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Posted at 6:53 PM ET, 03/26/2010

Facing reality in the Castillo case

By washingtonpost.com editors

By R.Y. Morrel
Bethesda

In her March 14 Local Opinions commentary, “Maryland’s roadblock to helping victims of abuse,” Eileen King rightly expressed outrage about the Castillo case and the Maryland House Judiciary Committee’s treatment of Amy Castillo, whose children were murdered by their father. But Ms. King’s focus on protective orders as a solution is wrong. Does anyone really believe that a protective order, temporary or permanent, could have saved the Castillo children?

The penalty for failing to follow a protective order is jail. That is hardly a disincentive to someone who is so hell-bent on getting revenge against his wife that he threatens to murder his children. It is time to recognize that traditional remedies for domestic violence do not and cannot protect children from a parent who has lost the ability to think rationally or understand the consequences of his actions.

News accounts report that the children’s father, Mark Castillo, had bipolar disorder and lived in his car for a period and that Amy Castillo, a doctor, testified about her husband’s instability, untreated mental illness and threatening behavior. Mark Castillo urgently required a full in-patient psychiatric evaluation and treatment. That is the only thing that could have protected the Castillos’ children.

Unfortunately, there are no adequate legal remedies in Maryland to address a situation involving a divorced parent who becomes unstable, irrational, threatening and mentally ill. It is extremely difficult to commit someone against his or her will. The process involves persuading a judge to order an emergency examination by two physicians and requires a finding that the individual suffers from a mental disorder and is a physical danger to himself or others. To a family in trouble, this is an almost impossible burden to meet, particularly when the erratic parent projects a sense of stability during the examination.

If Amy Castillo had difficulty persuading a judge to issue a protective order, imagine how difficult it would have been for her to persuade a judge to order an emergency psychiatric examination.

Castillo and her children were victims of a court system numbed by exposure to high-conflict divorces in which allegations of domestic abuse have become commonplace as part of the case strategy.

It is critical that the focus change from using keep-away orders as the primary means of protection to developing an effective process to evaluate and treat the unstable parent. This is the only way to protect the children, at least in the short term, and it offers the opportunity to improve the well-being of the entire family by providing a support system in addition to treatment.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | March 26, 2010; 6:53 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Maryland, crime, domestic violence  
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