Nicholson v. Williams

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  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Violence Against Women and Girls
  • Domestic Violence and Children
  • Parental Rights
  • Authored Amicus Brief
2004

Challenged New York City’s Administration for Children Services’ practice of starting child neglect proceedings against battered mothers on the basis of “allowing” their children to witness domestic violence.

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum filed an amicus brief in Nicholson v. Williams, a high-profile case that resulted in a resounding victory for battered mothers who challenged New York City's Administration for Children Services' practice of bringing child neglect proceedings against them on the basis of the mothers' having "allowed" their children to witness domestic violence or their having "engaged" in domestic violence simply by being a victim of domestic violence.

Summary of the Brief

Our brief, submitted on behalf of NOW Foundation and the New York Civil Liberties Union in addition to Legal Momentum, approached the issues from a women's right perspective. It brought to the Court's attention the extensive research (much spearheaded by Legal Momentum's National Judicial Education Program) documenting that gender biases and stereotypes cause courts and other institutional actors to assume that a battered mother, by definition, is not exercising reasonable care for her children. To reduce the likelihood that the city agency removes children from their mothers based on such pernicious stereotypes, we urged that the Family Court Act be interpreted to require a particularized inquiry into what actions, both formal and informal, were reasonably available, or could have been made reasonably available, to a non-abusive parent to evade domestic violence or limit its effects on her child; what, if any, of these actions she took; and whether those actions or inactions fell below a reasonable standard of "exercis[ing] a minimum degree of care" for the child.