The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

Posts Tagged ‘custody’

Father of two denied bail in teacher death

In domestic law on October 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Separated father of two Florin Fitzpatrick, who took the surname of his Irish wife, and with a former rental address at The Green, College Road, Galway, appeared in custody before a special sitting of Galway District Court yesterday.

Amplify’d from
Florin Fitzpatrick, who appeared in court yesterday in
relation to the murder of schoolteacher John Kenny

Supt Noel Kelly objected to bail because of the seriousness of the charge and he believed the man also posed a flight risk.

A 37-YEAR-OLD Romanian man has been remanded in custody, charged with withholding information in connection with the ongoing investigation into the murder of schoolteacher and publican John Kenny.

Judge Mary Fahy refused bail and remanded the accused in custody to appear at Harristown District Court in Co Roscommon on Friday.



Read an Excerpt From Phyllis Chesler’s Book — ‘Mothers On Trial’ By Phyllis Chesler

In domestic law on August 8, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Thank you Phyllis and Fox News for Getting this out.

Amplify’d from
Editor’s note: Fox News Opinion presents the introduction and an excerpt from the completely revised second edition of Phyllis Chesler’s book “Mothers on Trial”: 

This is a book that cried out to be written. I first heard that cry in the mid-1970s and, after years of research, published the first edition of “Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody” in 1986. At the time, the book created a firestorm and was widely, if controversially, received.

In the last twenty-five years, there have been some improvements, but matters have decidedly worsened. The book you are holding has been revised and updated and brought into the twenty-first century.

Myths about custody still abound. Most people still believe that the courts favor mothers over fathers—who are discriminated against because they are men—and that this is how it’s always been.

This is not true.

For more than five thousand years, men—fathers—were legally *entitled* to sole custody of their children. Women—mothers—were *obliged* to bear, rear, and economically support their children. No mother was ever legally entitled to custody of her own child.

During the nineteenth century, pro-child crusaders gradually convinced the state that young children required maternal “tenderness”—but only if their mothers were white, married, Christian, and moral. The children of American slaves, of Native American Indians, of immigrant, impoverished, sick, or “immoral” parents—all were untenderly appropriated by slave owners and by the state. They were clapped into orphanages, workhouses, and reformatories or farmed out into apprenticeships for “their own good.”

By the turn of the century, a custodially challenged American mother enjoyed an equal right to custody in only nine states and the District of Columbia—and only if a state judge found her morally and economically worthy of motherhood. Until the 1920s, no American mother was entitled to any child support. Since then, few have received any.

The maternal presumption was never interpreted as a maternal right. The maternal presumption has always been viewed as secondary to the child’s “best interests”—as determined by a judge. This “best interest” was always seen as synonymous with “paternal rights.”

The contemporary fathers’ rights (or fathers’ supremacist) movement, which has been wildly successful in instituting joint custody and false concepts such as “parental alienation syndrome,” is also a throwback to the darkest days of patriarchy. It is not the modern, feminist, progressive movement it claims to be. Individual men may indeed be good fathers, and, like good mothers, they too may encounter discrimination and injustice in the court system. What I am talking about here is an organized political, educational, and legal movement against motherhood that has turned the clock back.

This book is about what it means to be a “good enough” mother and about the trials such mothers endure when they are custodially challenged. This book is not about happy marriages or happy divorces—it is about marriages and divorces that erupt into wild and bitter custody battles.

By now, many books have been written about the role of caring and responsible fathers, about male longings for a child, and about a child’s need for fathering. This book clarifies the difference between how a “good enough” mother mothers and a “good enough” father fathers. It clarifies the difference between male custodial rights and female custodial obligations.

Since Mothers on Trial was first published in 1986, thousands of mothers have called or written. “I’m in your book,” they say. “It’s as if you knew my story personally.” “You showed me that it’s not just happening to me, that it’s not my fault.” And, “Can you help me save my children?”

In the first edition of Mothers on Trial, I challenged the myth that fit mothers always win custody—indeed, I found that when fathers fight, they win custody 70 percent of the time, whether or not they have been absent or violent. Since then, other studies, including ten state supreme court reports on gender bias in the courts, have appeared that support most of what I say. (The Massachusetts report actually confirms my statistic of 70 percent.)

Although the majority of custodial parents are usually mothers, this doesn’t mean that mothers have won their children in a battle. Rather, mothers often retain custody when fathers choose not to fight for it. Those fathers who fight tend to win custody, not because mothers are unfit or because fathers have been the primary caretakers of their children but because mothers are women and are held to a much higher standard of parenting.

Many judges also assume that the father who fights for custody is rare and therefore should be rewarded for loving his children, or they assume that something is wrong with the mother. What may be wrong with the mother is that she and her children are being systemically impoverished, psychologically and legally harassed, and physically battered by the very father who is fighting for custody.

Today more and more mothers, as well as the leadership of the shelter movement for battered women, have realized that battered women risk losing custody if they seek child support or attempt to limit visitation. Incredibly, mothers also risk losing custody if they accuse fathers or physically or sexually abusing them or their children—even or especially if these allegations are supported by experts.

An ideal father is expected to legally acknowledge and economically support his children. Fathers who do anything more for their children are often seen as “better” than mothers, who are, after all, supposed to do everything.

The ideal of fatherhood is sacred. As such, it protects each father from the consequences of his actions. The ideal of motherhood is sacred, too. It exposes all mothers as imperfect. No human mother can embody the maternal ideal perfectly enough.

Given so many double standards for fit mothering and fathering and so many anti-mother biases, I wanted to know: Could a “good enough” mother lose custody of a child to a relatively uninvolved or abusive father? How often could this happen?

I first interviewed sixty mothers who had been their children’s primary caregivers, were demographically similar to the majority of divorced white mothers in America, and had been custodially challenged in each geographical region of the United States and Canada.

On the basis of these interviews I was able to study how often “good enough” mothers can lose custody when their ex-husbands challenge them. I was able to study why “good enough” mothers lose custody battles and how having to battle for custody affects them.

On the basis of these interviews and on the basis of additional interviews with fifty-five custodially embattled fathers, I was able to study the kinds of husbands and fathers who battled for custody, their motives for battling, and how and why they won or lost. 

I was also able to study the extent to which the custodially triumphant father encouraged or allowed the losing mother access to her children afterward.

To repeat: Seventy percent of my “good enough” mothers lost custody of their children.

Today the same experts who once tyrannized women with their advice about the importance of the mother-child bond appear, in the context of custody battles, ready to ignore it or refer to it, if it all, as of only temporary importance. They view the mother-child bond as expendable if it is less than ideal or another woman is available. Perfectly fit mothers are viewed as interchangeable with a paternal grandmother or a second wife.

In 1975 New York judge Guy Ribaudo awarded sole custody of two children to their father, Dr. Lee Salk. Their mother, Kersten Salk, was not accused of being an “unfit” mother. It was clear that Kersten, not Lee, had reared their children from birth “without aid of a governess” and that Lee would probably require the aid of a “third party” housekeeper-governess were he to gain sole custody. The judge used an “affirmative standard” to decide which parent was “better fit” to guide the “development of the children and their future.” Kersten Salk’s full-time housekeeping and mothering were discounted in favor of Lee Salk’s psychological expertise and “intellectually exciting” lifestyle. Lee was widely quoted as saying the following: “Fathers should have equal rights with mothers in custody cases and more and more fathers are getting custody…The decision in Salk v. Salk will touch every child in America in some way. It will also give more fathers the ‘incentive’ to seek custody of their children”
This case swept through public consciousness; it was an ominous warning, a reminder that children are only on loan to “good enough” mothers. They could be recalled by their more intellectually and economically solvent fathers.

Although mothers still received no wages for their work at home and far less than equal pay for equal work outside the home, and although most fathers had yet to assume an equal share of home and child care, divorced fathers began to campaign for equal rights to sole custody, alimony, and child support and for mandatory joint custody.

Fathers’ rights activists—both men and women—picketed my lectures, threatened lawsuits, and shouted at me on television. “Admit it. Ex-wives destroy men economically. They deprive fathers of visitation and brainwash the children against them. 

Fathers should have rights to alimony and child support. Joint custody should be mandatory. We’ve already convinced legislators and lawyers, judges and social workers, psychiatrists and journalists to see it our way.”

Indeed, as we shall see, they have.

By 1991, more than forty states had shared-parenting statutes in which joint custody was either an option or preference, and most other states had recognized the concept of joint custody in case law.

The mothers began to find me. Would I testify on their behalf? Marta consulted me as a therapist. She said she was “depressed” and “wanted to kill herself.” Weeping, she told me, “For fifteen years my children were my whole life. I did everything for them myself. Six moths ago a judge gave my husband exclusive custody of our children. How could this nightmare ever happen? At first, I thought they’d come back to me on their own. But they haven’t. Why should they? I have a small one-bedroom apartment. Their father was allowed to keep our five-bedroom house. He gives them complete freedom and the use of their own credit cards. I work as a salesgirl for very little money. Is this a reason to go on living?”

Carol, a complete stranger, asked me for money. “My husband kidnapped our six-year-old son two months ago. It’s what they call ‘legal’ kidnapping. We’re only separated, not divorced. I need money to hire a detective to find them. I need money to hire a lawyer once they’re found. I only have six hundred dollars in the bank. And I’m four months pregnant.”

Rachel, also a stranger, mailed me a description of her custody battle. She entitled it “A Case of Matricide in an American Courtroom.” Rachel had a “nervous breakdown” after she lost her battle for child support, custody, and maternal visitation.

In 1977, when I myself was six months pregnant, I decided to study women and custody of children. The theme had claimed me.
Over the next eight years, I formally interviewed more than three hundred mothers, fathers, children, and custody experts in the United States and Canada and in sixty-five countries around the world. On the basis of these interviews, I conducted three original studies and six original surveys for the 1986 edition of this book. I wanted to understand why we take custodial mothers for granted but heroize custodial fathers, why we sympathize with noncustodial fathers but condemn noncustodial mothers, and why we grant noncustodial fathers the right to feel angry or sad but deny noncustodial mothers similar emotional “rights.” I also wanted to compare what noncustodial mothers and fathers actually do and contrast it with how they perceive themselves and are perceived.

Must custodially embattled mothers be viewed only as victims? Can such mothers also be viewed as philosophical and spiritual warriors and heroes? Gradually I came to view them as such. Under siege, “good enough” mothers remained connected to their children in nuturant and nonviolent ways. They resisted the temptation to use violent means to obtain custody of their children. This is one of the reasons they lost custody. But they never disconnected—not even from children whom they never saw again.

The 2011 Update

What’s changed since I first started researching and writing about custody battles?

Documented domestic violence does get factored in somewhat more than before. Where real assets exist, judges have the power to award more of them to mothers and children. Fewer mothers and fathers automatically lose custody or visitation because they are gay or because they have high-powered careers. However, certain injustices (crimes, really) that I first began tracking in the late 1970s have now gotten much worse. For example, battered women are losing custody to their batterers in record numbers. 

Children are being successfully brainwashed by fathers, but many mothers are being falsely accused of brainwashing. Worse: Children who mandated reporters—physicians, nurses, or teachers—report as having been sexually abused by their fathers are usually given to those very fathers. The mothers of these children are almost always viewed as having “coached” or “alienated” the children and, on this basis alone, are seen as “unfit” mothers.

I understand that this sounds unbelievable. But it is still true. The mothers of raped children, who are also described as “protective” mothers, are seen as guilty of “parental alienation syndrome.” The fact that this concept, first pioneered by Dr. Richard Gardner and widely endorsed by fathers’ rights groups, has been dismissed as junk science does not seem to matter. Most guardians ad litem, parenting counselors, mediators, lawyers, mental health professionals, and judges still act as if this syndrome were real and mainly find mothers, not fathers, guilty in this regard. In 2010 the American Psychiatric Association was still fighting to include a new disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: the parental alienation disorder, to replace the debunked parental alienation syndrome.

In 2009 and 2010 more than fifty mothers from twenty-one U.S. states and a number of foreign countries all shared their stories with me. Their cases took place between the late 1980s and 2010. Some cases are still ongoing.

In some instances, I spoke with the mothers in person or at length on the phone. Some mothers filled out questionnaires, but many also sent additional narratives and documentation. Some mothers sent me eloquent, beautifully written, full-length memoirs. Some write pithy but equally heartbreaking accounts of their marriages and custody battles.

Custody battles can take a very long time. They range from only several years to more than fifteen or twenty. They may have profound legal, economic, social, psychological, and even medical consequences for years afterward, perhaps forever.

Going through a custody battle is like going through a war. One does not emerge unscathed. Yes, one may learn important lessons, but one may also be left broken and incapable of trusting others, including our so-called justice system, ever again.

With a few exceptions, most of my 2010 mother-interviewees said that the system was “corrupt” and that lawyers and judges don’t care about “justice,” are “very biased,” or can be “bought and sold.” These mothers said that social workers, mental health professionals, guardians ad litem, and parent coordinators—especially if they were women—actively “disliked” and were” cruel and hostile” to them as women. (Perhaps they expected women to be more compassionate toward other women. In this, they were sadly mistaken.)

Also, many mothers found that female professionals were often completely taken in by charming, sociopathic men (“parasites,” “smother-fathers”), dangerously violent men, and men who sexually abused their children.

Perhaps the mothers who sent me their stories were married to uniquely terrible men who used the court system to make their lives a living hell; perhaps mothers who did not write to me had the good fortune to have been married to and divorced from far nicer men.

Good fathers definitely exist. Some fathers move heaven and earth to rescue their children from a genuinely mentally ill mother but do not try to alienate the children from her. If the mother has been the primary caretaker, some fathers give up custody, pay a decent amount of child support (and continue to do so), and work out a relationship with their children based on what’s good for both the children and their mother. These men exist. They do not launch custody battles from hell.

And good fathers are also discriminated against in a variety of ways in the courtroom. For example, mothers who are independently wealthy or who come from powerful families can and do custodially persecute good-enough fathers. That is the subject of another book. And, when fathers do assume primary-caretaker obligations, traditional judges may view them unfairly as “sissies” or “losers.” Liberal judges will award them custody in a heartbeat.

For this 2011 edition, I also reviewed hundreds of legal decision, which I obtained through LexisNexis and which all commenced and/or were resolved in the last quarter century. I interviewed lawyers and judges. I clipped articles about custody battles that appeared in the media from 1990 to 2010. Some were celebrity cases; others concerned high profile international kidnapping cases; some were about one spouse’s murder of the other during the course of a custody battle.

When I was researching the 1986 edition of Mothers on Trial, joint custody was a totally new idea. Now, as I’ve previously noted, “shared parenting” or joint custody (defined in a variety of ways) is the preferred norm. Joint custody is seen as fair, progressive, feminist, and in the child’s best interest—even though a number of recent studies have shown that under certain conditions joint custody may be harmful to the children involved. Other studies conclude that we cannot prove that a particular custodial arrangement is either helpful or harmful to children.

For example, according to a 1989 study, “a link was consistently found between frequency of visitation/transitions between parents and [child] maladjustment.” The study also found that “children shuffled more frequently between parents were more exposed to and involved in parental conflict and aggression and were more often perceived by both parents as being depressed, withdrawn, uncommunicative, and/or aggressive.”

A 2003 study found that “alternating custody”—for example, week on, week off—“was associated with ‘disorganized attachment’ in 60 percent of infants under 18 months. Older children and adults who had endured this arrangement as youngsters exhibited what the researcher described as ‘alarming levels of emotional insecurity and poor ability to regulate strong emotion.’” 

Nevertheless, from the 1980s on, the entire national court system and its various helpers believed that joint custody was the preferred way to go.

As we shall see, joint custody research in the twenty-first century is a minefield of dangerous biases, conflicting conclusions, and outright lies.

The View from the Bench

While lawyers and judges are quick to say that joint custody should not apply where there is domestic violence and incest, they are often the ones who do not believe that domestic violence and incest exist all that much. And, although lawyers and judges also say that joint custody may not work in “high-conflict divorces,” that does not mean that they still don’t encourage or even order it.

From their point of view, if everyone walks away with something, there is less likelihood that their decision will be appealed or that the case will continue to stall. One judge said, “Maybe this will actually force these warring parties to grow up and learn to compromise for the sake of their children.”

Thus, the role of “parenting coordinator” and guardians ad litem has increased considerably. Many mothers view them as impoverishing agents because they are ordered to pay for their services.

Talk to some good judges—those who are hardworking, experienced, and not corrupt—and you will find that their concerns are far different from those who consume the mothers who appear before them. Judicial concerns are not those of the plaintiffs or defendants. What you will hear is about how important it is to move the cases along, how huge the backlog always is, and how impossible it is to spend too much time on any one case. Judges are annoyed, even contemptuous, when rich people can afford to pay for a long, drawn-out trial. They understand that the working poor have no such luxury, and, at both conscious and unconscious levels, the judges may resent this disparity and despair over the arrogance of the rich. One judge said, “Rich people fight over everything. Even if they don’t need it, they will prolong the case in order to ‘win.’ It can be a second boat, a third home, a million dollar piece of art over another. They are spoiled children and I only pity their real children.”

Talk to judges and listen to them speak, and you will realize that judges do not feel responsible for the perpetual logjams that frustrate, enrage, and impoverish mothers. In fact, judges feel that they too are victims of a system that does not pay them that well. They feel it does not allot resources for the necessary number of judges. The system is beyond bursting at the seams. In addition, the matrimonial bench is utterly devalued because it concerns “families,” “mothers,” and “children,” all of whom are not high on the priority totem pole.

Most judges are overworked and underpaid compared to what the lawyers who appear before them are paid. Judges are not given the proper time to really hear a case. They are forced into forcing plaintiffs and defendants to accept limited, far-from-perfect settlements, because that will close the case and get it off the judge’s roster. They opt for hard-and-fast compromises in the interest in moving a case along.

From the point of view of a “protective” mother whose child is being molested, there can be no compromise. Allowing a pedophile father or a domestically violent husband to have access to his former spouse or child endangers both mother and child. Such mothers protest. They will not play ball. Their relationship to their children is not a corporate-like entity. It is “all or nothing” as far as they are concerned. They resist for as long as their money holds out—and then they go pro se

Their resistance to compromise is viewed as proof of “narcissism” or “mental instability.” The mother who insists on not compromising is also viewed as annoying, difficult, impossible, unrealistic, and perhaps even dangerous to the smooth functioning of an already overburdened system.

Unless she has unlimited funds, it will cost her lawyer hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of dollars to fight for an uncompromised settlement. Some mothers fully expect their lawyers to do so, and when lawyers cannot, or refuse to do so, a mother will often turn on them and sue them for malpractice. “Protective” mothers view a lawyer who needs to make a living as a traitor and a sellout.

Mothers do not understand how to divide a baby in half or share parenting with an absent, neglectful, or abusive father. Judges do not see it as dividing the baby in half at all. One judge pointed on, very reasonably, that in order to keep the nonprimary caretaker involved in a nonembittered way, the judge must give him or her some things to do.

“But what if this father has never taken any responsibility and does not know what he is doing?” I asked.

“All the more reason to bring him in. It can’t be good for a child to have no contact with the nonprimary-caretaker parent.”
Please note the careful, automatically gender-neutral language that one might initially view as a feminist step forward. And it is—except that such language usually “disappears” the much harder work that mothers (primarily caretakers) have undertaken, the higher standards to which they are held, and the nonprimary caretaker’s failure to take primary-caretaking responsibility during the marriage, not just after the divorce.

The judge continued, “Why punish a child because their nonprimary-caretaker parent did not function as a caretaker in the past? 

As the child grows, nonprimary-caretaker parents can offer the child different opportunities.”

The judge was right, and yet she was absolutely committed to the following myths: (1) sane, good parents are ultimately going to do whatever’s in their child’s best interests; (2) all divorcing and custody-battling parents are equally crazy and have to be forced into better behavior; (3) mothers routinely allege battering falsely; (4) mothers are crazier and more difficult to deal with than fathers; and (5) mothers, not fathers, tend to “alienate” the child from the other parent.

These are all myths.

Myth 1: Are divorcing parents really “reasonable grown-ups”? Many parents are far from ideal, even far from adequate. What is known as a “high-conflict” divorce does not involve parents who have their child’s best interests at heart. They are often more concerned with their own interests.

Myth 2: Sometimes a father is a charming sociopath. Just as we have no way of distinguishing rapists from non-rapists, we have no easy way to “spot” a pedophile, a parasite, or a wife beater. Sometimes a mother is genuinely sadistic, abusive, or bipolar. This is more quickly spotted, diagnosed, or even assumed by laypeople in the court system. Thus, if a mother has been losing sleep over the possibility of losing her children and/or is exhibiting the normal human response to being battered or terrorized at home, she may also be stigmatized by the belief that women are naturally “crazy” and “impossible.”

Myth 3: Most mothers do not allege battering falsely. Some, a minority, do.

Myth 4: Mothers are not necessarily “crazier” than fathers; some are. However, facing the end of a marriage, the probable poverty it may entail, plus a possible custody loss, is a far greater stressor for mothers than for fathers. It does make them highly nervous, vigilant, overly demanding, unrealistic, and prone to engaging in self-sabotaging tactics. Men tend to recouple more quickly; women don’t.

Many fathers, on the other hand, are more capable of treating a custody battle as just one more businesslike venture. This style is more compatible with what lawyers and judges need. Thus, even if the father is a secret drunk or drug addict, an embezzler, an active philanderer, and a whoremonger and/or treats his wife and children coldly, sadistically, and abusively, these facts will not necessarily come into play in a custody battle.

Myth 5: According to most research and statistical data and my own interviews, it is mainly fathers who brainwash and kidnap children, not mothers. Fathers falsely claim “parental alienation” when it is not true; yet they are believed. Mothers claim brainwashing when it is true, but they are not often believed.

I do not view matrimonial lawyers as the main or sole problem. True—some lawyers are grossly incompetent and fail their female clients in every way: by misadvising them, sleeping with them, and prolonging their cases unnecessarily for monetary reasons. But it is also true that many lawyers serve their female (and male) clients effectively, even nobly.

Lawyers do not cause men to impoverish, batter, or abuse their wives and children; lawyers themselves are often hobbled by a system of laws and by a courtroom pace that is glacial. One cannot blame lawyers because it is enormously expensive to wage a high-conflict divorce. Some women expect their lawyers to actually pay for their divorces and feel betrayed when lawyers will not or cannot do so. With some exceptions, our government will not and cannot subsidize the cost of high-conflict divorces for the parent, usually the mother, who is without resources in a country where money does buy one’s chance to obtain justice, however imperfect.

Custody cases are also very stressful and difficult for the judges involved, many of whom try very hard to do the right thing. The law is not able to cure sociopaths or psychopaths; sometimes compromising with the devil is, unbelievably, the only possible solution. A judge might only be able to “save” one child—not all three. A judge might be able to save a child from the probable horrors of state care by allowing custody to remain with one far-from-perfect parent.

Having said this, I would like to stress that both judges and lawyers, as well as the entire courtroom cast of characters (guardians ad litem, parenting coordinators, mental health experts, social workers, state agency employees, and the police) have acted in tragically anti-mother and anti-child ways. While feminist progress led to more women on the bench and to more female attorneys, many female professionals have shown very hard hearts toward the mothers whose fates are in their hands. So have their male counterparts.

For this 2011 edition of Mothers on Trial, I have given honorable discharges to six previous chapters, although I’ve preserved some of the material throughout the book. I’ve also added eight new chapters in addition to this introduction. The new chapters include “Court-Enabled Incest in the 1980s and 1990s,” “Court-Enabled Incest in the Twenty-First Century,” “Legal Torture from 1986 to 2010,” “Contemporary Legal Trends, Part I,” “Contemporary Legal Trends, Part II,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Divorce: A Private Consultation with Divorce Lawyer Susan L. Bender,” and a section of resources.

Immediately after first publishing this book, I coordinated a Senate briefing in Washington, D.C., that was attended by some hand-selected custodially embattled mothers, as well as then Congress, now Senate members Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer. Together with the National Organization for Women of New York State, I also coordinated a national speak-out about women’s losing custody of children, which took place in New York City in the spring of 1986. Hundreds of mothers traveled from around the country to “speak out,” and many legislators, judges, and lawyers also participated in panels. I videotaped this event but, as yet, have not made these precious videos available to the public. I also appeared on network television programs together with “my mothers,” where we all said amazing things and were fairly well received. Women began organizing similar speak-outs elsewhere; I spoke at several in the United States and Canada the following year.

In 1984 a new nonprofit organization, ACES (the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support), was launched. It now has forty thousand members and one hundred sixty-five chapters in forty-five states.

In 1988 Monica Getz founded the New York-based National Coalition for Family Justice, which offers ongoing support groups for divorcing and custodially embattled mothers. Their mission statement reads in part as follows: “To identify problems and advocate for system changes in the divorce and family court systems in order to make them fair, user friendly, accountable, and affordable; to provide victims and children involved in domestic violence situations with crisis intervention, information, support, legal access, and advocacy.” They do not provide pro bono lawyers. But, in conjunction with the National Organization for Women in New York State, they have hosted important hearings and conferences.

In the mid- to late 1980s, “protective” and custodially embattled mothers also began running away from husbands who were sexually assaulting their child or children. Such mothers were almost all captured and jailed and lost custody of the children they were trying to protect.

By the early twenty-first century, custodially embattled mothers, including battered and “protective” mothers, had begun to form organizations that now meet annually and monthly. In 2003 Dr. Mo Therese Hannah began a new organization, an in 2010 Dr. Hannah coordinated and hosted the seventh national Battered Mothers Custody Conference. More than five hundred women travel from around the country each year to attend it. In 2010 they began a quilt project, Children Taken by the Family Courts, which is modeled after the AIDS quilt. They have asked mothers who have legally lost their children to provide a commemoration panel. Dr. Hannah has also published a book, Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues.

In addition, many mothers throughout the Western world have created listserv groups and websites in which they tell (and keep updating) their own outrageous and heartbreaking stories in the hope that this information might help other women. Some ex-wives have become divorce coaches. Some mothers (including those whose interviews are contained in this book) became matrimonial lawyers and mental health professionals dedicated to helping mothers and children. Some researchers have tried to document ongoing injustices in family court.

Yes, custodially battered mothers whose children are being sexually abused have organized more visibly than mothers who have “merely” been impoverished and legally tormented and who must also share custody of their children with men who hate them as ex-wives and do not respect them as mothers.

On Mother’s Day 2010, a peaceful, silent vigil was held at the White House. In the somber spirit of the U.S. suffragettes, American mothers—along with the Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared, Turkey’s Saturday Mothers, the German Rose Street Women, and the Liberian women who stopped a civil war—gathered at the White House to “ask our President to meet with us and to help stop the systemic removal and oppression of our children by family court.”

What Mothers Have to Say

What to Do When a Custody Battle Invades Your Life

“First, take a deep breath and calm down. Save your strength for the long haul. Find out what all your options are. Find a therapist for some immediate support.”

“Any mother involved in a custody struggle is the one who’s on trial. You’ll need people to hold your hand, to hold you, to take care of your kids, to cook a meal, to say ‘I care.’ You’ll need people to keep telling you that you’re sane and that you have rights. Find those people now.”

“Never leave home without taking your kids with you—not if you’re fighting over custody. Don’t leave your kids behind to take a weekend vacation. If you’ve just been beaten up and you’re on your way to the hospital, you’d better take your kids along.”
“You’ll need to be on permanent good behavior in order to fight this fight. Your husband or someone will always be breathing down your neck spying on you and trying to make your life miserable.”

“I allowed things to get very bad before I started fighting back. I would never have waited so long if I knew what I know now: that for me not fighting was worse than fighting.”

“If you open up a power struggle with your husband, be prepared to learn how to win. Don’t go on believing that your husband won’t lie and manipulate to cheat you. He will. If he doesn’t, his lawyer will. In order to win on their turf you’ve got to be as rotten as they are. Being fair means you’re going to lose.”

“Keep a record of how often your ex-husband visits and whether he’s on time or late. Tape-record your phone conversations with him so you’ll remember everything. Record any threats he makes to you. Record what he does with the kids. Do they come back unfed, unwashed, late? Are they suddenly critical or distant from you? That could be a sign of brainwashing.”

“Organize your family photos into a ‘Mom and Kids’ showpiece album. Reconstruct a diary of what you did with and for your kids from your old calendars or appointment books. You’ll have to prove that you’re a good mother.”

“No matter what happens, no matter what they say, never let any social worker or lawyer or policeman make you doubt yourself or your self-worth.”

“Believe that you’re stronger than you think you are. Become very assertive about getting what you need from others, but depend only on yourself. You have the most to lose and the most to gain.”

“Once you’re married and a mother, it’s too late to think about how to win a custody battle. The time to think about whether and how you should become a mother is long before you’re pregnant and definitely before you marry.”

“Read the marriage contract. Talk to previously married or still married mothers who are living in poverty or who have lost custody of their children. Maybe it’s more realistic not to have children at all—or to have them through woman-controlled anonymous artificial insemination. But the state can still take your child away if you forge a check, work as a prostitute, use dope, sell dope, kill your violent husband in self-defense, or refuse to do whatever your state welfare worker wants you to do—if you’re economically depended on the state. If your own mother doesn’t like how you’re raising your child, she can call in the state against you. This happened to me. I won. But I never sleep easy.”

“Consider adopting a child as a single mother. I know a number of women lawyers who have chosen this route. And don’t marry or partner up. Not with a man, not with a woman.”

On Hiring a Lawyer

“Get a copy of your legal bill of rights. Refer to it when you’re talking to your lawyer. Interview more than one lawyer. Be prepared to leave a lawyer who doesn’t treat you well and to sue him or her for legal malpractice.”

“Once you’re involved in the court system, you must ask your lawyer’s advice about everything. You can’t start a new job or love affair without first weighing the legal consequences involved. You must assume that everything you do can and will be used against you.”

“Your lawyer isn’t God. He or she is your employee. Don’t let your lawyer pressure you into anything ‘temporarily’ that you wouldn’t want permanently.”

“Talk to other women who’ve been through custody battles. Find a lawyer who’s experience in custody battles, not just in matters of divorce.”

“Don’t let your lawyer convince you that joint custody is the ‘answer.’ It isn’t. My ex-husband wanted to be the one who’d live with our kids in the house or, failing that, he wanted the judge to order that the house be sold. Then, once the cash from the sale of the house ran out, and I really had to struggle economically, that’s when my ex stopped paying child support. He told the kids that ‘he didn’t have to pay because they lived with him half the time.’ The kids had a much higher standard of living with him than with me. Gradually, they began to live with him full time. Then he moved two thousand miles away to take a very well-paying job. I still have joint custody. I just can’t afford to take my ex back to court or to travel four thousand miles a week in order to exercise my joint custody decree.”

“It’s important to find a good woman lawyer. Treat her with more respect than women usually treat each other. Don’t expect her to be your friend. Expect her to treat you with respect and to use the law vigorously and creatively on your behalf.”

What to Tell Your Children

“In a custody battle, children challenge maternal authority right away. Don’t let them do this. Remind them that you’re still their mother, even if you’re fighting with their father.”

“If one parent is blatantly destructive to the children, it’s the job of the other parent to say so, loud and clear. I don’t believe that cover-ups are good for children.”

“If the state takes you away from your kids, tell them that you love them and always will. Tell them that you’ll always be their mother. Tell them you’ll be out looking for them as soon as you can. Tell them whatever happens, it’s not their fault.”

“I kept quiet for too long. I didn’t believe it was right to involve kids in private adult matters. But my kids needed to hear my point of view too. They needed to know that I loved them too and would fight for them. They also needed to know that I would keep loving them no matter what happened.”

“My children really want to leave me. I fought this for a long time. I should have let them go. They already had my love. They couldn’t have their father’s love if they lived with me.”


What Is a “Fit” Mother or Father? An “Unfit” Mother or Father? Who Decides?

What are our standards for parental fitness? Who determines such standards? Are they the same for both mothers and fathers and for all classes and races? Judith Arcana, in Every Mother’s Son, describes the “idealized mother [as] a woman who is boundlessly giving and endlessly available. She is truly present to her son. The idealized father is practically invisible; he is almost never available, rarely giving; his sparse favor and scarce presence to his son become miraculous and precious when they do appear. He is like the unknowable Judaeo-Christian father-god, who is the epitome of this idea.”

Mothers are expected to perform a series of visible and invisible tasks, all of which are never ending. Mothers are not allowed to fail any of these obligations. The ideal of motherhood is sacred; it exposes all mothers as imperfect.

Fathers are expected to perform a limited number of tasks. They are also allowed to fail some or all of these obligations. In addition, fathers who do anything for children are often experienced and perceived as “better” than mothers, who are supposed to do everything. The ideal of fatherhood is also sacred; it protects each father from the consequences of his actions.

Father-starved and father-wounded sons (and daughters) rarely remember, confront, or publicly expose their absent or abusive fathers. Arcana also notes that we mothers watch our young boys go from expecting to be cherished and nurtured  by their fathers to the sullen and bitter understanding that dad will not come across. And then, so powerful is society’s sanction of that “ideal” paternal behavior, we see our sons come to an acceptance so complete that they will defend their fathers even against the criticism and anger they’ve expressed themselves. And all along, the boy will not—or cannot—confront his father. Young sons will not push their fathers the way they’ll push their mothers—they learn early that dad’s affection, such as it is, is tenuous and conditional. Most boys understand all this before they are 12 or 13 years old.

When a father fails his paternal obligations, we don’t necessarily view him as an example of all fathers, nor do we automatically hold other fathers “accountable” for one father’s failure. We may be horrified when a father abuses or kills his child, but we first view him as the exception among fathers.

Or we make excuses for him. He didn’t mean to hit, molest, rape, hurt, maim, or kill his child. He is a man. Men are violent and don’t know their own strength.

Or we blame his wife. Perhaps she “drove” him to it. How could any mother leave her child alone with such a man? Where was she when her child was being hit, molested, raped, hurt, maimed, or killed?

When a mother does irresponsibly abandon or savagely abuse her child, we are truly stunned and terrified. How could a mother of the human race “act like a man”? How could both biology and culture fail to ensure maternal pacifism under stress?

When one mother neglects or abuses her child, we tend to hold all mothers accountable for her failure. One mother’s “crime” forces all mothers to prove—to themselves and to everyone else—how unlike Medea they are and how like the Virgin Mary they are.

After reading several news accounts of maternal suicide and infanticide, I read about a mother who failed in her double suicide attempt. She succeeded in killing her child but failed to kill herself. Plunging headlong out the window, she “merely” broke every major bone in her body instead.

I wanted to visit her in her hospital bed. After many phone calls, I was made to understand that her own mother refused to see her and that her husband had vowed never to speak to her again. Women who knew her and her husband tried to dissuade me from seeing her. Women said, “Don’t make a heroine out of her. She’s a real sickie. You wouldn’t have liked her. None of us did. She’s broken her husband’s heart. He’s a wonderful man.” Others said, “Her husband was about to leave her. She knew that her son would follow his father, sooner rather than later. The bitch just couldn’t let go. Why didn’t she die instead of her son?”

Voices without mercy; voices determined that no one comfort her on her cross. This mother was viewed not as human, or even as psychiatrically ill, but as an evil monster, a “loathsome thing,” a “Medea.”

I am always amazed that Medea’s knife, unseen onstage, looms so much larger in our collective memories than Agamemnon’s knife, with which he kills his daughter, Iphigenia, or Laius’s mountaintop exposure of his new-born son, Oedipus. The infanticidal fathers apparently leave no bloody footprint, no haunting shadow.

Are contemporary mothers and fathers as abusive to their children as parents presumably once were in the past? Historians have described medieval European and colonial American children as essentially their family’s “servants.” A girl was her mother or stepmother’s domestic servant and her father’s companion and nurse; a boy was his father or stepfather’s agricultural servant. Both boys and girls were often apprenticed out at young ages. Their wages belonged to their fathers. 

According to psychoanalyst Alice Miller, child rearing in the West was a form of “poisonous pedagogy.” Harsh parental punishment was defended for its being “for the child’s own good”:

A sophisticated repertory of arguments was developed to prove the necessity of corporal punishment for the child’s own good. In the eighteenth century, one still spoke of [children] as “faithful subjects” . . . child rearing manuals teach us that: “Adults are the masters (not the servants) of the dependent child; they determine in godlike fashion what is right and what is wrong; the child is held responsible for their anger; the parents must always be shielded; the child’s life-affirming feelings pose a threat to the autocratic adult; the child’s will must be ‘broken’ as soon as possible; all this must happen at a very early age, so the child ‘won’t notice’ and will therefore not be able to expose the adults.” 

In Puritan New England, child rearing was synonymous with “breaking” a child’s (sinful) “will”:

Every child was thought to come into the world with inherent tendencies to “stubbornness, and stoutness of mind”: these must be “beaten down” at all costs. One aspect of such tendencies was the willful expression of anger which was, by Puritan reckoning, the most dangerous and damnable of human affects. Children must therefore be trained to compliance, to submission, to “peace.” To effect such training, drastic means were sometimes needed. Puritan parents were not inclined to spare the rod; but more important than physical coercion was the regular resort to shaming.

Mothers worked hard and had little “child-centered” time to spend alone with each child. Although mothers (or women) were exclusively responsible for birthing and rearing children, they were not considered “expert” in this area. “Students of child-rearing literature in England and America tell us that in the 16th and 17th centuries the father was depicted as the important figure in the rearing of children, as well as being the ultimate authority in familial matters. In fact, most of the manuals of these centuries directed advice to fathers.”

In the mid- to late eighteenth century, male experts began to address mothers directly. Formerly viewed as vain and without souls, mothers were now viewed as their children’s moral guardians. 

Mothers of the middle class were encouraged to experience biological motherhood as the source of their greatest pride and joy. The influential Jean-Jacques Rousseau viewed motherhood as a personal religious calling:

The true mother, far from being a woman of the world, is as much a recluse in her home as the nun is in her cloister. . . . [A good mother] will not be willful, proud, energetic or self-centered. In no event should she become angry or show the slightest impatience . . . she must be taught, while still very young, to be vigilant and hard-working, accustomed at an early age to all sorts of constraints so that she costs [her husband] nothing and learns to submit all her caprices to the will of others. . . . She serves as liaison between [the children] and the father, she alone makes him love them.

Throughout the nineteenth century, male experts continued to urge women into motherhood as a religious calling. However, these experts insisted that “instinctive” (emotional, “soft”) maternality was harmful to children. They advised mothers to behave in more “manly” ways. 

By the twentieth century, male experts told mothers to give up breast- feeding, to feed their infants only at rigid intervals, not to pick up their crying babies, and to toilet train them as soon as possible. Some male experts advised mothers to “bond” with their infants immediately at birth. According to these experts, if mothers didn’t “bond” with or didn’t “let go” of children perfectly enough, they doomed them to “neurosis.” According to psychiatrist Ann Dally, mothers were tyrannized into believing that it was “dangerous” to leave their children “even for an hour.”

We do not know how many women actually succumbed to the tyranny of the male experts. Enslaved or impoverished mothers did not have the time, the literacy, or the resources to act on scientific opinion; wealthy and royal mothers continued to delegate their maternal responsibilities. (Perhaps some royal and impoverished mothers felt guilty about this.) Middle-class mothers were in a position to be most easily tempted by expert promises.

The church fathers always assured mothers that they were important and irreplaceable. They also tried to convince men that it was anti-God and anti-church to divorce their wives or abandon their children.

The scientific fathers shared these churchly beliefs. However, they also promised mothers “control” over the outcome of their maternal labors and over children at home in lieu of “control” over armies, parliaments, churches, or banks.

What about fathers? Did they matter at all beyond their legal acknowledgment of sperm and economic support of families? Did it affect children badly, or at all, if fathers were absent, distant, or tyrannical? What is a “good” or a “good enough” father?

According to our state and church fathers, a “good” father is someone who legally acknowledges, economically supports, and teaches his children to obey the laws of state and church. The scientific fathers failed to consider the paternal role. When pressed, one twentieth-century expert said, “The first positive virtue of the father is to permit his wife to be a good mother. In the child’s eyes the father embodies the law, strength, the ideal, and the outside world, while the mother symbolizes the home and household. . . . The only thing one can usefully demand of the father is to be alive and stay alive during his children’s early years.”

Some scientific fathers went to great lengths to deny the existence of “bad” fathers. Psychoanalysts, for example, were actually more eloquent about the rivalrous impulses of sons than about the murderous deeds of fathers. Most psychoanalysts rarely paid attention to real-world “facts” or held real fathers responsible for anything they did—or failed to do.

Psychoanalysts and other, more popular child-development experts failed to acknowledge their own expert fathering as “responsible” for an increase in maternal guilt and for turning mother blaming into a “science.” For example, the phrase maternal deprivation terrorized countless mothers in the twentieth century. A woman who “maternally deprived” her child was a “bad” mother. Dr. John Bowlby first used this phrase in 1951 to describe what happened to children whose state father had institutionalized them.

Bowlby did not condemn the state father for “depriving” his institutionalized children, nor did he (or his popularizers) hold the state responsible for the crimes such children might commit in the future. The sins of the state fathers were used to control maternal behavior. The specter of “maternally deprived” children kept mothers guilty and sleepless. (State orphanage employees and members of Parliament slept quite soundly.)

Popular accounts of child abuse invariably focus on the “sensational” episode as opposed to the more entrenched forms of child abuse. A male homosexual child molester makes ready headline copy; his more numerous male heterosexual counterparts remain invisible.

A single school or a large church involved in the sexual abuse of children becomes a scandal; the high incidence of male heterosexual abuse of female children, including paternal incest, is denied or minimized.

What exactly is child abuse? Is physical child abuse increasing in America? Most incidents of physical child abuse are probably never reported. Nevertheless, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reports a “dramatic increase” in child abuse.

Naomi Feigelson Chase found that, historically, “serious” child abuse was either underreported or atypical. Chase and Leontine Young attempt to distinguish between severe physical neglect—lack of adequate or regular feeding—and moderate neglect, which includes lack of cleanliness, lack of adequate clothing, and failure to provide medical care. 

They also point out that physical neglect is not the same as physical abuse, which, in turn, may be either moderate or severe. According to Young, the prolonged physical and psychological abuse of children constitutes a category all its own, as does child murder: “Severe [physical] abuse is consistent beating that leaves visible results. Moderate abuse occurs when parents beat children under stress or when drunk. [Those in the] severe category are unable to be helped. The abusing parents’ hallmark is deliberate, calculated, consistent punishing without cause or purpose.”

In 1978 Dr. David Gil analyzed the thirteen thousand reported cases of physical child abuse in the United States. Of these, 3 percent were fatal; less than 5 percent “led to permanent damage”; 53 percent (6,890 cases) were not serious; 90 percent “were expected to leave no lasting physical effects.”

These studies of reported child abuse were almost always correlated with extreme poverty, severely “deprived” parental childhoods, mental illness, overburdened and isolated single motherhood, and unrelieved or profound stress.

In view of the high incidence of and extraordinary stress associated with single motherhood  and the great amount of time mothers have to spend with children, it is significant that both Gil and Chase found no evidence that mothers “abuse” their children any more than fathers (or boyfriends) do. On the contrary. According to Chase, “a mother or stepmother was the abuser in 50 percent of the incidents and the father or stepfather in about 40 percent.  Others were caretakers, siblings, or unrelated perpetrators. However, since almost a third of the homes were headed by females, fathers had a higher involvement rate than mothers. Two-thirds of the incidents in the homes where fathers or stepfathers were present were committed by the father or stepfathers; while in homes with mothers or stepmothers, the mothers and stepmothers were perpetrators in less than half the incidents that took place.” 

Researchers studied pregnant mothers who were potentially “high-risk” physical child abusers. All these mothers were young, poor, unwed, and going through with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. The study found that, as expected, one-quarter of the children was abused psychologically. The researchers explained this abuse in terms of the mothers: they had received no “maternal nurturance” in childhood. The psychologically abusive mothers “don’t know how to be nurturing. Instead of giving to the child, they look to the child to satisfy their own needs for nurturance and love, and the child cannot provide.”

This study actually shows that 75 percent of “high-risk” mothers do not psychologically or physically abuse their children and that “high-risk” mothers need emotional as well as economic support in order to mother properly. The study focuses on maternal, not on paternal, abuse.

Researchers have no control over how their work is viewed or used. This study (and others like it) are used to “indict” mothers in the public imagination, to incite middle-class or married mothers to paroxysms of time-consuming guilt, and to justify the state’s custodial or reproductive punishment of poor, unwed mothers. 

Mothers do not physically or sexually abuse, abandon, or neglect their children as often as fathers do. Several statistically sophisticated studies have confirmed that it is mainly men—fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, boyfriends, older brothers, uncles, and male strangers—who physically and sexually abuse both mothers and children.

How many fathers and adult men beat or rape mothers? No one really knows. Research suggests that anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of all mothers in America are physically battered and/or raped by their husbands or live-in boyfriends.

Some studies (and common sense) suggest that wife beaters also tend to abuse their children physically, sexually, and psychologically. The sons of wife beaters often become wife beaters; their daughters often become battered wives.

How many fathers sexually abuse their own genetic or legal children and grandchildren? No one really knows, though a number of first-person and clinical accounts about paternal incest have been published and publicized.

In the past, according to incest researchers, two to five million American women were paternally raped as children; one in every seven or one in every five American children was the victim of paternal incest or of male sexual abuse; 19 percent of all American women (one in six) and 9 percent of American men were sexually victimized as children. Other studies have shown that perhaps 20–25 percent of American girls were sexually abused in childhood and that 30–50 percent of their abusers were male members of their own family.

It is my impression that the majority of unfit mothers do not kill, torture, maim, rape, or abandon their children outright. The majority of unfit mothers seem physically to neglect and psychologically to abuse their children.

Mothers do spend more time with children than fathers do. Mothers also turn up in emergency rooms alone with battered children. The sight of a mother accompanying a child with a broken arm or a suspicious burn is sickening and impossible to forget.

We do not ask, “Why is she here alone?” or “Where is the child’s father or other adult member of his family?” We do not comment, “Maybe the father (or a man) actually beat this child, and she’s confessing in his place,” or “Perhaps the absence of a supportive husband ‘drove’ her to it.”

Still, it is my impression that when an unfit mother does physically abuse her child, she may do so less forcefully, less often, and less fatally than her paternal counterpart.  (There are many exceptions among drug-addicted and mentally ill mothers.)

Physically neglectful or physically violent mothers are more closely and critically scrutinized than physically abusive fathers are. Such mothers have also often internalized certain maternal ideals. Whether they achieve or fail them, they are aware of, and often guilty about, their imperfect or failed maternal performance.

Clearly, children are equally endangered by equally physically violent parents whether they are mothers or fathers. However, women in general are more rigidly socialized into nonviolent maternal behavior under stress than men are.

Female socialization, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth, maternal practice, and the social “watchdogging” of mothers all tend to reinforce maternal physical nonviolence. Children tend to be physically safer with most mothers most of the time. Sara Ruddick observed that most mothers are (objectively) “powerless” women who find themselves

embattled with weak creatures whose wills are unpredictable and resistant, whose bodies [they] could quite literally destroy, whose psyches are at [their] mercy. . . . I can think of no other situation in which someone with the resentments of social powerlessness, under enormous pressures of time and anger, faces a recalcitrant but helpless combatant with so much restraint [author’s italics]. It is also clear that physical and psychological violence is a temptation of maternal practice and a fairly common occurrence.

What is remarkable is that in a daily way mothers make so much peace instead of fighting, and then when peace fails, conduct so many battles without resorting to violence [author’s italics]. I don’t want to trumpet a virtue but to point to a fact: that non-violence is a constitutive principle of maternal thinking, and that mothers honor it not in the breach, but in their daily practice, despite objective temptations to violence.

Children are potentially more physically endangered by fathers, whose socialization as men has predisposed them to flight or physical violence under stress and has forced them into a fierce dependence upon obedience from wives and children. Fathers, as men, are not closely “watchdogged” within the house; in a father-idealizing and father-absent culture, they are romanticized by children. (This dynamic allows children to deny paternal violence against them or to blame themselves when it happens.)

Both nature and culture have prepared women to mother in physically nonviolent ways under very oppressive conditions. Some observers romanticize the female ability to do this; others lament it as a virtue by default. Most mothers are usually able to absorb frustration, humiliation, unemployment, poverty, celibacy, and extreme loneliness without abandoning, seriously abusing, or murdering their children. As such, mothers as a group are rearing their children as well as can be expected of the human race to date.

Does a child physically need his or her father or father figure during pregnancy or childbirth, during infancy, or at some point later in childhood? Common sense and personal experience confirm that men and women do not have the same physical relationship to children.

It is crucial to remember that many children grow up without any fathers or father figures. Studies suggest that such children are no different from children with fathers—if severe impoverishment is not confused with paternal absence. Perhaps few children are physically fathered whether they live with fathers or not.

It is also clear that fathers have an effect on children whether they are absent or present, that fathers may influence a child directly or indirectly, and that paternal influence can be “advantageous, disadvantageous, or neutral.”

A number of feminist theorists and researchers have written about the psychological importance of “fathering” and about men’s potential ability to “nurture.” Such researchers have tried to show that a “good “father is potentially as good as (or similar to) a “good mother.”

These studies have essentially shown that white, middle-class, well- educated fathers can, under experimental conditions, “bond” with infants and can perform many of the physical and emotional tasks of “maternal nurturance.”

However, studies also show that “good enough” fathers tend to spend radically less time with infants, toddlers, preadolescents, and teenagers than mothers do; that fathers tend to “play” with children rather than physically to “service” them; and that fathers tend to “mother” children for comparatively short periods of time.

In real life, some (married) fathers are indeed physically “nurturant” to their children. However, unlike most nurturant mothers, such fathers are unwilling or unable to “nurture” children all day, every day, for all the years of each child’s childhood.

Fathers do not get pregnant. They do not give birth to, breast-feed, or routinely take care of newborn infants. Traditional fathers and mothers do not view these tasks as men’s province.

Researchers have found that “good enough” fathers are not able or willing to do what “good enough” mothers must do physically in related areas in order to maintain family life. For example, past studies confirmed that American wives did 70 percent of the housework, whether they were employed outside the home or not.

In their study of American couples, Drs. Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz found that married men had such an intense aversion to house- work that when wives insisted they do it, intense acrimony and a greater probability of divorce resulted.

Even if a “good enough” father is unemployed, he does much less house-work (and child care) than a wife who is a full-time employee outside the home. One of my interviewees said, “My ex-husband was once unemployed for about a year. I taught full time and rushed home at three, collected the kids, shopped, and cooked dinner. I was very tired by the time I put the kids to bed and finished the dishes. I begged him to cook dinner. He refused. After much battling he agreed to cook every Friday night. He finally cooked dinner about twice a month. We all had to praise him and eat everything. I had to clear the table and do the dishes. Everyone said I had to be very understanding because he wasn’t employed.”

Of course, a father may be able to earn more money or physically lift more weight than a mother can. Such (innate and cultural) abilities may have nothing  to do with satisfying the daily physical needs of children directly or with satisfying these needs in a physically nonviolent way, especially at times of parental stress.

Is physical punishment always a form of child abuse? Is a slap the equivalent of a broken arm? Is physical abuse the most serious form of child abuse? Is a child who is made to feel “unloved” or “unworthy” more severely abused than a child who is physically punished?

What do we know about psychological mothering and fathering? “Good enough” fathers may be psychologically cold, cruel, demanding, rivalrous, ambivalent, smothering, and abusive toward their sons and psychologically seductive and incestuous toward their daughters. A “good enough” father may also be infinitely more psychologically patient, understanding, relaxed, and generous to his children (especially to a daughter) than a mother may be.

“Good enough” mothers may be psychologically cold, cruel, demanding, rivalrous, ambivalent, smothering, and abusive toward their daughters (and to a lesser extent toward their sons). They may also be either more positively— or negatively—“maternal” toward their children than a father may be.

Drs. Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, and Albert J. Solnit have noted that the “best” parent-child relationship is both “positive” and “negative”; that it “fluctuates” over time; that “wanted” children may be “excessively valued” to their detriment; and that “good” parents cannot guarantee ideal child development even when they are their child’s psychological parents—that is, present and active in daily and physically caring ways.

Most parents do not view the psychological abuse of children as an epidemic with “devastating” consequences. According to psychoanalyst Alice Miller, most parents unthinkingly “murder their children’s souls.” Parents suppress their children’s “vital spontaneity” by the “laying of traps, duplicity, subterfuge, manipulation, ‘scare’ tactics, withdrawal of love, isolation, distrust, by humiliating and disgracing the child, scorn, ridicule, and coercion even to the point of torture. The former practice of physically maiming, exploiting, and abusing children seems to have been gradually replaced in modern times by a form of mental cruelty that is masked by the honorific term child-rearing.”

Miller may or may not be right. However, she rarely distinguishes between paternal and maternal behavior. She merges what mothers and fathers do (and don’t do) into “parental” behavior. Also, Miller’s psychologically high standards, while admirable, are rarely applied to fathers—or to mothers of all classes and races.

Unless or until we (and the “experts”) are prepared emotionally to judge all parents by the same standard, several conclusions are in order about how most mothers and fathers behave today.

Mental health experts, like the rest of us, tend to blame mothers, not fathers, for any problems a child may have; to praise fathers, but not mothers, for the good they may do; and to have one set of expectations for mothers and another, lesser set for fathers. Experts also tend to pathologize mothers when they fall short of idealized expectations of motherhood.

Seattle attorney Martha O. Eller notes a disturbing trend: “We are very disheartened by social workers’ and psychologists’ willingness to ignore issues of domestic violence, over-emphasize the value of a working father and under-value the contributions of a full-time homemaker, and [their] general tendency to despise a woman for having boyfriends without carefully inquiring of the father along the same lines. The [child] guardians ad litem, including psychologists, tend to evaluate the mothers harshly, even more so than the judges.”

Some mental health professionals have encouraged fathers to consider co-parenting or joint custody as their right and encouraged mothers to consider co-parenting or joint custody as their obligation, both of which are “in the best interests of the child.” Unbelievably, mental health professionals tend to trust what a father tells them and to distrust almost everything a mother says. They routinely minimize male violence and routinely pathologize the normal female response to violence. For example, read the following evaluation from a Michigan case:

The mother presents as a tense, suspicious person rigidly fixated on her ex-husband’s so-called potential for child abuse. She and the maternal grandmother, an overly intrusive, controlling woman, have convinced this child to fear her father. While the father admits to engaging in mildly inappropriate fondling behavior with his young daughter and to an incident of “joyriding” with her, I believe these were isolated occurrences and would not occur if the father-daughter relationship was stabilized. The father’s continuing inability to pay child support should not be used to deprive him or his child of their relationship. I recommend visitation to the father and therapy for the mother to help her deal with her pathological dependence on her own mother.

Here is an evaluation from a New York case:

The mother claims that her son has been terrorized by his father during so-called drunken rages. She claims that the father allegedly threatened to kill the boy’s dog if his son didn’t obey him. The wife claims she has been battered and that her husband tried to control her every waking hour. I don’t see this. She is too self-confident, too bossy. This woman has her own business and earns more than the father does. The father has been in treatment for alcoholism and says he is now recovered. He lives with the paternal grandparents, who are prosperous. The boy needs to live with male role models, his father and grandfather, especially since his mother has a career and is obviously hostile to men.

It made no difference to either evaluator—one a man, the other a woman—that both fathers were verified as having been treated for mental illness and alcoholism, had been fired from jobs for “losing their tempers” and for repeated absences, and had often “disappeared” from home. That both mothers had been their children’s sole support, psychologically and economically, and had sought help from the police, hospitals, and, in one case, a shelter for battered women. None of this impressed the evaluators. Incredibly, these reports—and they are typical—found the mothers “guilty,” the fathers “innocent.”

How can one fight such an incredible catch-22?

At some level, the evaluators do believe that the fathers have done some- thing “wrong,” but they don’t want to penalize them for their actions. In fact, when allegations of paternal violence are believed, the father is then exonerated by virtue of having a mental illness. While male mental illness is seen as either temporary or amenable to “therapeutic” intervention, women are often seen as suffering from near-permanent mental illnesses. Judges have been reluctant to order a wife batterer or child abuser out of the house or into jail; based on such psychiatric evaluations, they have instead ordered violent fathers into therapy or mediation. Violent or mentally ill fathers rarely lose their rights to visitation or custody; mothers, however, do. The following paragraphs are from an Illinois case and a Rhode Island case, respectively:

I guess I had a post-partum depression. I was always so tired, but I couldn’t sleep. What if I fell asleep and my babies needed me? I was all they had. I might not have needed pills or a two-week stay in a hospital if my husband had helped or allowed me to hire someone for the twins. When I put myself into a mental hospital, my in-laws persuaded my husband to move in with them, start divorce proceedings, and take custody away from me. Twice, when I and my parents, who finally decided to help me, tried to see my babies, my in-laws physically threw us out. The third time they had us arrested. The police threatened us. The judge said I was too sick to be a mother.

My ex-husband is charming, well-dressed, well-spoken, and comes from a very powerful family. He first beat me two weeks after we were married. The beatings continued. When I was pregnant, he kicked me so hard between the legs that he broke my water. I gave birth prematurely. During that beating I grazed his arm with a fork. I also pressed charges. He said I’d gone too far and I’d have to be punished. On the basis of his version of what I did with the fork, the custody psychiatrist stated that I was the abusive spouse. The psychiatrist pre- scribed a minimum of three years of therapy to cure my violence. He recommended that I have limited, supervised visitation and that sole custody go to my ex-husband and his live-in housekeeper. The judge agreed. I haven’t seen my child in three years.

“Good enough” mothers behave (and are trained to behave) differently toward children from the way “good enough” fathers do. Most mothers give birth to children after successful pregnancies.

Most “birth” and adoptive mothers do not physically abandon or physically abuse their children once they have gotten involved in caring for them.

Some mothers do physically neglect their children. A small (and unknown)  percentage of mothers  sexually abuse, torture, and kill their children.

All other things being equal, the majority of mothers physically nurture and support their children adequately, continuously, and in nonviolent ways.

All mothers are psychologically imperfect. Some are also psychologically abusive.

Most fathers are trained to neglect their children physically. Many fathers physically abandon their children. As we have seen, perhaps one in seven fathers (and stepfathers) sexually abuses his daughters; perhaps 50 percent of fathers economically abandon their children.

All fathers are psychologically imperfect. How many are also psychologically abusive? Most? Some? Few?

In a woman- and mother-hating culture, it is emotionally difficult or psychologically forbidden to acknowledge female or maternal superiority even—or especially—in the areas of female “specialization.” In a man- and father-idealizing culture, it is emotionally difficult or psychologically forbidden to acknowledge male or paternal inferiority even—or especially—in the areas of male nonspecialization. These are two of the reasons we “forget” that a “good enough” mother is different from a “good enough” father.

As adults, we respond “indignantly” to news of an abused child. We experience child abuse as something extraordinary, not ordinary; as something that other parents, mainly mothers, do; not as something that our own parents, or fathers, once did to us; not as something that we as parents do to our children; and not as something that fathers allow to happen to large numbers of children in their name and without their protest.

As adults, we confuse images of maternal psychological imperfection with maternal psychological and physical unfitness. For example, the idea of a mother’s locking her child into a room arouses our rage and a deep sense of heartbreak. (Why? Were we all once left in rooms alone? If so, do we think that this constitutes “child abuse”? Does it?)

The idea of a mother’s verbally tormenting or refusing to speak to her child at all or the idea of a mother’s neglecting or beating her child provokes the greatest fury and terror in us. (Why? Did our mothers or fathers beat us? If not, why do we so empathetically identify with the image of an abused child? Are we by nature altruists?)

As children, none of us could escape or protest whatever minor or major abuse we suffered at maternal and paternal hands. Now, in one mighty adult voice, we vent our long-suppressed fury at the mother in the child-abuse headlines. She is utterly evil and can never be rehabilitated. (How can she be? She is a “stand-in” for so many mothers.) She is very powerful. This time she must not escape us.

Given male violence (or indifference), how can our own mothers accept or defend the way things are? (And they do, they do. . . .) How can our own mothers bear to hear our cries and do nothing? How can they leave us alone in the tiny rooms of our lives?

Given male violence and our fear of it, we scapegoat mothers instead. (They are trained to “take it” without killing or abandoning us.) Given male violence and our fear of it, we ask: How dare any mother refuse to become pregnant? How dare any mother have an abortion or abandon, abuse, or kill a child—because if she can, then there is no respite on earth, no one to bear the brunt of our imperfections, and no one to save us. We, the innocent, are damned.

Medea—not Jason, not Creon—is still the one we blame.

In summary, an ideal mother is very different from an ideal father. A real mother is also different from a real father. Traditionally, an ideal mother is expected to choose married motherhood  for her future at a very young age. She is expected to become pregnant, give birth, psychologically “bond” with her children, and assume bottom-line responsibility for her children’s physical, emotional, and economic needs. She is also expected to behave in physically nonviolent and psychologically self-sacrificing ways.

Nevertheless, this female socialization into and practice of motherhood is devalued and taken for granted. We experience the same parental abuse as “worse” when a mother performs it. We condemn mothers more than fathers for failing the parental ideal, for performing parental work inadequately, for being psychologically imperfect, and for being physically abusive.

With such double standards and anti-mother biases, what kind of custodially challenged mother would automatically be viewed as a “good enough” mother? (A person might say, “There must be something wrong with her. Why else would her husband or the state challenge her?”)

Do judges, priests, politicians, psychiatrists, or social workers view unwed, imprisoned, or “career” mothers as maternally fit? Would they view their custodial victimization as unjust? Do white married mothers or white social workers view nonwhite or welfare mothers as maternally fit?

Most custodially challenged mothers blame themselves for being imperfect. What kind of custodially challenged mother would view herself, or be viewed by other challenged mothers, as a truly “good enough” mother?

I decided to study sixty custodially challenged, predominantly white mothers who had internalized the Western ideals of motherhood and were demographically similar to the majority of divorced white mothers in America. These sixty mothers were custodially challenged in every geographical region of the United States and Canada between 1960 and 1981. In addition, I interviewed fifty mothers who were black, brown, yellow, and red. Some, but not all, were part of this study. They are very much a part of this book.

In general, the sixty mothers I studied married as virgins—or they married the first man they slept with. They both married and gave birth at relatively young ages. They assumed the bottom-line domestic, emotional, and primary child-care responsibilities of traditional marriages. In general, these mothers stayed at home until their youngest children were of grade-school age. Both psychologically and physically they put “work” or a “career” second to motherhood.

During our interviews together, these mothers casually and  matter-of-factly described performing at least twenty-five very specific maternal domestic and child-related chores—quite separate from domestic chores that are husband related.

As I noted in the introduction, I was exploring a worst-case scenario.

Could a “good enough” mother ever lose custody? Could she lose custody to a relatively uninvolved or abusive father? Could this happen more than once? Could this happen often?

In my book Women and Madness, I allowed each of my sixty interviewees to establish what would ultimately be a collective portrait of the mental health profession. I employed this approach with custodially challenged mothers.

However, I also interviewed fifty-five fathers who battled for, won, or gave up custody. These independent interviews confirmed many of my conclusions about the range of paternal custodial motives.

The study you are about to read is a study of “good enough” mothers. Unbidden and silent, the mother Medea accompanied me to each interview.

Reprinted with permission from “Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody,” Revised and Updated Second Edition by Phyllis Chesler. Text copyright 2011 Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press. Published by Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press (distributed by IPG). Available in stores and online.



It’s All About the Power and Control, I Mean the Kids

In domestic law on July 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Everyday we all hear about or read about divorcing couples fighting over who gets the kids.  Fighting over their own children like they are some sort of property to be traded back and forth.  There are many people that believe ALL mothers should always have custody with very little to no visitation for fathers; and likewise there are those out there that believe the opposite, ALL fathers should get custody and mothers should get little to no visitation.

Personally I don’t see how so many people can see this issue in such black and white terms.  Not ALL mothers are good parents and not ALL fathers are good parents.  For the most part the daily news will show us that most child abuse and child murders are committed by fathers, and yes, occasionally by mothers.  This still doesn’t prove that ALL fathers are bad or good or that ALL mothers are bad or good.

In the last few years I have learned more about the Father’s Rights Movement, and I can say that I’m more than a little shocked at what I’ve learned.  The Father’s Rights Advocates would have everyone believe that they are just concerned for fathers as a whole having shared or joint custody.  They would have us believe that their number one concern is actually the children in divorces and custody cases.  On the surface if one doesn’t dig too much that sounds wonderful.

However, when looked at further it is easily seen what the real agenda is for the Father’s Rights Movement.  The further abuse and victimization of their ex-wives and children.  Before I go any further here, I’d like to point out that I fully believe that good fathers have

sought out the assistance of the Father’s Rights Movement and one of two things happens… they either leave, frustrated and still alone in their plight OR they become enmeshed in the bitterness which abounds.

What I see out of Father’s Rights Advocates around the internet appears to be mostly just a bunch of men (and a few women that will do anything to get the attention or have a little power for themselves) who have been abusive in one way or another to the mother of their children and now feel that comfy rug of power and control being ripped from under their feet. 

What better way to continue to abuse and control your victim when they walk away than to take possession of their children?

One main reason that I’ve formed the opinion that I have of the Father’s Rights Movement is because only abusers would look at the news we see of fathers murdering and abusing their kids and deny that it happens, or make excuses for it happening.  The strict adherence to the ‘ALL fathers should have custody’ line that they feed everyone is the basis of my opinion that the majority of those in the movement are abusers grasping at keeping the power and control they had.

Here is an example, mind you… this is only one search, but there are many like this.


Referrer wifes come back after losing custody?&start=20&sa=N

Search Engine Phrase
do wifes come back after losing custody?

Search Engine Name

Search Engine Host

Host Name

IP Address
[Label IP Address]

United States

Why would someone look for this?  Other than because they are contemplating attempting to gain custody through the Family Court just to get their ex-wife back under their power.  This doesn’t sound like a man who loves his kids and wants the best for them, this sounds like a man who loves control and will use whatever means available to him to maintain or re-gain his power and control.

I never meant for this to be this long, so I will wrap this up by saying… not ALL men should have access to their children regardless of what the FR Advocates say.  Likewise, I can admit that not ALL women that give birth are the best parent choice either.  The natural equipment that we are born with which enables us to create life does NOT dictate how a person will be as a parent.

Since it is obvious that I have much more to say about this… there will be other posts on this subject.



Slain mom mentioned custody dispute in email to ex-boyfriend

In domestic law on July 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm
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Raleigh, N.C. — An old boyfriend of a Kinston woman whose remains were found in Texas said Wednesday that the two reconnected over email days before her death and that she had mentioned an ongoing custody battle with the father of her two young sons – ages 3 and 2.

The dismembered body of Laura Jean Ackerson, 27, who was reported missing on July 18, was found Sunday in a creek in Richmond, Texas, about 60 miles south of Houston.

Grant Ruffin Hayes, 32, the father of her children, is charged with murder in the case. His wife, Amanda Perry Hayes, 39, is also charged with murder.

James Harrison said by phone from his home in New York that he and Ackerson, who dated from 2005 to 2008 and ultimately parted on good terms, began exchanging messages on July 11 and that he could tell the custody dispute had taken a toll on her and had caused her a great deal of stress.

Court documents indicate that Grant Hayes had been awarded custody of the children at one point but that each party claimed the other was an unfit parent.

“She was involved in a very long court battle,” Harrison said. “Clearly, the relationship had gone sour.”

But he didn’t want to invade her privacy by pressing her to talk about it too much, he said.

The two last talked via email on July 12, about her visiting him in New York.

Ackerson was last seen alive on July 13, and her car was found parked outside a north Raleigh apartment complex a week later.

Harrison said that he learned about her death over the Internet and is devastated.

“The manner in which it happened and the level of gruesome detail that went into Laura’s disappearance just killed me,” he said.

Investigators with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office in Richmond say they believe Ackerson was killed in Raleigh, dismembered and then transported in ice chests to Texas, where her remains were dumped in a creek about 100 yards from where Amanda Hayes’ sister lives.

Raleigh police have declined to comment on the investigation or a possible motive, but family members and other friends said that Grant Hayes’ relationship with Ackerson had been volatile.

Harrison said that, after he and Ackerson had broken up, he had thought Grant Hayes seemed to be a good match for her.

“I knew the type of person Laura was looking for, and he seemed to have all those traits and qualities, so I was actually really happy for them,” Harrison said.

A public memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Grace Fellowship Church, 327 Academy Heights Road in Kinston.

Laura Ackerson

See more at


Indiana Mother Has Not Seen or Spoken to Her American Born Son Allegedly Abducted to Egypt by His Father Three Years Ago When Son was Three

In domestic law on July 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm
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Husband and Wife have Son while living together in Indiana.

Husband is from Egypt.

Husband and Wife’s marriage is rocky.

While Wife is in the hospital, Husband allegedly abducts then three year old Son to his native Egypt.

Indiana family court awards Wife sole custody of Son.

Three years ago.

But Husband has not allowed Wife to see or speak to Son since.

Son has also had no contact with his big sister, from whom he was inseparable until the day he was abducted.

Husband was always insistent that Son be raised in the Muslim faith.

Wife never gave permission for Son to obtain a passport or to travel abroad.

However Husband was able to obtain an emergency passport for Son without Wife’s permission. It is unclear but the passport may have been issued by Egypt rather than the US.

The US government requires both parents’ consent to issue a passport for a minor child under sixteen years of age.

As an extra measure of protection, it is possible for either parent to place an alert so that the US government does not issue a passport for their child.

But parents should know that several foreign countries grant dual citizenship to American children of their nationals and may issue passports by their own country with only the permission of the parent who is a national of that country.

Egypt is not a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Wife’s US child custody order is not recognized in Egypt.

Seventy-four percent of the abducted children returned to the US in 2009 were abducted to Hague Convention countries.

Mother, as an American, non-Muslim woman, reportedly would not prevail in any child custody battle in Egypt’s own family courts.

Read more in this Evansville [IN] Courier Press article: Evansville’s Missing People: Life without Adam.



Custody Battle For Murdered Kinston Woman And Murder Suspect’s Children

In domestic law on July 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm
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LENOIR COUNTY — We’re getting new information on the bitter custody battle between Laura Ackerson and Grant Hayes. Hayes had custody of the children he fathered with Ackerson. So where are the boys tonight?

The 2 children of Grant Hayes and Laura Ackerson are reportedly with Hayes’ parents…for now. It appears the children were at their grandparents’ house at the time of their father’s arrest, but Hayes and Ackerson had been battling for custody for months, so it’s unclear who will get custody in the long-term.

Ackerson filed a complaint against Hayes in September of 2010. She wanted custody of her 2 boys. At the time, Hayes lived in Manhattan, but by the time he filed a counter complaint on May 17th, of this year, he was living in Wake County.

Hayes got a lawyer and was awarded emergency custody of his children on June 15th. That document reads “the defendant (Hayes) is the fit and proper person to have the care, custody, and control of the minor children.”

The Department of Social Services evaluated the children at the time their father was arrested and released them to the custody of “family members” We went to check on who has the kids, but no one was at the Hayes’ Kinston home to talk to us about the children.

The most recent legal custody arrangement was made on June 29th. That’s when Hayes and Ackerson filed a consent order It reads “the parties and attorneys have agreed to settle the issues of temporary child custody by executing this consent order.” Under this agreement, Ackerson would have visitation with her children on the weekends, but primary temporary custody would go to Hayes. They agreed on every detail from sleeping arrangements for the kids to who would take their youngest to a doctor’s appointment in Cary on July 2nd. Hayes, Ackerson, and both their children were also supposed to go through child custody forensic psychiatric evaluation. The children and their parents were supposed to go back to court September 15th to see if the consent order was working for everyone and to review their psychiatric evaluations.

Grant Hayes’ parents have not filed a petition with the Lenoir County court for temporary custody — even though the children are staying with them.

Grant Hayes also has an infant with his wife, Amanda. That child is not part of this custody battle.



Battered Women Take Custody Battles to White House

In domestic law on July 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm

A year old article, but the image caught my attention.
The Center Quilt:
“Hand Prints” by my own daughter, when she was two.
The only thing I have left of her.
She was handed over to the ‘abuser’ who has through the use of the courts- forced my daughter to grow up with out her mother and with a known, admitted and convicted ‘batterer’ – HAL RICHARDSON, TOPEKA, KANSAS.

Research shows that ‘batterers’ are 70% more likely to abuse their children than non batterers. FATHERS RIGHTS, to punish, torture and kill.

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A quilt made by protective parents. Each panel represents a child or family lost to or being fought for in the court system.(WOMENSENEWS)–On Mother’s Day, busloads of battered moms and advocates for abused children will roll into Washington, D.C.

They’ll hold a vigil outside the White House in an effort to persuade President Obama to take up their cause of reforming a family court system that they say all too often puts children into the hands of abusive parents.

For some it marks a new and somewhat frightening degree of public exposure. Some of the protesters will be shrouded in scarves, hiding from their abusers or a court system they fear will punish them for speaking out.

A quilt made by protective parents. Each panel represents a child or family lost to or being fought for in the court system.
busive parents, it also bankrupts and punishes the protective parents who fight for them. At the same time, they say it’s hard to reform the system because

“They’re whistleblowers,” said vigil organizer Connie Valentine, policy director for The California Protective Custody Association, based in Sacramento. “The system doesn’t look kindly on whistleblowers. It’s a difficult situation because we have seen enormous judicial retaliation against mothers who step up in front of the problem.”

Efforts to quantify the problem are just beginning but protective parents claim it is widespread. A study done by the Williamsburg, Va.-based American Judges Foundation in the early 1990s showed that in 70 percent of challenged cases, battering parents involved in custody battles persuaded authorities the victimized parent was unfit for sole custody, according to a spokesperson from the foundation.

Valentine and other advocates for protective parents call the family courts broken and corrupt and say the system not only puts children into the hands of abusive parents, it also bankrupts and punishes the protective parents who fight for them. At the same time, they say it’s hard to reform the system because the people it hurts are hiding from abusers and anxious to avoid publicity.

Shifting Ground

But Valentine feels the ground shifting. “I think we’re in the early stages of a civil rights movement for protecting children from physical and sexual abuse.”

She said the Internet is helping battered mothers come together. “E-mail has helped. It’s a good part of the reason for all of the advocacy,” Valentine said. “Women are beginning to see that it’s not their fault and that they are just pawns in the game.”

Mo Hannah, psychology professor at Siena College, near Albany, N.Y., used the Internet to organize the first annual conference for battered women seeking custody in 2004, after her own difficult custody battle.

This past January marked the seventh gathering, which meets annually in Albany and is the major organizing and networking event of the year for protective parents.

“The first conference was about getting people to talk and validate their experiences,” Hannah said. “But as the conferences continued it became very clear that we needed a national movement. Now the conference is just sort of an umbrella or structure that encourages people to share with each other.”

Over the seven years, women have met at the conference and formed smaller groups, such as the Massachusetts Protective Mothers for Custodial Justice.

“Mass Moms,” as it has come to be known, brings together women who have gone through custody battles with those currently in the throes. Volunteers accompany women to court and on lawyer visits and play a general shepherding role.

“We stand next to a woman who is fighting for her children while she pleads and receives orders,” one Mass Mom told Women’s eNews at January’s Battered Mothers Custody Conference.

These volunteers have all been through their own custody battles and declined to be named for fear of retribution from their ex-husbands or the court system. Many have gag orders associated with their own cases. It is this type of fear of retribution that has helped keep the protective parents movement under the radar.



    A Request to Men’s Organizations and Allies for Support of Protective Child Custody (in English, Spanish, and French)

    In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm
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    Male supremacist groups (“Father’s Rights”) have caused unspeakable harm to our country and to our children by encouraging abusive fathers, often with little past involvement with their children, to seek custody as a tactic to pressure a mother to return or to punish her for leaving.

    “Shared parenting”, “friendly parent”, involvement of both parents and other concepts that seem fair and benevolent have instead been used to manipulate courts and legislatures to help abusive fathers. For instance, women are routinely denied custody of their children after being classified as “unfriendly” for asserting that the husband has abused them or their children.

    Parental Alienation Syndrome (sometimes disguised by use of other names for the discredited practice) is an unscientific theory that is used to prevent investigation of children’s reports of their father’s abuse. Unscrupulous professionals use it as a way to make money while ignoring the destructive impact on children’s lives. Male supremacists debase the discussion of child custody issues by personal attacks and attempts to substitute repeated lies for information based on scientific research. NOMAS condemns the male supremacist tactics and instead supports the work of protective mothers to make safety of children the highest priority of custody courts.

    Male supremacists do not speak for the vast majority of men and fathers. We invite organizations of men opposed to men’s violence against women and exploitation of children to join us in speaking out in support of protective mothers and for reforms in the custody court system so that children will no longer be sent to live with abusers or separated from safe, protective mothers.



    Domestic Violence Safe Courts Act

    In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Even when things are going well personally and professionally, you can’t work on protective mother issues without regularly receiving a cruel jolt of reality from the broken court system. I just received such a jolt with the mistaken conviction of a protective mother for perjury regarding her complaints about her abuser’s assault. Surely the jury could have made a better decision if they could have been told of the context that courts routinely fail to recognize domestic violence and avoided the myth most people have heard that women frequently make false allegations of abuse.

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    This is a classic case from the Binghamton area of New York that I used as an example of common mistakes in the custody courts in my chapter for our book. In the chapter by Judge Thomas Hornsby, he explained how in his 19th year on the bench he learned the right way to respond to certain kinds of petitions for protective orders. It takes a great deal of courage and integrity to acknowledge this need for further learning, particularly in domestic violence cases. Instead, the judge in Binghamton said he had been on the bench for fifteen years and didn’t need to hear the testimony of a domestic violence expert (me). He then sent the children to live with their abusive father.

    The mother in this case has spoken of the high price she must pay for trying to protect her children. She had suffered the loss of her children and knowing they are continuing to suffer abuse. She has been ruined financially and for the second time faces bogus criminal charges and jail. And so in honor of this dear friend and all the too many other mothers in similar circumstances, I would like to propose legislation to make it safe for battered mothers and their children when they come to court. Repeatedly, protective mothers come to court confident that the judge and other court professionals will protect them from their abusers, since the evidence as far as the well-being of the children is so clear. And repeatedly, the inadequately trained court professionals, relying on outdated information and discredited practices, most of which were adopted 30+ years ago at a time when no research was available, instead helps the abuser to maintain control over his partner and to punish her for revealing his abuse. For years we have debated solutions to these repeated tragedies, but before any reform is possible, we must make the courts safe for battered women and their children.

    The Importance of Findings 

    While findings do not have the force of law, they do explain the purpose of the law and the intent of the legislature. It is totally appropriate and advisable for attorneys and protective mothers to cite such findings in support of their interpretation of the law, and such considerations should be persuasive.

    The findings should state very directly that the present court response is working poorly for women and children in domestic violence custody cases and that the intent of the legislature is to create fundamental changes in the way courts respond to such cases. The intent of the legislatures when they passed laws requiring courts to consider domestic violence in custody and visitation decisions was for the courts to take domestic violence seriously, based on the research that demonstrated the severe harm to children of witnessing abuse, but the outdated and discredited practices widely used in the court system have undermined the courts’ ability to provide the protections and safety the legislatures thought they were creating.

    The courts frequently fail to recognize valid complaints about domestic violence. Court professionals often do not have adequate training in domestic violence and often rely on mental health professionals who have little or no training or understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence. There are many normal behaviors by battered mothers that inadequately trained professionals use to discredit allegations of abuse that are not probative. At the same time courts often limit their focus to physical abuse and fail to use the evidence available to recognize the pattern of controlling and coercive behavior. Best practices require that professionals without extensive training in domestic violence (which is almost all of the professionals used in the custody courts) should consult with domestic violence advocates or other experts. Courts rarely use such best practices, and many judges, like the judge in the Binghamton case, mistakenly believe that several years on the bench is an adequate substitute for genuine expertise and familiarity with up-to-date scientific research.

    The courts’ response to allegations of child sexual abuse is particularly harmful. Sexual abuse is hard to prove because, for obvious reasons, there are rarely any witnesses except for the child. Young children may not have the language to describe what happened; older children are often reluctant to reveal the abuse because of threats or just out of loyalty to their abuser. Inadequately trained professionals often expect physical proof, but many forms of sexual abuse leave no physical evidence, and the delay before a child reveals the abuse may cause physical evidence to be unavailable. These professionals often expect children to discuss very painful and embarrassing events without taking the time to create a trusting relationship and to use play therapy or other techniques that work best with younger children. Experts know that children often recant valid complaints, but recantations are routinely treated as if they were convincing proof the mothers made deliberately false reports.

    In an attempt to treat all parties fairly, courts often believe they must treat the parties the same. This is often expressed in the view that when parents come to court they must be treated equally. What is left out is any consideration of PAST PARENTING PRACTICES.. There is a difference between men and women, particularly in a society that continues to provide unearned yet often invisible privileges to men. Considering the differences between men and women is not unfair to men, but failing to consider them is unfair to women. The refusal of courts to speak of these differences, despite widespread gender bias confirmed by commissions sponsored by courts in over forty states and other research, results not in fairness or equality of how the courts treat the parties but in a huge advantage to men, especially abusive men.

    Probably the biggest advantage given to fathers in custody cases stems from the widespread myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse. A recent Department of Justice Study led by Dr. Daniel Saunders shows that evaluators with little training in domestic violence tend to believe this myth and thus make recommendations that work poorly for children. Of course, these false assumptions are often hidden from the judge, but if we don’t speak openly about the difference between men and women, the biases in favor of men will continue to make the courts unsafe for women and children.

    At the same time, studies, particularly one led by Nicholas Bala, establish fathers in contested custody cases are sixteen times more likely than mothers to make false allegations against the other parent. I want to be clear that this is not to say women in general are more honest than men; rather, this is limited to what goes on in contested custody cases. A large majority of fathers in such cases are abusers who are using the custody tactic to maintain control over former partners. It is based on the belief that she has no right to leave, so therefore, the use of any tactic, including raising false allegations, is justified. This is particularly important for prosecutors and child protective workers to realize, so that they don’t place the resources and authority of the government on the side of abusers.

    This problem is particularly exacerbated by the ability of abusers to manipulate other people, including professionals. Those who believe they have the ability to tell who is lying just by observing them are at even greater risk of being manipulated.

    One of the fundamental mistakes made by the court system is treating contested custody cases as “high conflict,” which implies that both parties are acting out their anger towards the other party through the children. In fact, most of these cases are domestic violence cases. The courts have adopted a lot of practices designed to encourage the parents to cooperate and to bring the parties together. Abusers love this, because it means forgetting about past history (his abuse) and gains him access to his victim. When mothers resist cooperating with someone who has hurt her and her child, she is viewed as unfriendly and often is severely punished. This is a prime example of blaming the mother for the actions of the father, something repeatedly uncovered by the state gender bias reports. The research establishes that the only methods that have been shown to change abusers’ behavior are accountability and monitoring, but the courts, which are not used to looking to up-to-date research for answers, are doing just the opposite.

    Needed Changes in the Law and Priorities 

    One of the problems in the court system is that the standard “best interests of the child” standard is subjective and often leads to focusing on less important issues. Most states have laws or case decisions that enumerate issues the court must consider in deciding custody and visitation. Courts often focus and decide custody based on cooperation between the parties, negative statements about the other parent, financial considerations, quality of the house or apartment or other similar issues. It is not that these are not valid issues that should be considered in appropriate cases, but too often these kinds of issues trump issues that are vital to the well being of the children. The first priority must be the safety of the children. DUH! It is frightening how often this is not the priority. When there are safety issues, we need a risk assessment rather than a traditional evaluation that focuses on less important issues and often doesn’t have the understanding to recognize the risks. The second priority should be arrangements that give children the best chance to reach their potential. It is hard to imagine anyone seriously objecting to these priorities, but it is not what the courts are doing today.

    The research about primary attachment is not controversial. Whichever parent provides most of the child care during the first couple of years of the baby’s life is the primary attachment figure and this does not change even if the living arrangements do. A child separated from their primary attachment figure is at greater risk of depression, low self-esteem, and suicidality when older. It cannot be right to impose these risks on a child unless the primary attachment figure presents a safety risk, such as someone who is a drug addict or beats the child. Negative statements about the other parent do not pose such a safety risk and have not been shown to create the long term harm of losing the primary attachment figure, but courts routinely place more emphasis on negative remarks because they have been taught to view the cases as “high conflict.”

    The range of harm to children from witnessing domestic violence is even greater. Such children are at increased risk for engaging in a wide variety of dysfunctional behaviors that can ruin their lives. Furthermore, domestic violence is based on a belief system so the end of a relationship is not likely to make the abuser safe. He will probably abuse future partners, so the children will witness further domestic violence if he is given custody or unsupervised visitation.

    Training in domestic violence for court professionals has been a common component of the courts’ response to domestic violence for many years, yet still the courts are getting a large percentage of domestic violence cases spectacularly wrong. Many judges and other professionals don’t attend such trainings or don’t pay attention out of a belief they already know everything or hostility to the topic. Too often the trainings have included misinformation that makes the situation worse while creating the illusion of addressing the problem.

    The research that shows the frequency with which fathers in contested custody cases kill their children, often with the unintentional assistance of the court, or receive custody and unsupervised visitation despite a history of abuse ought to create an urgency for changing the status quo. The Safe Court Act must provide for the retraining of judges and other court personnel. Common misconceptions like the myth women frequently make false complaints, domestic violence ends when the parties separate, children are unaffected by witnessing abuse and mistaking domestic violence cases as “high conflict” must be addressed and corrected. Then, instead of general domestic violence training, specific topics must be taught including Recognizing Domestic Violence, Gender Bias, Effects of Domestic Violence on Children, Critical Thinking About the Use of Mental Health Professionals and More Appropriate Responses to Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse. Finally, such trainings should be sponsored or co-sponsored by an organization whose primary focus is ending domestic violence.

    At the start of the movement to end domestic violence, the focus was mostly on physical abuse. But the harm to women and children is not limited to physical abuse, so there is no reason to limit the definition of domestic violence when making custody decisions. Domestic violence should be defined as a pattern of intimidating, controlling and coercive tactics by one party designed to permit that party to control their partner and make the major decisions in the relationship. These abusive actions result in the victim becoming afraid of the abuser.

    Domestic violence experts are clear that in cases involving domestic violence as defined above, the best outcome for the children is custody for the non-abusive or less abusive parent and at least initially supervised visitation for the abusive parent. While many states have a presumption for this child-friendly outcome, too often it is limited by higher standards of proof or level of abuse. The harm to children is not limited to what is considered more severe abuse so there is no reason to continue such limitations on protecting children.

    Particularly harmful to children is the common practice where the court fails to confirm the mother’s allegations of abuse and then punishes or retaliates against the mother if she continues to believe the father is dangerous despite the court’s finding. We found that when the court confirms a father’s abuse, it does not further penalize him for continuing to deny his abuse, even though his continued denial is far more harmful than the mother’s expressed fear of the father. This practice is bad because of the frequency that courts fail to recognize valid allegations of abuse; the harm of taking the primary attachment figure out of a child’s life is far more harmful than any benefit the court thinks it is creating. The law must provide that parents will not be penalized for good faith allegations, and the practice of denying children a meaningful relationship with safe, protective parents must be discouraged.

    Abusers tend to control the family finances and often use the family resources for legal and other resources while denying the same benefits to the victim. This is exacerbated by a common abuser tactic of using aggressive litigation strategies to bankrupt the victim. Courts must be encouraged to act more assertively to level the playing field by making the person controlling the family funds also provide funds for the other parent’s legal needs. This will lead to fairer outcomes and discourage excessive litigation, since the abuser doesn’t benefit from excessive motions if he has to pay for both lawyers.

    The research is very clear that women rarely make false allegations of abuse. They do so only one or two percent of the time, but there is a widespread myth that abuse claims are frequently false. At the same time, fathers involved in contested custody cases are sixteen times more likely to make false allegations. Prosecutors, in particular, need to be trained about this common tactic so that they can avoid being manipulated to help an abuser continue his abuse as the prosecutor in the Binghamton case mistakenly did. Similarly, child protective workers, lawyers and judges need training with this information. We have seen many child protective workers refuse to investigate allegations by mothers involved in contested custody cases on the (false) assumption she is trying to gain an advantage in the litigation, but take seriously (false) allegations by fathers involved in contested custody. Obviously, each case must be investigated separately, but they need to be familiar with the research so they can understand the context.

    Many communities have developed practices where child protective agencies work together with the local domestic violence agency. They cross-train each others’ staffs and when child protective caseworkers have a case that may involve domestic violence, the worker consults with a domestic violence advocate. This has resulted in a greater ability to recognize domestic violence and respond in ways that benefit children. This should be considered best practices. Similarly, ethical considerations require psychologists and psychiatrists to consult with experts in areas they are not familiar with. Few court-appointed mental health professionals are experts in domestic violence but they rarely consult with domestic violence advocates or experts and courts do not discredit them for failing to do so. The law should require such consultations which must be understood as best practices.

    The research shows the widespread use of mental health professionals in contested custody cases is problematical. Psychologists rely on psychological tests that were not created for the populations seen in custody courts and are based on probability, so that under the best of circumstances the results apply to only 55-65% of the parties, but this percentage is even lower in cases involving domestic violence. Frequently, we see mothers discredited because of results that show defensiveness, fear and other normal reactions to their partner’s abuse. When courts fail to recognize the abuse, mothers are pathologized as paranoid or delusional when there is no pathology in other parts of their lives. Accordingly courts must use much more critical thinking in the use of mental health professionals. This expense and delay should only be used when there are genuine mental health issues involved in the case. In cases involving allegations of domestic violence or child abuse, a risk assessment using probation or other investigators and domestic violence experts familiar with lethality risks would be more useful.

    Courts can save substantial time and money by having an early evidentiary hearing on allegations of domestic violence. The sole issue is whether the allegations are valid. If they are, the non-abusive or less abusive parent receives custody and the abuser initially receives supervised visitation. There is no need for evaluations, GALs or the consideration of less important issues that often distract attention from issues that most affect children. Cases that now take many months or years can be resolved in a few hours and children will quickly know who they will be living with which allows them to start the transition and healing process more quickly.


    We have a court system that is failing to protect battered mothers and their children because they are relying on outdated and discredited practices and beliefs that were developed at a time when no research was available. Every year, the custody courts are sending 58,000 children to abusers for custody or unprotected visitation. And every year abusive fathers involved in contested custody cases kill at least one hundred precious children, often with the unwitting assistance of courts using these standard flawed practices. Legislators and judges cannot justify continuing practices that are working so badly for our children and must operate with an urgency to reform the broken system.

    These outdated and discredited practices have allowed abusers to enlist the court system to help them maintain control over their victims after they try to leave and in many cases courts continue the abuse by punishing mothers trying to protect her children. We have examined thousands of disturbing cases like the one in Binghamton where safe protective mothers are severely punished in retaliation for attempting to protect their children. The mothers lose custody and often are restricted to supervised or no visitation. They face financial ruin, court sanctions, contempt and even jail. Many prosecutors like the one in Binghamton are manipulated by abusers to bring bogus charges against protective mothers. A review of these extreme outcomes demonstrates that these decisions are almost always wrong.

    Urgently, we need a law to make it safe for protective mothers to come into our courts. Our courts and our laws were designed to provide safety for battered women and we must make this true in practice instead of just theory. We must make sure that the court system can no longer be used and manipulated by abusers to retaliate and punish mothers for the crime of seeking to keep their children safe.

    Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY.


    WHEREAS: The custody court system is broken resulting in thousands of children being sent for custody or unprotected visitation with abusers and hundreds of children and battered women being murdered because of the frequency with which courts fail to recognize the common abuser tactic of seeking custody in response to their victim leaving as a way to maintain control or punish her for leaving, and

    WHEREAS: The custody court system adopted practices to respond to domestic violence when it first became a public issue and no research was available. These standard practices work poorly for children but have become deeply ingrained so that the courts continue to rely on outdated and discredited practices that hurt children, and

    WHEREAS, The custody courts routinely fail to recognize valid allegations of domestic violence because they discredit the charges based on normal responses victims made to the abuse and fail to look for the pattern of coercive, intimidating and controlling behavior that experts understand is the hallmark of domestic violence, and

    WHEREAS, The custody court system does a particularly poor job in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse rejecting 85% of such allegations although a majority of the allegations are true. These mistakes are caused by the widespread use of poor practices and bias and the reluctance to believe someone successful in other parts of their lives could do something so heinous. The courts exacerbate this common mistake by frequently retaliating against safe, protective mothers who made good faith allegations of abuse by denying the children a meaningful relationship with their mother, and

    WHEREAS, Research establishes that court professionals with inadequate training in domestic violence routinely rely on the common myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in the litigation. Courts usually fail to discredit professionals who rely on this harmful myth, and

    WHEREAS, Research establishes that a large majority of contested custody cases cannot be settled because they involve abusive fathers, custody courts have been taught to treat these cases as “high conflict” by which they mean both parents are acting out of anger at their ex-partner and hurting the children in the process. This faulty assumption leads to courts failing to recognize the domestic violence and punishment of mothers for trying to protect themselves and their children, and

    WHEREAS, Research establishes that fathers in contested custody cases are sixteen times more likely than mothers to make false allegations than mothers, court personnel are usually ignorant of this research and manipulated by abusers to believe false allegations. Prosecutors, judges, child protective caseworkers and other similar professionals need training to avoid being manipulated to help abusers continue to punish their victims, and

    WHEREAS, There are real and legitimate differences between men and women particularly with respect to domestic violence and parenting. Repeatedly, courts have misconstrued the policy to treat mothers and fathers equally to mean regardless of past parenting. If one parent has provided most of the child care and is the primary attachment figure or one parent has been abusive, it is not in the best interests of the children to treat the parents equally, and

    WHEREAS, As a result of these and many other common mistakes and outdated practices, the court system has made it unsafe for protective mothers and their children to seek assistance of the courts to protect them from abusers. This law is designed to change the failed practices in order to make sure victims of abuse will be safe in our court system and not subject to retaliation for trying to protect themselves and their children.

    1. Definition: For purposes of custody and visitation determinations and consistent with the harm caused to children in witnessing domestic violence, domestic violence are tactics one intimate partner engages in against the other intimate partner. The purpose of the tactics is to coerce, intimidate and control the abuser’s partner so that the abuser can make the major decisions in the relationship. Domestic violence is not limited to physical assaults and includes emotional, psychological, financial and litigation abuse. Most domestic violence is legal, but effects children negatively so that the courts should consider these tactics. Domestic violence also includes tactics to isolate the victim from friends, family and professionals who might provide support and assistance. Context is critically important in understanding domestic violence and acts that look the same may be very different because of the context and affect of the tactics. Court professionals must look at the pattern of domestic violence tactics in order to recognize domestic violence and consider which partner is afraid of the other partner as a result of the abusive tactics.

    2. The best interests of the child: The first priority in custody and visitation decisions shall be the safety of the child. Risk assessments and lethality studies are more useful in considering a child’s safety than traditional evaluations. The second priority in custody and visitation decisions shall be arrangements that give the child the best opportunity to reach their potential Research establishing the long term harm for children who witness domestic violence or to be separated from their primary attachment figure provide the kind of information needed to properly consider what arrangements are most likely to help children reach their potential.

    3. Any court considering custody, visitation, orders of protection, criminal, tort or any other issues that involve a determination of whether domestic violence was committed or the proper response to domestic violence shall look at the specialized body of knowledge and research available such as contained in DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY, co-edited by Mo Therese Hannah and Barry Goldstein, THE BATTERER AS PARENT, written by Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman, the Department of Justice Study led by Daniel Saunders, the many books and articles cited in these works, and other similar examples of scientific research about domestic violence particularly in the context of child custody. If a court uses expert testimony or reports in such cases, such experts shall be expected to be familiar with this up-to-date research about domestic violence. Such experts will either possess substantial expertise about domestic violence or consult with someone who has such expertise.

    4. Any court professionals with responsibility for cases that involve issues related to domestic violence shall undergo retraining concerning domestic violence. Such retraining will include information about common mistakes made as a result of using the common outdated and discredited practices used in custody and other courts and the harm such practices have caused. The retraining will also focus on avoiding common myths about domestic violence such as the myth women frequently make false allegations to gain an advantage in litigation, that abusers are no longer dangerous after the relationship ends, that only physical abuse affects children and that children always do better with both parents in their lives. The new training shall include how to recognize domestic violence, gender bias, the effects of domestic violence on children, critical thinking in the use of mental health professionals and appropriate responses and practices regarding allegations of child sexual abuse. The required training shall be sponsored or co-sponsored by an organization whose primary function is working to end domestic violence.

    5. Based upon the serious harm witnessing domestic violence causes children, most experts recommend that where courts find by a preponderance of the evidence that one party has engaged in a pattern of coercive, intimidating and abusive behavior, the non-abusive or less abusive parent shall receive custody of the children and the abusive parent shall at least initially be limited to supervised visitation. In custody cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence, the court will quickly schedule an evidentiary hearing limited to the issue of domestic violence. There is no need for the appointment of an attorney for the children or an evaluator as the hearing is limited to whether or not the allegations of domestic violence are true. If the allegations are proven by a preponderance of the evidence the non-abusive or less abusive parent shall receive custody and the abusive parent shall initially receive supervised visitation. If the allegations of domestic violence are not proven by a preponderance of the evidence, the court shall remain open to later additional evidence which taken together with the earlier evidence becomes sufficient to establish the allegations of domestic violence.

    6. The available scientific research establishes that the only responses that have been shown to change abuser’s behavior are accountability and monitoring. Accordingly, anger management, therapy and substance abuse treatment shall not be used in response to abusive behavior, but may be used for other problems. When the court orders supervised visitation in response to a finding of domestic violence, in order to be considered by the court for unsupervised visitation, the offender must complete a batterer program, acknowledge responsibility for the abuse, promise never to commit domestic violence again and express to the children the wrongness of the abusive behavior. If the offender is granted the privilege of unsupervised visitation and commits any further acts of physical abuse to a partner or children, the unsupervised visitation shall be permanently ended.

    7. While both parties should always be treated fairly, there are substantial differences between mothers and fathers and the attempt to treat both parties the same by ignoring these differences has led to widespread mistreatment of protective mothers in custody cases. Numerous flawed surveys by researchers unfamiliar with domestic violence have sought to gauge the relative abuse by men and women by counting the hits. In doing so they have missed the fact that men are generally bigger and stronger, hit harder and cause more serious injury. They have missed the fact that men and women hit each other for different reasons. Men hit to maintain control and to make the major decisions in the relationship and women hit in self-defense and to stop his abuse. There are exceptions, but these are the most frequent reasons. Most important it is very common for women to be afraid their partner will hurt or kill her so that she will do what he wants and it rarely happens that men are similarly afraid of female partners. When courts equate a woman’s assault in anger and frustration from a long history of abuse with the man’s assault as part of a long pattern of coercive and intimidating behavior they misunderstand the case. Similarly in our still sexist society women tend to do most of the child care and are usually the primary attachment figure. When courts ignore these circumstances in an attempt to treat both parties equally, they actually discriminate against the mother. Similarly practices that punish women for their anger or emotion after being abused or allow themselves to be manipulated by abusers further give unfair advantages to men. This is why gender bias committees appointed by courts in over forty states have found widespread favoritism towards men. Courts must be conscious of the difference between men and women and strive to avoid gender bias. As gender bias is often invisible to those engaging in it, judges shall encourage litigants and professionals to express concerns about gender bias and avoid retaliating for such complaints.

    8. Financial control and abuse is often an important part of the pattern of abuse. Abusers often maintain an unfair advantage in court by virtue of having control of the family resources. This is often compounded by aggressive litigation strategies designed to bankrupt the victim. Courts shall take appropriate actions to level the playing field so that if one party is using family assets to pay legal and other fees, or has access to other resources, that party shall pay similar expenses for the alleged victim’s legal fees.

    9. The courts shall use more critical thinking in determining whether to use mental health professionals as experts and to limit them to their areas of expertise. Courts shall not routinely appoint mental health evaluators in all contested custody cases. Such appointments shall be limited to cases where there is credible information to suggest one of the parents has a mental disorder that may interfere with the care of the children or other issues that require mental health expertise. Psychological testing was not created for the populations seen in custody court and shall not be used to make determinations about domestic violence. In cases involving allegations of domestic violence or child abuse, if courts require a professional investigation they shall use risk assessments and lethality studies rather than evaluations.

    10. The only profession that works full time on domestic violence issues is domestic violence advocates. It is the policy of this state and of the courts to work to prevent domestic violence. Accordingly domestic violence advocates shall be treated by the courts as a community resource and not as if they were partisans. Communities that have programs where child protective agencies and domestic violence organizations work together have proven that consultation with domestic violence advocates helps the caseworkers recognize domestic violence and make recommendations that work best for children. Court professionals shall consult with domestic violence advocates when considering cases with allegations involving domestic violence.

    11. The myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse is unsupported by valid scientific research, but has been relied on by unqualified professionals in ways that place children in danger. The courts shall discredit any professionals who rely on this sexist myth and avoid appointing them to represent children or conduct evaluations or other services. Any theories based on this myth shall also be discredited.

    12. The use of “friendly parent” theories has proven harmful to children because of its frequent use in domestic violence cases. This theory shall never be used in cases involving allegations of domestic violence. Any use of this theory must be modified so that the “unfriendly behavior” applies not just to actions that mothers would be more likely to engage in but also to behaviors more likely to be committed by fathers. Actions like failure to pay child support, failure to cooperate on immigration and visa issues, refusal to supply medical insurance and other similar behaviors must be considered if courts use “friendly parent” theories.

    13. The policy in this state and for the courts is to prevent domestic violence. Courts shall do everything in its power to make it safe for victims of domestic violence and their children to come to court. Courts must avoid being manipulated by abusers or to help abusers control or punish their partners for leaving. Prosecutors must obtain training about the common abuser tactic of making false criminal complaints against their victims. Prosecutors should attempt to speak with both sides if practicable and to use their discretion not to use the powers and authority of their office to help an abuser maintain control over the victim. Courts must seek to avoid retaliatory actions against mothers seeking only to protect the safety of themselves and their children. When courts believe the alleged victim has violated laws or orders it must also consider the benefits and harm to children that any action it might consider would have.

    14. Large numbers of children are living with abusive and inappropriate parents as a result of common mistakes custody courts have made in response to domestic violence cases. In particular these courts have not relied on up-to-date research and have often relied on inadequately trained professionals. The new research available and recognition of the frequency of serious mistakes in these cases shall be considered a change of circumstances for purposes of petitions designed to correct the earlier errors even if the time to appeal has expired or the appeal failed. The court system may develop expedited, but fair alternate procedures to hear applications for correction of mistakes in earlier domestic violence cases.



    The Pretend World of Custody Courts

    In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    The Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) is the part of the US Justice Department that provides grants for programs designed to reduce and prevent domestic violence. They recently sponsored a forum for their staff and other professionals in various parts of the government to learn about the crisis in the custody court system. They heard from seven protective mothers, one very inspiring Courageous Kid and over a dozen of the leading experts in the country. It was a wonderful discussion based upon current scientific research and actual experiences and everyone seems to get it that the courts are routinely making catastrophic mistakes in failing to protect children and domestic violence survivors. The purpose of the forum was to consider the problem, causes and solutions. It was so wonderful to take part in a reality based discussion about domestic violence custody issues and to do so with people who may have the ability to promote the needed changes. And yet the next day if any of us walked into a custody court, the research and the reality that were an unquestioned part of the discussion at OVW would be missing in the pretend world that is the present custody court system

    Amplify’d from
    The Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) is the part of the US Justice Department that provides grants for programs designed to reduce and prevent domestic violence. They recently sponsored a forum for their staff and other professionals in various parts of the government to learn about the crisis in the custody court system. They heard from seven protective mothers, one very inspiring Courageous Kid and over a dozen of the leading experts in the country. It was a wonderful discussion based upon current scientific research and actual experiences and everyone seems to get it that the courts are routinely making catastrophic mistakes in failing to protect children and domestic violence survivors. The purpose of the forum was to consider the problem, causes and solutions. It was so wonderful to take part in a reality based discussion about domestic violence custody issues and to do so with people who may have the ability to promote the needed changes. And yet the next day if any of us walked into a custody court, the research and the reality that were an unquestioned part of the discussion at OVW would be missing in the pretend world that is the present custody court system.

    Similarly, in December, I had the privilege of participating in a review of grant proposals concerning gender, violence and health. The Canadian Institute of Health brought leading experts in the field together to consider which grant proposals would be most beneficial to fund. This was a high level discussion in which all of the participants were familiar with current scientific research so that we could have a reality based discussion. I found it particularly interesting that the Canadian government could attract knowledgeable experts for $200 a day at the same time the courts pay or require litigants to pay thousands of dollars for a few hours to “experts” completely unfamiliar with up-to-date research who instead provide opinions based on their personal belief system and prejudices.

    Our custody courts are a very insular system in which information and ideas that contradict the misinformation routinely relied on by court professionals are unwelcome. Custody courts started relying on mental health professionals at a time when no research about domestic violence was available and many people assumed domestic violence was caused by mental illness, substances abuse and the behavior of the victims. We now know the original assumptions are wrong and mental health professionals rarely have much expertise in domestic violence or child sexual abuse. Nevertheless the courts are so used to relying on professionals with inadequate training that they routinely refuse to hear genuine experts or treat their testimony with tremendous skepticism. Experts, government agencies and academicians relied on to make major decisions in the real world are treated with disrespect by the court system. Repeatedly I have heard judges suggest that when the (inadequately trained) GAL, evaluator and child protective caseworker all agree, it is unreasonable to consider any other view.

    Abusers often impose a pretend world on their victims by denying and minimizing their abuse. They often blame their partners by claiming her behavior forced him to abuse her. It is often unsafe for the woman to challenge this pretend existence. Genuine experts agree that dealing with reality is an important part of the healing process after survivors leave their abusers. This makes the common court practice of cooperating with abusers to focus on pretend issues so harmful to battered mothers and their children.

    Many years ago I tried to help a teenage girl whose father was sexually abusing her. She finally found a therapist she could trust and the courage to share her secret. He called the child protective agency, but their response was to remove the girl from her home so the father’s life would not be disrupted. They put her in a home for girls that included those there for criminal behavior. While at this home, she was assaulted and robbed. The caseworker refused to permit her to continue working with her therapist just when she needed him most and pressured her to recant her allegations. The caseworker threatened to send her to an even worse facility and she was also concerned about the trouble her father would face. When she recanted her allegations she was sent back to her home and forced to engage in therapy based upon the false assumption her allegations of abuse were wrong. At a time when she needed therapy in response to years of abuse, she was forced to engage in therapy to determine why she made false allegations.

    More recently, I worked on a New Jersey case in which a young child reported to her mother that her father and his mother had touched her in the vicinity of her privates. She did not know the words to be more precise. The father immediately denied the allegations and claimed the mother was making deliberate false allegations. The unqualified professionals focused only on whether the child was molested or the mother made false allegations and when they could not find enough evidence of abuse after a flawed investigation assumed the allegations were false. They brought charges against the mother and eventually gave the abusive father custody and the mother supervised visitation. When the court professionals later learned of the father’s history of domestic violence and hired a qualified expert who used current research to recommend custody be restored to the mother, the court professionals ignored the information that undermined their mistaken finding. The mother was forced into therapy in which she had to prove she no longer believed the true allegations if she wanted unsupervised visitation with her daughter. Having escaped the pretend world imposed by her abuser by leaving him, the mother faced another pretend world imposed by the court.

    These kinds of mistakes are common in the broken custody court system. Often they are caused by court professionals who use the bogus Parental Alienation Syndrome (sometimes by other names) to give custody to the abuser and deny normal contact with the protective mother. Some courts impose reunification therapy on the children who are taught that their dislike of their father is not because of his history of abusing them and their mother but because of the lies she has told them. Again at a time when they need therapy to heal from their father’s abuse and the separation from their primary attachment figure, they must instead engage in therapy based on pretend alienation issues. These practices work well for the bank accounts of mental health professionals, but poorly for children.

    Most court professionals have been trained to view contested custody cases as “high conflict” by which they mean the parents are angry at each other and act out in ways harmful to their children. Current research, however, establishes that most of these cases are actually domestic violence cases. Fathers with a long history of abuse seek custody as a way to gain access to their victim to pressure her to return or punish her for leaving. Court professionals unwittingly assist these tactics by pressuring the mother to interact and cooperate with her abuser instead of pressuring the father to stop his abuse. The normal fear, emotion and reluctance to cooperate with a man they see as dangerous is used to discredit and punish the mother. Using the “high conflict” lens makes it harder for court professionals to recognize the father’s abuse and to take it seriously.

    Few court professionals have been taught about the dynamics of domestic violence or how to recognize it. We regularly see court professionals discredit domestic violence complaints for reasons that are not probative such as when women return to their abuser, withdraw protective orders or don’t have police or medical reports. The women do this for safety and other reasons, but if the professionals treat this kind of information as if it were proof of false allegations, they have no chance to recognize valid complaints. At the same time, these professionals are often only looking at incidents of physical abuse. Accordingly they fail to see the patterns of controlling and coercive behavior. They don’t pay attention to economic control, isolating behaviors, emotional abuse, monitoring their partner’s behavior or information about the abusers’ motivation. Once courts determine through these flawed practices that the domestic violence allegations are false, they generally refuse to consider additional evidence or events that support the allegations and severely retaliate against mothers who continue to believe their allegations. Significantly, when courts do recognize the father’s abuse, they rarely if ever penalize him for continuing to deny his abuse.

    The pretend world created by the custody courts is supported by the popular myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in the litigation. A new Department of Justice study led by Dan Saunders of the University of Michigan found that court professionals without adequate training in domestic violence are more likely to believe this myth and in turn make recommendations harmful to children. The myth greatly contributes to the frequent mistaken findings we see in custody courts where valid allegations of domestic violence are disbelieved. Widespread gender bias also contributes to the inaccurate decisions.

    Custody courts do their worst job in responding to allegations of sexual abuse of children. Although a majority of allegations made by mothers are accurate, 85% of the cases result in custody for the alleged abuser. Even attorneys with little knowledge of domestic violence and child abuse routinely advise clients not to raise sexual abuse allegations, even with strong cases, because the courts are so reluctant to believe a father could commit such a heinous act. Sexual abuse against young children is particularly hard to prove because it is committed in private for obvious reasons and children often do not have the language to describe what their father did to them. Although many court professionals expect physical proof, most assaults do not leave physical evidence and when they do it may be gone by the time the child works up the courage to reveal the abuse. Older children often recant true allegations because the abuser has threatened to hurt them or their mother or because they don’t want someone they still love to get in trouble. Poor investigation methods by often inadequately trained professionals also impede proof of sexual abuse. When allegations are made by mothers the most likely circumstance is the allegations are true. The next most likely is that the accused did not abuse the child but engaged in boundary violations that made the child uncomfortable. Other common possibilities are that the allegations are false, but made in good faith or that the evidence is equivocal, but court professionals routinely focus on deliberately false allegations even though this is the least likely cause for the allegations. The result of these flawed practices is that courts often deny valid allegations of sexual abuse and conduct the rest of the case based upon the fiction that there is something wrong with the mother for trying to protect her child.

    These common mistakes in domestic violence and child abuse cases lead to a pretend world promoted by the abuser and supported by the court in which the case is conducted based on the fiction that the mother’s allegations are false. Any attempt by the mother to provide additional information of the father’s abuse is treated as a lack of cooperation for which she is severely punished. Her only hope to have some minimal time with her children is to prove she no longer believes the true allegations she made. In other words she is back in a pretend world that she hoped to escape by leaving her abuser. Even worse, now he has complete control, supported by the court and she is not even near the children to try to protect them when he acts in a dangerous manner.

    In the typical contested custody case the mother is the primary attachment figure for the child and complains about the father’s domestic violence and/or child abuse. The father counters with claims of alienation. The primary attachment figure is the parent or other caregiver who provides most of the child care during the first couple of years of a child’s life. When a child is separated from their primary attachment figure, the child is more likely to suffer depression, low self-esteem and to commit suicide when older. Accordingly it makes no sense to do this unless the primary attachment figure is unsafe such as if they were a drug addict or beat the child. At the same time children who witness domestic violence are more likely to engage in a variety of harmful behaviors when they are older and their normal development is impeded which can cause lifetime of harmful effects. Alienation is a nebulous term which is often alleged in a generalized way. The most likely outcome of false negative statements is that it harms the relationship with the parent making the false statements. There is no research that demonstrates long term harm to children from alienating behaviors. Claims of primary attachment are almost always true as in our still sexist society mothers continue to provide most of the child care particularly in the first years of a child’s life. In many cases the father does not contest the issue or the work schedules of the parents make it clear who was the primary attachment figure. Mothers’ allegations of abuse are rarely deliberately false (in cases of child sexual abuse inaccurate complaints could be made based on the behavior of the child), so the complaints tend to be reliable. Alienation claims by fathers in contested custody cases are often part of a standard abuser tactic to deflect claims of abuse. Research such as the study led by Nicholas Bala establishes that fathers in contested custody cases are sixteen times more likely to make deliberately false complaints. The complaints by mothers are more important to the well being of children and far more likely to be true than father’s complaints and yet in contested custody cases fathers receive custody or joint custody between 70 and 83% of the time. Clearly courts are not making decisions based upon the reality experienced by children or approaches that benefit children.

    The worst custody decisions provide custody to the alleged abuser and supervised or no visitation to the safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure for the child. These decisions are virtually always wrong because they are based on punishing the mother for believing the father is dangerous and not on concerns for the well being of children. The findings are usually wrong because of the flawed practices, but the outcome would be wrong if the findings were correct because courts rarely weigh the harm they are causing with whatever benefit they seek to create. The harm of denying the child their primary attachment figure is far greater than any benefit the court believes it is providing. Significantly, we rarely see evaluation reports or court decisions that weigh the benefits and harm of a decision they are considering. This is the kind of result we see when courts fail to consider current scientific research in their decisions. Judges may believe the mental health professionals involved in the case provide this expertise, but the professionals relied on by the courts are rarely familiar with current scientific research and courts don’t disqualify or even discredit evaluators and other mental health professionals for being unfamiliar with current research.

    Mothers partnered with abusive fathers are in an impossible situation. If they fail to protect their children from the dangerous abusers, they can lose custody for failure to protect. The mothers hear repeated messages that they should leave him, but when they do and try to protect their children, they are punished for interfering with the relationship between the children and the abusive father. The result is too many courtrooms in which courts recreate the pretend world the mother sought to escape.

    In fairness to the custody courts, they were forced to develop practices to respond to domestic violence cases at a time when no research was available. Many other entities were slow to understand the best ways to respond to domestic violence. Police officers were trained for many years to separate the parties when called to a home and have the abuser walk around the block to calm down. Eventually they switched to a pro-arrest policy after research demonstrated this practice was ineffective. Domestic violence homicides were reduced as communities moved towards practices designed to hold the abuser accountable. Even domestic violence agencies have not always been as supportive of protective mothers as they deserved, but with the increase in Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases and increase in domestic violence homicides as a result of mothers staying with their abusers because of the dangers created by custody courts, the domestic violence community has made child custody an important priority. It has taken a while for academicians to realize the harm in common custody court practices. Initial research supported shared parenting, but more comprehensive research has demonstrated shared parenting is harmful to children even when there is no domestic violence, but too often it is used in domestic violence cases because court professionals have difficulty in recognizing domestic violence. Current scientific research confirms complaints by protective mothers that the custody courts are mistreating them and harming their children. Government agencies now seem to understand the custody courts are harming children. Their understanding is based upon the research now available. The problem is that child custody issues have historically and constitutionally been left to the states and their courts.

    Psychologists and other mental health professionals engaged in research have come to understand the harm of the standard practices in domestic violence custody cases. Most mental health professionals are not involved in the custody court system, but have failed to impose ethical standards on mental health professionals involved in questionable practices in the custody courts. The professional associations have permitted ethically challenged psychologists and other professionals to make recommendations unsupported by current scientific research, engage in biased practices that favor abusers and make diagnoses that are not found in the DSM IV because they don’t exist. Although ethical considerations would require the professionals to consult with experts on subjects in which they don’t have expertise, like domestic violence, the professionals in custody courts routinely fail to consult domestic violence experts, wrongly believing they have this expertise. This has led to frequent mistakes in domestic violence custody cases. These unqualified mental health professionals have played an important role in misleading custody courts and creating an illusion that there is a scientific basis for the mistaken practices commonly used in custody courts.

    Judge Sol Gothard often trains other judges because of his expertise in domestic violence and child abuse. He was featured in the PBS documentary BREAKING THE SILENCE: CHILDREN’S STORIES. He wrote that if the courts had commissioned a study on how the present practices are working, they would have found the research contained in DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. This research demonstrates that the present practices are working poorly for children. The outdated and discredited practices routinely relied on by custody courts lead to the pretend world of custody courts we have discussed in this article. We must encourage judges and other court professionals to be open to the current scientific research and stop closing their eyes and ears to information that undermines their long-held beliefs and assumptions.



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