10th Anniversary of the Battered Mothers Custody Conference - May 10-11, 2013

For its 10-year anniversary, the Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference shifted its yearly location from Albany, NY to the nation’s capitol, drawing presenters, advocates and victims of domestic violence from all over the world.

The conference, hosted at the George Washington University Law School, kicked off Friday, May 10 with keynote addresses from well-known feminist author Phyllis Chesler, expounded on current ideas and findings from her classic, recently updated book Mothers On Trial, and family law attorney Toby Kleinman. Kleinman tied in a historical perspective of domestic violence issues with the current movement to protect women and children from abuse by partners and a legal system they have long alleged aids and abets abusers while punishing the victims.

Speakers at the conference included Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, who spoke of the White House’s interest and concern on the issues involved, along with attorney Joan Meier. Ms. Meier who heads up DV Leap (Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project) at George Washington University and who recently published an article in the NY Times, Home is Where the Harm Is, spoke about recent developments within the federal government relating to custody and abuse cases in family court, including family court-specific provisions in VAWA.

Dr. Joyanna Silberg, of Trauma Disorder Services for Children and Adolescents and the Leadership Council discussed “turned-around” cases, with legal professor/author Wendy Murphy speaking on innovative ideas and approaches for improvement of court practices. Terry O’Neil, president of the NOW Foundation and chair of the NOW Political Action Committees also spoke about the efforts of NOW in facing the present crisis in family courts.

Indie producer Garland Waller hosted a screening of her documentary No Way Out But One, which was co-produced with Barry Nolan, and recounts the story of Holly Collins, who fled the country with her three young children after the courts discounted all evidence and assigned custody of her two older children to their abusive father. In a landmark case, Collins, who attended the conference with her children, was eventually granted asylum and refugee status by the government of the Netherlands.

Els Lucas, the Dutch attorney who represented Collins’ case, and a Dutch ambassador accepted humanitarian awards from the conference, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the National Organization of Men Against Sexism. Attorney Joan Zorza, a leader in the movement to end domestic violence for more than 40 years, attended to accept a lifetime achievement award from the group.

Battered Women, Abused Children, and Child Custody: A National Crisis was created in 2003 by two mothers, Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D. of Albany, NY, and Liliane Heller Miller of Charlotte, NC. Now in its 10th year, its on-going goal is to host a national public forum to address the many complex issues facing battered women as they strive to protect themselves and their children during divorce, custody, and visitation disputes.

In addition, they seek to raise public awareness by documenting civil, legal, due process, and human rights violations perpetrated on victims of domestic violence (women and children) by family courts, their professional appointees, Child Protective Services, other government systems, and all who have built an industry which profits from the suffering of mothers and children trying to escape domestic violence