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There is likely nothing quite as torturous for a protective mother than being separated from her children. Yet every year in the U.S. more than 58,000 children are taken from their mothers and given to an abusive parent through partial or full custody. As a result, at least 820 children have been murdered by a parent during a child custody dispute since 2008.
For over the last decade, Dr. Mo Hannah, PhD, has been giving mothers a place of hope. After enduring her own brutal custody battle for her children, she co-founded the Battered Mother’s Custody Conference (BMCC). This year, it takes place from April 29 to May 1 in Latham, New York.
All protective mothers are welcome, including those who may not identify with the term “battered” or consider themselves victims of physical abuse. The term “battered woman’s syndrome” was a legal defense that emerged in the 1970s by psychologist Lenore Walker. She proposed the term to describe the psychological condition of women who endured repeated traumas at the hands of an intimate partner, including the coping or survival skills a victim would develop over time to live with abuse.
Hannah told DomesticShelters.org of her own case, “I went through hell, but not the hell that some people go through. Things have gotten worse since my case, which happened in the late ‘90s. Mothers are accused of lying, of being delusional, having a mental illness … [the legal system] takes all the focus off what the abuser has done. It’s hard for people to believe this happens, but it happens all the time.”
Why Custody Courts Are Ignoring Moms
Logically, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Barry Goldstein, former attorney and a member of the DomesticShelters.org advisory group, speculated in his recent article, “Custody Courts Aren’t Believing Kids,” on some of the reasons why this keeps happening. Outdated beliefs by judges is one problem, favoring wealthy and power-hungry abusers is another.
“Custody courts developed practices to respond to domestic violence at a time when no research was available,” writes Goldstein. “We now have substantial research that would help judges recognize domestic violence and respond effectively to protect children…Nevertheless, the courts have continued to rely on their outdated practices and a small group of professionals who are experts in psychology and mental illness but not domestic violence or child sexual abuse.”
As a result, abused women enter courtrooms assuming a judge will see the pattern of abusive control, see evidence of whatever torture an ex-partner put her and her children through, and will protect the children from being alone with a dangerous parent. And the opposite is happening under the guise of the law. Protective mothers are court-ordered to hand over their children to a man they believe will abuse and possibly even murder them.
What Attendees Can Expect
Though the pandemic sidelined the event for the last two years, this April will see the 15th BMCC take place in Latham, New York (with COVID precautions in place). Experts, advocates, lawyers and other professionals will convene with strong but desperate mothers hoping to find answers.
We talked to Hannah about what attendees of the BMCC could expect this year.
DomesticShelters.org: Can you tell me a little bit about the upcoming BMCC? Who should attend and what type of speakers or information can they expect to hear?
Hannah: The BMCC XV will host many of the core faculty who have presented at previous conferences—the true legal experts who really understand these cases, people like attorney Nancy Erickson, attorney Lisa Fischel-Wolovick, former attorney Barry Goldstein, the founders of the Family Court Watch Project, and many other advocates and activists.
The conference, which will span from 5 p.m. on Friday, April 29 through mid-afternoon on Sunday, May 1, is structured as a sort of retreat, where mothers can come to learn from and collaborate with each other and the experts in the beautiful spacious "great room" of the Hangar at the Albany International Airport. They will learn about the latest research and initiatives taking place in the field regarding issues like child protection, new legislation targeting domestic violence, child custody issues, child custody evaluations and best practices.
DS: What’s changed in the arena of child custody and domestic violence since the last conference was held in 2019?
Hannah: The courts essentially shutting down during the quarantine period did not serve battered women and their children well at all. In most cases, the contrary was true. A lot of negative things got worse during COVID, including the suicide rate, mental illness, job losses, economic strains, and from all indications, domestic violence. So the gap between conferences was, while unavoidable, unfortunate. I see no indications that things have gotten better for battered women and their children.
DS: Is the conference only for women?
Hannah: No, all are welcome! We welcome all men and women who are concerned with the well-being of our nation's most vulnerable citizens, our children and their protective mothers.
DS: What do you hope mothers walk away from the conference with?
Hannah: Knowledge, support, resources …a feeling of being understood and validated, having new friends and colleagues with whom to stay in touch, knowledge that will help them with their cases, an awareness of new research in the field, and a sense of having been held, understood and sympathized with throughout the weekend.
DS: Why do you feel like this is such an important issue to raise awareness around?
Hannah: Because it still remains poorly understood, and battered mothers have all too few allies in the world to support them. The conference is not only a way to reach out to the moms enduring custody battles, but it is an information hub and a research network where the public and experts in the field can share information about aberrant family court processes, practices, and outcomes.
The conference will be held at the Albany International Airport’s Hangar 743 from April 29-May 1st. The rate is $125 for those who register before April 15, or $140 after that date. A special reduced rate is offered for battered mothers. To inquire or reserve your spot, email email@example.com. For hotel information, visit the BMCC website.
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