If children fear their father and their mother says her ex was abusive, the father can sue for custody on grounds of “parental alienation.” MSNBC reports:
Under the theory, children fear or reject one parent because they have been corrupted or coached to lie by the other. Parental alienation is now the leading defense for parents accused of abuse in custody cases, according to domestic-violence advocates. And it’s working. The few current studies done on the subject consider only small samples. But according to one 2004 survey in Massachusetts by Harvard’s Jay Silverman, 54 percent of custody cases involving documented spousal abuse were decided in favor of the alleged batterers. Parental alienation was used as an argument in nearly every case.
I did a column on a housing program for battered women and their children. I learned that judges did not consider a father’s violence in deciding custody or visitation, as long as he’d beaten the mother but not the children.