Monday, May 25, 2009

Disorder in the Courts: Mothers and Their Allies Take on the Family Court System

This introduction is adapted from a section that I wrote for Disorder in the Courts: Mothers and Their Allies Take on the Family Court System, an e-book available from California NOW.

There is no love deeper, more complete, and more vulnerable than the love that caring parents feel for their children. There is a bond so strong that it can be hard to tell exactly where the parent ends and the child begins, and the line is even harder to draw when our children are very young. Mothers have an additional bond from having carried their children inside of their bodies and having given birth to them, and more than half of mothers have experienced a deepened attachment through breast-feeding their babies. And mothers are, in the great majority of cases, their children’s primary caretakers, especially during their early years. All connections between caring, non-abusive parents and their children are so important as to be almost sacred, but there is usually a particular quality to the mother-child bond. That life-giving and sustaining connection deserves the full support and admiration of communities and nations.

And just as there is a special beauty and importance to relationships between mothers and their children, there is a special and extraordinary cruelty in the abusive man who attempts to break or weaken the mother-child bond, whether by turning children against their mother, by harming the children physically, sexually or psychologically, or by attempting to take custody of the children away from her.

Children need protection from their abusive parents. In the realm of custody litigation which involves abuse, the abusive parent tends to be the father while the protective parent is usually the mother, because most perpetrators of domestic violence and of child sexual abuse are male. We don’t know that much about what happens to protective fathers, since their cases are much less common, but we know that protective mothers frequently encounter a system that is insensitive, ignorant about the dynamics of abuse, and biased against women. In this context, mothers sometimes find themselves being forbidden by the court from protecting their children from a violent, cruel, or sexually abusive father. And this outcome is a tragic one, for children and for their mothers.

On behalf of the hundreds of people across the continent who are currently working for family court justice, I want to communicate to you our caring and solidarity with the challenging road you have ahead of you, as you fight to keep your children safe in body and soul. I want to let you know how critically important we believe that project to be, and how much your children need you to stand up for their rights and their well-being. You deserve admiration, not criticism, for the courageous risks you are taking on their behalf, and for your determination that all of you should have the opportunity to live in freedom and kindness.

Our society is currently giving mothers a powerful and crazy-making mixed message. First, it says to mothers, “If your children’s father is violent or abusive to you or to your children, you should leave him in order to keep your children from being exposed to his behavior.” But then, if the mother does leave, the society many times appears to do an abrupt about-face, and say, “Now that you are spilt up from your abusive partner, you must expose your children to him. Only now you must send them alone with him, without you even being around anymore to keep an eye on whether they are okay.”


  1. This book was life-changing for me! One of the most insightful things that Mr. Bancroft reveals is that most of these emotionally abusive men cannot be excused or understood due to some personality disorder or issue (we often excuse their behavior thinking it's some deep-seeded thing that can't help). When he tells us that most of them know what they're doing is wrong, they simply don't care, and they keep treating the women in their lives this way simply because the can get away with it ... it gives us a righteous anger and motivation to leave.

    Feel free to follow me on my own journey as I get ready to leave an emotionally abusive husband (with two kids and one on the way): just type in mrstomiss.blogspot

  2. I left my violent and abusive husband on Jan. 8, 2009 and have been dealing with the legal system pretty much since then. I just got sole legal and physical custody of my children this past Sept 10, 2009, after my sociopathic husband filed for custody of the children the day after the children and I were placed in a DV shelter.

    The court system is a terrible place for women who finally found the courage to leave these men. The men attempt to punish us by taking our children, and the court system wittingly or unwittingly often helps them accomplish just that.

    Why is it so easy for the lay person to find out the stats on DV and the perpetrators of it and the games they play, yet professionals whose very jobs center around this very issue seem so blind and ignorant of it? They make decisions that can have long term devastating repercussions into lives of people who are already damaged.

    I was blessed with the outcome I received, but I give God the credit with it. I am a Christian and trust God completely. All I can say is that I had to do very little fighting.

    I had to show up at court over and over again and the experience was scary and emotionally draining. I was pregnant while I was going through a lot of it. I was 3 months pregnant when I left him.

    My faith got me through it and in the end God gave me the victory over his lies and he actually ended up signing a settlement that I authored on custody, visitation and the orders of protection.

    This man that hired a lawyer and began to pursue me through the court system for 8 months, agreed to everything I proposed as if he had no choice. It was beyond incredible, it was a miracle.

    I know most women would not have the experience that I did. Most will have to go through some agonizing decisions rendered by the court. I can still feel their pain, because I know what it's like to just want to get away from an evil man and build a life of peace and safety for you and your children, only to have the creep continue to force his way in.

    My children and I are still rebuilding our lives and have moved 4 times in the past 10 months. We are currently staying in the basement of a friend. I am trying to find where I can fit into this fight against domestic violence. It is beyond a tragedy and affects more people than anyone can ever really know and what we do know is terrible enough.

    For now I too have started writing about my experience in an effort to offer hope, inspiration, and validation for others. It also is therapy for my healing.

    My journey can be found at:

  3. Dear Lundy, five years ago I was at one of your conferences in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was sitting at a table and wiping away the tears silently because I was losing custody of my babies and I knew it. When you signed my book, When Dad Hurts Mom, you commented where I was in the process. I told you I was getting my degree and would join you in the fight of helpig non custodial mothers. Please visit my web site at I have 16 other non custodial mothers with the same judge I have and tomorrow is mothers day. We will be walking around the court house seven times silently praying. I have not seen my children in over a year, and my story is unbelieable. Anyone can email me at and in the subject line just ask for my case info. I will send you information in attachments. Thank you for all that you do to help educate others about domestic violence and the family courts.