More than three years ago, a group of mothers, an adult child, and a handful of non-profit organizations petitioned the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, alleging a discriminatory pattern and practice of United States courts in custody and visitation cases. The petitioners, including one from Illinois, claim that the courts' tendency to award custody or unsupervised visitation to child molesters and abusers violates the mothers' human rights. In the three years since the petition was filed, reports say that the number of cases is growing and the IACHR has failed to act on many of them.
The document the petitioners are basing their argument on is the Organization of American States Declaration of the Rights and Responsibilities of Man. The petitioners admit that state courts have jurisdiction in custody cases, but they point out that the federal government bears the responsibility of ensuring that state courts follow the precepts of the declaration. Most of those precepts are familiar: They include the right to life, liberty and the security of one's person, the equality of all people before the law and freedom of expression. Another key right under the declaration is the right to establish a family and to receive protection for that family.
The petitioners claim that they have been either ignored or outright punished for bringing their husbands' abusive behavior to the attention of the court. According to a family law expert, even heaps of evidence of physical abuse of the mother and sexual abuse of the child are more likely than not to have exactly the opposite of the desired effect on the court. Mothers coming forward, he said, "face a grave risk of losing custody to the abuser for the sole reason that she dared to present evidence to the judge and ask that the child be protected."
In our next post, we'll discuss how these women seeking custody have treated by the courts.
Resource: Huffington Post "Failures of U.S. Courts Forces Mothers to Turn to International Law" 11/16/10