Editor's Note: Each week, attorney , whose practice is based on Hampton Road in Southampton Village, answers family law questions on Southampton Patch. Her answers are based on New York State law and family court decisions.
Q. Throughout our 15-year marriage, my children have witnessed their alcoholic father physically and emotionally abuse me during our frequent violent arguments. Now, both children seem to side with my husband and have even started abusing me just like their father, seeming to forget how he tormented me in the past. What is the court's position on children witnessing violence between their parents?
A. A recent case involved a couple's violent relationship, marked by numerous episodes of heated arguments, physical violence, police intervention and Family Court orders, all witnessed by their 16-year-old daughter, yet denied by her in a Family Court proceeding, where she stated her preference to live with her father, who was therefore awarded custody.
However, on appeal, the Family Court order was reversed on the ground that there had been no court appointment of a psychologist to evaluate the abuser and the victim.
Also to be considered by Family Court should have been the danger of the child becoming a future victim herself, her developmental needs after living in the polluted environment of domestic violence all of her life, as well as the need for counseling of all parties.
In reversing the Family Court award of custody to the abusive father, the Appellate Court found that the effect of domestic violence on the child had been inadequately evaluated. The higher court commented that devastating consequences of a child witnessing violence between parents has long been recognized by the courts and society as a whole.
The Appellate Court stated: "There is overwhelming authority that a child living in a home where there has been abuse between the adults becomes a secondary victim and is likely to suffer psychological injury. That child learns a dangerous and morally depraved lesson that abusive behavior is not only acceptable, but may even be rewarded."