A group of Maryland lawmakers and officials and child advocates meet in Annapolis to discuss recommendations on improving the state's court system during child custody proceedings. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** A group of Maryland lawmakers and officials and child advocates meet in Annapolis to discuss recommendations on improving the state's court system during child custody proceedings. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — Hope M. Wylie wrote a book to explain and detail her experiences as a domestic violence survivor.

Wylie, a pseudonym used to protect her identity, summarized her tumultuous 14½-year relationship with her ex-husband, who brandished loaded guns and used broomsticks and fists to express his feelings.

Although Wylie only appeared in criminal court for three hearings in about four years, she went to 63 family court hearings during that same period in order to obtain custody of their children.

“Sixty-three times I had to go to court in four years in order to protect three children. I think that’s too many times,” she said. “I was in a different jurisdiction than the state of Maryland, but I think a lot of the things that I encountered through the court system are probably encountered in Maryland as well.”

Wylie, whose book is titled “Resurrected Hope: The Memoir of a Domestic Violence Survivor,” testified June 25 before a committee slated to provide recommendations and improve Maryland’s court proceedings that involve allegations of domestic violence and child abuse.

The group, chaired by state Secretary John C. Wobensmith, was established through a bill passed in this year’s General Assembly to assess how state courts process allegations of child abuse and domestic violence and analyze scientific research of children in traumatic situations.

Joan Meier, professor of clinical law at George Washington University Law School in Northwest, led a nationwide study of 2,000 court cases between 2005 and 2015 that showed courts either granted split or full child custody to an abusive father when a mother claimed — and, in some cases, proved — domestic violence abuse against her.

The study shows mothers lost about 43 percent of child custody cases against fathers, even when abuse was proven in some cases. Fathers often counter with claims of parental alienation, or when a mother allegedly tries to isolate or separate a child from a parent through words and actions.

Another problem in the court system, Meier said, comes from the testimony of mothers and children.

“Courts are very reluctant to believe child abuse. Courts are very reluctant to restrict fathers’ rights and access,” said Meier, who’s also the legal director of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment & Appeals Project. “They want to divide the children 50-50. They want everybody to be at least a cooperative family. I don’t know if many judges would say they have an agenda, but I think many former judges would say no question that agenda exist.”

When the work group meets again this month, it may receive information on specific cases in Maryland.

Based on Meier’s presentation, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard County) said judicial and implicit bias training for court staff may be needed, especially with allegations of child abuse.

“The goal of the work group is to get empirical data to see if we do need to make some changes related to how custody cases are treated when there are allegations of abuse and sexual abuse of the child,” she said. “It’s really a finite goal, but … is very important.”

Wylie said she may attend all the meetings prior to the group’s final report to lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan by Dec. 1, one month before the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 8.

In the meantime, Wylie has a simple message to lawmakers, child advocates, health care professionals, law enforcement and judges to decrease domestic violence and child abuse.

“I ask that you continue to blow the trumpet and to sound the alarm — this is an epidemic,” she said.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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