Native guides, legal professionals suggest modifications in custody procedures

MARYLAND – Elected officials and attorneys seek positive change in the way custody proceedings are conducted in the Maryland judicial system. They focus on ensuring that children and parents have the resources they need in situations involving abuse or domestic violence. “Our laws don’t always take into account emotional trauma, psychological trauma, and secondary trauma. So the courts don’t take this into account, ”said Maryland Women’s Rights Center Legal Director Laure Ruth.

The Working Group to Investigate Custody Lawsuits Related to Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations says that adopting the recommendations they make could have a huge impact on the well-being of children involved in some of the toughest custody battles. In fact, they say that for some children this could mean the difference between life and death. “You would see more children and more women being protected by the courts. You would see less murder of these children because the court would intervene where they should, ”said RAINN Vice President Camille Cooper.

With two dozen recommendations, the working group hopes to improve the process for certain custody procedures. State Senator Mary Beth Carozza says one of the top issues is custody officers. They help determine where a child would be safest. “A lot of the parents didn’t even know they had the option to have a custody officer. They really should know that, ”said Senator Carozza.

Senator Carozza said custody officers can be a helpful tool for parents concerned about the safety of their children if they are placed with an abusive parent. The Senator adds that there should be more transparency about their availability and better training of custody officers. “There were no clear, uniform standards for these custodians. That is why we thought it was very important to protect the children that there are standards, ”said Senator Carozza.

The working group also recommends that judges receive better training in dealing with cases where children could be mistreated. “Even with overwhelming evidence, the courts still get it wrong. I think the first thing we wanted to focus on was the judges. They are the weakest link, despite having the most power, ”said Cooper.

Ruth says these recommendations are especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Realistically, there is nowhere to go. The shelters were closed for a while. Even if the victim did go, there is nowhere to go, ”said Ruth.

Senator Carozza says she has pre-filed the laws that would make these recommendations law in the country. The Senator adds that she expects this to be a top agenda item at the beginning of the next legislative term. The next Maryland legislature begins January 13th. Click here to read the full report and recommendations.

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