As published in the Bellingham Herald on December 28th, 2002
John Allen Muhammad, the Washington, D.C., sniper suspect, was denied all contact with his children (Herald, Nov. 11) because he abducted them and for domestic violence. About five months later he allegedly killed his first victim.
Denial of child custody and visitation by the courts often leads to domestic violence. Many parents lose their right to joint custody through no fault of their own. For example, if the custodial parent leaves the county for employment opportunities the non-custodial parent often loses the right to joint custody. In order to maintain their visitation rights, the non-custodial parent and child must commute long distances for up to 18 years.
The current child custody decision process should be modified in the following manner:
1. Child custody should be in the best interests of the child.
2. Both parents should have the right to joint custody.
3. The child should remain in the school district in which the divorce occurred.
4. A parent can only lose his or her right to joint custody based on his or her own actions.
When they first divorced, the court gave Mildred Muhammad full custody of the children. John Allen Muhammad abducted his children and eventually placed them in Bellingham schools, where the Sheriff's Office discovered them and returned them to the mother.
John Allen Muhammad appeared mentally unstable to begin with. However, had he been guaranteed his right to joint custody he might not have followed the trail that led to 14 people being killed and five wounded.
Sheila L. Richardson