Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project


Impact of a DV LEAP Victory Concerning Due Process in Custody Litigation

Click here to read the memo.


Below are a few of the cases taken on under DV LEAP's Custody & Abuse Project. 

In Re JRW 


Texas Court of Appeals 

This case addresses the constitutionality of a court's order granting custody and visitation to a paternal grandparent over the mother's objection. DV LEAP's client JRW's mother, objected to grandmother's involvement based on past incidents where she allowed her son, JRW's mentally-ill and substance abusing father, harmful access to JRW despite a court order preventing him from any contact. DV LEAP's Managing Attorney, Sasha Drobnick, and a phenomenal team from Jones Day co-counseled the appeal challenging the order as violating the mother's fundamental rights uner Supreme Court rulings and Texas statutes. The Texas Court of Appeals for the 5th District reversed that decision and remanded the case back to the trial court.


DG v. SV 

Appellate Court of the State of Connecticut - 2016

This case involves a trial court's ex parte order that terminated all of a mother's

 contact with her teenage son, based solely on an argument between the two of them. The court declined to hear from the mother before stripping her of her right to communicate with her son, and then failed to complete the hearing for four months.   DV LEAP and McCarter English, LLP's brief on behalf of the mother argued that the trial court's procedure for  entry of this order violated the mother's constitutional parental rights and right to due process. The brief also argued the trial court failed to require adequate evidence to support the legally required finding of " an immediate and present risk" of "psychological harm" to the child. This pattern of removing children from their mothers in ex parte (one-sided) hearings based on alleged "emergencies" is sadly widespread. The case is pending.


SL v. JR DG v. SV 

New York Court of Appeals - 2015 

SL v. JR, NY Court of Appeals, 2015. DV LEAP filed two amicus briefs in support of the Petitioner's petition for review to the NY Court of Appeals (NY's highest court) in this critically important custody case which challenged a NY court's denial of a parent's due process right to a hearing before a custody decision. Here the trial court ordered sole legal and physical custody of the parties' children to the father and stripped the mother of all unsupervised contact without ever formally taking evidence or receiving live testimony from the parties. The trial court also relied on a custody evaluator's report, without allowing the parties the opportunity to cross-examine the evaluator or rebut her conclusions.  In a resounding reversal, the NY Court of Appeals reaffirmed the constitutional principle that custody decisions should generally be rendered only after a full and plenary hearing and based only on admissible evidence. The Court of Appeals also noted that the "adequate relevant information" standard applied by the courts below failed to protect a parent's fundamental right "to control the upbringing of a child" and tolerated "an unacceptably-high risk of yielding custody determinations that do not conform to the best interests of the child." 


KD v. MD

Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Court of Appeals - 2015

This case involves an appeal of an award of custody to a sexually abusive father, despite substantial undisputed evidence of the abuse. The child, ED, repeatedly disclosed sexual abuse by her Father to therapists and forensic evaluators over the course of 4 years. These disclosures included direct verbal disclosures, indirect written disclosures, and abnormal behaviors such as bed-wetting, dissociation, and sexualized behaviors towards her peers. The trial court ignored or excluded virtually all the evidence of child sexual abuse. In fact, its opinion failed to even mention the substantial evidence of sexual abuse in the case or to wrestle with the issue. Instead, the court relied, among others, on the guardian ad litem and custody evaluator who both lacked the experience, knowledge, or willingness to address the sexual abuse.

DV LEAP represented several DV and child abuse organizations in an amicus brief in support of the Mother's Motion for Reconsideration by the GA court of appeals. The brief argued that the trial court’s rejection of the evidence of abuse and its reliance on individuals with no sexual abuse expertise was an abdication of its responsibility to protect ED's best interests and an abuse of discretion. The brief also argued that rejection of the only expert with knowledge of dissociation, a key aspect of the case, solely because her opinion was based on a record review was another abuse of discretion. The appeal was denied. A petition for certiorari was filed in the GA Supreme Court and DV LEAP submitted another amicus brief in support of certiorari, explaining the statewide importance of the issues in the case.  The GA Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari. 


Anthony Charles v. Anna Charles and Child Support Enforcement Agency

Hawaii Court of Appeals – 2013

Pro bono counsel originally recruited by DVLEAP appealed the case in the Hawaii Supreme Court, which reversed both lower courts in a superb and important decision castigating unreasonable trial limits which impair a court's ability to hear all evidence relevant to a child's best interests, particularly when abuse is alleged.  


O’Malley v. O’Malley

8th District Court of Appeals of Ohio – 2012, 2013

This was an appeal of a custody award and complete cut-off of the mother from two children who were so terrified of their father that they barricaded themselves in the house and threatened to slit their own throats when they learned of the custody order.  The father had also pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.  DV LEAP filed an amicus brief describing the empirically proven links between possession and enjoyment of child pornography and child sexual abuse, as well as analyzing the history of abuse and the record in the case to demonstrate that the children’s fears should be taken seriously.  The first level of appeal failed; further appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court was rejected without opinion.

Pro bono counsel


Harris v. Harris

California Court of Appeal – 2012, 2013

This is a highly publicized case in which the mother appealed the court’s requirement of immediate “reunification” between the children and their father, after he finishes serving his prison time for his felony rape of their mother.   This case also appeals the order for the victim to pay spousal support to her rapist and abuser.  In addition to recruiting pro bono counsel to represent the mother on appeal, DV LEAP also recruited an amicus brief.  In a strongly favorable decision, the appeals court reversed, finding that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that reunification would be in the best interests of the children, and that the court minimized the magnitude and effect of the husband’s abuse. The trial court must reconsider the children’s’ best interests closer to the father’s release date. 


M.R. v. L.C. 

California Supreme Court – 2012

LC sought review by the California Supreme Court in her case involving the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Abduction.  While living abroad, both L.C. and her son were abused by M.R. and fled to the United States.  The trial court refused to return the child without certain conditions required to mitigate the “grave risk” the child faced if returned to the father.  The California Court of Appeal overturned the trial court and ordered the child returned.  DV LEAP, Merle Weiner and Jeffery Edelson submitted a joint amicus letter urging the California Supreme Court to review the case. Unfortunately, the Court declined review, and as of June 1, the mother and child have returned to Italy, where the mother faces criminal charges for fleeing, and the child has already been ordered into the custody of his abusive father.


M. v. L. 

California Court of Appeal - 2011

DV LEAP submitted an amicus brief in this case where a trial court had switched temporary custody of three children from their mother, the primary caretaker, to their father, who was physically and sexually abusive to the mother and sexually abusive to at least one of the children.  Our brief challenges the validity of parental alienation theory, a problematic theory used in family courts around the country.  DV LEAP is also thrilled that our pro bono counsel were permitted to participate in the oral argument on behalf of amici.  Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal rejected the appeal.  


Ms. G v. Mr. G. 

Virginia Court of Appeals - 2011

DV LEAP co-counseled an amicus brief in this case in which the trial court removed custody from the Mother and awarded it to the abusive Father who lives in Japan, ultimately reducing the Mother’s visits with the children to 3-4 times a year.  Despite a significant corroborated history of physical abuse by the Father in this case, the court concluded that it “could not” determine the truth of the abuse, while expressing skepticism of the Mother’s claims. Further, the court appears to have adopted the custody evaluator's view that the mother was a less adequate parent because she could not control the children and the father could - without regard to the fact that the father's abuse caused both phenomena. DV LEAP’s amicus brief argued that the trial court’s finding of no abuse was plainly wrong, and that the trial court’s decision rewarded a batterer for the effects of his abuse on his family and was contrary to the best interests of the children.  DV LEAP also recruited pro bono representation for the Mother. Unfortunately, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.


H v. M. (2) 

Maine Supreme Court-2010

DV LEAP co-counseled this appeal on behalf of the mother and child, appealing the court's refusal to find that visits should be supervised or a protection order issued on behalf of the three-year old.  The child had reported sexual abuse by her father, and the state's leading child abuse agency had validated the disclosures and strongly recommended only supervised visitation.  The Maine Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order. 


 J.A. v. P. G. 

MD 2009

This MD Court of Special Appeals case addresses a critically important avenue towards safety and empowerment for domestic violence victims: the ability to enforce civil protection orders through the criminal justice system without suffering retaliation from their abusers.  This appeal arises from a malicious prosecution case filed by a perpetrator of domestic violence against his victim's daughter after he was prosecuted unsuccessfully by the Maryland State Attorney for a protection order violation which the then-18-year old daughter reported to the police.


Mr O v. Mrs. O 

Arkansas Court of Appeals 2009

DV LEAP submitted two amicus briefs and worked with the pro bono lawyers representing the mother in this case, in which the trial court awarded sole custody to an abusive father on the grounds that the mother had committed "Parental Alienation Syndrome" (PAS).  The court also denied a protection order on this ground.  The amicus briefs argue that PAS is scientifically invalid and inadmissible, and that the court ignored a long history of abuse, as well as evidence of abuse of the children.  In 2010, the court of appeals affirmed the decision on grounds that the PAS issue had been waived.

  • Court decision on custody

  • Court decision on protection order


Mrs. R v. Mr. R 

Tennessee Court of Appeals - 2009

This Tennessee appeal represents the all-too common phenomenon of battered women losing custody of their children to their abusers.  DVLEAP and their pro bono counsel Crowell and Moring filed an amicus brief on behalf of several domestic violence organizations in support of the mother's appeal and argued that the trial court's decision to award full custody to the father, despite an admitted history of physical abuse against the mother, reflected a profound misunderstanding of domestic violence and its consequences to children, as well as an alarming misinterpretation of the Tennessee Code provisions that were enacted to protect victims of domestic violence and their children.  Unfortunately, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.


H v. M (1) 

Maine Supreme Court - 2008

DV LEAP co-counseled the appeal on behalf of the mother and also placed the case for an amicus brief on behalf of Justice for Children et al. In this case the trial court granted joint custody to a father who had abused the mother and refused to admit testimony from several expert witnesses including a lethality assessment which found the mother to be in the highest level of risk from the father.  The amicus brief described this court decision as mirroring the problems in family courts across the country which refuse to hear evidence of abuse, rely on flawed psychological evaluations, and trivialize abuse concerns.  The Maine Supreme Court affirmed.


Bhatia v. Debek 

Connecticut Court of Appeals - 2008

This case concerns an abuser's misuse of the tort of malicious prosecution to win a massive damages award against a mother who had sought to protect her daughter from his abuse. To DV LEAP’s dismay, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s decision and held that the evidence supported the finding that the mother had acted maliciously.  The Court ignored the key facts which refute this conclusion.


Licata v. Licata

New Jersey Supreme Court - 2002

This case concerned the misuse of parental alienation syndrome, a fraudulent scientific theory widely used to negate allegations of abuse.  Unfortunately, the New Jersey Court of Appeals and Supreme Court refused to reverse the trial court on its exclusion of a domestic violence expert and its reliance on parental alienation syndrome.