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Proposed bill would require more domestic violence training for judges in custody cases

The bill is meant to help abuse survivors be heard when trying to get custody of their children in family court.

DENVER — Domestic violence survivors who are fighting for custody of their children often fear they're not being heard and worry warning signs are being missed in family court.

A proposed law in Colorado, HB23-1178, would increase domestic violence training requirements for court personnel, like parental responsibility evaluators (PRE) and mediators.

"Increased awareness, increased training means that when these allegations come forward they're not so easily dismissed," said democratic State Representative Meg Froelich.

Froelich said women and children are often not believed in court. 

"They're not believed because of a feeling that they're acting in revenge, and they're hysterical and they're using these allegations as leverage against the other parent," she said. 

Froelich said when allegations are dismissed, abusers gain custody of children. 

"In Colorado, this has had literally tragic consequences where we have had murder-suicides in the last few months of an abuser gaining custody and then taking their life and the life of their child," she said. 

Froelich said the new bill builds off of a law passed with high bi-partisan support two years ago, called Julie's Law

"If we can pass this bill we not only increase the training requirements but we also then become eligible to participate in this federal funding program that really allows us to make robust changes to family court for a system that is really pretty broken," she said.

"There was mistreatment happening on a very severe level," said Leah Recor, a mother of two daughters ages 10 and 13, who recently testified in favor of the bill. 

Eight years ago, Recor decided to get a divorce.

"There's this expectation that you're going to get help, that there's going to be support," she said. 

Recor said she expected the court system would help her family, including two young daughters. 

"What the systems in place are doing is seeking to find peace, but that's just peace for them on paper," she said. "It's not creating peace in these family dynamics."  

Recor said years later, the family court system has only made things worse. 

"People are not educated, judges are not educated to understand what's really happening," she said. "They don't see the patterns of abuse."

She said advocating for her childrens' needs is also difficult because of the fear of it being misconstrued in court as defaming the other parent or hurting their reputation. 

"Being afraid that just by asking for help that that was me alienating against the other parent, or making it more difficult for them to parent," she said. "There’s also that fear that if I say too much, my kids will be taken away."

Several years after filing for divorce, Recor said she's still fighting to get the support and help needed for her kids. 

"When we stand up and we advocate not only for ourselves but on bills like this one, we're actually helping people we may never meet. We're helping people ten years down the road and in turn shifting generational trauma," said Recor. "This is a big deal. It’s not just about these families that are angry right now."

If passed, HB23-1178 would put Colorado in compliance with the federal "Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act" which has restrictions on what experts and evidence can be used in court. 

There's another bill tied to this proposed legislation, HB23-1108. If that is passed, a task force would study training requirements for judges now, in order to determine best practices and requirements for judges across the state.


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