October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I have seen the worst examples of DV in my cases and HLG takes it seriously. We agree with National AAML President James McClaren that “we should all take the time to be even more mindful about the ways in which we can offer leadership within our communities toward more effectively addressing these issues.”
According to 32% of Fellows responding to a recent AAML survey, DV issues during divorce cases have continued to increase throughout the past five years. 36% have noted a rise in divorce cases involving restraining orders. 63% of our Fellows also believe that courts should better address DV.
McClaren emphasizes that the research is overwhelmingly clear that DV traumatizes children and has lasting effects. “Attorneys and judges are often the first people that a victim or perpetrator may confide in and subsequently reveal the initial details of [DV].”
Retired Kentucky Judge Jerry Bowles is a respected expert who has successfully led efforts to have courts better address DV. He will be a keynote speaker at a presentation during our annual AAML meetings next month. He indicates that DV is a multilayered and complex issue and that there are often several types of abusive situations:
• Abusive-Controlling and Violent (ACV): also called intimate terrorism and coercive control where one spouse intimidates and limits the other spouse in order to dominate and control. This can include limiting access to financial resources and other relationships as well as threats to harm a pet, have the dependent spouse fired from a job and other attempts to make the dependent spouse nearly incapable of separating.
• Conflict Instigated Violence (CIV): often involves both spouses who have limited conflict resolution skills.
• Violent Resistance (VR): occurs when the less powerful spouse uses violence to defend against an abuser.
• Separation Instigated Violence (SIV): isolated acts of violence predicated on the stress of separation and divorce where there has been no history of ACV.
McClaren writes, “victims of [DV] are very unique clients that require a sophisticated form of representation that underscores sensitivity to the trauma caused by long term abuse. Skilled mental health services are also necessary to assist the clients in moving out of the role as victim and resuming life as a competent adult.”
At HLG, one of our first lines of questioning for new clients concerns the potential existence of past or ongoing DV. We also fight to avoid future DV, often by working to at least limit unproductive party communications and other interactions. Especially with the increasing prevalence of harassment through texts and other electronic communications, our office is technologically equipped to immediately download evidence and run to court for emergency orders. With support from recent anti-DV cases like Evilsizor v. Sweeney ((2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 1304), we have achieved anti-DV success on multiple occasions.
To better examine the ways in which family lawyers can help improve the legal system to better assist DV victims, the AAML has also established a national task force. Per McClaren, “[i]t has been empowered to actively explore collaborations with existing governmental and nongovernmental entities, address domestic violence in a variety of communities and provide education for judges, lawyers, legislators and law enforcement on ways to more effectively address [DV] and its devastating consequences.” HLG will encourage, follow and report the progress.