2015 FAMILY LAW SEMINAR

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1 2015 FAMILY LAW SEMINAR Advice on Working with Domestic Violence Victims in Your Office and in Court 11:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m. Presented by Elizabeth Battles Skylark Project Director at Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence 3030 Merle Hay Road Des Moines, IA Phone: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30

2 10/2/2015 Domestic Violence Expert Witnesses in Family Law Cases ELIZABETH ALBRIGHT BATTLES IOWA COALITION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE What is domestic violence? A pattern of intentional behavior the purpose of which is to gain power and control over the victim. 1

3 10/2/2015 Why does domestic violence matter in family law cases? Safety: The most dangerous time for a victim is when she is preparing to leave or has left the relationship. Victims of domestic violence leaving a relationship are at a 75 percent greater risk of being a victim of homicide than at any other time in their relationship. Iowa Domestic Abuse Death Review Team Biennial Report Why does domestic violence matter in family law cases? Understanding client behavior Planning for post-divorce reality Mediation waiver: I.C.A (1) Conciliation waiver: I.C.A (7) Presumption against joint custody: I.C.A (2)(c) 2

4 10/2/2015 Hypothetical: Myra Your client Myra is getting divorced from Johnny; they have two children together. In 2014 Myra called the police about Johnny, but Myra ended up being arrested. (Charges were dropped.) The police report shows she admitted shoving Johnny and documents scratches on his arms. Myra tells you that on other occasions Johnny has slammed her up against a wall and slapped her. Myra hasn t held a job for longer than 8 months for the past 5 years. Johnny has the kids school counselor prepared to testify that Myra is erratic, abrasive, and the kids have missed school. Do I need an expert? Does the judge need education? Create record for appeal? Counteract other side s expert? Non-courtroom issues? How strong is my case? 3

5 10/2/2015 General Areas for Experts DV Basics: lethality assessments, power/control safety issues, recantation, why women stay, tactics of control, effects of separation, characteristics of batterers Effects of DV on Children: why a battering parent would still be a bad parent even after couple separates, intergenerational nature of abuse, nexus between child abuse and domestic violence Effects of DV on Client s Ability to Work or Stability: why she is in shelter, has moved several times, couldn t hold down a job, batterer s effect on the non-abusive parent s parenting Issues Experts Can Help Explain for the Court Why joint custody is dangerous Why visitation is dangerous Why the victim needs to relocate Why the victim has moved around Why the kids might prefer dad Why mom is economically disadvantaged Why the abuser s actions in the case are continuation of abuse 4

6 10/2/2015 Experts can help with victim problems Explain use of drugs or alcohol Why complicit in batterer s illicit activity Prostitution Issues with children Defensive actions taken against batterer Criminal activity to survive the abuse What an expert cannot do: Turn a bad case into a perfect case. Vouch for the credibility of the victim. Diagnose the victim as having suffered domestic violence. Recommend how custody or visitation should be awarded in your case. 5

7 10/2/2015 How can you tell who is the abuser? Look at the pattern of behavior: Context: What happened in a relationship over time? What happened immediately before and after an incident? What impact does the context have on the agency/self-determination of each person in the relationship? Intent: What are the real, imagined, perceived, expressed, or intuited reasons for the behavior? What are the goals of the behavior? Establish control over someone else or control over oneself? Effect: Whose life is smaller as a result of the behavior? Who is being controlled, manipulated, coerced, exploited, or hurt as a result? Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse Finding an expert: Coalition staff/attorney Domestic Violence program advocates Therapists/psychologists Batterer s Intervention Workers Law enforcement Child Services workers Ministers, Rabbis, Priests, Spiritual Advisers GALs 6

8 10/2/2015 What to look for in an expert: Local, state, and national training Expert status in the field Direct service hours Papers or other significant writing Affiliations/memberships with professional organizations College education Working knowledge of research and current issues in field Bias, objectivity Confidentiality issues (Cost) What an expert will expect from the attorney: Ample time for preparation Be prepared to be educated! Direct contact with you, not the client Access to information 7

9 10/2/2015 What the expert wants to start with A brief overview of the case The attorney s overall case argument or strategy What the attorney wants to accomplish with expert witness testimony What s the victim s perspective overall, and on advocate testimony What the attorney wants to avoid highlighting or bringing up Case information related to domestic violence or sexual assault Enough advance notice to review materials and decide if she has anything meaningful to contribute The attorney s role You are still the captain of this ship! You must decide what information to cover in court, how best to hone the expert s testimony Provide the expert with the information she needs to develop relevant testimony Help the expert know what might come up in crossexamination 8

10 10/2/2015 Offering Expert Witness Testimony Qualify your expert curriculum vitae Common elements: Define domestic violence Common characteristics of batterers Effect of battering on the victim Based upon your experience, training, education, and work with victims Hypotheticals to illustrate Consider heading-off cross-exam issues Get sample questions Drawbacks of using an expert Pathologize abuse Does the case need this label? Does the client s story stand on its own? Does the client name the abuse? 9

11 10/2/2015 Common tactics of opposing counsel Attack on credentials Accusations of bias Attack relevance of information Inadmissible as hearsay Absurdity of extreme example: Is it possible that? Don t some survivors respond differently than the victim did? Attack source material/research Experts outside the courtroom Help attorney understand client s behavior Help interview victim Evaluate batterer Link to support services 10

12 10/2/2015 Elizabeth Albright Battles Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence 3030 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines, IA (515)

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