Monday, January 11, 2010

Albany: Hundreds attend battered mothers custody conference

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?



In domestic violence custody cases, many victims search for a way to make their voices heard. Our Megan Eaton went to a conference aimed at searching for solutions and has more.

COLONIE, N.Y. -- More than 175 people attended the three day Battered Mothers Custody Conference hoping to find solutions to what they call a broken system.

Heather Boltz attends the seventh annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference both as a victim's advocate, and a victim.

“I was involved in some litigation, because my ex-husband assaulted me. That litigation resulted in, you know, I had custody of our daughters and the court continued to allow him to come around me and what would happen is he would continue to assault me and the court was not protecting me,” said Heather Boltz.

Fearing for her safety, and that of her children, she felt she had no choice but to leave Albany County with her two daughters.

Because her ex husband was never convicted of domestic abuse, after she left the area, courts awarded him custody of their children.

He has since taken the girls down to Florida, where Boltz says she's been barred by him from seeing them. That was five years ago. Hers is just one of the many stories shared during the conference.

“As a group that is concerned with the safety and protection of children and battered women, what are we going to do about it, so we talk about a lot of different proposals and initiatives for individual cases and to reform the system,” said Dr. Mo Hannah, conference chair.

It’s so often thought of as a women's issue but it really is a man’s issue it’s important that men take a role in ending domestic violence,” said Barry Goldstein, conference planner.

Many at the conference say the family court system needs help and would like to see changes made nation-wide.

“A lot of times what you get is almost like competing jurisdictions. So in my case I would get a restraining order from criminal court and family court would step in and say to my husband-at the time husband-that he could have contact with our daughters, which the restraining order from criminal court would say no,” said Boltz.

Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard McNally, who was not at the conference, does recognize that things need to be done to fix the system.

Their county was one of the first in the state to introduce an integrated court docket.
Instead of having competing cases in criminal court, and family court, everything is tied together with one Supreme Court judge.

While it might slow down the process, it makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to seek justice. Governor Paterson is also trying to help, by signing bills that help domestic violence victims. Including one last year that requires courts to show how incidents of domestic violence affected their custody and visitation rulings and although Paterson's legislation is too late to help Boltz, she knows others will benefit from it.

“It’s not retroactive, but it can hopefully help other women,” said Boltz.

This mix of mother’s lawyers and others hope to work with the courts to find a solution that's fair for everyone.

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