The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

Posts Tagged ‘mother’

Zahra Baker’s birth mother speaks for the first time

In domestic law on September 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Leave children with their mothers, do not give them to DADDY’s new wife new girl friend. The EVIL step mommies are true.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This week, for the first time, Emily Dietrich saw — in person — the woman who admitted responsibity for the death of her daughter, Zahra Baker.

he 10-year-old girl was reported missi


The 10-year-old girl was reported missing from her Hickory home October 9, 2010, by her father and step-mother, Adam and Elisa Baker.

A month later, enough of the little girl’s remains – scattered across two counties – had been positively identified to confirm her death.  An autopsy listed the cause of death as “undetermined homicidal violence,” and despite a plea deal, police still can’t say how she died.   

The police search for Zahra came just as Dietrich had finally found the daughter she gave up ten years earlier at birth.  She was ecstatic – but only for a few days.  Then she learned of Zahra’s disappearance and eventual death.

Thursday, Dietrich watched Elisa Baker plead guilty to second degree murder for Zahra’s death.  Baker still claimed Zahra died of natural causes, but police said there is too much conflicting evidence to believe everything she’s said.

Sunday Dietrich sat down with NewsChannel 36 for her only American TV interview since the ordeal began.

She said in court Thursday she couldn’t look at Elisa Baker, only glare for a moment.

“I mainly wanted her to see me,” said Dietrich, “and for her to see the pain that she’s caused on my face and my mother’s face.”

Dietrich expressed that while a plea deal isn’t a perfect resolution to Zahra’s case, it guarantees Elisa Baker will spend time in prison.  Her biggest fear was that Baker would go to trial, be found not guilty, and go free.

But she still has unanswered questions — like why Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, didn’t do more to protect the little girl.  Police say the evidence shows Adam Baker was not involved in Zahra’s death.

“I still hold a lot of resentment towards him,” Dietrich said forcefully.

In court, a police detective said Adam Baker admitted that he spent more time smoking pot than he did spending quality time with his daughter in the five months before her death. 

He also admitted he didn’t realize Zahra was  gone for two weeks after investigators determined she had died. 

“There’s a big difference between being not guilty and being innocent,” she said, “and I don’t think he is innocent of what happened. He had played all his own part.”

Dietrich said she hasn’t decided whether she wants to speak to Adam Baker again, even though she’s heard he wants to talk to her.

Dietrich knows people find fault with her, too, for allowing Adam Baker to take custody of Zahra shortly after her birth.  Dietrich was 19 at the time, and had been engaged to Baker. 

She said she suffered from overwhelming post-partum depression, and had only a short amount of time to make a decision.  She felt Zahra would be safe with Adam Baker and his extensive family.

“I didn’t have the strength to keep doing it,” she sobbed. “I didn’t want to hate my child.  I didn’t want to be that news story people hear about — the mother who drowns her child or couldn’t stop them crying or smothered them.”

Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I didn’t want to be that mother,” she said.  Then she added, tearfully, “I didn’t do it because I didn’t love her, I did it because I DID love her.” 

Dietrich said she had spent years trying to find Zahra, when a friend sent her a picture of the little girl holding a certificate from Granite Falls Elementary School.  She was ecstatic.

Her happiness was short-lived, however – it was just days before Zahra was reported missing to police. 

“She was already gone,” Dietrich cried. “The day we found her she was already gone. She was gone two weeks beforehand.”

The next thing Dietrich wants to do is bring Zahra’s remains home to be buried in Australia.  It may involve one more custody battle with Adam Baker.  Still, it looks good for her.

One parting satisfaction Dietrich has after the emotional rollercoaster this year has provided – she knows Elisa Baker is going to prison.

“I’m satisfied knowing that every day she’s in there is going to be horrific,” she said, “and she’s going to have to watch her back 24/7. Everything she’s taken for granted is gone.” 

Emily Dietrich speaks for the first time

Diana Rugg: As you are leaving North Carolina after a very eventful year, how do you feel about leaving behind the last place that your daughter lived?

Emily Dietrich: It’s a hard one. My mother and I were a bit anxious about that this morning. I mean it was bad enough leaving last time when everything was so up in the air. But this time I guess it’s a bit of both. Knowing that I’m going away with a bit of a resolution to the situation and I’ve come to make friends here. And the place is actually familiar now, so It’s hard leaving it for that reason.

Diana Rugg: You mention resolution. There’s no such thing as closure I’ve heard you say. And it’s hard to feel satisfaction at this point. Is it a relief that it’s over?

Emily Dietrich: Part of it’s over anyway. Yeah it’s a relief.  We were so scared that it was just going to continue on for years, and we thought this plea deal…we could’ve had appeal processes to go through.. and it could’ve dragged on forever, so it is a relief that it’s happened so quick and they’ve done such a good job to get it done so quick.  We can try to get our lives back a bit, without worry about what the next phone call is going to be or hearing any excess news. It has settle down a lot.

Diana Rugg: I’m sure you must have been anxious coming here for this trip knowing what was going to take place. How did it feel actually sitting in that courtroom seeing Elisa, seeing Adam, seeing all the investigators…all the players there?

Emily Dietrich: Well, I didn’t really see Adam. I kept my head forward; I never turned around to look at my mother. The same thing with Elisa, I glanced over a couple of times…enough to catch her eye once and give her the biggest stare down I could.  I tried not to focus on it, I was nervous as anything before walking into that courtroom knowing that they were going to be there. But ultimately I had to stand there and be strong enough to go through it. Zahra wasn’t able to be there to represent herself, so mom and I were there to represent her instead. So letting Elisa see any sign of weakness just wasn’t going to happen.

Diana Rugg: How did it feel to finally see her in the flesh, even though you said you didn’t want to look at her. You knew she was there, you knew what’d happen. What did you want to say to her?

Emily Dietrich: So many things! Most of them I can’t probably say.  I mainly wanted her to see me, and for her to see the pain that she’s caused on my face and on my mother’s face. And everyone says how much she (Zahra) looks like me. I wanted her to look at me and know that Zahra was my daughter and she did take that away. (I wanted) a face for her to remember. Her face has been strewn all over the media, and I remember her face I could pick it from a mile away, but I wanted her to see mine. And for me to have that satisfaction imprinted on her head.

Diana Rugg: It was a very emotional statement that you made to the court. What did you want her to feel when you said that statement, because you knew that she was listening?

Emily Dietrich: Honestly, like I said in my statement I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know this woman, and what I do know of her…nothing I said was going to break her or make her feel remorse or compassion, or regret.  I just said what I felt. I spoke not only for myself, but also for my family who has struggled enormously through all of this.  I wanted her to know that I may not have been around but that did not stop the love. (I wanted her to know) that she was still my daughter, and she wasn’t just Adam’s daughter, and that she didn’t just hurt Adam by doing this. There was a bigger picture than that…including my children’s lives that have been just rooted…completely uprooted and turned upside down. They’ve lost a certain amount of innocence in all of this having to realize that evil really is there, it’s not just on tv.

Diana Rugg: You mentioned the realization that Zahra was your daughter even if you couldn’t be there, because once you have that baby you have that “mom bond”. And we hear something that comes up over and over again when we’re out in the public, and it troubles me quite a bit, people asking “why did Emily ever give up Zahra to her father?” Maybe you can shed some light on that for them. 

Emily Dietrich: It’s hard to explain it to people who haven’t been parents. I suffered from depression. I suffered from post-natal depression with all three of my children, but sadly with Zahra, I didn’t have…I didn’t know that I had it.  You don’t realize you have it, you just think you’re inadequate. You reach a point where you have a split second to make a decision on what is best for your child before the depression overtakes you and then you have no choice.  In my head, the best thing was…and the safest thing for her was to go with him.  I didn’t have the strength to keep doing it. I didn’t want to hate my child. I didn’t want to be that news story were you hear a mother has drowned her child, or couldn’t stop them crying so they smothered them. I didn’t want to be that mother. And I beg any mother out there who feels it to get help and to do everything that they can to get support and to keep support and it doesn’t make them a bad person. It gets treated by the two children I still suffered, but I had the knowledge to get through it and I knew to ask for help.  That’s the main thing, I didn’t do it because I didn’t love her…I did it because I did love her.

Diana Rugg: Any mother who’s been through that…giving their child up for custody, it’s a very unselfish decision. What made you think Adam could be a better parent? He must’ve had some fine qualities at some time in your eyes.

Emily Dietrich: Well first let me say, I had no choice…him being on her birth certificate, being her father.  I couldn’t give her up for adoption or for fostering or anything without his consent to start with. So ultimately he was the only decision that I had. He was having the support of his parents there, he had his brothers as well. With that support there I had no reason to believe he would ever hurt her. He never showed any contempt toward her, so I had no reason to not trust him.  The relationship between him and I is a different story. And that’s between him and I, but it never stemmed through to her.

Diana Rugg: He must’ve had some finer qualities at some point in your eyes?

Emily Dietrich: I was 19, very naïve to so many things as we all are. We all at some point went  through the bad boy phase… wanting that person that your parents don’t want.  I was engaged to him, but it didn’t work out. It didn’t work out.  As a father I had no reason to doubt his abilities.

Diana Rugg:  Were you able to keep in contact with him for the next few years to keep updates with Zahra, to see her?

Emily Dietrich: No. And to be honest that’s not something that I’m willing to get into. That’s something that’s between him and I that we still haven’t discussed ourselves. I’m not sure I’m willing to discuss it with him to be honest.  But I don’t think that that’s a public matter I think that’s a personal matter between him and I and possibly our families.

Diana Rugg: Fair enough. I asked because I had read somewhere that you had gotten in contact with him just prior to Zahra’s disappearance.

Emily Dietrich: No. I had not got in contact with him.  Through a friend, through the internet,  it was a big coincidence…My friends father had worked with Adam’s father previously in Australia.  Of course, over the years looking for her,  I had no reason to believe that she would be anywhere but Australia.

Diana Rugg: So you had been looking?

Emily Dietrich: Yeah…constantly, constantly looking. And we stumbled upon this connection and then did some inquires and found out that she had left the country.  I managed to get emailed some photos. One of them was of her holding a school award.  After years and years of doing your own PI work you learn your own little skills, so I zoomed in on the award and found that it was from Granite Falls Elementary. (I then) googled Granite Falls Elementary and found out where she was. We were ecstatic; my mother was in the hospital sick. We were so excited we couldn’t believe it that after this long…and in America? That’s the last place we were looking. And within a matter of days! Later my friend who actually helped me to find her sent me a text message cause she couldn’t talk to me. And she said you need to go and google Zahra’s name, because that’s what we used to do we would google her name and hoped that something would pop up. And I was like all right, and she was saying no you need to do it now. And we thought it was a big prank, like some elaborate…   

Diana Rugg:  Just the timing of it all…

Emily Dietrich: She was already gone. The day we found her she was already gone. She was gone, what? Two weeks beforehand.



Phoenix police: 8-year-old witnesses mother’s death

In domestic law on August 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm
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An 8-year-old boy was most likely a witness to a murder-suicide Sunday night that took the life of his mother, according to Phoenix Police Department.

When police responded to a call that came in Sunday night, officers found a woman who was apparently shot by her boyfriend.

The man in his 20s then turned the gun on himself. The shooting occurred at an apartment home near 61st Avenue and Thomas Road. It appears that the couple was arguing before the incident, but investigators don’t know the reason.

The boy, who was not physically injured, was being cared for by the Fire Department’s Crisis Response Team.



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.

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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.



Custody Battle Possible Motive In Ackerson Killing

In domestic law on July 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm
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RALEIGH, N.C.Texas officials called off the search for the rest of Laura Ackerson’s remains after they were positively identified as that of the missing Kinston mother.

On Tuesday, officials determined that the remains found in Oyster Creek, Texas were Laura Ackerson’s using dental records. Officials say they called the search for the rest of the remains off because they say there is nothing more they can do. Ackerson was reported missing roughly two weeks ago after she never picked up her children from their father, Grant Hayes.

Hayes and his wife, Amanda, were both charged with Ackerson’s murder. They made an appearance in Wake County court on Tuesday. A judge appointed the Hayes’ with a public defender. They will both remain in jail under no bond. A probable cause hearing was set for August 16.

RALEIGH, N.C.- There’s new information tonight in the homicide investigation of Laura Ackerson, the Kinston mother who went missing nearly two weeks ago.  Raleigh Police arrested Ackerson’s ex-boyfriend and father of her two children Grant Hayes and his wife Amanda in Kinston Monday and charged them with murder.  Tuesday, they both faced a judge in wake county court and are being held without bond. 

One of the big questions is what really happened in the days leading up to Ackerson’s disappearance.  That’s right Amanda the timeline of when Laura ackerson was last seen is still full of holes.  We’re going to go back to the days just before Ackerson disappeared.  In e-mails to her good friend in New York City, Ackerson was sharing sweet memories of her children, and plans for the future.

Before Laura Ackerson met and settled down with Grant Hayes, she dated James Harrison.  The two remained friends after their break-up and Harrison says he met Hayes on several occasions.  He says he seemed like a great guy. 

“For them to do something like this, or be accused of something like this is just completely mind boggling,” said Harrison.  “But the worst part about it is that Laura is gone.”

Harrison and Ackerson exchanged e-mails on July 11th and 12th, just before she went missing.  She talked about watching the world cup with her boys- “watching it over ice cream cones at the ice cream shop.”  In her last e-mail to Harrison on July 12th, she responded to an invitation to visit him in New York City saying it would be a “blast”.  These are the surveillance photos of Laura Ackerson Raleigh Police say were taken the morning of July 13th- police won’t say where they were taken but there are reports this is the last day anyone saw Ackerson- she was dropping her kids off at Hayes’s home in Raleigh.  Authorities in Kinston and Raleigh will not confirm that, but the arrest reports for Grant and Amanda Hayes say they killed Ackerson on July 13th.  While Ackerson’s friend Chevon Mathes was reporting her missing to Kinston Police on Monday July 18th, detectives say Grant and Amanda Hayes were in Richmond, Texas visiting Amanda’s sister who lives by Oyster Creek.

“It’s believed that the actual homicide actually occurred in North Carolina where the suspects evidently purchases some ice chests, dismembered the body, placed it in the ice chests, acquired a U-Haul trailer, put the ice chests in the trailer and transported her through several states to Fort Bend County where they tossed her remains into Oyster Creek,” said Chief Deputy Craig Brady, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office

Tuesday, Raleigh Police confirmed the remains found in oyster creek have been positively identified as Laura Ackerson’s.  Dive teams from the sheriff’s office and local fire departments there in Texas continued searching the creek Tuesday for the rest of Ackerson’s remains.  On Monday, they told us they recovered about 60% of her body from the water. 

Grant and Amanda Hayes were brought in separately for their hearing in Wake County Tuesday afternoon.  A judge appointed public defenders for the couple and set their probable cause hearing for August 16th. 



Victim of North Naples homicide remembered as caring mother, ‘best friend

In domestic law on July 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm
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The Collier County Sheriff's Office is investigating the homicide of 45-year-old Suzanne Marie Bishop at Naples Keep Condominiums in North Naples Tuesday.  One male was transported to NCH North Collier Hospital and is now in the custody of deputies while the investigation continues.  Michel Fortier/Staff

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the homicide of 45-year-old Suzanne Marie Bishop at Naples Keep Condominiums in North Naples Tuesday. One male was transported to NCH North Collier Hospital and is now in the custody of deputies while the investigation continues. Michel Fortier/Staff

Suzanne Bishop didn’t have a lot, but according to her daughters what she had she would give.

Suzanne Bishop's photo from her Facebook page

Now, Bishop’s three children only have those memories of their mother to last them.

She wasn’t perfect either, they said, but she was still a great mom.

Collier County sheriff’s deputies found Bishop’s body in a North Naples apartment on Tuesday morning, the victim of what is being investigated as a homicide.

Christopher Serna, 34, of 152 Cypress Way E. Apt. 4, was arrested later in the morning and faces a second degree murder charge in connection with her death.

According to Collier County Sheriff’s Office reports, before deputies arrived, Serna phoned his father and asked him to call 911. When his father got to the apartment and attempted to unlock the front door, Serna prevented him from entering.

Deputies got to the ground-level condo in the Naples Keep complex at Palm River Estates shortly after 4 a.m. in response to a possible assault. There, they found Serna covered in blood, with numerous cuts on his hands, reports said.

Deputies then discovered Bishop, 45, dead inside the apartment with “obviously non self-inflicted traumatic injuries,” according to reports.

The nature of those injuries and the cause of death have not been made public, and no further details of what happened to Bishop were released.

Neighbors said they saw Bishop in Serna’s apartment complex over the weekend, and again Monday afternoon in her car near the building.

It is unclear what the connection is between Serna and Bishop. However, she was arrested last week on a battery charge following an altercation with her boyfriend, Alexander Amador. In May, Serna was interviewed by the Daily News as he visited the North Naples grave of his grandfather, Cecilio Amador, as part of Memorial Day activities.

Neither law enforcement nor Serna’s privately hired lawyer have confirmed how Serna knew Bishop, or if Serna and Alexander Amador are related.

Bishop’s family said they did not know who Serna was or why their mother was at his apartment.

Serna’s arrest history in Collier County includes misdemeanor DUI and drug charges in 2002 and 2003.

Though Bishop had hit a few rough patches in life, her death stunned family, friends and co-,workers. They described her as spirited and loving, with a sense of humor and quirkiness that made a lasting impression.

“She was caring, loving. She was my best friend,” said her daughter, Jennifer Hunter, 23.

Bishop gushed about her children — two daughters and a son, all in their early 20s — in Facebook posts.

“I can’t really say that she was perfect all of the time,” said her daughter Samantha Hunter, 21. “She was a fun-loving person. She was always a great mother.”

Bishop had a few run-ins with law enforcement, including a domestic violence charge a week before her death following an altercation with Alexander Amador. They were living together in Golden Gate Estates when a fight turned physical. Bishop was arrested.

Alexander Amador, who was at the home Tuesday afternoon, declined to comment on Bishop’s death.

After Bishop was released from jail last week, she called friend Curtis Vaught and asked to stay with him, Vaught said. She had no place to go, she told him.

Vaught agreed to let her sleep on the sofa in his Naples home for a few weeks. The handyman had known Bishop since he first hired her to work cleaning homes eight years ago, and they had kept in touch.

He was trying to help her find work since her job at a North Naples bakery was only seasonal. On Monday, Vaught lent her money for gas to look for work or go to interviews, but Bishop told him instead she was headed to meet a friend on Marco Island, he said.

He wasn’t surprised when he woke up on Tuesday morning and saw the couch empty. She had been in and out of the home a lot in the few days she spent there, he said.

“She always had some kind of crisis,” Vaught said. “She had the greatest heart in the world. She just couldn’t get her life together.”



Mother in shooting dies; second victim in ‘grave’ condition

In domestic law on July 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm

A mother of four young children died Tuesday, a day after she was shot at her home. The children’s father is suspected in the killing and remained hospitalized and in police custody.

Police said there was a history of domestic violence between Hayden and Sandora. Sandora had taken out protection from abuse

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Renee Sandora, 27, died at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. An autopsy was likely to be performed Tuesday, according to Maine State Police.

A second shooting victim, 28-year-old Trevor Mills of New Bedford, Mass., remained in grave condition, police said.

Police said the father of Sandora’s children, Joel Hayden, 29, will be charged in the shootings when his condition improves from injuries he suffered in a car crash as he fled from police. He is under police guard at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he is being treated for serious back injuries that are not considered life-threatening.

State Police collect evidence Tuesday at the scene of a shooting at 322 Bennett Road in New Gloucester. Renee Sandora, the mother of four children, was shot Monday and died Tuesday.

Police on Tuesday weren’t sure of Hayden’s most recent address. He has a criminal record in Maine, which indicates he has lived in Lewiston, Gray and New Bedford, Mass.

McCausland said that the relationship between Sandora and Hayden was deteriorating around the time their 3-month-old twins were born. It wasn’t clear whether the two were a couple at the time of the shooting.

Police were also trying to learn more about the relationship between Hayden, Sandora and Mills.

A relative of Sandora said Tuesday that the family was not ready to speak to the press.

Police said there was a history of domestic violence between Hayden and Sandora. Sandora had taken out protection from abuse orders against Hayden in the past but none were current, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Hayden, whom police described as an unemployed telemarketer, has a criminal history in Maine that dates back to 2004. He has felony convictions for separate instances of eluding an officer and possession of oxycodone.

The Lewiston Sun Journal reported that Hayden was arrested by federal agents in Lewiston in 2004 in connection with a shooting in Massachusetts.

The newspaper said he was charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder.

Police said Hayden led them on a chase to the York County town of Lyman on Monday. Hayden crashed near Hawg Haven, at the intersection of routes 202 and 5. The car, owned by Mill’s mother, was towed to a state police garage and will be examined.

Sandora, along with other family members, served as a volunteer driver for Regional Transportation Program Inc., a Portland-based non-profit agency that provides transportation to the elderly and disabled.

She had been a volunteer for about five years, and gave rides five days a week.

“And then when her shift ended and even though she wanted to end her day, if there were rides we couldn’t figure out, she would step up to do those, too,” said Sara Trafton, RTP’s executive director.

Sandora recently started driving again after giving birth to her twins, Trafton said. Her oldest child was about 8 years old, she said. She had close family members who helped care for the children while she volunteered.

“She has four beautiful little children. As dedicated as she was as a volunteer, from what I saw she was a really dedicated mom,” Trafton said. “We’re all in shock and grief here.”

While Sandora talked about her children often, Trafton said she never heard about the children’s father or had any indication of trouble at home.

“She talked about her kids and about her riders,” Trafton said. “She was just a bright, young, dedicated woman and someone who was there to do whatever she could to get people where they needed to go.”

On Tuesday, state police detectives and evidence technicians searched Sandora’s Bennett Road home — a light blue mobile home with children’s toys in the front yard. A police dog was at work in a cordoned-off area.

Nicky Andrews, a neighbor, said she heard shooting Monday evening but didn’t think much of it at the time. A nearby gravel pit serves as popular spot for target practice. She learned later from friends that a dangerous suspect could be on the loose. It was a frightening situation for a normally quiet area.



Daughter slams judge for making stepfather who murdered her mother a U.S. citizen

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm

A Florida woman lashed out at a Manhattan judge who recently granted her Jamaica immigrant stepfather U.S. citizenship even though he stabbed her mother to death 26 years ago.

FATHERS RIGHTS FATHERHOOD EXALTATION- This just so wrong in every sense. WE REWARD Murderers in the USA. Especially MOMMY murderers.

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Vernon Lawson, left, was convicted of murdering Vena May Campbell (at right in pink dress) in 1985.
Rushell Somers, 35, slammed Judge Denny Chin for his decision allowing Lawson to receive his American citizenship.

Federal Judge Denny Chin last week ordered immigration officials to give Vernon Lawson, 65, his citizenship.

The judge said the Vietnam vet had convinced him he had redeemed himself by kicking his drug and alcohol problems and getting an education while behind bars.

“His ruling should be overturned – that’s a gross miscarriage of justice if there ever was one,” said Rushell Somers, 35, of Chin’s decision.

“I’m so upset. I can’t even put it into words. My mother had a life. She had a beautiful life. Where’s the justice for her?”

Court records show Lawson, a Marine, was high on PCP-laced marijuana and racked with post-traumatic stress disorder when he stabbed Vena May Campbell to death in April 1985. Lawson then turned himself in at a police station.

“That morning when he came to our home … when the knock came to the door, my mother answered the door,” recalled Somers, who was 10 at the time.

“I was peeping behind the door looking at them – and he said, ‘I’m going to kill her, and I’m going to kill you, too.’

“I ran into the bedroom begging. He threw me to the floor and ran back over to her and started stabbing her,” said Somers, who lives in Tampa.

“I want an explanation. I think for other people out there who have been victims of domestic violence … there’s no justice in what [Chin] ordered.”

Deciding he had acted under “extreme emotional disturbance,” a jury convicted Lawson of manslaughter, not murder, which would have prohibited him from ever becoming a citizen.

He then spent 13 years in prison. In 1998, he was released, and eight years later, the Jamaica national applied for U.S. citizenship.

His claim was initially rejected because of the manslaughter conviction, but Chin overruled that decision. He said the Harlem man had redeemed himself after kicking his drug and alcohol habit, getting his GED and earning his bachelor’s degree.

“The manner in which he has overcome his challenges is a testament to his character,” Chin wrote in his decision.

But for Somers, her stepfather’s cold-blooded deed is insurmountable.

“Knowing the coward that [Lawson] is – because he is a coward – he’ll never do it. He’ll never apologize to my family.”

“He makes me sick. It’s just disgusting,” said Somers. “The system is disgusting. I lost faith in this country.”



A Cancer Spreading in the Custody Court System

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm

The concept of Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases was developed because of the frequency of extreme results in custody cases in which children are endangered, safe, protective mothers are denied any meaningful relationship with their children and the results appear to be the opposite of what the evidence and the well being of the children would require. The Battered Mothers Custody Conference was started in response to what we believed were too many of these tragic cases to be viewed as exceptions.

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When we look at an individual case, it is hard to be sure the decision is wrong without a careful review of the record. In most cases mothers are pathologized or demonized in order to create the appearance of a justification for the extreme actions taken. When the bad decisions backfire in a way that demonstrates even to the courts that the wrong decision was made, the defenders of the courts like to believe these cases constitute the exceptions to the usual good job done by courts. There is now a large body of research about these cases that show there are too many cases with extreme results and flawed practices to be conveniently dismissed as exceptions. To illustrate the problem, I want to look at four of these extreme cases not because they are exceptions, but because they represent the kinds of mistakes the court system routinely makes and will continue to make until it changes practices that were developed at a time when no research was available and have proven to be detrimental to the children the courts are supposed to protect.

In one New Jersey case I have consulted on, the father has a long history of domestic violence and after the separation, the children disclosed sexual abuse. In this as in all the cases I will be discussing, the mother was unquestionably the primary attachment figure for the children. DYFS, the New Jersey child protective agency, investigated the allegations, but failed to confirm them. As a result, the father was given custody and as the protective mother continued to believe the father was dangerous, and challenge the professionals who failed to protect her children, she has been limited to supervised visitation.

In a well known Kansas case that I have discussed with the protective mother, the father has numerous convictions for domestic violence and other crimes and a poor relationship with the daughter. Despite this, the court gave custody to the father and imposed ever greater restrictions on the mother’s access to the daughter. The mother has been active in exposing the broken court system and the court has wasted large amounts of time and money seeking to remove information from the Internet and silence the mother’s concerns. The court has retaliated against the mother with reductions in visitation and a variety of sanctions.

In a California case, the mother left the father because of his abusiveness to the mother. Initially, the mother agreed to give the father unsupervised visitation, but as he continued his abuse and threatened to kill the baby, she sought to restrict him to supervised visitation. The judge decided she was a liar, awarded the father unsupervised visitation and threatened further action against the mother if the judge’s belief she was lying was confirmed.

In a Maryland case the protective mother also sought to leave her abuser and when he made threats to hurt the children sought a protective order. Shortly before the mother appeared in court, she had sex with her husband. The judge, not understanding that it would not have been safe for the mother to refuse, assumed this meant the father could not possibly be dangerous and granted unsupervised visitation for the father.

One of the problems we have seen repeatedly is that when a court makes a mistake and fails to recognize or respond to danger caused by domestic violence, they will rarely admit to these mistakes. Instead we see the kind of retaliation and punitive measures harmful to children that was used in the New Jersey and Kansas cases. Nevertheless, the courts in California and Maryland would now admit they made the wrong decision. The case in California involved Katie Tagle as the protective mother. The father used the access given him by the judge to kill Baby Wyatt and then himself. Similarly, in Maryland, the mother was Dr. Amy Castillo and the father used the access provided by the judge to kill their three children and then himself.

The judges in California and Maryland are deeply disturbed by the outcome and genuinely sorry for their mistake. At the same time, they have defended their decisions saying they couldn’t have known of the father’s danger based upon the evidence in front of them. In one sense they are correct. The judges in these four cases all used the same outdated and discredited practices including the popular myth that women often make false allegations in order to gain an advantage in litigation. This contributes to the widespread inability of custody courts to recognize domestic violence and in turn led to the mistakes in these four cases and other cases endangering over 58,000 children every year.

If all or even a larger portion of the bad decisions led to an immediate and recognizable tragedy like the cases in California and Maryland, the needed reforms would have been adopted long ago and children controlled by custody courts would be protected. Most of the time, however, the cases are more like New Jersey and Kansas where the harm is better hidden and not as dramatic for the public. The children grow up without their primary attachment figure, often suffer private but horrible abuse and many become involved in a wide range of harmful behaviors in response to the direct and indirect abuse inflicted by their abusers. Most will never reach their potential as a result of the mistakes made in the custody courts.

Many communities have developed a practice in which child protective agencies team with the local domestic violence shelter. They cross-train staff and when a possible domestic violence case develops, child protective caseworkers consult with domestic violence advocates. This has resulted in child protective agencies being able to better recognize domestic violence and respond in ways that benefit the children. This should be considered best practices. DYFS recently adopted these best practices, but the New Jersey case was first investigated under the old flawed methods. The protective mother has asked DYFS and the court to take a fresh look at the original findings based upon better practices and the new research, but they adamantly refuse to consider the possibility that they made a mistake while using the old discredited practices. The judge has refused to consider any new evidence based on the up-to-date research and insists on proceeding with the case based on the unlikely conclusion that the mother’s allegations are false.

As with many mistaken decisions, the mother has been pathologized by the unqualified professionals involved in the case. DYFS regularly uses the same mental health professionals who intuitively understand they are more likely to continue to be used by DYFS if they reach conclusions that support DYFS’ findings. There is substantial evidence of confirmation bias in the work of the “neutral” professionals relied on by DYFS and the court. Since they “know” the mother’s allegations are false and she continues to believe them, she must be “delusional” and therefore unfit for anything but supervised visitation. If she were delusional, it would stand to reason that this would present a problem in the rest of her life. These professionals have never stopped to consider how she can be successful professionally, academically and in all other phases of her life. Perhaps the DSM should include a new condition “delusional in the custody courts.”

At this point, the concern is that because she continues to believe the father abused the children (based on substantial evidence) and so if she had unsupervised visitation would say negative things to the children. This is the beginning and the end of the discussion by the unqualified professionals relied on by the courts. The mother is the primary attachment figure to her children, so separating her from the children creates a higher risk of depression, low-self-esteem and suicide. Where is the research that establishes what harm would be caused to the children if she made these statements and they were false? There is no such research, it is just assumed by professionals unused to looking for research to justify their beliefs and recommendations. How can we know if the alleged harm of the mother making statements about the father is greater than the established harm of taking children away from their primary attachment figure?

The Kansas case is similar in that they have long since ignored or minimized the very real danger the abusive father poses to the child and instead concentrate all their attention on the supposed harm the mother can cause by continuing to believe the father is unsafe and posting information on the Internet that helps to expose a broken court system. Judges are ethically required to avoid actions that create the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. Although they phrase the demand to remove material as if it benefitted the child, in reality the real purpose is to hide the history of abuse of the father and the failure of the court to act in the child’s best interests. Given the clear conflict of interest (they are seeking to remove materials that criticize the court), at the very least they would need convincing evidence that the mother’s beliefs would create a long-term harm to the child. Similarly, the removal of the mother from the child’s life, although she is the primary attachment figure creates a serious risk of harm to the child that the court has failed to address. Until the court can cite evidence or research to support its assumptions, the extreme actions present at least an appearance of impropriety. Ironically in both cases the courts put a high priority on placing the children with the parent it viewed as most likely to promote a relationship with the other parent, but when the abusive fathers sought to deny the children a meaningful relationship with the parent the children most need (the primary attachment figure), the same priority of keeping both parents in the children’s lives was no longer paramount. This is a common mistake in the custody courts and is one example of the widespread gender bias faced by mothers. In fairness, court professionals are often oblivious to the gender biased approaches they use, but tend to get angry and retaliatory when it is pointed out to them.

I believe it is outrageous that the custody courts have not made children’s safety the first priority. In the California and Maryland cases where there was evidence of a history of domestic violence and threats to kill the children, the court had time for only a brief hearing and refused to protect the children’s safety resulting in their deaths at the hands of their fathers. At the same time, In the New Jersey and Kansas cases the courts seem to have unlimited time and resources to investigate the “danger” the children might hear their mothers’ concern for their safety and well being.

Certainly there are mothers whose contact with the children needs to be limited. This would be in cases where there is a genuine safety risk such as a mother who is a drug addict, physically abuses the children or has a mental illness so severe as to make her unsafe to care of the children. In the absence of such safety issues it is virtually always wrong for courts to take the extreme action of barring unsupervised visitation. This is certainly true when it is done in the context of mothers trying to protect their children from fathers they believe are unsafe. The research establishes that because of the outdated and discredited practices court professionals routinely use, a large majority of findings denying the mothers’ allegations are mistaken. Even when her allegations are untrue, it is unlikely the risk she will make negative comments about the father is more significant than the harm of taking a primary attachment figure out of the children’s lives. In other words the harm to the children of these visitation restrictions is almost always greater than the harm the court thinks it is avoiding.

This was explained by Joan Zorza in her chapter in our book, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY, chapter 14 page 26. “Otherwise as shown in many parts of this book, courts often make mistakes that place the lives and safety of protective mothers and their children in jeopardy. In this context, it is important for courts that rule against alleged victims of DV to be open to the possibility that they made a mistake. Courts should be reluctant to take punitive or retaliatory actions against mothers who continue to believe their partners abused them.” The courts in Kansas and New Jersey could have saved the children a lot of harm (and still can) by following this advice based on the most up-to-date research available.

The elephant in the room is the issue of corruption. Every time courts make decisions that appear to have no relationship to the evidence presented and make orders that cannot possibly benefit the children involved, they create the appearance of corruption. When courts seek to silence protective mothers and retaliate for criticism of the court or their abuser, they are promoting the belief that only corruption could explain these extreme and harmful decisions.

There are cases decided by corruption. The Judge Garson case in Brooklyn, New York is a prime example and his early release from jail after conviction further harmed the courts’ reputation. More commonly mental health professionals and some attorneys have adopted beliefs and practices that favor abusers because that is where the money is. Nevertheless, I believe the research establishes that most of these bad decisions are caused by outdated and discredited practices that are deeply ingrained after all these years. In my career, I have seen many good people who I like and respect use these practices and come to extremely harmful conclusions. It is important, however that the legal system open its eyes to this problem, review the new research and stop acting defensively to the justified criticism.

In the summer of Watergate, John Dean testified that he told Nixon about a cancer on the presidency. His assumption was that the illegal and unethical practices were committed only by Nixon’s aides. It turned out that Nixon himself was the cancer on the presidency and had to be removed. Today there is a cancer on the custody court system. Some children are dying and others have their lives ruined by unjustified and extreme decisions. Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence wrote in her Afterward to our new book that once the book is published anyone who continues to use the old practices must be understood to be committing malpractice. The four cases discussed in this article were originally decided based upon the old discredited practices. It is too late to save the children in California and Maryland. This is what happens when inadequately trained professionals rely on the myth that women frequently make false allegations. We can still help the children in New Jersey and Kansas by taking a fresh look at the cases based on the up-to-date research now available. The court system is at a crossroads. It now has the research to reform its training and practices so that they can better protect all the children. I hope they will treat the research as a gift and not an attack and use it to remove the cancer on the court system. In doing so the court system can support my view that the mistaken decisions are not based on corruption.




In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Perhaps we have been unfair to those who support Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). We keep citing research and information that discredits PAS, but they ignore scientific research and continue in their beliefs. And that is what we have missed. Their position is not based on facts or information, but because they are believers in PAS. What Gardner concocted has become a religion, sort of a PASology. If I remember correctly from Hebrew School, there is a letter that can sound like an “s” or like a “t.” So more accurately their religion should be known as Pathology.

Perhaps PAS as a religion should have been understood earlier because the worshipers get so angry at any challenge to their beliefs and seem to find offensive any information that undermines the legitimacy of PAS. I came to realize the religious fervor of their beliefs after they published an article containing vicious personal attacks on many of the wonderful people, including professionals who spoke at the recent Battered Mothers Custody Conference.

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The professionals have chosen to accept a reduced income in order to continue to work on the side of abused women and their children. This contrasts with many court professionals like Gardner who realized they could make a substantial income by supporting abusers. Clearly the professionals at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference committed a serious sin by failing to worship at the altar of the almighty dollar.

I believe one reason it took so long to recognize the pathologists as a religion is that every other religion places a value on the truth. The adherents of PAS have taken a very different approach. We have seen them repeat the same lies over and over again so that over time it becomes their truth. Their God permits them to dismiss any inconvenient facts as if they never existed.

Included in the inconvenient facts is the current scientific research contained in DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. This includes over 700 pages and thousands of citations demonstrating exactly what the pathologists disbelieve. Even more impressive than the quantify of the material is the quality. The book contains chapters from the leading experts in the U.S. and Canada including judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, journalists and domestic violence advocates. The research establishes not only that the courts are getting a high percentage of cases wrong and favoring abusive fathers, but their standard practices are flawed and inevitably lead to results that harm children and support abusers. Of course none of this information appears in the Pathologist’s holy books.

PAS is used to support the worst of the worst abusers and its supporters appear unconcerned with the harm they do to children. For the true believer, undermining the belief in PAS is far more serious than hurting a child. For many of us, Holly Collins is a hero who risked her personal comfort and safety in order to rescue her children from unspeakable abuse. The court did not deny the father abused the children. Indeed it would be hard to deny it after the father beat his son so badly as to fracture his skull. Instead the judge said the mother’s reluctance to encourage the relationship with the abusive father was more serious than the father’s physical abuse. The evidence is so overwhelming that Holly Collins became the first American to receive asylum from another country. It should be embarrassing to this country that it was unwilling or unable to protect its own children so that another nation had to step in to protect these children. Nevertheless the pathological supporters of PAS continue to support the abusive father and even attack the children whom he abused. At least one prominent Pathologist encouraged supporters to stalk the family and said the brave mother should be gang raped. No wonder it has taken so long to understand these extremists as part of a religion.

Garland Waller, who was herself personally attacked by the pathologists wrote an important chapter in our book about the failure of the media to expose the scandal in the custody court system. One of the exceptions was a Newsweek article written by Sarah Childress that appeared in the September 25, 2006 issue entitled Fighting Over the Kids: Battered Spouses Take Aim at a Controversial Custody Strategy. The reporter used the Shockome case to illustrate the growing problem of courts taking children from safe, protective mothers and placing them with dangerous abusers because of the use of a sexist theory that has no scientific basis. Ms. Childress took months to research the story speaking to both parties and attorneys on Shockome as well as leading national experts and representatives of “fathers’ rights” groups. She also reviewed thousands of pages of evidence so that she could determine the validity of what each side was saying. In other words she did exactly what a reporter is supposed to do and what many media outlets are unwilling to use their resources for. I believe it is significant that Ms. Childress looked at actual evidence which is missing from the decisions in Shockome and Goldstein and in the repeated attacks on Shockome by the Pathologists.

Interestingly, shortly after the decision in the retaliation case against me, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor testified at her confirmation hearings. She said it is especially important for judges to describe and answer the arguments made by the side the court is ruling against. She certainly was not describing a new theory, but rather best practices for judges that has been the standard for hundreds if not thousands of years. Significantly, there is nothing in the trial judge’s lengthy decision in Shockome or the Appellate Division decisions in Shockome or Goldstein that makes any attempt to discuss or answer the overwhelming evidence and legal arguments on the losing side. Accordingly, the Pathologists who claimed to have investigated the Shockome case claimed there is no evidence of the father’s abuse. Unlike, Ms. Childress, they limited their investigation to what the abuser in Shockome told them and the court decisions that failed to respond to the evidence. So now after repeatedly claiming there is no evidence of abuse in Shockome, it is part of the sacred papers of Pathology and must be accepted by true believers of PAS.

One of the most important reasons custody courts keep making dangerous mistakes in domestic violence cases is that court professionals don’t understand how to recognize domestic violence. Judge Mike Brigner in his chapter for our book gave several examples of normal behavior by battered women that courts routinely use to discredit allegations of domestic violence, but are not probative. This includes actions like returning to her abuser, failing to follow-up on a request for a protective order and not having police or medical reports. Of course if courts routinely discount allegations of abuse for reasons that are not probative, they will get a lot of cases wrong which is exactly what is happening.

Lois Schwaeber wrote an important chapter in the book about how to recognize domestic violence. Abusers engage in a variety of tactics designed to coerce, intimidate and control their partners. Most tactics are not physical or illegal, but too often inadequately trained court professionals look only for physical abuse. Genuine experts know to look for a pattern of controlling behaviors and to look for evidence of the alleged abuser’s motivation. Most contested custody cases involve fathers who had little involvement with caring for the children during the relationship, but suddenly seek custody when his victim tries to leave him. They believe she had no right to leave and so they are entitled to use any tactic, including hurting the children in order to pressure her to return or punish her for leaving. Unqualified court professionals usually assume the father seeks custody out of love for the children and never look at evidence of his motivation. In most cases much of the evidence is subtle and you need to understand the motivation from context and comparison. For instance we often see a mother asking the court to limit the father’s contact for safety reasons and the court treats this as if the mother is seeking to harm the relationship between the children and father and gives custody and control to the father. Once he has control he often unilaterally interferes with the mother’s contact, asks the court to prevent contact and tells the children negative things about the mother, but the court does nothing to make sure the children have a relationship with their mother. The frustrating thing about the Shockome case was that the evidence of the father’s abuse was very open and clear and could be seen by anyone who took a fair look. That is why the Newsweek reporter and various academics have used Shockome to illustrate the problem in the courts as the evidence is so easy to understand.

The evidence presented in the Shockome case is about as one-sided as possible. The protective mother presented eleven witnesses including five experts and neutral professionals including the school nurse, child’s therapist and couple’s counselor. The alleged abuser was the only witness for the father and the evaluator also testified. The evidence is even more one-sided than the number of witnesses as the father made numerous damaging admissions and the “neutral” evaluator testified she was influenced by her belief the judge and law guardian wanted the father to have custody. She also testified that she would violate her neutrality to find the father abused the mother as long as he continued to deny it. No wonder the abuser groups like her so much.

In his testimony, the alleged abuser admitted that he would call his victim as many as twenty times a day including as late as 1 AM when he knew the mother and children were sleeping. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

During his testimony he also admitted saying that he brought the mother here from Russia so she has no right to leave. He also acknowledged telling her she will never get away from him. While this is the typical motivation of abusers going after custody we don’t often hear them admit this. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

Throughout the trial, the mother was accused of alienation because she told the children they should eat healthy foods, dress appropriately for the weather and avoid adult oriented programs. Now I understand this is what any good parent would tell their children, but it was considered alienation because the father did all these things although he denied them throughout the trial. Then during his rebuttal testimony when he learned there was a witness who observed his children, in as close to a Perry Mason type moment likely to be seen in real life, he admitted that he could not prevent the children from running around outside without their winter clothing. This was after they were observed running around a parking lot on the coldest day of the year without jackets. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

In the context of the father’s motivation for seeking custody, although he claimed greater involvement with the children than was accurate, he never challenged the fact that the mother provided most of the child care and is the primary attachment figure. He also did not dispute the evidence that he said he could not change his daughter’s diaper because he might get excited. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

Abusive fathers often seek custody as a tactic to gain access to his victim. This can be in order to seek to reestablish the relationship and/or to continue his harassment. The phone calls between the father and children was a contentious matter in which the father repeatedly sought to punish the mother by claiming she was preventing him from speaking with the children. The father submitted transcripts of his calls with the children. Revealingly, most of the conversation involved the father asking to speak with the mother or learning what the mother was doing. He certainly did not use the phone calls to bond with the children or work on their relationship. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

During my cross-examination of the evaluator, she testified the father probably abused the mother physically, verbally and emotionally throughout the marriage. She testified the children probably witnessed his abuse. She testified the father probably caused the mother’s PTSD. That sounds like pretty strong evidence of the father’s abuse especially coming from a witness biased in favor of the father and who recommended the father for custody. Incredibly she said she couldn’t base her findings or recommendations on these probable conclusions because she could not determine the extent of the father’s abuse TO A CERTAINTY. The correct legal standard is preponderance of the evidence which roughly means probability which is the standard she used for the father’s claims. For anyone wondering the basis for my statements that she used the certainty standard for the mother and probability for the father, it is contained in black and white in her report and when I questioned her about it repeatedly during cross-examination she repeatedly acknowledged using certainty against the mother and probability for the father and seemed not to understand what the problem was. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

The same evaluator also testified the mother is a safe parent, was the primary parent and there was no alienation. Again it is hard to understand the rationale for taking the mother out of the children’s lives and sending them to live with the probable abuser. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

The child sexual abuse allegations described particular actions engaged in by the father with the children. The behaviors would best be described as boundary violations rather than molestation, but according to the expert witnesses making the children more vulnerable to future abuse. The father admitted to the acts alleged by the mother and described by the children. Two neutral experts, the child’s therapist and the couple’s counselor testified these actions constituted child sexual abuse. When the couple’s counselor told the father the harm these behaviors were causing, he promised to stop. CPS and the evaluator decided that because there was no molestation the behavior did not constitute sexual abuse and the judge decided that even though the factual allegations were accurate and the neutral professionals had advised the mother the behavior was harmful to the children and constituted sexual abuse, she must have made the allegations in order to harm the father’s relationship with the children. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

I should note that the Pathologists claim the sexual abuse claim was bogus because the mother said she did the same thing to the children as the father was accused of. This is one of the ways we know that they never looked at the record, but relied on the biased judge’s statement. In the decision he said the school nurse testified the mother did the same thing and relied strongly on this claim. In the actual transcript, however, the judge asked her if she remembered saying the mother did the same thing and she answered no. When we later obtained the transcript from the earlier testimony she never made the statement the judge claimed to have heard. I understand the transcript makes it look like the judge deliberately invented and used false evidence, but I believe he was so convinced that the mother was trying to interfere with the father’s relationship that he honestly believed he heard the nurse agree even though the transcript shows she didn’t. It is part of the bias against the mother he showed throughout the case.

The amazing thing about the actual evidence is that the Pathologists are claiming there was no evidence of the father’s abuse and yet there actually was overwhelming evidence just in the testimony of witnesses hostile to the mother. The admissions by the abuser and the biased evaluator made the testimony of the mother’s witnesses even stronger because it supported what they were saying.

One witness who testified at the earlier trial was a neighbor who was not a friend of either parent. She described an incident in which the father was banging on the mother’s apartment door and yelling curses so loudly that the neighbor heard it all the way across the compound. This occurred on a day when the father was not scheduled to have visitation. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

Another neighbor described how the father drove through the parking area of the mother’s complex, near the children at a frightening rate of speed. Other neighbors spoke about how rarely they saw the father interact with the children when they visited or in public play areas and how he made the daughter wait out in the rain. A family friend described how the daughter would inappropriately undress in the apartment in front of others and the school nurse testified about sexualized behaviors the son engaged in at school. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS. 

The mother provided compelling testimony of the father’s physical and other abuse. She described how he refused to provide basic necessities when they were living in Texas before she received her degree and could earn a living. She described his abuse while she was pregnant and refusal to help with the children. She testified he threatened to ruin her financially and take away the children if she dared to leave which was confirmed by his admissions and aggressive legal tactics. When she described her husband’s sexual abuse of her, the pain and embarrassment she felt were unmistakable and could not possibly have been faked. She provided many other details of the father’s abuse, but this was the one part of the evidence I could not support with a transcript because the court erased the tape of her testimony (the court said it was by mistake and provided a statement from a technician attempting to explain how it happened). Accordingly the appellate court attempted to review the case without a transcript of almost all of the mother’s testimony. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

The school nurse testified about the sexualized and aggressive behavior of the son after visiting the father. She testified that only the mother was active in working with the school. The children were dressed appropriately when coming from the mother’s home, but not the father’s. Significantly, the children deteriorated significantly after they lost their mother and were placed with the abusive father. While living with the mother, the daughter was described as skipping around school, holding hands with another girl, laughing and giggling, but after she lost her mother she would walk around the school alone, head down and deeply depressed. She often came to the nurse complaining of stomach aches or other similar ailments. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

The mother called five expert witnesses including the couple’s counselor and the child’s therapist who were neutral professionals. Both experts found that the father’s actions violated the children’s boundaries and constituted sexual abuse. The child’s therapist said the father tried to silence the son and undermine his therapy. She also mentioned calls from him that were threatening and intimidating. This was confirmed when the father submitted tapes of the calls. The couple’s counselor, whose job was to work with both parents told the father his actions constituted sexual abuse and was causing harm to the children. He promised to stop these harmful behaviors, but nevertheless sought to use the mother’s concerns as if they were motivated to harm his relationship with the children instead of protect the children. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

The mother’s therapist testified that she and the mother’s doctor had diagnosed the mother as having PTSD, the kind caused by a long history of traumatic events. Significantly, there was nothing else in the mother’s life other than the father’s abuse that could have caused the mother’s PTSD. Another expert witness was Dr. Mo Therese Hannah who is one of the leading national experts on domestic violence and custody who confirmed there was nothing else in the mother’s history that could have caused her PTSD. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER’S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.

When I wrote my appeal brief, I submitted the transcript date and page for every one of these facts that supported our points. The law guardian who is a PAS supporter, the father’s attorney and the judges all had a chance to respond. No one challenged the facts I have just laid out because they were completely documented. Similarly in the retaliation against me, the grievance committee had my brief and all the citations. If any of my factual claims could have been challenged surely they would have done so. The evidence supported everything I said so they responded by ignoring the inconvenient information. It was not that there was no evidence, but those in power were making their determinations despite the evidence.

Clearly the pathologists rely on irrational beliefs and constant repetition of lies as their claims are dispelled when confronted with the actual evidence. This is not surprising as PAS is based on the assumption that virtually all allegations of abuse made by women are false when the actual research demonstrates false allegations are extremely rare, being false only one or two percent of the time. The new Department of Justice study led by Dr. Daniel Saunders says that unqualified evaluators and other court professionals who believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations are responsible for recommendations that work poorly for children. In other words, those who support PAS will be wrong about 98% of the time which is pretty much what we have seen from the pathological statements and personal attacks by supporters of pathology.

Now we have had a lot of fun laughing at the absurdity of the pathologist’s attacks. I took a college course in the philosophy of religion. I remember they said that religions tell stories and use rituals as a means to help its members act morally and as long as the religion encourages moral behavior it is good for humanity. Although PAS is based solely on beliefs and not facts it cannot really be considered a religion because it encourages its members to act in the most immoral manner and hurt battered women, children and so many others. In reality the pathologists are a small group of abusive men with a strong sense of entitlement, together with those they can manipulate and professionals who seek to profit from the unspeakable torture of children.

They take advantage of the rare exceptions when women make false allegations or children have a bad relationship with their father because of what the mother said or did. Children tend to love their parents even when they are seriously flawed. Most times if a parent bad mouths the other parent in ways that are false the result will be to undermine the relationship with the parent making the false charges. More commonly children dislike a parent because of child abuse, neglect or domestic violence. Relationships are often strained for normal child development reasons as anyone with a teen would know. It is easy for an abusive parent like Alec Baldwin to blame others for the results of his abusive behavior. It takes honesty and maturity for someone to accept responsibility for the harm they have caused. Obviously it is far easier to blame others and concoct a magic theory to support their lack of responsibility.

Mental health professionals who have sought to profit from PAS are instead starting to lose their licenses because they are in affect diagnosing something that does not exist and is not part of the DSM. I hope professional associations will work to improve their reputations by disciplining unqualified members who profit by using unscientific theories. The last thing these professions need are members who are pathological.

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. Barry can be reached by email at their web site



Slain Medford mother always found the positive side of things, brother says

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Medford claimed as its own a 30-year-old mother of four killed earlier in the week along with her young children in a stabbing and house fire. The killings, the worst in the city’s history

Amplify’d from
medford vigilJPG.JPG
More than 300 people filled Medford’s Hawthorne Park for a candlelight vigil to remember Tabasha Paige-Criado and her four youngsters — Elijah, Isaac,
Andrew and Aurora — stabbed and left to die in their burning home on July 18. Paige-Criado’s older brother, Jesse Adams, and his wife, Heidi, praised
rescuers for their efforts to save their loved ones, and thanked mourners for remembering the family.
They planned to meet in person for the first time at an August barbecue in Medford.

Paige-Criado’s other plans weren’t as solid.

She became a fixture at the Thursday evening belly-dancing class at her local YMCA.

She spoke of going back to school to get her college degree, of moving to New Orleans, of returning to Bakersfield. She had concrete plans to leave, said Potts, but with four children, no money and few prospects, leaving wasn’t a slam dunk.

“I just assumed that it was the regular, ‘We had a good run and it just kind of ran its course’ breakup,” Potts said.

Now Potts wants other women to learn from her friend’s story.

“Tabasha was a tough girl. It is not her place to ever… let anyone think that she was a victim.

“Knowing now what she was silently struggling through, maybe that was a mistake.”

In February 2010, she still referred to him as “my hubby.” In April, they lost the three-bedroom rancher on Vista Drive to foreclosure, records show. By May 11, she wrote, “sometimes I think I might run away just me and my daughter!” and by October she referred to Criado as the “not-so-efficient-mechanic-ball-n-chain-village-idiotic-king.”

But in December, the family arranged to rent-to-own the 1925 house on West 10th, a two-bedroom fixer-upper on a fifth of an acre, without water or electricity.

The spent the winter crowded into a borrowed motor home in the backyard while working on the house. Neither Criado nor Paige-Criado had steady employment.

She took pride in the renovation, posing before a newly papered accent wall just inside the front door.

In January, she was reunited online with her biological father. “Still in shock,” she wrote on Jan. 16. “He’s a swell guy!”

stubborn resistance, she said.

“That’s when Jordan said he had to get her out of Bakersfield because I was too close to my daughter,” she remembered.

Moving to Oregon

The family left sometime after 2004. In 2008, at the height of the real estate market, they bought a three-bedroom home in Central Point. The family had grown to three boys, two with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and one Paige-Criado described as “low-scale autistic,” with a daughter on the way.

By 2009, she had taken to social networking, posting happy family photos on her Facebook page and sharing her zest for life and quick wit.

She grew close to Cherilyn Potts, a blogger and mom from Louisville, Ky., the two bonding online over a shared love of natural hair styles and 1980s music.

“She was like your personal life cheerleader,” Potts, 30, said. “She was probably a better friend to others than they were to her.”

She kept loved ones at arm’s length, offering glimpses of a troubled marriage with a controlling man, but refusing to reveal details.

“It bothers me to say I would just accept the brushoff,” Potts said.

In time, Paige-Criado took down the happy family portraits. Her words turned sharp at mention of her husband.

Paige-Criado looked forward, not backward. “She didn’t hold somebody’s past against them,” Adams said.

“She wanted to have stability and she was going to give him that and he gave her that in return.”

The couple were married by a justice of the peace. He worked as a mechanic, she waited tables.

But when her mother, Gwen Crowles, delved into Criados past, the crimes shook her.

“When I first met him, I thought he was all right … until I learned that he was a child molester,” Crowles said.

In short succession, the couple had two sons. Crowles’ warnings met

He served nearly 11 years and confessed his crimes not long after they began dating, her brother recalled.

Vigil in Medford for murder victims Tabasha Paige-Criado and her four children

Vigil in Medford for murder victims Tabasha Paige-Criado and her four children
Hundreds gather in Medford to pay their respects to Tabasha Paige-Criado and her four children, allegedly murdered by Jordan Adam Criado, husband and father.
Watch video

She enrolled in a community college in Bakersfield, where in 2003 she met Jordan Criado.

He was 21 years her senior, a loner with an unhappy childhood and a criminal record.

“He was adopted. He didn’t have any family, and she bounced around so much. We had a tough childhood. When they met each other, she and Jordan found common ground,” Adams said.

Criado had had a family once, when he was living in Sacramento in the 1980s. In December 1989 his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Janeen, admitted to an assistant district attorney that Criado had sexually abused her for five years.

It began subtly at first when she was 7, according to a story in The Sacramento Bee in 2007.

“After awhile there was not a night I was left alone,” said the victim, then the mother of a 7-year-old herself.

Criado was convicted of eight counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Always a character

Paige-Criado was born in Bakersfield, Calif., a hardscrabble city of dust and oil set at the choke point of the lush San Joaquin farming valley and the implacable Sierra Nevada.

The third of six children, she moved repeatedly in her youth: to Denver, then Phoenix and back to California. She was a clever, independent kid, a cheerful troublemaker who made the most of even miserable situations.

“She was always a character, Adams said. She could get in trouble and be grounded but she made it fun.

“That was her gift: No matter how bad things got, she found the positive side of things.”

After she graduated from high school, she enlisted in the Navy in 2001 to learn a trade, but her military career ended after five months and 19 days.

The Navy wasn’t a good fit for the bon vivant.

Tabasha Paige-Criado came to southern Oregon to find just such a community, said her eldest brother, Jesse Adams, a 32-year-old contractor from Buckeye, Ariz. Her husband, 51-year-old Jordan Adam Criado, remains unconscious in an area hospital with smoke inhalation from fires police suspect he set after stabbing Paige-Criado, Elijah, 7, Isaac, 6, Andrew 5, and 2-year-old Aurora Elizabeth at the familys rented West 10th Street bungalow.

Police have been unable to find Criado’s relatives. Adams said his is all the family Criado had and part of what tied Criado and his sister to their crumbling marriage.



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