Suggesting 12 policy changes for RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence recommended Thursday 12 policy changes it said would help stop violence during child custody visits with abusive parents.

During a news conference at Roger Williams Park in Providence, the group released its report that found of the 204 custody and visitation cases involving domestic violence, 76 percent of children experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse during visitations.

One of those cases involved Renee Bursett. She said she left her abuser, thinking the violence would end. However, she later learned her abuser turned to her children during court-granted visitations.

"It was years of our abuser using the court system to continue abusing us. Despite restraining orders and criminal charges of abuse to my children, at one point our abuser was granted visitation with my youngest child," Bursett said. "We feel as though safety has become a luxury and not a right."

The coalition made the following 12 policy recommendations:

  • Coordinate court services and information sharing strategies within the court system to reduce fragmentation and provide continuity and consistency in cases involving domestic violence.
  • Implement court protocols that ensure the safety of victims and their children in custody and visitation cases.
  • Utilize statutes and policies to prevent abusers from using the court system to further victimize domestic violence victims and their children.
  • Create programs that provide information about parental rights, education about the court process, and advocacy services for victims.
  • Recommend changes to the Rhode Island General Laws to create a clear custody standard and guidelines to be followed in domestic violence cases.
  • Create specialized safe visitation centers and safe exchange programs throughout the state.
  • Develop collaboration among all stakeholders to increase victims’ access to:
  • Affordable and competent legal representation,
  • Guardians Ad Litem and other resources that benefit children who are impacted by domestic violence.
  • Expand the Rhode Island Family Court Domestic Violence Program and other court services to provide case management, information, referrals and advocacy with child custody and visitation in all cases where domestic violence has been identified.
  • Establish specialized domestic violence courtrooms in all counties.
  • Educate attorneys about domestic violence to enhance representation of domestic violence victims and to protect children in divorce and child custody and visitation cases.
  • Increase judicial awareness of the ongoing impact of domestic violence and the court process on victims of domestic violence and their children, to increase the number of times special safety considerations are ordered in cases involving domestic violence.
  • Strengthen domestic violence education for professionals who are involved in the custody and visitation process, including but not limited to mediators, Guardians Ad Litem, Family Court Investigative Unit, supervised visitation facilitators and mental health professionals.

"Clearly there are many problems that need to be addressed to keep children safe during the divorce and custody process," said Diana DeGroof, Rhode Island Legal Services.

Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah has already begun implementing the recommended changes.

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