Batterer’s custody ploy

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.

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Comments

  1. “judges did not consider a father’s violence in deciding custody or visitation”

    That’s right. They consider only the “welfare” of the children in deciding custody. This is unilateral no-fault divorce in action.

    The application of this principle generally works in favor of the wife because of the defacto presumption that the children are better off with their mother regardless as to who was at fault in the breakup of the marriage.

    It often happens that a wife will claim violence, obtain a court order expelling the husband from the home, file for divorce, and get child support. This leaves her free to shack up with her boyfriend.

    The article clearly sympathizes with the ex-wife in this case. Apparently, however, the judge determined that she was, in fact, undermining the relationship of the children with their father. None of us knows what was going on, certainly not the reporter and maybe not the judge either.

    The fact that 54% of cutody disputes are decided in favor of the spouse-abuser means very little since custody is infrequently disputed. The enormous legal expense involved would discourge most “documented abusers” from even trying dispute custody without good grounds. I would also be curious as to how “documented abuser” is defined. I seriously doubt that anything has been proven in court in these cases. More likely there are documented allegations of spousal abuse.

  2. Advocacy journalism based on advocacy science both of which should be a contradiction in terms but, in pursuit of a political goal, aren’t.

    From the very first line the warning bells start to go off:

    The 40 women came from towns across Massachusetts and from all walks of life,
    yet their stories were the same — shocking tales of battering and harassment
    at the hands of abusive ex-partners.

    Forty. Is it even possible to draw any conclusions from a sample size that small absent some very careful consideration given to selection bias or the possibility of a non-representative sample?

    A modest critique.

  3. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    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.

    Well that makes a certain amount of sense. I’ve known plenty of people who were selective in their abuse.

    It’s not always about uncontrollable tempers. Sometimes it’s about target-specific aggravation and views about gender roles.

    Not that I’m in favor of the wide-ranging general rule that the judges you describe seem to be following. I’m all for situation-specific judging in times like this. That’s why we hire judges.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    It is very important to know that there are large numbers of false claims of battery that ONLY arise when a child’s custody becomes an issue. Lawyers commonly tell their female clients to make such claims no matter how groundless.

    Why is the high rate of reject of the claim (54%) seen as the courts being bad rather than the woman lying?

    The Department of Justice has shown that men and women INITIATE violence in a relationship at ALL levels of severity EQUALLY!

    Yet there are no battered men’s shelters.

    In my state (Maryland) there is a ‘must arrest’ law on the case of domestic violence. The arrest rate of women is almost that of men.

  5. In my state (Maryland) there is a ‘must arrest’ law on the case of domestic violence. The arrest rate of women is almost that of men.

    In the two cases of spousal-abuse that I have witnessed, the men definately got the worst of it. In one case, the wife called me to “rescue” her from her husband that “beat her”. Upon my arrival, she had a cut lip and he was sumbling around with missing teeth and had a split scalp (she had beat him with a glass ashtray). In the other case, the wife chased her husband down the street with a large, wooden fork (the kind that hung on walls in the late 60’s). He ended up being taken to the hospital (she cornered him) and never came home. So, pardon me if I’m a little suspect of the stats.

  6. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Erle Stanley Gardner said it many times: Courts are dependent on facts, which must be uncovered and bought into court. When the investigation is slip-shod, the legal system is blamed.

    In this case, the basic question is how often the abuse accusations are true. In the Newsweek feature case, there should have been discoverable external evidence.

    Perhaps the reform needed is for the judges to have their own investigators. The danger is that the investigators will develop their own culture, pro- one parent or the other, and become as uninterested in mere evidence as cops are. On the other hand, it might beat the judge listening to the ex-spouses and the hired experts and trying to decide who’s lying.