Washington Study: International Custody Laws Don’t Consider Domestic Abuse

Posted on Jan 26, 2011
A new study conducted in part by the University of Washington in Seattle has found that batter women escaping abusive international relationships often lose custody of their children to their violent and abusive husbands.

According to the study, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty that covers world-wide custody laws, does not take domestic violence and domestic abuse into consideration when deciding child custody across country borders. Now, especially as multiple studies have confirmed the harmful effects of domestic abuse on children, many family law experts are calling for changes to the Hague treaty that make certain that children are in the safest and healthiest environment possible.

Specifically, the study found that in half the cases in which an abused mother returned from abroad to the United States with her children, the children were returned overseas to their fathers despite any history of abuse. The study conducted in-depth interviews with 22 mothers and 23 domestic violence lawyers who represented them in their child custody cases. Despite sometimes shocking cases of domestic violence, including verbal threats, physical abuse, gun violence, and rape, half the women lost their children to their husband or their husband’s family, while some even faced kidnapping charges. Many mentioned that they could not find or utilize domestic violence resources in the countries where they had moved with their husbands.

The child custody study was co-authored by Taryn Lindhorst, University of Washington associate professor of social work.

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