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Fall Wrap-up from the Center

This fall, we have been incredibly busy at the National Family Violence Law Center at GW!
To deepen our policy work at NFVLC, we organized and held three sessions of our four-part Diversity Equity Inclusion Roundtable Series; segments of the talks will likely be made available when the series is complete. Regarding policy, we have several data collection projects underway, for which we hope you will send your thoughts.
At the NFVLC Legislative Clearinghouse, we continue to meet with state stakeholders and lawmakers to advance Kayden’s Law bill introduction and adoption at the state level, following our success at the federal level with VAWA Kayden’s Law enactment in the spring of 2022. We also continue to provide technical assistance on coercive control legislation while seeking your feedback on any experiences – positive or negative – with such provisions.
We are developing in-depth professional trainings on all relevant subject matter in collaboration with partners.
Joan and Danielle both presented at several important events to advance education about our research and policy work at NFVLC. As we continue to engage the press, family court issues are increasingly being reported on in the U.S. and abroad.
As always, we deeply appreciate your support so that we can continue our important work to improve system responses to family violence, including universally recognized forms of child maltreatment.
In October, Joan presented on a panel titled Protecting the Child: Focus on Intimate Partner Violence and Custody Law at the Justice for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence Conference organized by Sanctuary for Families, Gibson Dunn, Proskauer Rose LLP, Safe Horizon, Her Justice, and NYLAG.
The conference and panel examined custody and visitation cases involving abuse, including the growing use of parental alienation allegations. Panelists presented empirical data on bias towards victims in custody outcomes, examined how gender bias and differing parenting standards negatively impact visitation and custody decisions, shared practitioner experiences, and discussed legislation designed to address these challenges. More here.
In September, Joan presented to legal aid lawyers at the North Carolina Legal Services Conference on a panel titled “Beyond the 50B: What to Expect When Representing DV Survivors in Child Custody Cases.” More here.
This fall, Joan also presented at the Ohio CASA/GAL Association’s Advanced GAL Training: Excellence in Child Custody. CASA Volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for children’s best interests. More here.

In the UK, Joan presented at the International Festival of Public Health on the plenary session Ending Violence Against Women and Children. You can watch the session here.

Joan also presented an overview of the National Family Violence Law Center to her colleagues at GW Law School. 
The latest monthly live virtual sessions hosted by National Safe Parents Organization (NSPO) have included Joan’s presentation on Responding to the Alienationists, followed in September by a session on Coercive Control Laws with Pallavi Dhawan and Danielle.
In October, NSPO held an event on Family Court Awareness Month with founder Tina Swithin. For NSPO’s November session, a survivor advocate who was able to quash attempts to have her children court-ordered to “reunification camp” Family Bridges presented her successful strategies for the session “Reunification” & Custody Evaluators. NSPO’s next live virtual event is December 8th.
To register for NSPO live advocacy sessions and/or to join the advocacy community for your state, visit For children and youth interested in becoming involved in family court reform advocacy, NSPO has launched a new program here.
In October, Danielle presented on Coercive Control and the Law with UK Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, and Jenesse Center Managing Attorney, Alyson Messenger at the annual International Coercive Control Conference.
The discussion focused on updates and comparisons of coercive control laws in U.S. states and the UK, and how they are working thus far on behalf of survivors. View presentations here

Note, there is an opportunity to submit case narratives to NFVLC as part of a data collections project to inform our policymaking on coercive control in the U.S..
In October, Danielle presented at an event hosted by Connecticut Protective Moms with Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes and several state lawmakers, attorneys, and advocates. She spoke about the federal Kayden’s Law provisions, Connecticut’s “Jennifers’ Law,” and other coercive control laws in the U.S., all part of NFVLC’s policy work.

Pictured above right: Rachel Khanna, Greenwich State Rep, Jim Himes, Connecticut Congressman, Danielle Pollack, NFVLC Policy Manager, Betsy Keller, CMP Founder, Stephen Meskers, Greenwich State Rep, Jennifer Tooker, Wesport First Selectwoman, Trevor Crown, Candidate for State Senate
In November, UCI Law and California Protective Parents held their annual conference Forward Together.
Both Joan and Danielle gave presentations and were given awards for their work developing and advancing the federal VAWA “Kayden’s Law,” along with Pennsylvania Congressman Fitzpatrick and Kathy Sherlock, Kayden’s protective mom, who championed the effort over many years. Joan presented on responding to the disinformation campaign against her team’s 2019 groundbreaking study, and Danielle presented on the evolution of VAWA Kayden’s Law and the work being done in the states to adopt its provisions at the state level.

Video of all sessions, including the morning plenary session with Joan and Danielle and the special awards with Congressman Fitzpatrick, will be available soon at UCI Law’s Initiative to End Family Violence here.
Danielle was one of several speakers at a special event hosted by The City of Pittsburgh led by Mayor Gainey.
Other speakers included a family court child survivor who spoke out for the first time publicly, Pennsylvania State Senator Steve Santarsiero, co-author of state Kayden’s Law, and Tina Swithin, Founder of One Mom’s Battle and Family Court Awareness Month. Mayor Ed Gainey issued a Family Court Awareness proclamation and called for Pennsylvania lawmakers to create stronger protections for children in custody matters, including by adopting state Kayden’s Law SB78.

The child survivor, using a pseudonym for safety reasons, said his sisters are still in danger in the custody of their abusive father; he accepted the proclamation from the Mayor on behalf of all children calling for help who are not being listened to in family courts. Pennsylvania children murdered by a parent who had been subjects of a custody dispute were highlighted, including Kayden Mancuso and Giana & Aaminah Vicosa. You can watch a video of this special event below.
Danielle was invited to be interviewed on What They Don‘t Tell You About Being a Survivor for an episode on Domestic Violence & Child Custody. The podcast host, Laura, defines her work as a place that builds community amongst those affected by trauma, with the purpose of promoting healing and social change. The full episode, VAWA Kayden’s Law: How We Created It and What States Can Do Now To Protect Children, can be heard here.
Please send in your brief narratives of cases involving abuse/alienation and coercive control to help inform policymaking.
  1. The UN Special Rapporteur Deadline December 15, 2022 regarding alienation
  2. University of Ottawa and partners, regarding alienation. For more info, contact
  3. NFVLC Coercive Control research
Colorado - Following the adoption of Colorado’s HB1228 “Julie’s Law,” on which NFVLC had advised, investigative reporting from ProPublica and the Denver Gazette on Colorado’s custody evaluators led to oversight and the suspension of at least one evaluator.
Evaluator Mark Kilmer had himself been convicted of perpetrating family violence and had been accused by numerous clients of minimizing abuse and harming protective parents and children in his evaluations. Kilmer’s son spoke out after the suspension, writing Mark Kilmer was a “monster to me when I was a child”. Full stories at ProPublica and here, and The Gazette

California - Following a brutal child removal carried out by privately contracted “transporters” hired to bring children to court-ordered “reunification” treatment caught on film in Santa Cruz, California, there was public outcry and organized demonstrations calling for family court reform. Danielle was interviewed about the entrenched problems in family courts leading to such incidents. Some of her comments follow:

Mothers frequently lose contested custody cases where they allege abuse, and fathers cross-claim “alienation,” she says. . .  “It’s an effective legal strategy,” she says. “It really tears down the credibility of the person alleging the abuse. . . . “Part of the reason why it’s so effective is there is a large cottage industry serving the accused abusers,” she says. “They come in and they testify as ‘alienation experts,’ as if their junk science theories were scientific and valid and are diagnosable. In fact, it’s not scientifically supported”. . . Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the [“reunification’] industry is that it is largely unregulated, Pollack says. That is because they are considered “educational” and therefore do not need the licenses required of psychological or counseling services, Pollack says. 

Full story here.

New York - A former law enforcement officer, Michael Valva, was finally found guilty of murdering his son Tommy. Tommy’s mother was in a protracted custody battle with the dangerous father, who had been awarded full custody of the children despite numerous warnings and calls for protection raised by the mother, the children’s teachers, and other professionals. The mother, Justyna, had been accused of “alienating” when she raised safety concerns. She is suing several individuals and entities involved, as outlined here.  

Her living children have been returned to her care since Tommy’s 2021 murder. Tommy had become extremely emaciated and ultimately died of hypothermia caused by being forced as punishment to sleep in 19-degree winter weather and then soaked in cold water from a garden hose. CBS News reported that in the months leading up to his death from hypothermia, 8-year-old Tommy was subjected to unspeakable cruelties, including starvation, beatings and emotional abuse. Full story here.
Ohio - After a News 5 Investigation revealed a judge jailed two boys for refusing to see their father despite being ordered to do so as part of a custody decision, the state's Disciplinary Counsel is requesting The Board of Professional Conduct of The Supreme Court of Ohio sanction Geauga Co. Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Timothy J. Grendell. The Disciplinary Counsel filed a 61-page Complaint and Certificate which alleges Grendell violated the Rules of Judicial Conduct when he jailed the boys. For the time being, Ohio’s proposed HB508, which would create a shared custody presumption and which NFVLC opposed, has been tabled. Full story here
Brenda Power for The Sunday Times reported that families are torn apart by unregulated experts and that ‘parental alienation' in custody battles is being put above abuse and coercion.
Full story here.

The Observer reported that a mother’s appeal raises questions over how family courts in England and Wales deal with policy and regulation of psychological ‘experts in alienation’.

Family court should not ordinarily permit the instruction of “experts who purport to be ‘experts in alienation’,” in cases involving decisions around child welfare, the Association of Clinical Psychologists (ACP-UK) has advised a senior judge. Full story here.
United Nations experts urged Brazil’s new government to eliminate a ‘parental alienation’ law that can lead to discrimination against women and girls, particularly in family court custody battles. Following the conclusion of the country’s presidential elections, the human rights experts issued the following statement: Today we call on the newly elected Government of Brazil to strengthen its resolve to end violence against women and girls, and we call for the end of the legal long-standing application of the concept of parental alienation and similar variations in cases of domestic violence and abuse, which penalize mothers and children in Brazil.” Full story here.

Seven judges of the European Court CEDU ruled in an Italian custody case that children should not be forced to visit a violent father and that these children’s best interests were not protected. Damages were allowed. For more, read here.

As Ireland's Department of Justice undertakes a public consultation on “parental alienation,” Irish attorney Lyndsey Keogh writes on the need to avoid the “alienation” industry we have in the U.S., referencing Meier, Geffner, and Milchman on pages 30-33.
Australian campaigners are seeking changes to Australia's Hague Regulations in their Family Law Act, including adding a specific domestic violence defense and restricting fathers with extensive criminal histories from filing return applications. Full story here.
In the U.S., Narkis Golan, on whose behalf NFVLC joined an amicus brief in her Hague case before SCOTUS earlier this year, was found dead in New York City. The cause of Golan’s death remains under investigation and the fate of her young son, who she sought to protect for years, is still to be determined by the courts.
Prompted by continued injustices faced in the courts and heartened by Congress passing the federal law in VAWA to create stronger protections for family violence survivors in family courts, advocates across many states are becoming increasingly organized and aligned in objectives, as NFVLC and others have continued to support them and share policy expertise. In the last month, demonstrations calling for protective reforms were held in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, and North Carolina - to name a few. More here and here.
We hope your fall has been colorful, cool and restful. We deeply appreciate your support so we can continue our crucial work on behalf of protective parents and children. NFVLC is entirely funded by your generous contributions.

Joan S. Meier, Esq., NFVLC Director and NFVLC Professor of Clinical Law 
Danielle Pollack, NFVLC Policy Manager
George Washington University Law School
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