A large majority of contested custody cases are really domestic violence cases involving the most dangerous abusers. Abusers, professionals who make large incomes helping them and abuser organizations have developed many practices to help abusive fathers use the family courts to regain control when their victims try to leave. The most dangerous abusers are those who believe she has no right to leave. This is why ¾ of women killed by their abusers are murdered after they leave. It is also why fathers involved in contested custody kill so many of their children, often with access provided by the courts. The courts are not recognizing the danger these men pose because they usually have not committed the most severe physical assaults and do not fit the stereotypes court professionals look for. Accordingly, almost all of the abuse reports from mothers are true and the ACE Study established that the risks to children are life-changing. This is the context in which Joan Meier co-authored a new article based on the results of her Pilot Study.
Many years ago I represented a mother whose children told her that their father was physically and sexually abusing them. The mother did everything she was supposed to do. She filed family court petitions for custody and a protective order and reported the father’s abuse to Child Protective Services. Initially the father was limited to supervised visits while the case was investigated. The children told their attorney; the evaluator; the judge and the caseworker what their father had done but as often occur in these cases, the professionals charged with protecting the children assumed the mother was coaching the children. The judge ordered normal visitation to resume and threatened to take the children if the mother continued to encourage the children to lie. Before the next visitation could occur, the father was confronted by the family baby sitter in the presence of the law guardian and admitted to kissing his daughters on their privates. The law guardian immediately made a motion to stop the visitation and I supported her motion. The judge consulted with the evaluator who said the father showed bad judgment but there was no reason to stop the visitation. During the first visitation the father penetrated the four-year-old for the first time. I called CPS to make a new report because they were unaware of the father’s admission during the first investigation. When the judge heard about my report he screamed and yelled at me saying it was already investigated and they found nothing. The new caseworker did a more thorough investigation and learned the father had done even worse than we believed. CPS filed charges against the father and he never had anything but supervised visits again.
The mother won custody and invited the caseworker and me to a celebratory dinner. The children had gifts for us but most special was their name for us. They called us believers because we believed them when all the professionals who were supposed to protect them failed to do so. I learned there is no greater honor than to be called a believer. All these years and all these rapes and molestations later, the pilot study confirms that family courts continue to be populated by unbelievers.
The pilot study found that it is really father’s allegations of alienation that continues to be the most powerful weapon to take custody from protective mothers who are usually the primary attachment figures. When courts believe a father’s claim of alienation, fathers win about 95% of the cases regardless of whether the mother claims abuse or not. Even when the court believed the mother’s abuse report they would rule for the father if they also believed his alienation claim. This is particularly disturbing not only because domestic violence and child abuse are so much more harmful than alienation, but it is likely when abuse is confirmed that it is the real cause of any alienation.