Kathleen Prisco Mug Shot.jpg

Both President Obama and Governor Paterson have officially proclaimed October to be Domestic Violence Month.

Four years after the Legislature in 1996 mandated consideration of domestic violence in custody and visitation cases, Kim Susser in her 2000 Fordam Urban Law Journal article noted that it was “evident that the amendment failed to change the behavior of many judges, attorneys and forensic evaluators regarding domestic violence.”

However, the Court System has indeed focused its attention on the issue over the past decade.  As but one example, an unofficial publication of the Appellate Division, First Department, the Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence: Representing the Victim, edited by Jill Laurie Goodman and Dorchen A. Leidholdt, is available in PDF format through the NYS Court system’s Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts.  That committee’s website links to the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, often a welcomed force in Family Courts around the State, whose mission is to provide effective and appropriate services to victims of domestic violence through community outreach, education, training, technical assistance and policy development.

Reviewing these and other available publications and websites, one might conclude that domestic violence is a women’s issue.  Indeed, The Coalition reports that 91 to 95 percent of all adult domestic violence assaults are perpetrated by men against their female partners.  The Lawyers Manual seems written in that tone.

However, earlier this year it was noted that “more than 200 survey-based studies show that domestic violence is just as likely to strike men as women. In fact, the overwhelming mass of evidence indicates that half of all domestic violence cases involve an exchange of blows and the remaining 50% is evenly split between men and women who are brutalized by their partners” (for the complete bibliography).

Anecdotally, Newsday recently reported that Tom Liotti, Esq., Editor-in Chief of Domestic Violence, a book published by the State Bar Association, was preparing to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on behalf of Kathleen Prisco (pictured), charged with murdering her husband, Ralph Prisco, a tax and pension attorney.  He was found dead, stabbed 15 times, hours after he attended a World Series game at Yankee Stadium with his three children.

On September 28, 2010, the Second Department in Costigan v. Renner affirmed Queens County Supreme Court Justice Maryellen Fitzmaurice’s award of custody to a father, solely on the expressed ground of that the “acts of domestic violence by the mother against the father demonstrate that the mother is ill-suited to provide the children with ‘moral and intellectual guidance.'”

We can note that our state courts have come a long way in the last decade.  What is recognized universally: the children are always the victims.

I fear that merely pointing out that both wives and husbands are the victims of domestic violence may be seen as minimizing violence upon women.  Such is not my intent.  Rather, I seek only to applaud the growing attention of the courts and bar to this urgent family problem.