Method: Qualitative narrative research methods were used to explore the situations of battered women who were respondents to a Hague petition in U.S. courts. Extensive interviews were completed with 21 battered mothers (16 U.S. citizens, 5 immigrant women) and 23 attorneys; further information was gathered from expert witnesses and judicial opinions in the cases. Interviews focused on women's experience in the relationship, resources available in both countries, and the processes related to the legal cases. The narrative data were coded using a consensual team process and themes were identified through within case and cross-case analyses.
Results: Three primary themes emerged from the data. In “Recognizing Behaviors as Abuse,” all three respondent groups (mothers, attorneys and judges) demonstrate dilemmas related to defining what constitutes domestic violence, particularly in varied cultural contexts. Mothers described a pattern of abuse that peaked in a severe episode of violence and/or a critical incident precipitating their entry into the U.S. with their children. Legal professionals, however, were ambivalent about when domestic violence was a primary factor to be considered. . In the second theme, “Going Home to Family”, respondents noted that what would normally be family law situations became intertwined in issues of international relations. Because of little protective support from social services or law enforcement in the other country, most mothers relied almost exclusively on family support in the U.S. and did not access domestic violence advocacy services in either country. In the third theme, “Altered Citizenship,” respondents noted issues in negotiating citizenship and language barriers in multiple contexts, raising key questions about the salience of citizenship status in transnational domestic violence cases. Despite the seriousness of the abuse, judges ordered the return of the children to the abuser in half of the cases
Implications: The numbers of bi-national marriages are increasing as are the signatories to the Hague Convention. Social workers are likely to work with increasing numbers of multinational families in which violence may be occurring. These findings suggest the importance of developing interventions focused on safety strategies for battered mothers facing international custody cases. Findings also point to the need for increased collaboration between legal professionals, domestic violence advocates, and social workers in recognizing and responding to domestic violence in international child custody cases.