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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UCLA Journal of Gender and Law

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The UCLA Journal of Gender & Law (formerly the UCLA Women's Law Journal), established in 1989, is dedicated to the critical analysis of gender as it is structured and reinforced by the law and legal institutions. Integral to this mission is the promotion of scholarship that attends to the ways that race, class, ability, sexuality, nationality, religion, and other forms of marginalization constitute and intersect with gender as a lived and legal reality. We strive to incorporate critiques of the law as a tool of oppression, as well as solutions for collective liberation that operate within and beyond the law.

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Family Law and Female Empowerment

Domestic relations law has struggled with feminism for decades, and it has never truly found a place in the family law arena. The crux of the problem, no doubt, is that family law has always had a difficult time defining feminism in context. From an economic perspective, is it feminist to provide economic assistance to women, who studies continue to show suffer far more than do their male counterparts in the wake of divorce? Or does feminism instead require a recognition of the ability of women to make equivalent financial contributions to a marriage as men, and thereby accept only pure equality of treatment? A series of incongruent doctrines makes it clear that family law truly does not know what feminism should mean.

Consequently, the system of family law largely fails to achieve one of feminism’s most fundamental tenets: empowerment. This Article will sample a diverse cross-section of family law and analyze it from a feminist perspective. Part I will consider the state of a woman’s decision-making authority in the reproductive context. Parts II and III will explore the modern proliferation of domestic violence-related legislation, analyzing state law schemes that provide for both punitive damage recoveries and permanent spousal support. Part IV will address marital property regimes around the country. Across all contexts, the Article will demonstrate that, often despite the best intentions of legislators and jurists, family law wholly fails to empower women.

How Domestic Violence Batterers Use Custody Proceedings in Family Courts to Abuse Victims, and How Courts Can Put a Stop to It

When a victim leaves her battering spouse and seeks to end the marriage, the batterer often does not willingly relinquish control over her. Instead, he takes advantage of the divorce and custody process as an avenue to continue his abuse.

The batterer’s use of coercion during the custody process can take many forms. It can include demanding custody simply for the sake of staying involved in the victim’s life; forcing the victim to return to court dozens of times to prolong contact; using court-mandated visitation or custody as an opportunity to commit physical violence against the victim; intimidating the victim into conceding joint custody during coercive mediation sessions; and refusing to pay child support to force the victim back into court.

At present, most family courts are unprepared to address batterers’ attempts to use the court and the legal system as a tool of abuse. This paper will focus on the ways in which batterers take advantage of custody proceedings in family court to continue to abuse their victims. The paper will also offer recommendations for how family courts can stop batterers from manipulating the courts as a site of abuse.