Protecting Victims and Their Children through Supervised Visitation: A Study of Domestic Violence Injunctions
Oehme, Karen, O'Rourke, Kelly, Faulkner Law Review
When confronted with petitions for civil protective orders (called Injunctions for Protection Against Domestic Violence) to shield victims of domestic violence from their abusive partners, courts are also often required to make decisions about the abuser's access to the couple's children. Judges frequently turn to supervised visitation programs to help protect children and vulnerable parents from harm while preserving the abuser's parent-child relationship. Thus, these programs have evolved rapidly as an intervention in litigation involving domestic violence. This article examines new data collected by supervised visitation programs in 2011 and analyzed by the Clearinghouse on Supervised Visitation that demonstrates the utility of supervised visitation programs as a judicial tool to diminish domestic violence.
Part I of this Article offers an overview of the history of and reasons for supervised visitation in domestic violence cases. Part II presents an analysis of 146 Injunctions for Protection against Domestic Violence (1) in which supervised visitation was ordered by a court in Florida, revealing substantively complex cases with histories of substance abuse, mental health issues, and children witnessing the violence. Part III highlights the role that supervised visitation programs play in reducing violence and recommends further research on the long-term dynamics of victims and batterers.
I. THE HISTORY OF SUPERVISED VISITATION IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES
Supervised visitation programs provide a vital service to parents who may be a risk to their children or the other parent: the opportunity to have parent-child contact (2) monitored by a trained third party in a controlled environment that enhances the safety of all vulnerable parties. (3) Although these programs were initially created for cases of child abuse and neglect in the child protective system, (4) courts began using supervised visitation services in domestic violence and other family court disputes nearly two decades ago. (5) The problem of domestic violence (6) is alarming: an estimated 1.3 million women (7) are victims of a physical assault by an intimate partner each year, (8) and domestic violence remains one of the most chronically underreported crimes. (9) Although separation often marks the end of the intimate partner relationship, studies show that separation actually increases the batterer's violence and manipulation, including physical and emotional abuse as well as stalking and harassment. (10) Victim advocates have emphasized the importance of keeping vulnerable children and parents safe. (11)
When an abuser with children is separated from his/her partner, the court has a quandary as to how it should balance the right of a parent to have access to his/her child while providing safety for vulnerable children and parents. In Florida, as in many states, (12) it is public policy to assure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after separation. (13) Parental responsibility is to be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. Domestic violence is evidence of detriment under the statute, (14) although many researchers and commentators have protested that batterers often get visitation and even custody of their children. (15)
The data regarding children and domestic violence are startling: every year millions of children witness the crime, (16) and children who are exposed to it suffer considerably more problems than children who are not. (17) Although many factors--such as frequency, severity, and physical injury--can affect how a child is impacted by such violence, (18) researchers have emphasized the importance of minimizing a batterer's ability to continue to involve the children in the violence after separation or divorce. Many batterers are violent role models who disrupt their children's relationship with their mothers, (19) even after separation. …