News Articles

Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project

DV LEAP represented a mother that a court had previously found had been subjected to a pattern of severe domestic violence.  After the divorce, her young daughter complained of sexual abuse after visits with her father.  DV LEAP co-counseled the trial with a dedicated team from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, LLP, ensured that a top-notch psychological expert was brought in, and extensively challenged the court’s forensic evaluator who had expressed skepticism about the child’s complaints of abuse.  Nonetheless, in December 2005, the court ruled that there was “insufficient evidence” of sexual abuse, although the “sheer number” of complaints by the child were “cause for concern.”  The court ordered unsupervised visitation to re-commence, but eliminated overnights.  On July 19th, 2007 a unanimous panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a lengthy and thorough opinion that powerfully vindicated DV LEAP’s position in this case and will be extremely important for future victims of domestic violence in custody and abuse cases in D.C.   Most importantly:  the Court held emphatically that children’s safety is always the priority in cases concerning abuse.  In particular, the Court held that under D.C.'s statute, "a history of domestic abuse will always be relevant at every custody or visitation proceeding in which the abuser is involved" - something which had been hotly contested by the opposing party.  The Court also expressly affirmed that the burden is on the abuser to demonstrate the child's safety in visitation.  Finally, the Court also affirmed that "a parent's commission of an intrafamily offense could impact the custody decision and result in a limitation on parental visitation rights. . . and [that] intrafamily offenses result in both emotional and physical harm to children." 

Read the full court opinon.