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Deaths of Children Show Connection Between Domestic Violence & Custody Disputes


Similar Murders of Children Highlight the Intensity of Child Custody Disputes 

This past week, in Lowell, Michigan, Derek Thebo, shot his three year old son during his scheduled parenting time and subsequently shot and killed himself. Dylan’s mother had requested and received a Personal Protection Order, but then agreed to terminate the Order when a Mutual Restraining Order was entered.

Several recent reports, including one local report and a report from NBC News explores the fatal consequences that can occur when a judge overlooks accusations or parties minimize the danger of domestic violence in child custody cases.

The NBC report explores the death of Kyra Franchetti, a two-year old who died in New York in 2016. Her father, Roy Rumsey, reportedly shot the girl, burned down his house and killed himself after picking Kyra up for a court-ordered, unsupervised visit while the former couple’s custody case was ongoing.

The tragedy is one of at least two dozen cases in which young children were reportedly killed by a parent who had been accused of domestic abuse during a custody dispute, according to NBC.

The Link Between Domestic Violence and Child Custody Battle Isn’t a New Connection

“There’s no official government tally of these deaths and no national data on how courts handle custody cases with abuse allegations,” Adiel Kaplan, Kate Snow and Eric Salzman write for NBC. “But experts say in every state, judges have significant power in custody cases and their decisions are rarely overturned.”

Experts told the news outlet that some judges in states across the country are simply not property trained to evaluate domestic abuse accusations.

Researchers in a 2019 study funded by the Justice Department looked at 27 cases in which a judge awarded custody to a parent who had been accused of abuse, rather than to the parent making the accusation. A judge in each case had initially determined that the accusations were false or at least not sufficiently proved, finding in 78 percent of the cases that the accusing parent lacked credibility. All 27 of those decisions were later overturned and the custody decision reversed, often years later.

“Judges who initially ordered children into custody or visitation with abusive parents relied mainly on reports by custody evaluators and guardians ad litem who mistakenly accused mothers of attempting to alienate their children from the father or having coached the child to falsely report abuse,” the researchers found. “As a result, 59% of perpetrators were given sole custody and the rest were given joint custody or unsupervised visitation.”

Kraayeveld Law & Local Organizations are Here to Help You Stay Safe

It is unfortunately not a new development that victims of mental and physical abuse are not always believed when they come forward and report the abuse. For parents seeking to get out of an abusive relationship, that can put you in a very difficult position.

It is important to know that you do not need to go it alone. In Michigan, there are a number of organizations committed to helping abuse victims in their times of need. It is also vital to seek the advice and counsel of an experienced family law attorney.

At Kraayeveld Law, we help people efficiently untangle their marriages and resolve a wide range of related issues, including child custody and visitation. We have specific experience assisting people who have been subjected to domestic violence by a co-parent or spouse. A Grand Rapids child custody attorney at our firm will take the time to understand your unique needs and craft a legal strategy accordingly.

Call 616-285-0808 or contact us online to make an appointment to speak with a Grand Rapids child custody attorney about your situation.