As we covered earlier, courts have been responding to claims of parental alienation by fathers. Some legal experts say it’s been putting children at risk. Now, the Maryland legislature is being asked to prevent that from happening in a comprehensive child custody reform that could renew courtroom gender bias.
An Attack on Claims of Alienation
According to an article in The Washington Informer, courts find 45 percent of abuse claims credible, along with 29 percent of child physical abuse claims and 15 percent of claims regarding child sexual abuse. When accusations of alienation are raised, those figures drop to 37 percent, 18 percent and two percent, respectively.
“There is no support, empirically, for the idea that women are lying or wrong about partner violence or child abuse to the extent that courts are saying they are,” said Joan Meier, Director of the National Family Violence Law Center at Georgetown University.
However, there’s no empirical evidence that dads are lying about alienation either. This could simply be a matter of courts recognizing alienation and discrediting the false claims arising from it. A paper published in the South Texas Law Review entitled, “Crying Wolf: The Use of False Accusations of Abuse to Influence Child Custodianship and a Proposal to Protect the Innocent” discusses the damage of false claims of child abuse and points to evidence from the courts that false claims of child abuse may be on the rise.
While the experts involved in the workgroup say they want kids to be safe, it’s clear their intention is forcing courts to take women’s allegations more seriously than those made by men.
Their report, “Workgroup to Study Child Custody Court Proceedings Involving Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations” was presented to Maryland legislators Monday, Dec. 7, and included an emphasis on the impact of domestic violence on children and the risks to “protective” parents, for instance, mothers who accuse fathers of spousal or child abuse.
At several points in the report, the workgroups said they spoke with protective parents. There were no reports of speaking to parents accused of abuse. In fact, Dr. Meier makes a case for invalidating any claim of parental alienation as junk science which shouldn’t be acknowledged by the courts.
A Threat to Joint Custody
Not only is the report an attack on claims of parental alienation but on the growing trend of states deferring to joint custody. It reads, “It should also be explicitly stated in statute that there is no presumption that joint custody, physical or legal, is in the best interest of the child.”
The report seeks to redefine child abuse, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence as it relates to child custody. For instance, it calls for “a definition of domestic violence that reflects the full spectrum of abusive behavior, including nonphysical acts and other methods of psychological aggression, including coercive control.” Further, the report recommends that perpetrators be unable to gain sole or joint physical or legal custody.
The workgroup goes so far as to state that in situations where both parents were abusive, the judge must determine which parent was more abusive and apply the restriction to that particular person. Here’s how they want the judge to analyze the situation:
(1) the relative severity of any injuries
(2) the likelihood of future domestic violence
(3) whether any acts of domestic violence were committed in self-defense
(4) the history of domestic violence between the parties and whether coercive control has been exhibited.
They support the idea of coercion when evaluating the parents’ relationship, but they refute it when considering the relationship between the parent and the child.
An Increase in Financial Obstacles to Father-Child Relationships
Many of the recommendations of the workgroup create additional financial obstacles for fathers, from hiring neutral third-parties to supervise custody exchanges to posting bonds before picking a child up for the weekend. The report also recommends steps that would make court proceedings longer, more complicated and more expensive.
In total, the workgroup makes 24 recommendations based on the advice of experts working in domestic violence and child abuse fields, as well as mothers who claimed abuse.
Maryland legislators will be meeting Jan. 13 to consider putting these recommendations in place. The results could impact laws across the country. We need fathers to contact their representatives and encourage them to recognize:
Parental alienation is a form of psychological abuse tied to Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress (V61.29), or CAPRD, a condition introduced in the 2016 edition of the DSM-5. It is detailed in-depth in a paper titled, “Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress” published in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in May 2016.
Domestic violence doesn’t affect most families, and studies show joint custody offers children and their parents several benefits over other arrangements. Establishing a presumption of joint custody helps families without preventing abused parents from filing for relief.
The report recommends several examples be used to help judges determine appropriate action. The examples must include stories of mothers and fathers who were victims, as well as mothers and fathers who were perpetrators to prevent bias from hurting parent-child relationships.
Don’t wait until the laws are changing in your state to fight back. Whether you’re in Maryland or not, write your representatives and let them know dads and kids deserve a chance at strong, lasting relationships. Laws aimed at protecting children from abuse need to reflect that.