this one.  If victims of domestic violence are made to feel like victims in court, and (albeit for understandable reasons) have orders entered against them under penalty of losing their children, the incentive to report domestic violence in the first place may drop dramatically.  At some point, to potentially dangerous levels.

To solve this problem, we rely in large part on the public not knowing much about what goes on in this realm.  Mothers who are victims of domestic violence largely believe that when they report it, the consequences will entirely fall on the perpetrator, not on the victim.

But as more and more cases like this one arise, I wonder if that's an entirely stable dynamic.  At some point, the word may get out.  Changing the reporting dynamic.  Not necessarily for the better.

Yes, Mom needs counseling.  Yes, Mom needs to realize there's a serious problem here.  She likely already does, but perhaps we need to send that message even more strongly.

There's nonetheless, somewhere, a line here.  I'm just not sure at what point, systemically, it's crossed.