The 25 Most Positive & Hopeful Family Court Reform Moments of 2021
Rachel Watson said it best, “A global awakening is underway; as perpetrators’ courtroom strategies and poor parenting choices come under the spotlight, a seismic shift from victim-blaming to accountability will hopefully follow.” Cheers to that.
We’re taking a look at some of the most positive Family Court reform news stories from 2021 that give us hope for the future.
1. Angelina Jolie joins advocacy efforts for Family Court Reform (December 2021)
Ms. Jolie is pushing Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and, to incorporate Kayden’s Law into VAWA. “Jolie is specifically advocating for VAWA to include “Kayden’s Law” which is centered on trauma-informed court processes that minimize the risk of harm to children, judicial training and qualifications of custody evaluators.” — Politico
2. Florida lawmakers file ‘Greyson’s Law’ to help protect children at risk of parental harm (December 2021)
Rep. Michael Grieco of Miami Beach filed a bill to make it harder for a parent to gain — or maintain — custody of a child if they have threatened, abused or stalked the other parent. The bill is called “Greyson’s Law,” after 4-year-old Greyson Kessler, whose father, John Stacey, shot and killed him in May before turning the gun on himself. Greyson’s mother, Alison Kessler, had previously sought a restraining order for domestic violence against Stacey, but a judge denied it, citing a lack of evidence. (Source: Florida Politics)
3. United Nations Experts say Spanish courts must protect children from domestic violence and sexual abuse (December 2021)
GENEVA (9 December 2021) — Spain’s Government must do more to protect children from domestic violence and sexual abuse, ensure its courts overcome biases against women, and apply a gender-sensitive, child-centered approach, UN experts* said today. Children in Spain are being exposed to violence and sexual abuse by a judicial system that is failing to protect them from abusive fathers, the experts said. Even in cases where there is a history of domestic violence or evidence of abuse, judicial decisions often favor male parents, including those where there is reasonable cause to suspect them of being abusive towards children and their mothers. “Spain must do more to make its legislation operational and to ensure all officials in the justice system apply a gender-sensitive, child-centred approach to cases involving child custody and domestic violence, in addition to taking effective measures to prevent such acts of violence that may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture,” the experts said. “The Government must uphold its responsibility to ensure children and women can live and thrive free from violence.” Learn more
4. Kyra’s Champions opens their Student Advocacy Program as Kyra’s Law gains significant bipartisan and grassroots support in New York (December 2021)
Formed in memory of 2-year-old Kyra Franchetti who was murdered by her father during a custody proceeding, Kyra’s Champions is an advocacy organization that is FOR kids and BY kids. In 2021, Kyra’s Law (A5398/S7425) was introduced to make child safety the top priority in child custody cases, mandate judge training, and stop common practices that allow abusers to gain custody. Kyra’s Law has strong bipartisan support from New York lawmakers and is one of four bills inspired by Kyra’s custody case. This bill also has strong grassroots support as over 12,000 emails have been sent the New York legislature pushing for its passage. The organization’s Youth Ambassador, an 8th grader named Shayna, has become a strong advocate for preventing child abuse and has been featured on the evening news, co-hosted events and rallies, and even publicly testified. With the launch of their Student Advocacy Program, more teenagers will understand how to leverage their voice and their power to protect their friends and peers from abuse.
5. NSW, Australia pledges to criminalize coercive control and change existing abuse laws (December 2021)
The New South Wales government has committed to outlawing the historically overlooked form of intimate abuse known as #coercivecontrol following an inquiry. The attorney general and domestic and sexual violence prevention minister, Mark Speakman, released the government’s response on Saturday, indicating support for 17 of the inquiry’s 23 recommendations. The Domestic Violence NSW chief executive, Delia Donovan, said making coercive control an offence “presents a significant opportunity to improve the safety and wellbeing of victim-survivors across NSW”, noting “thorough consultation” will be required along with training for health and law enforcement staff and further community awareness.” — The Guardian
6. MP, Kate Griffiths and Dr. Charlotte Proudman prevail in landmark case. Court of Appeal ruled perpetrator can be publically named (December 2021)
A judge concluded that Andrew Griffiths, 51, pressurized Kate Griffiths, the current Conservative MP for Burton, Staffordshire, into engaging in sexual activity, and used ‘coercive and controlling behavior’. The Court of Appeal ruled that the former MP can be publicly named, following a year-long battle by Tortoise Media and PA Media. “Thousands of victims of domestic abuse will know from first-hand experience that almost everything that happens in the family courts is secret. I have long campaigned that we need to expose the truth. We need transparency.” — Dr. Charlotte Proudman | Learn more | Media
7. Center for Judicial Excellence launches its Advocacy Training program aimed at legislative reform (December 2021)
The Center for Judicial Excellence is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Rafael, California. Our mission is to protect vulnerable children in the family court system and to strengthen the integrity of all courts by creating judicial accountability. Founded in May of 2006, they’ve spent more than a decade empowering family court survivors and their children, exposing the systemic failures in our courts, and educating the media, state and federal lawmakers, and the public about the need for major reforms. Learn more
8. Two-Hundred Cities, Counties, and States in the United States Proclaim November as Family Court Awareness Month (November 2021)
Advocacy organizations, One Mom’s Battle and Custody Peace have declared the month of November as Family Court Awareness Month. In its second year, the movement has gained tremendous momentum and has received support from elected officials across the United States. The movement has also received support from other advocacy groups such as California Protective Parents Association, Center for Judicial Excellence, National Family Violence Law Center at GW, Movement of Mothers, and The Court Said USA. There are plans for international expansion in upcoming years. Family Court Awareness Month is an opportunity for survivors of domestic violence or post-separation abuse to amplify their voices while raising awareness in their own communities on the undeniable shortcomings of the family court system. With events being planned around the country, the objective for the 2021 efforts will be focused on starting conversations between survivors and elected officials with the ultimate goal of finding solutions and making changes. Learn more | Watch featured video | In the News
9. California Protective Parents Association, together with UCI Initiative to End Family Violence launch the first-ever, Forward Together Conference (November 2021)
This powerful and hopeful full-day conference featured multidisciplinary perspectives on protecting children from family violence in the context of child custody or divorce cases. National experts, leading legislators, survivors, and courageous kids will address policy reforms, health and trauma concerns, protective parenting, institutional betrayal, and intervention strategies. Learn more
10. California Governor Newsom Signs Senator Dave Min’s Senate Bill (SB) 654 into Law. This Bill was backed by Angelina Jolie and Dylan Farrow (October 2021)
“Having courts make findings on the record will ensure that histories of domestic violence or substance abuse are addressed and treated, and such findings will protect children from unsupervised visitation when unsupervised visitation is unsafe.” — Angelina Jolie on California SB 654
SB 654 requires judges to make findings on the record when entering an order for unsupervised visitation with a parent who has a history of domestic violence or substance abuse. This bill also ensures children who wish to testify in contested custody battles do not have to do so in the presence of the parties seeking custody unless it is deemed necessary by a judge. “I am grateful to my colleagues for their overwhelming support of SB 654, which will save lives. Child safety must be our number one priority in the courts, and we must ensure that we don’t put children in situations of ongoing danger of domestic violence or substance abuse. I am proud that this measure brings us one step closer to guaranteeing our laws better protect children and prioritize their health, safety, and welfare.” — Senator Dave Min SB 654 has also received notable support from actor and internationally renowned children’s rights advocate Angelina Jolie. In her letter of support, Jolie wrote, “Having courts make findings on the record will ensure that histories of domestic violence or substance abuse are addressed and treated, and such findings will protect children from unsupervised visitation when unsupervised parenting is unsafe. The modest measures in SB 654 are also expected to prevent the need for additional hearings due to unsafe visitation.” Dylan Farrow, a prominent advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. also encouraged public support for “this crucial legislation.” Read Senator Dave Min’s Press Release.
11. Jane Doe Films, Center for Judicial Excellence, National Family Violence Law Center and RAINN launch the Allen v. Farrow Panel Series (September 2021-December 2021)
Organizations, experts, and advocates throughout the family court reform movement came together to rally around the powerful documentary, Allen v. Farrow, to utilize it as a launching pad and tool to discuss the family court crisis and work together to raise awareness and ensure child safety is the first priority in all custody cases. Watch the replays now
12. Over One Hundred Mothers denounce the United States of America before the United Nations, for Human Rights Violations (August 2021)
Over one hundred mothers submitted a formal complaint to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women denouncing the United States Government, and the states within, for systematic human rights violations waged against women and children throughout the family court systems in the country. The Complaint was submitted by advocacy groups One Mom’s Battle and Custody Peace with over one hundred women throughout the United States joining in the Complaint. The Complaint alleges human rights violations that include systemic gender bias, discrimination on the basis of sex, and facilitation of physical, sexual, financial, legal and emotional abuse of women and children. Through personal letters submitted with the Complaint, these brave women provided firsthand accounts of their experience suffering injustices and human rights violations in family court. Angelina Jolie joins advocacy efforts for Family Court Reform. Read the complaint press release and the complaint here.
13. One Moms Battle, Custody Peace, and Movement of Mothers come together to create the Global Family Court Advocacy Community: Over 1500 Advocates join within the first 48 hours of launch (August 2021)
One Mom’s Battle and Custody Peace have joined forces to create a community to organize global advocacy efforts in support of evidence-based policy that prioritizes child safety in all custody cases and frees everyone from all forms of post-separation abuse and coercive control. Learn more
14. Jess Hill launches The Trap, a groundbreaking Podcast Series (August 2021)
“Acclaimed author Jess Hill has been tapped to host a new podcast exploring the prevalence of domestic abuse, coercive control and violence within Australian society. Commissioned by the Victorian Women’s Trust and produced by documentary maker Georgina Savage, The Trap will examine domestic violence in Australia and how similar dynamics of control and abuse are perpetuated through governing bodies. Across 10 episodes, Hill will explore the social, cultural, psychological and institutional elements to scrutinise all aspects of control, highlighting the severity of the issue within Australia today. Through a number of interviews and first-person accounts from survivors, perpetrators, police officers, counsellors, specialists and academics, the podcast will reveal how abuse patterns start, how to seek help and how coercion persists within everyday life.” (Source: Radio Today) Listen now
15. Channel 4 News in the UK features Torn Apart: Family Courts Uncovered (July 2021)
2 years in the making — for the first time Dispatches reveals what is really going on behind closed doors in family courts. With shocking, personal testimony; never-before-seen footage of children being forcibly removed from safe, loving, homes at midnight and alarming results from the biggest ever questionnaire of family court users and family lawyers, Dispatches asks what change is needed to hold judges to account? Learn more |Preview
16. Jennifers’ Law passed the Connecticut House 134–8. (June 2021)
“The law expands the definition of domestic violence to include non-physical violence or “coercive control,” which is a pattern of threatening, humiliating, or intimidating acts that harm a person and deprive them of their freedom, autonomy, and human rights. This new and expanded definition of domestic violence will now apply to all family court proceedings — restraining orders, divorce, and custody cases.” — Retired Senator, Alex Kasser Jennifers’ Law adds “physical and emotional safety of the child” as the first factor for the judge to consider when determining custody cases. The bill also establishes a new legal aid program to provide legal representation for victims of domestic violence who apply for restraining orders. “This legislation will save lives, plain and simple. The changes in this bill will be a lifeline to the more than a third of all Connecticut women who will experience some form of intimate partner violence or stalking in their lifetime. It’s the result of years of input and experience and advocacy to give victims the tools to leave abusive relationships and hold their abusers accountable” — Senator Mae Flexer
17. New York Governor forms Commission to explore the role of forensic evaluators (June 2021)
Due to the tireless advocacy of Jacqueline Franchetti, Kyra’s Mom of Kyra’s Champions, the New York State Governor formed a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to explore the role of forensic custody evaluators. The Commission includes parents, advocates, matrimonial law attorneys, former judges, psychologists, and academics. It’s the first such Commission of its formation.
18. NBC News’ Kate Snow investigates how allegations of violence and abuse are handled when there’s a custody dispute over kids in family court (May 2021)
Parents say family courts too often ignore allegations of violence in custody disputes, Kate Snow investigates in this two-night series featured on NBC Nightly News. | Watch now
19. Froleich Bills to defend Colorado Families advance unanimously (April 2021)
DENVER, CO– The House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee today passed two of Representative Meg Froelich’s bills to increase domestic violence training requirements and update child support statues. “Giving court personnel the training they need to identify and assess instances of domestic violence will make their jobs easier and hopefully save lives,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood. “The many tragic stories we heard in committee today demonstrate how critical it is for us to be better prepared to deal with domestic violence in the courts. I’m proud of the work the committee did today to stand up for families and ensure our statutes and courts are up-to-date and ready to serve Colorado.” HB21–1228 would clarify and increase domestic violence training requirements for court personnel who frequently deal with cases related to domestic matters, such as custody disputes. Training for all personnel includes both an initial training as well as an ongoing annual continuing education. The training would encompass domestic violence and its traumatic effects on children, adults and families. This bill is directly responsive to cases of domestic violence in Colorado, including the tragic murder of 10 year old Ty Tesoriero. The bill passed 13–0.
The act increases and clarifies domestic violence training requirements (training) for court personnel (personnel) who are regularly involved in cases related to domestic matters, including child and family investigators, parenting responsibility evaluators, and legal representatives of children.
Training for all personnel must include both an initial training requirement as well as an ongoing annual continuing education requirement as follows:
- Six initial hours of training on domestic violence, including coercive control, and its traumatic effects on children, adults, and families;
- Six initial hours of training on child abuse and child sexual abuse and its traumatic effects; and
- Four subsequent hours of training every two years on domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse and the traumatic effects on children, adults, and families. Learn more
20. Spain approves pioneering child protection law (April 2021)
The legislation, which was championed by British pianist James Rhodes, extends the statute of limitations for crimes against children and paves the way for a paradigm shift on the rights of minors. Spain’s lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, approved on Thursday a pioneering new law aimed at protecting children and adolescents against violence. The legislation was voted through with an absolute majority — a far from a common outcome in the current divisive political climate — with 268 votes in favor, 57 against and 16 abstentions. The new legislation is known as the “Rhodes law” in recognition of campaigning by British concert pianist James Rhodes in defense of children’s rights. The British pianist, a Madrid resident who suffered sexual abuse when he was a boy, has been one of the most public faces pushing for a law to combat violence suffered by youngsters and adolescents. Learn more
21. Twenty Mothers Denounce the Spanish Justice Family Court System to the United Nations (March 2021)
“A score of mothers have denounced Spain to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the institutional violence they have been subjected to after denouncing sexual violence, physical and psychological against their sons and daughters by their parents. The text describes the treatment received by these mothers and their children by the Justice system as torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. They are not the only cases that exist, but they have dared to denounce and that they have managed to gather and identify in a timely manner the evidence that shows a systematic violation of rights based on the use of gender stereotypes, the lack of compliance with international conventions or the violation of the fundamental right to effective judicial protection.” — Público, Madrid, Spain (March 27, 2021)
22. New South Wales, Australia Launches a 3-Day Inquiry to explore New Coercive Control Legislation (February 2021)
Several countries, including Scotland, France, England, Wales, & Ireland, have adopted Coercive Control laws over the last decade. In response, 2 states — first Hawaii (inspired by Scotland) & then California (Sept 2020) — have recently taken the groundbreaking step of passing the nation’s first laws against coercive control. This week, a new 3-day inquiry began to explore the introduction of new coercive control legislation in New South Wales, Australia. May this be the beginning of the adoption of new legislation across the globe. “There are predictable behaviors used by abusers. ―There are neurobiological changes & injuries that we can see and measure. These injuries can last a lifetime and can have a huge financial impact after the relationship has ended. The process of coercive control is an active one. ―It’s well planned and sustained. It occurs all of the time, even if there is physical distance. So it is this behavior we are saying needs to be made illegal. ―Unfortunately, our legal system as it stands today perpetuates the fear and exacerbates the state of utter helplessness that coercive control induces. It’s a system that repeatedly fails to keep women safe. Despite the fact that there can be a clearly defined and known perpetrator, the system is a failure. ―It starts slow and gets persistently worse. The more control they get, the worse it becomes. The more they get away with, the more obsessed with the control they get. Legislation will act to deter this. To leave the system as it is now is not only negligent, it is an act of complicity in the ongoing abuses of women and children.” - Dr. Karen Williams, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, NSW Select Committee into Coercive Control, February 22, 2021 | Watch video coverage
23. The Santa Clara Study, ‘Confronting the Challenge of the High-Conflict Personality in Family Court’ gains traction with legal professionals: Provides increased awareness of the real causes of ongoing litigation and solutions
A groundbreaking research study into high-conflict personalities in divorce proceedings led by Santa Clara University School of Law (Confronting the Challenge of High-Conflict Personality in Family Court) Professor Michelle Oberman with Bay Area attorney Esther Rosenfeld revealed interesting findings. According to Ms. Rosenfeld, “Our study indicates there is a measurable problem within family courts wherein some high conflict personalities are able to ‘work the system’ to the detriment of children. Quality education into the nature and effects of these personalities for the judiciary and attorneys alike should be mandated so that courts are better equipped to spot issues and make appropriate rulings to protect children’s best interest.” — Although the study was released in 2019, the ‘Confronting the Challenge of the High-Conflict Personality in Family Court’, also known as The Santa Clara Study gained more traction in 2021 than in previous years.
“Family law attorneys and judges alike would benefit from thoughtful education aimed at deepening their understanding of personality disorders and learning effective ways to communicate and work with such individuals.”
While most divorce cases are settled out-of-court in less than two years, high-conflict cases typically last two to five years and can involve scores of filings, endless delays, tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and a high rate of attorney turnover. Worst of all, children become collateral damage and often wind up developing a wide range of mental health issues (see ACEs).
This empirical study focuses on family law cases that involve a litigant with a personality disorder and that drag on for years despite reasonable options for resolution. Informed by the relatively sparse literature on high-conflict personalities in the family law system, Professor Oberman and her co-authors interviewed experienced family law practitioners, family law judges, and a seasoned custody evaluator with the goal of increasing knowledge about the harms associated with high-conflict personalities in the family law system, the forces that perpetuate these protracted disputes, and possible means to ameliorate the problem. Professor Oberman and her colleagues report on the major themes that emerged from their interviews with family law experts and propose a series of reforms suggested by these findings. Learn more.
24. Overall global media coverage of the family court crisis, plus, specific awareness around coercive control and post-separation abuse is increasing.
“Two years ago you could barely find a mention of the global Family Court crisis. Fast forward, and there are not enough hours in the day to keep up on all of it. Blogs, articles, documentaries, books, — a tsunami of coverage.” — Rachel Watson
Media outlets continue to dig into this crucial social justice issue including NPR, The Guardian, NBC News, MS Magazine, Sky News, ABC News, CNN, Pro Publica, The Diplomat, Independent, and countless other local news outlets.
25. Movement of Mothers is formed: Thousands of women from around the world came together in solidarity aiming to make child safety the top priority in all custody cases worldwide, ensure accountability for post-separation abuse, and freedom from coercive control… “and stand together to heal our systems, our culture and ourselves.”
Movement of Mothers is a coalition of change-makers, with children’s safety in custody cases at the core of everything we do. We support scientific research to formulate legislation in the child’s best interest and ensure accountability in the family court system. Learn more
Bonus: The Equal Rights Amendment is one step closer to ratification. (Yes, this matters.) Equal rights in the Constitution matters. Learn more
Through the cultivation of community, awareness building & advocacy our mission is to establish child safety as the top priority in all custody cases and ensure freedom from coercive control & post-separation abuse through legal and cultural accountability worldwide. Learn more at custody-peace.org
Did we miss a hopeful moment? Please email us at email@example.com.