To top it all off, some judges make some domestic violence victims pay the batterer’s attorney’s fees (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars) if she can’t prove the “grave risk” defense by this high burden of proof. Yet, no judge can order her batterer to pay her attorney’s fees if she prevails on the “grave risk” defense.
With this legal framework, why wouldn’t an abuser use the Convention to further his abuse of the victim when she flees? After all, our State Department will even help him find free legal counsel as is its policy for all “left behind” parents. Unfortunately, the “taking” parent, even if she is an indigent domestic violence victim, does not have the same benefit afford to her. The U.S. Congress has never held a hearing on these problems. Instead, resolution after resolution condemns all international child abduction, calling it child abuse.
Congress needs to get the other side of the story and fix its laws so that they take into account the prevalence and grim reality of domestic violence. Thankfully, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has agreed to hold a briefing on the topic on June 19. If we don’t fix the law at home, the United States will continue to give batterers a tool to regain control over the other parent who flees with the child for safety. No country should enable a batterer. It should instead allow the truth to emerge for the benefit of the child.
Donna Coker and Zanita E. Fenton are law professors at the University of Miami School of Law, and Merle H. Weiner is a Philip H. Knight law professor at the University of Oregon School of Law.