Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznare
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Monday, April 11, 2016

Experts Say Domestic Violence More Complex Than People Think

From Ventura County Star:

Domestic violence was thrust into the forefront of the Jane Laut trial, which concluded last week when jurors found the Oxnard woman guilty of first-degree murder for killing her husband, Dave, at their Oxnard home in 2009.

During the trial, the 58-year old woman claimed she was raped, beaten and emotionally abused by her husband during their 29-year marriage. She said she acted in self-defense and shot him after he threatened her, their dogs and son, Michael.

Dave Laut's family said her claims of abuse were complete lies and an excuse for murder.

Jurors who talked to The Star said even if she was battered by her husband, the abuse did not justify her killing him.

One juror said Jane Laut's family "would have supported her" and "murder wasn't the way out."


Experts in domestic abuse and battered woman syndrome, however, said the psychological distress victims undergo is complicated by various factors that keep a woman from leaving an abusive partner.

"You have to understand that there is an addictive quality to these relationships," said Mindy Puopolo, associate professor of psychology at California Lutheran University. "These relationships provide an emotional equilibrium where the violence becomes the norm."

Puopolo, who runs Cal Lutheran's Intimate Partner Violence Program, said victims were often raised in abusive environments and "can't tolerate a loving relationship without violence."


Read more here.

April 11, 2016 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

South Carolina State Court: Domestic Violence Law Unfair to Gay Couples

From ABC News:

A law that perhaps unintentionally failed to protect domestic violence victims in same-sex relationships appears to be unconstitutional, and now South Carolina's high court is trying to decide what to do.

The court was asked on Wednesday to weigh in after a woman tried to get a protective order against her former fiancée, also a woman, and was denied. The state's domestic violence law defines "household members" as a spouse, former spouse, people with a child in common, or specifically men and women who are or have lived together — but not unmarried same-sex couples.

The issue has come up in at least one other state since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted the use of gender-neutral references in family court cases, a ruling that covers divorce, child support and domestic violence. Other states, such as California and Massachusetts, proactively changed the language in their laws, according to Beth Littrell, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal.

South Carolina Chief Justice Costa Pleicones said the handling of domestic violence situations isn't as clear as the gay marriage ruling from the higher court case.

"The only people who are not protected under this statute right now are same-sex cohabiters or former cohabiters, is that it?" Pleicones said in court Wednesday, according to a video of arguments archived on the court's website. "This statute is pretty clearly unconstitutional in its discriminatory impact upon same-sex couples. So tell me, what's the remedy?"

Bakari Sellers, an attorney for the woman who brought the case, argued the domestic violence provision can be changed to include all couples.

"The state has a legal interest in protection of all its citizens from domestic abuse," he said.

More than two decades ago, Sellers noted, state lawmakers intentionally made the law restrictive to male-female couples. This change, Associate Justice Don Beatty said, makes clear that lawmakers were specifically keeping same-sex, unmarried couples from being included under South Carolina's criminal domestic statute.

Read more here.

April 3, 2016 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Louisiana Still Lacks Laws to Protect Domestic Violence Victims

From The News Star:

The Violence Policy Center ranks Louisiana fourth in the nation for the number of domestic abuse homicides.

Beth Meeks, Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence executive director, said these new laws have potential to protect victims of domestic violence, but failure to implement policies set in decades-old federal acts have left them ineffective.

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was the first federal legislation designed specifically for the protection of women in abusive homes. Using years of research, the act proposed some best-practice policies for law enforcement and judges to follow in dealing with batterers.

“Those best practices were never fully implemented in the state of Louisiana,” Meeks said.

Pro-prosecution policies, conducting evidence-based trials rather than trials based on victim testimony and the immediate arrest of abusers were among those strategies. Meeks said these policies were designed to keep abusers and victims separate, as well as give law enforcement and courts more authority in the detainment and prosecution of offenders.

“While domestic violence is still a problem across the nation, those states that have implemented these practices, in the last 20 years, have seen a drastic reduction in domestic homicides, and Louisiana never saw that reduction,” Meeks said.

Read more here.

March 6, 2016 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Domestic Violence Could Become Grounds for Divorce in Mississippi

From The Clarion-Ledger:

Domestic violence would become grounds for divorce under a bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee on Tuesday.

"One incident of domestic violence is enough," said state Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, author of Senate Bill 2418.

Doty said she had conversations with the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence and others about the bill.

Mississippi has 12 grounds for granting a divorce. Under Senate Bill 2418, one or more instances of domestic violence would be the 13th, if established by clear and convincing evidence.

Freshman Sen. Chad McMahan. R-Tupelo, argued for adding documented domestic violence to the language in the bill.

"Are you saying it should be some documented report of domestic violence?" Senate Judiciary A Chairman Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, asked McMahan.

McMahan said he believes domestic violence should be proven and not based solely on a person claiming it without proof.

Doty said the bill states domestic violence has to be established by clear and convincing evidence, which sets a higher standard than a person merely claiming it.

Read more here.

February 21, 2016 in Divorce (grounds), Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Domestic Violence Leads in Arrests in Kauai


Domestic violence is rampant across Kauai, according to figures from the county prosecutor’s office and Kauai Police Department.

“We have a history of domestic violence and murders on the island,” said Renae Hamilton, executive director at the YWCA of Kauai. “It strikes everyone in the community.”

Domestic abuse is the second most prevalent crime on the Garden Isle at 282 arrests out of 3,888, according to KPD’s recently released report for all adult arrests and juvenile detainments for 2015. Criminal contempt of court was number one, with 483 arrests.

Hamilton said the domestic violence numbers are not surprising, and don’t even tell the whole story.

“As we know, all cases of domestic violence don’t get reported,” Hamilton said. “I’m sure there are cases where they don’t call the police at all.”

Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said his office receives more than 500 domestic violence cases a year, including misdemeanors and felonies.

“Our most recent murder and attempted murder cases both involved aspects of domestic violence,” Kollar said, referring to two pregnant women, Victoria Kanahele and Jasmine Duque, who were stabbed in the past six months. “Most of our domestic violence crimes involve alcohol or drug use in some way. Services are provided by our attorney staff, our victim and witness staff, and our partner service providers in the community.”

Read more here.

February 7, 2016 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How Obama's Gun Control Push Helps Domestic Violence Survivors

From Huffington Post:

Clai Lasher-Sommers was 13 when her abusive stepfather shot her in the back. It took her six months to walk again. On Tuesday, the 58-year-old sat steps from President Barack Obama as he announced his plan to curb gun violence through executive action. A few minutes into his emotional speech, Obama acknowledged Lasher-Sommers' pain -- and the pain of countless other women across the nation -- when he explicitly named domestic abuse as a source of deadly gun violence in the U.S.

Lasher-Sommers was relieved.

"As women who end up living in domestic violence situations, one of the things that happens is that you lose all power," she said. "When you don’t hear your government officials talking about it, you are just silenced one more time."

Obama’s executive action on guns, while modest, includes a number of proposals that advocates and gun violence prevention experts say could help protect domestic violence survivors from armed abusers. That’s important, as research has found that the presence of a gun makes it five times more likely that a woman will be murdered by her abuser.

A proposal to expand the definition of who is engaged in the business of selling guns -- and therefore must be licensed and conduct background checks -- could reduce domestic-related gun violence, said Allison Anderman, staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"It means that more people will have to get a dealer license," she said. "Those people are more likely now to catch domestic abusers who try to buy guns, and it will limit the number of domestic abusers who will be able to buy guns without a background check."

Under Obama’s plan, Anderman added, local authorities will be notified when prohibited individuals try to buy a gun.

Read more here.

January 12, 2016 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

China Finally Has A Law Prohibiting Domestic Violence

From CNN:

After a decades-long push, China has finally enacted its first nationwide law prohibiting domestic violence.

The ground-breaking legislation covers both married and co-habiting couples and those living in foster families. It comes into force March 1, state news agency Xinhua reported.

It also defines domestic violence for the first time, and includes pyschological abuse as well as physical violence.

However, critics say there are still gaps -- it excludes same-sex couples and makes no mention of sexual violence.

Until 2001, when China amended its marriage law, abuse wasn't considered grounds for divorce and violence in the home has traditionally been regarded as a private matter to be dealt with by family members.

The high-profile divorce in 2013 of Li Yang, the founder of the "Crazy English" teaching method and his American wife Kim Lee, forced the issue out of the shadows, Xinhua says.

In 2011, Lee posted pictures of her bruised face on Chinese social media and accused her husband of domestic violence. She later said in an essay in the New York Times that police had told her no crime had occurred.

Li admitted beating his wife but attacked her for breaking with Chinese tradition and discussing private matters in public. The episode triggered a massive public debate on domestic violence.

Read more here.



January 7, 2016 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 28, 2015

China's First Domestic Violence Law May Include Psychological Harm, Cover Cohabitation

From Shanghai Daily:

CHINA'S first domestic violence law may include emotional or psychological abuse and cover cohabitation in order to bring more traditionally silent abuse victims under protection, a new draft read.

According to the draft, which is up for a second reading at the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee's bimonthly session, "the country prohibits any form of domestic violence."

It defined domestic violence as both physical and psychological harm inflicted between family members, including beatings, injuries, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty as well as recurring verbal threats and abuse as examples.

An earlier draft, submitted in August this year, included only physical abuse, but many lawmakers have since argued that the definition was far too narrow, said Su Zelin, deputy director with the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.

They also argued that the anti-domestic violence law should also cover cohabitation, Su said, hence the second draft of the law stipulated in a supplementary article that those who are not related but live together are also subject to the new law.

Family violence has remained in the shadows for a long time in China, where the culture holds that family conflicts are embarrassing private matters. As a result, domestic violence victims are often too embarrassed to speak out, and in many cases, police have turned away victims who came for help.

Only in recent years have people examined the issue in the wake of increasing public awareness and media reports on high-profile abuse scandals.


Read more here.

December 28, 2015 in Cohabitation (live-ins), Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Central Indiana Domestic Violence Shelters Turn Away 1,743

From The Indianapolis Star:

More than 1,700 people who sought shelter to escape from domestic violence in Central Indiana didn't receive it, according to a report released Thursday.

The State of Domestic Violence in Central Indiana report, produced by the Domestic Violence Network, shows 1,743 people were denied shelter from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, because the agencies were over capacity and didn't have available beds. That is nearly triple the number of people who were denied temporary housing the year before.

"Housing continues to be our No. 1 obstacle," said Kelly McBride, executive director of Domestic Violence Network.

McBride said domestic violence agencies' resources are strained — with funding cuts, fewer staff members and victims who are staying longer in shelters because affordable housing isn't available elsewhere.

But Catherine O'Connor, president and CEO of the Julian Center, said people seeking help should not be discouraged by shelter limitations.

"We triage," she said. "If someone is in immediate danger, we’ll find a place for that person to be."

Read more here.

November 22, 2015 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Judge Jails Domestic Violence Victim for Failing to Testify

From Orlando Sentinel:

A Seminole County judge's decision to scold and sentence a domestic-violence victim to three days in jail for failing to testify against her attacker is raising questions about whether the case was handled appropriately.

The scene unfolded in Jerri Collins' courtroom in July as a sobbing woman tried to explain why she didn't attend the trial for the father of her 1-year-old son — even though a subpoena required her presence and the judge seated a jury.

"Your Honor, I'm very sorry for not attending …," said the woman. "I've been dealing with depression and a lot of personal anxiety since this happened …"

A video of the proceeding shows Collins, a former prosecutor who took the bench in 2006, retorting: "You think you're going to have anxiety now? You haven't even seen anxiety."

"You disobeyed a court order knowing that this was not going to turn out well for the state," she said.

As deputies placed the woman in handcuffs, she begged Collins for a different outcome. But the judge closed her binder and told the woman to "turn around." The Orlando Sentinel is not identifying her because it does not name victims of domestic abuse.

Read more here.

October 13, 2015 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

New MLB Domestic Violence Policy Has No Maximum, Minimum Penalties


Major League Baseball can suspend players with pay when legal charges are pending in "exceptional cases" under a new domestic violence policy signed Friday.

The 13-page deal was signed Friday by the league and players' association and followed a series of high-profile domestic violence cases involving NFL players. The policy allows the baseball commissioner to issue discipline for "just cause," the same standard used under the sport's collective bargaining agreement. Discipline is not dependent on a criminal conviction.

"Major League Baseball and its Clubs are proud to adopt a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity and the sensitivities of these significant societal issues," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "We believe that these efforts will foster not only an approach of education and prevention but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities."

The commissioner can place a player accused of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse on paid "administrative leave" for up to seven days before a disciplinary decision, which can be appealed to the sport's arbitration panel, chaired by an independent arbitrator. The commissioner also may defer a discipline decision until the resolution of criminal charges.

Read more here.

September 5, 2015 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Free Domestic Violence Hotline Launches in Papua New Guinea

From Reuters:

A free hotline offering counseling to victims of domestic and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea was launched on Wednesday in response to widespread violence against women and girls.

The impoverished South Pacific nation is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a women due to gender-based violence, and did not make domestic violence a criminal offense until 2013.

Two-thirds of women and girls in Papua New Guinea are victims of physical or sexual violence during their lives, according to ChildFund, the charity which launched the hotline.

"Papua New Guinea has a staggering reputation for violence against women and children, particularly young girls," ChildFund CEO Paul Brown said at the launch in the capital Port Moresby.

The phone line will operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week, providing counseling, information, guidance and referrals for care at local services, ChildFund said.

Read more here.

August 22, 2015 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Profs on VAWA

Professors Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, Donna Coker, Julie Goldscheid, Leigh Goodmark, Valli Kalei Kanuha, James Ptacek, and Deborah Weissman have spoken out about the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA") reauthorization bill:

The VAWA reauthorization bill would extend funding for important services; provide additional
protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; and
would ensure that tribal courts have jurisdiction over domestic violence that occurs on tribal
land. We urge Congress to pass this bill!

But while we applaud much that is in the bill, we are concerned that like its predecessors, the bill
focuses a significant amount of funding on criminal justice responses and much less on economic
and racial justice initiatives that would support efforts to stop domestic violence. We urge
Congress to do more to address economic and racial inequalities that make poor women--
particularly poor women of color, undocumented women, and Native American women, more
vulnerable to intimate violence. We urge Congress to recognize that economic policies that
result in widespread unemployment and downward mobility increase domestic violence. We
further urge Congress to recognize that as important as criminal remedies may be for some
victims, a focus on criminal justice remedies will never be sufficient to empower women. Many
women who experience domestic violence do not want the current limited menu of criminal
justice responses. We urge Congress, therefore, to consider and support programs that explore
alternatives to the current criminal adjudication models, and that address the underlying causes
of abuse.

Download further remarks in PDF here:

Download VAWA


February 28, 2012 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

KS: Decriminalizing Domestic Violence Due to Budget Cuts

From the New York Times:

TOPEKA, Kan. — The startling vote came up at a City Council meeting here on Tuesday, provoked by a run-of-the-mill budget dispute over services that had spun out of control: decriminalize domestic violence.

Three arms of government, all ostensibly representing the same people, have been at an impasse over who should be responsible for — and pay for — prosecuting people accused of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence.


By a vote of 7 to 3, the City Council repealed the local law that makes domestic violence a crime.

The move, the councilors were told, would force District Attorney Chad Taylor to prosecute the cases because they would remain a crime under state law, a conclusion with which he grudgingly agreed. The Council also approved negotiations to resolve the impasse.

Read more here.



October 12, 2011 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carey: "Correcting Myopia in Domestic Violence Advocacy: Moving Forward in Lawyering and Law School Clinics"

Camille Carey (Univ. of New Mexico School of Law) has posted "Correcting Myopia in Domestic Violence Advocacy: Moving Forward in Lawyering and Law School Clinics" (forthcoming Colum. J. of Gender & Law) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Lawyers and law school clinics have become myopic in their approach to civil domestic violence lawyering. This article argues that domestic violence lawyering should expand beyond its current focus on family law to move domestic violence law and practice forward. Drawing on theoretical frameworks from criminal law and feminist legal theory, this article proposes a lawyering model that expands individual representation across a wide spectrum of case types while also challenging systems that enable battering or do not support victims in their efforts to secure safety.

Holistic representation in family law, public benefits, immigration, housing, mortgage foreclosure, tort, and financial matters, among other substantive areas, better serves domestic violence victims and reveals systemic problems facing victims. By taking a dual approach – broad holistic representation of individual victims combined with law reform efforts directed at systemic issues revealed through broad direct representation – lawyers and law school clinics can move domestic violence advocacy forward.


April 24, 2011 in Domestic Violence, Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Domestic Violence Evidence in IL

An Illinois appellate court recenty held that section 115-7.4 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/115-7.4 (West. Supp. 2007)), which allows prior acts of domestic battery to be admissible in a domestic battery trial, does not violate equal protection because it has sufficiently rational bases and offers relevance, probative value, and notice safeguards.  The case is People v. Dabbs, No. 3-08-0709 (Ill. Ct. App. 2010).  Read the opinion here.


May 1, 2010 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 23, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Case Impacting Domestic Violence


Advocates for domestic violence victims are sounding the warning about a little-noticed U.S. Supreme Court case that they say could make it much harder for battered women and men to enforce restraining orders against their abusers.

 The case Robertson v. U.S. ex rel. Watson . . . challenges the way restraining orders are enforced in the District of Columbia. D.C. law allows victims themselves to bring criminal contempt charges when abusers infringe on a court order. At least 14 states have similar setups, according to an amicus brief filed by George Washington University Law School's Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project.

Read more about this pending Supreme Court case here.


April 23, 2010 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Maryland Judge Marries Alleged Domestic Violence Perpetrator and Victim

Advocates for abused women reacted with outrage Thursday after learning that a Baltimore County judge had enabled a 29-year-old man to be found not guilty of assault when he officiated at the marriage of the defendant and the woman he was accused of beating.

Another judge who waived the required 48-hour waiting period between the issuance of the marriage license and the wedding ceremony did not know the circumstances, according to that judge and a court official.

"It's appalling," said Lisae C. Jordan, general counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "We know to anticipate that behavior from batterers, but to have the judiciary involved in assisting a batterer is just appalling."

Frederick D. Wood had been charged with second-degree assault after his fiancee claimed that on Nov. 29 he hit her in the face, bloodied her nose, kicked her and banged her head against a wall at his home in Middle River.

But when the domestic violence case against him came up for trial on March 10, District Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. allowed Wood to leave his courtroom in Essex to obtain a marriage license. Before the day was over, Russell married Wood and his fiancee in his chambers. The woman then invoked marital privilege so that she would not be required to testify against her husband, and Russell found Wood not guilty.

"Here's somebody who is clearly injured. And the authority figure, rather than acting neutrally or doing something to help protect her, pushed her into more entanglement with the alleged batterer," said Dorothy Lennig, longtime director of the legal clinic at the House of Ruth, which helps battered women and their children.

Read more here.


March 26, 2010 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Psychological Violence Law in France

France is set to introduce a new offense: psychological violence between married couples or partners living together.  This is an unusual venture into regulating matters within a family.  There is some concern, however, that the law will be abused and turn into a he said/she said debacle.  Nonetheless, the numbers are sobering: almost 3 women die weekly in France after being assaulted by a partner or ex-partner.  Read more here.  For editorials on the subject, see here and here.


January 23, 2010 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Domestic Violence Division Created in Cook County

Some changes are planned in Chicagoland courts for the New Year.  From the Chicago Tribune:

The chief judge of Cook County Circuit Court is creating a domestic violence division to try to improve communication among judges and ensure that abuse victims don't fall through the cracks.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans said he favors other recommendations made by a task force -- such as hiring new judges, strengthening sanctions against offenders and improving the intake of victims who turn to the court system for help. But he said he held off on those reforms until he gets more feedback from key players in the court system.

"There are no easy answers, but I want to make people safer," Evans said Tuesday.

The reforms come nearly a year after the Tribune found that certain victims had been killed by their abusers in spite of seeking legal protection and that less than one-sixth of domestic-violence cases brought each year in Cook County result in convictions.

Under the new domestic violence division to be launched in mid-January, all judges who handle domestic violence-related cases will report to a single presiding judge, Evans said.

Read more here.


January 7, 2010 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)