Battered Mothers' Testimony Project: A Human Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence
The Battered Mothers' Testimony Project was implemented to explore the lived experiences of battered women in family court matters when child custody is an issue and domestic violence is present. The sample consisted of 57 women who had participated in a contested custody hearing in Arizona Superior Court where allegations of domestic violence or child abuse were present. In spite of evidence of violence against the women and/or their children (and with such violence documented in 63% of the cases), the courts consistently ordered sole or joint custody to perpetrators in 74% of the cases in Maricopa County and 56% of the cases in the other counties combined. Income level, which was highly skewed towards fathers, seemed to have the most impact on the ultimate custody decision. Having an order of protection had no impact on the final custody decision; contrary to Arizona law, the courts simply ignored the documented existence of domestic violence. The findings reveal violations of state, constitutional, and international human rights laws. The authors conclude with a call for action to policy makers, the legal community, state government and the public.