In an era of women coming out and speaking their truth, it seemed fitting to finally come out. In doing so, I hope the other 7,000ish women experiencing similar stories in this state come out too.
It’s been 5 years since I walked into a courtroom for the first time against my son’s father. Eight court houses later, I still don’t have safety or freedom from his abuse and hatred.
Building coping skills over limiting abusive behavior.
Folks are far more interested in providing me with coping skills than providing safety from abuse and hatred in 2020 to a woman. It is more important that the focus is on my behavior rather than his, even though his behavior is unhealthy and toxic, abusive.
I entered the Connecticut Family Court system with hope and faith that someone would see us for who we are and help. We would see safety and freedom. What I quickly learned is that the Connecticut Family Court system doesn’t help abuse victims gain safety and ultimately freedom from abuse or hatred.
My name is Elizabeth Holmes and I am a domestic violence survivor.
My story is long despite the brevity with which he was in my life. It’s long because the Connecticut Family Court would rather focus on my response to abuse than the fact that it’s even happening.
Protracted court cases are not for the weak. Getting to know Court Marshall’s better than some of your coworkers can put it in perspective. It’s routine for folks to think I work there, even after a year of being out of the family court system. I’ve been there that often and I live two states away.
During this time, I’ve built a successful business, completed paramedic school, and have independently supported my household. I was offered the ability to train and potentially become a VT GAL, and have maintained the ability to nanny through multiple agencies.
I digress a bit but I think context helps put into perspective the expert-level knowledge I’ve developed as well as a bit about who I actually am. I’ve learned a lot about the Connecticut Family Court system not just from my own case but from the countless cases I have consulted on and researched. Given that our case is so contested, we typically go at the end of short calendar days (a once-a-week-day where all cases are heard before trial) allowing me to hear and witness many, many other cases.
I’m a devil in one state and a decent person in the other.
The last time my child was in my home, he stated “daddy hurt me,” and as a result my home was deemed too dangerous for him to be present in. This contradicted any providers that had worked with us in our home state, including VT DCF. The Juvenile Court also decided that I was homeless (because of a Safe at Home address), jobless (because I am self-employed) and a drug addict (because I asked my own PCP for medication treatment for anxiety).
The Safe at Home Project is a confidential address program in Vermont granted for domestic violence survivors. There’s one in almost every state (some go by different names), and every Family Court case I’ve run into where one is granted to a survivor, the court has ignored it or dismissed the character of the parent. As a self-employed person, successfully I might add, I’ve had the flexibility to attend countless supervised visits, court dates, and meetings all typically pushed around last-minute due to other people’s desires. The anxiety and PTSD I’ve developed, according to medical and psychological professionals is all due to the violence I’ve endured by my son’s father over the past 5 years — ironically DCF misconstrued anything my own providers had to say about me, as documented by their ignored complaints to DCF. And that doctor that I asked for help from? DCF workers portrayed him as my son’s doctor, not my own — despite obvious documentation, my medical records.
But that was Juvenile’s decision and not Family Courts. So how did we land in Juvenile? Our case was deemed harmful to our child in Family Court — it was more important to Family Court to waste more resources on our case than to hold my son’s father accountable to his knowingly abusive behaviors.
Intervening in an abuse case and providing adequate boundaries to prevent abuse is less important and somehow harder than pivoting the responsibility of determining custody and decisions that are in the best interest of the child.
There are about 7,700 cases in Connecticut just like this.
In Connecticut alone, about 11,000 Family Court cases return to the Family Court system for more arbitration. Of the cases in Family Court, about 70% are domestic violence cases — so about 7,700 of that 11,000 returning back to the Connecticut Family Court system every year are domestic violence cases.
People don’t get divorced for happy reasons. Domestic violence is one of the most common causes for divorce and yet one of the most disbelieved issues in Family Court — in 70% of domestic violence Family Court system the abusive parent will gain sole custody of the children. Not the targeted, safe parent. If mental health accusations are made of the targeted, safe parent, that number jumps to almost 90%. (Joan Meiers, George Washington University).
And this is what Family Court has taught me.
My life matters less than his ability to continue to abuse both myself and our son. I’m going to repeat that statement: what I have learned in Family Court is that my life matters less than his ability to abuse both myself and our son. Judge Heller and countless others have confirmed this concept on a wider scale with countless cases including two that hit a little close to home. I grew up less than 9 miles from where Jennifer Dulos was murdered. I knew and served almost daily Laura Beebe’s sister before Laura’s murder by her husband in Killinglyville. The two children recently murdered in Norwalk CT? I used to bowl at the AMC in front of Costco and had many birthday parties there.
Red flags in these three cases were brought before different judges and ironically were completely ignored. My case has the same red flags. All of these murders were entirely preventable. I am living proof of that, so far. He doesn’t know where I live, I create boundaries that match the threat level that exists as a result of his predictable behavior.
Our son, unfortunately, is the only way that he can control me at this point. And he will use every opportunity to do so.
When other mothers and children are murdered I feel relief that it wasn’t Me.
Each time a woman or child is murdered in Connecticut I feel relief and grief all at the same time. It’s a strange juxtaposition. To know that although it could be me or my son, and it wasn’t this time is a very strange place to be. My son’s future is relying and depending on change happening in the systems. Actually about 7,000 other families and women are relying on there to be changed in the system in order to provide them with the life that they deserve — a life free of abuse.
Now that we’ve talked about the problem, what can we do to fix it?
What can be done? Well for one, let’s strip the system of any discrimination and bias. Let’s remember that abuse happens more often than we realize and that women lie in Family Court less than 2% of the time — that’s actually been proven by a peer-reviewed study. In the United States, it’s been found that custody ends up with an abuser 70% of the time in Family Court. Again, another peer-reviewed study conducted at George Washington University.
Now during the pandemic, a healthy mom cannot locate her child. DCF tells you to call PD and Family Court, Family Court tells you to call PD and DCF, PD will make a phone call and tell you to call Family Court and DCF. Two children were murdered in the same state that my child potentially resides in. A similarly contested divorce case, a similarly concerned mother, and two dead children.
Women are abused. We’re abused at prolific rates. And what’s interesting about that is we often listen to their abuser. I’ve said in Family Court quite often he used to beat me for breakfast and feed me lasagna for dinner. He was good at making me feel loved and mending broken hearts. He manipulated me and continues to do so to this day — using any opportunity to treat me like a punching bag.
Let’s start believing women. Accountability and transparency would be another place to start. Adequate training for all Family Court professionals and mandatory domestic violence screening for all Family Court cases. People don’t get divorced because they’re happy.
It’s literally impossible to make a formal complaint against either a Family Court worker OR a DCF caseworker — create a format, a separate agency charged with a duty to hold court professionals and DCF professionals accountable to the public that they serve. Nor do either agency follow ADA requirements particularly well.
In sharing my truth I hope that the Family Court system, in particular Connecticut Family Court system, can change. I hope that more women who share my journey feel confident and capable to speak up. There are a lot of us experiencing this same journey and I hope together we can create change.