A crisis is occurring for abused women* and their children in many of the family law courts in every state of the United States. I have heard similar stories from women in Australia and the United Kingdom as well.
What is this crisis? Abusive fathers use the court system to aggressively litigate against their former partners, using the courts to stalk, harass, punish, and impoverish them. Some fathers are aided by judges, court-appointed personnel, (such as guardian ad litems and psychologists), along with aggressive “men’s rights” organizations.
Why is this happening? As in the general population, court personnel, (even judges, guardian ad litems and psychologists), are not trained in domestic violence. As a result, they do not understand truths about DV:
- A man who abuses his partner will also abuse his children.
- 90% to 96% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by males.
- Batterers are 6 to 19 times more likely to commit incest than non-battering parents.
- Children hardly ever fabricate allegations of sexual abuse (0% to 2%) even though they may later recant (change their story).
- Effects of child abuse are cumulative. The best way to ameliorate the effects of child abuse are to prevent additional abuse in the future, (i.e. limit access between the child and the abusive parent) and to allow the non-abusive parent to give emotional support to the child.
Often, court personnel believe children need their fathers, whether or not the child is very attached to the father, and whether or not he is abusive. They also believe abused mothers regularly lie about the abuse they and their children have experienced in order to keep children from their fathers. They believe in “Parental Alienation Syndrome.” This is a theory created by Richard Gardner in the 1980s which claims a parent can alienate a child from the other parent, usually as part of a custody battle. However, a recent study** found that only 6% of children were extremely rejecting of the other parent, and this was usually when there was good cause: sexual abuse in 9% of the cases, general mistreatment of the child in 36%, and domestic violence in 44% of the cases, with the fathers 3 times more likely than mothers to be the perpetrators.
Because most men are wealthier than their female partners, they can spend more on court battles. They can hire better lawyers, and more influential “expert” witnesses. There is a trend in our country to not only give abusers some unsupervised access to their children, but to even give full custody to the abuser, and require the protective mothers to have minimal supervised visits with the children they are trying to protect. Sadly, the more the mother brings the abuse to the attention of the court, the less parental time she gets with her children. As a result, she is told by her lawyer to “say nothing” about the abuse her children are experiencing, in effect, she is told to lie to the court.
There is something seriously wrong with this picture.
Who are the real losers in these court battles? The children the court is supposed to protect.
Click here to listen to three young people describing their experience with the court system while they were growing up. ** Trigger warning for adult and child victims of abuse **
This is the bad news. Is there any good news? Yes there is. I will share the good news in my next blog. Tune in next week.
Until then, let’s pray:
Children are precious to you. In Matthew 19:14 you said to let the little children come to you, and not to prevent them. Lord, thousands of little children are suffering at the hands of abusers because our court systems are failing to protect them. I pray we as a society will become more educated about domestic violence, and the toll it has on our children. As we do, I pray our court system will do a better job of protecting these children. Please be with them and their mothers in the meantime. Amen
* While the majority of the time it is abusive fathers who use the court systems to continue abusing their former victims, abusive mothers do use the courts this way on rare occasions.
** Johnston, Walters, & Olesen, Is it Alienating Parenting, Role Reversal or Child Abuse? A Study of Children’s Rejection of a Parent in Child Custody Disputes, The Hayworth Press, 2005.