A new report released by the non-profit group Court Watch Montgomery suggests that Montgomery County’s Circuit Court may be falling significantly short of its obligation to pursue the “best interests of the child” in cases of domestic violence. The report cites a disturbing number of lapses and also describes numerous positive practices by judges.
The report is the fourth from Court Watch Montgomery, an all-volunteer non-profit that works to make domestic violence victims and their children safer in Montgomery County and the state by reducing obstacles to effective legal protection. The report is based on observations by 20 trained citizen-volunteers who monitored 19 Circuit Court judges in 225 restraining order hearings over one year. The report finds that:
Domestic violence is affecting thousands of County children. At least 40% of children in protective order cases CWM monitored saw, heard, or became entangled in a domestic violence incident either in the past or recently. (This is a serious undercount since judges virtually never ask the parties at hearings where the children were during incidents).
Judges are allowing unsupervised visitation by parents found to be abusers without adequate scrutiny during hearings. Unsupervised visits can be extremely dangerous. In 2012 a Montgomery County Court judge lifted a requirement for supervision during visits in the case of a one year old boy, Prince McLeod Rams. The father of the boy is now charged with murdering the child during his fourth unsupervised visit.
Montgomery County lacks monitored programs to exchange children for parental visits and a supervised visitation center to keep women and children in families with protective orders safe. Some options exist but are prohibitively expensive for most residents.
Many judges went out of their way to try to craft workable solutions for children and most were courteous and respectful to parties in protective order cases. Yet sometimes (in 14% of cases) judges were inappropriately skeptical, incredulous and trivializing.
- Judges are inappropriately deferring decisions on critical issues and services available under protective order law, such as changes in visitation plans and establishing emergency child support.
To download the Executive Summary of the Report, go here.
To download the Full Report, go here.