As an organization that helps thousands of domestic violence victims each year, LSA was deeply concerned by a recent Court of Appeals’ opinion, C.M.L. v C.A.L., which made extensive references to a domestic violence victim’s prior Protection from Abuse (PFA) petitions in justifying a transfer of custody to the father of her child. In the Court’s opinion they not only referred to the PFAs but also misconstrued statutes regarding when domestic violence should trigger custody reviews.
As a result, on May 24, 2019, Legal Services Alabama along with the Faulkner Law Family Violence Clinic, filed an amicus brief in a case at the Court of Civil Appeals asking them to correct this injustice. In the brief, we strongly urge the court to reconsider both the basis on their decision as well as the language used.
LSA and the Family Violence Clinic are very concerned that the Court’s opinion raises the threat that an abuse victim might lose custody of her children simply because she sought to protect herself legally. As we know all too well, many victims express difficulty leaving their partners and a fear of trying to protect themselves. LSA and the Family Violence Clinic are very worried that many of these victims may choose not to escape dangerous situations if they are aware that they might lose their children when they try to protect themselves.
The brief was authored by LSA’s DV Practice Group Lead, Jim Smith; Coordinating Attorney, Farah Majid, LSA Director of Advocacy, Michael Forton, and the Director of the Faulkner Law Family Violence Clinic, Kelly McTear. The brief raises these important issues before the court and urges the court to reconsider its opinion, and decide the custody question without reference to the mother’s prior petitions for Protection from Abuse.
We hope that the court reconsiders its decision so that women trying to flee abusive spouses don’t have to choose between safety and losing their children.
By: Farah Majid, Coordinating Project Attorney
UPDATE (8/3/19): After granting LSA and the Faulkner Family Violence Clinic’s request to appear in the case, the Court of Appeals modified its opinion to remove references to the mother’s prior PFA petitions. Although the court did not change its custody determination, it made clear that the decision was not based on the mother being a victim of domestic violence (and was rather based on other factors). Thus, this court opinion will not have a negative impact on domestic violence victims seeking to protect themselves and also wanting to retain custody of their children.