Family court chaos: abuse, audits and “alienation”

Here are several pieces on the horrors of family court, here and abroad.

First research study on how local authorities work with domestically abusive fathers  from the Charity Family Rights Group in the UK. The report is available from this site, but there is a charge. Here’s a link to the Baby P case they reference – Warning – there’s a graphic description of the abuse this infant experienced. This article mentions there’s been 30 other similar cases recently (sigh) : Baby P: Born into a nightmare of abuse, violence and despair, he never stood a chance

Excerpt from “First research study…”:

The audit of the 70 case files in three authorities found that: 

The majority but not all perpetrators of domestic abuse were birth fathers

  • In 57 cases the perpetrator of the domestic abuse was the birth father and in 12 cases the mother’s partner. 

 The severity of the abuse was stark

  • In 41% of the cases the adult victim had been pregnant at the time of being abused.
  • In at least 37% of the cases there had been more than six separate reported incidents of domestic violence.

 A great many of the children were in contact with their fathers ·   Only 12% of perpetrators were noted on the files as having definitely lost contact as a result of the domestic violence.   

But

Ø     In only 31 cases (44%) was the phone number of the birth father on the files;

Ø    There was a lack of assessment and information about the parenting capacity of 61% of these fathers;

Ø    In the sample, 48 core assessments were undertaken (i.e. to assess the level of the child’s need/or to assess risk when there were child protection concerns)  yet the father was not seen or contacted by phone in 32% (15) of these cases ; 

Ø    The offer of attending a domestic violence perpetrator programme was made to only 14 of the 53 perpetrators. 

Speaking of audits, here are some press pieces from the audit of Marin County family court:

Marin Voice:  Audit unveils court problems

Marin court right to implement audit advice

And, lastly, I want to mention that the Huffington Post has been running posts on parental alienation. Cathy Meyer wrote an article that bashed the National Organization of Women (NOW). I suppose the rookie didn’t want to take on all the other organizations that discredit parental alienation:

The American Bar Association, American Prosecutors Research Institute, National District Attorneys Association, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges…

The National District Attorneys Association says on their Web site, “PAS is an unproven theory that can threaten the integrity of the criminal justice system and the safety of abused children.”

Meyer admits in the comment section that she doesn’t know much about domestic violence but suspects it’s not very common. You’d think she’d visit at least one domestic violence site before writing about PAS.  

I give up on contacting the Huffpo – we sent them a sign on letter with over 2o signatories of individuals(lawyers, writers, advocates) and organizations involved in domestic violence and child abuse. They didn’t respond. I then sent them “Case #1” (Katie Tagle, who the judge claimed denied access to the father – the father who ended up killing their 9-month-old son). So they let me submit an article on PAS (posted on my blog below) – a small consolation, esp considering they then ran the Meyer piece afterwards. It was so poorly researched – She read a book on PAS (according to a comment she wrote on the Internet) and now *poof* she’s an expert. Meanwhile, abusers are getting off the hook with PAS, the abuse excuse.

Huffington Post really needs to get some better writers  – ones able to do a little research – they owe that much to their readers.

Level playing fields, or not? “One lady’s” response to Rob Hahn’s piece in the Huffington Post

 (Note: This is rather long – You can scroll down to the bottom to see the summary of my points)

Apparently, Rob Hahn believes his Huffpost piece is a level playing field to my e-mails. It is not. And that’s not the only unfair playing field he believes in.

Hahn believes he has created an “equality” model called EAP – Equality through 50/50 shared physical custody as the legal presumption.

(Here’s a source that contradict the idea that shared custody is equal: 

Joint Custody Laws Facilitate Abuse by Jack C. Straton

http://www.europrofem.org/contri/2_04_en/en-viol/30en_vio.htm

Treating parents equally at divorce time ignores past child care time and effort, parenting skills and history of abuse. We don’t get equal pay checks for showing up at work – nor should we get equal custody for showing up at family court —f amily court, of all places – – “the place” for couples with moderate-to-high conflict and abuse cases (domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse).

He says there should be “accountability by judges.” That’s a good one. Judge Lemkau, for instance, accused Katie Tagle of fabricating lies to deny the father access to their 9-month old baby. He gave the father custody. The father rode off into the mountains and killed the infant and committed suicide. Shouldn’t this judge be held accountable for his decision? Many more mothers have similar stories of abusers getting custody.

Katie Tagle case: http://ncmbts.blogspot.com/2010/02/tagle-garcia-transcript-of-deadly.html

Goher case: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/7244130.html  and http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7210150.html

 Choosing Jail Over Joint Custody by Michael A. Lindenberger

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1696721,00.html

Abused Mothers’ Mental Health http://www.hhs.gov/news/healthbeat/2010/11/20101101a.html

Research citations: http://leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/dv.html

In defense of this accusation, Hahn proposes “prevention” of domestic violence through “divorce courses.” Tell that to the women who’ve been stalked, strangled, and kicked in their pregnant stomachs. Two hours (his proposal) of domestic violence “prevention” is an absurdity. It’s thrown in as a crumb to victims of family violence. 

He goes on to mention the “well-documented research” that supports shared custody. Since shared custody is in its infancy in the US, I would like to see the “well-documented research.”

How about studying the effects of joint custody where’s it been used longer and more widely than the US, like Australia?

Shared parenting in Australia (it’s “hurting children”)

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/08/28/2669245.htm?section=justin

And yet Hahn, who you would think has researched this topic extensively, believes criticism is “down right perplexing” as if there wasn’t supposed to be an opposing viewpoint to this perfect plan.  

Actually, many couples do voluntarily choose shared parenting so it’s more perplexing that he believes legislation that forces couples to share children 50-50 and go through a 2 hour course on domestic violence is anything less than ideal.

He writes, “one lady emailed me that she was “dismayed” that I could support shared custody.” That “one lady” was me.

“She went to great length to note all her credentials and pointed me toward studies that did not specifically address my repeated questions about how shared custody and domestic violence prevention could co-exist in legislation. (Note 1)

Hahn questions my statement that most couples make their own parenting plans. About 10-15% actually go to court to have a judge settle custody for them. If he disagrees with this, I’d like to see citations instead of taking his word for it. Surely, he can enlighten me.

He says he talked to a representative from a battered women’s organization and that the “lobbyist went so far to suggest a legal presumption of shared custody and best interest of the child(ren) are mutually exclusive.”  This, he says, sticks in “his craw.”

Tell me Mr. Hahn, how would legal presumption of shared custody help children who were abused physically, sexually or emotionally? How would shared custody help children who weren’t abused themselves but witnessed it in their parents (which many studies state leads to future problems)? How would shared custody help children whose parent controls and coerces the other? How can shared custody help children whose parents argued extensively prior to divorce? How can shared custody help children whose mother now lives in poverty because she didn’t work during marriage and will receive little if no child support during shared parenting? How will breastfeeding during shared parenting work for babies? How will timely medical decisions be made? What will be the result of a child that flip-flops back and forth between two homes, some since infancy?

If he doesn’t have the answers to these important questions, how can he say the lobbyist’s statement ‘stuck in his craw.’  How can he say he’s never been given “any semblance of an explanation of how shared custody and domestic violence prevention could coexist in legislation.” I personally referred him to several sources on domestic violence. I would imagine if he’s proposing legislation that includes domestic violence, he would be quite up to date on what it involves. And rather than take accountability for his lack of understanding, he blames others.

“Nor has any of these individuals offered any reference to legislation – successful or not – they’ve helped introduced or supported that included custody issues and domestic violence prevention.” Why would anyone support legislation that includes custody issues and domestic violence prevention unless it would be to enforce supervised visitation?!? This is so utterly ridiculous. Domestic violence can’t be “prevented” at the time of divorce (if it can, again, please enlighten me).

Most experts believe domestic violence prevention needs to be introduced in schools in order for it to be effective (which I mentioned to Hahn in our email conversation.) Does he really think that after a woman has gone through hell with a man that she’d be willing to co-parent with him? (Some women do choose this route – because society tells them the child needs both parents. Other women want to escape their abuser at any cost and question the abuser’s ability to parent or cooperate. For women that suspect child sexual abuse, I can’t imagine they’d want the other parent in the child’s life, can you?)

Hahn says his model addresses judicial accountability and identification of potential high conflict cases. How? He never quite tells us. You can’t sue a judge. The best you can do is appeal your case. Judges are not accountable for abusers getting custody. Nor are they accountable for injuries or deaths that occur due to their judgments.

And, as for Hahn identifying potential high conflict cases. Again, How? Batterers can be upstanding citizens. They can be charming. They can be more in control of their emotions than their partners. They can lie. They can manipulate. And they deny, deny, deny. Often judges uses their gut instincts – but it is far easier for any one of us to believe a woman is lying than a man is abusive or a potential killer.

Hahn says his model will be a “giant step” in assuring both parents start on a level playing field with custody decisions. I asked him, “Why doesn’t shared parenting start at birth?” Because if shared parenting started at birth, there’d be no need to force it on couples when they divorced. “Best interest of the child” could still be used (safety would be more important than access) and the parent that provided the most childcare would have more time with the child (based on merit not entitlement).

Here are my points about shared parenting:

  1. Shared parenting should start at birth not divorce – that would be true equality.
  2. Shared parenting is best left to couples that voluntarily and willingly accept it. It shouldn’t be something that’s forced. If children witnessed arguing and violence during the intact marriage, it will surely follow during the co-parenting stage (and a 2-hour course will not prevent it).
  3. Shared parenting works best for couples with low to moderate conflict. Experts agree, it is not recommended for those with high conflict or abuse.
  4. In the argument that “both parents are needed,” why is it that women can be punished with loss of custody if they “alienate” a child. If both parents are necessary, why transfer custody – which both punishes the mother and ignores “best interest of the child.”
  5. The argument that “both parents are needed” ignores death of a parent, lesbian and gay couples, as well as other alternative family situations. In effect, saying “father absence results in social ills” is akin to blaming society’s problems on single mothers. In reality, poverty, drugs, and gun laws, to name a few, have more to do with social ills than gender, marital status, or having two adults in your life. It is more important to have good role models than it is to have shared time with a parent that is unsafe, makes poor decisions, or lacks parenting skills. 
  6. Safety is far more important to the child than being forced to live with two adults for the sake of their “equality.” Access does not trump safety. The best interest of the child takes safety into consideration while shared parenting takes access into consideration. The best interest of the child is being replaced with best interest of the adult.

The Liz Library

http://www.thelizlibrary.org/site-index/site-index-frame.html#soulhttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/005.htm

Shared parenting arrangement doesn’t require a special law

http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/271156_parentingrebut23.html

Note 1 (cut & pasted from parts of our email conversation)

Here is the explanation for me noting my credentials at “great length:”

Hahn:  “I think I can elucidate some misconceptions.”

Me: I do take offense at the comment that I have “misconceptions.” While I’m not an expert, I have excellent credentials and have been active in family court issues specifically for 4 or 5 years and I have experience in health, human rights, and violence against women. I serve on 2 boards, belong to a commission, and write on the subject when I can. I also worked for a domestic violence organization for a short time, but was furloughed when budgets got tightened. I should not have to say this, but I’m defending myself – I shouldn’t have to when there’s mutual respect.
 
Otherwise, I’m quite happy to continue this conversation so that we may both be enlightened, as I’m sure we both have something to contribute to the conversation.

Hahn: How can shared custody and domestic violence prevention co-exist?

Me: How can you get an abuser – somebody who uses physical violence, perhaps sexual violence, threats, intimidation, and coercion – akin to what some call “terrorism” – get shared custody? I referred him to Lundy Bancroft’s book on batterers as parents. It’s the best I can do because I don’t know how on Earth one prevents an abuser from abusing. Many of the batterer programs actually fail because – like alcoholics – until the batterer admits his abuse, there really is no help.

Warshak’s ruse: Act like he supports domestic violence survivors

Warshak posted this comment on his Huffpo article:

My earlier replies to comments, and my professional articles, make it clear that I agree with you that abusers can be the alienating parent. Here are quotes from my earlier replies to comments: “Some alienated mothers have left coercive, controlling husbands and these women should expect support from those who advocate on behalf of DV victims.” “A child who was intimidated by a coercive father into rejecting the mother may reach out to the mother once the child has established some independence from the father.”

“Should expect support”? What a bunch of hog wash. Any woman, man, or child can expect support from a domestic violence agency, he needn’t patronize the DV community or act like we’re not supporting abused individuals.

What he calls “alienating” behavior or the obnoxious “divorce poison” can be domestic violence if it involves coercion, threats, or intimidation. We’ve been trying to say this – he refuses to post our comments. He’d much rather censor us and make his mulah off of folks with his DVDs, books, and bogus treatment centers. He’d see an end to the cash cow if he simply called abusive behavior domestic violence.

And, speaking of which, what the hell are his credentials for discussing domestic violence? How many classes did he take? Has he volunteered at an agency? Does he donate?

He’s also referencing help to mothers a lot – bull crap. PA/PAS/PAD is overwhelmingly used by men.
He has yet to acknowledge the fact that PAS has been used by abusers in family court to counter allegations of abuse. When he has, he distorted the information and made it look like we said “all men” use PA as an abuse excuse. I wrote a comment suggesting he either had a reading comprehension problem or was an idealogue that was blinded to other views.
The guy’s position is completely divergent from the domestic violence community – make no mistake – yet he’s posturing as if he understands abuse and HE supports individuals (rather than the DV community) — He supports anybody who’s a potential customer, that’s who he supports.
 
Alienation? Yes, he’s alienated the domestic violence community.
Here’s a few resources on PAS
‘When children reject their abusive fathers, it is common for the batterer and others to blame the mother for alienating the children. They often do not understand the legitimate fears of the child. Although there are no data to support the phenomenon called parental alienation syndrome, in which mothers are blamed for interfering with their children’s attachment to their fathers, the term is still used by some evaluators and courts to discount children’s fears in hostile and psychologically abusive situations.” (page 40) “THE TRUTH ABOUT PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME AND THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION”. Statement by Professor Joan S. Meier, Esq. (November 9, 2005).
“When mental health experts or attorneys claim that P.A.S. is a ‘syndrome’– knowing full well that it lacks scientific validity, is the concoction of a disgraced psychologist, and has been soundly rejected by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges — that is disingenuous at best and unethical at worst.  Moreover, when it is used as a vehicle to keep children in the custody of men who abuse them, it is also immoral. ” , Randy Burton, Founder, Chairman and President – Justice for Children. http://www.jfcadvocacy.org/pas.asp

“The vast majority of these mothers (97%) reported that court personnel ignored or minimized reports of abuse. They reported feeling that they were punished for trying to protect their children and 65% said they were threatened with sanctions if the “talked publicly” about the case. In all, 45% of the mothers say they were labeled as having Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). The protective parents reported that the average cost of the court proceedings was over $80,000. Over a quarter of the protective parents say they were forced to file bankruptcy as a result of filing for custody of their children. Eighty-five percent of the protective parents surveyed believe that their children are still being abused; however, 63% say they stopped reporting the abuse for fear that contact with their children will be terminated. Eleven percent of the children were reported to have attempted suicide.” “Myths That Place Children At Risk During Custody Litigation”. Dallam. S. J., & Silberg, J. L. (Jan/Feb 2006). Leadership Council. Sexual Assault Report, 9(3), 33-47. http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/cust_myths.html   

For more quotes, go to: Parenting abused children

Ms. blog: Huffington Post censors mother’s rights activists

Elizabeth Black covers the Huffpo piece – censorship of domestic violence advocates and mothers rights activists’ comments and the promotion of pseudo-science – on the Ms. Magazine blog:

Huffington Post censors mothers’ rights activists

And here’s a case of a man claiming alienation and then blaming this lack of access for his kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing his ex-wife. This is one of many that end up in the papers – and, like this man, they’re all oblivious as to why the wife hindered their access or fled:

Remorseless Moore gets life

Huffington Post has another article up on how women are misspending child support. What it doesn’t mention is how expensive it is to raise a child, all the expenses such as rent/furniture/utilities/food/school supplies/sports equipment, etc and the intangible items like losing time at work when the child(ren) is sick, fewer promotions, lower wages than single women or men, etc. I have no doubt custodial parents pay far more than non-custodial parents – I just wonder if there have been studies to prove this.

Comments by DV advocates on Dr. Richard Warshak and PAS have been censored by Huffington Post – Are they trying to silence the DV community?

Maybe this should come as no surprise. From what I’m learning, Huffington Post doesn’t care much about scientific facts or freedom of speech.

Check this out on Digg.

Richard Warshak now has a post up on divorce and parental alienation syndrome (PAS). A bunch of domestic violence advocates and domestic violence survivors have tried to post opposing viewpoints – to no avail. At least 5 of us have had our posts deleted. Many of these posts provided research citations and quotes.

Here is a domestic violence advocate and survivor’s post:

Here is the American Psychological Association’s other statement on parental alienation: “Family courts frequently minimize the harmful impact of children’s witnessing violence between their parents and sometimes are reluctant to believe mothers. If the court ignores the history of violence as the context for the mother’s behavior in a custody evaluation, she may appear hostile, uncooperative, or mentally unstable. For example, she may refuse to disclose her address, or may resist unsupervised visitation, especially if she thinks her child is in danger. Psychological evaluators who minimize the importance of violence against the mother, or pathologize her responses to it, may accuse her of alienating the children from the father and may recommend giving the father custody in spite of his history of violence.
Some professionals assume that accusations of physical or sexual abuse of children that arise during divorce or custody disputes are likely to be false, but the empirical research to date shows no such increase in false reporting at that time. In many instances, children are frightened about being alone with a father they have seen use violence towards their mother or a father who has abused them. Sometimes children make it clear to the court that they wish to remain with the mother because they are afraid of the father, but their wishes are ignored.”
 
I posted this from Newseek:
 
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.
 
This year the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges denounced the theory as “junk science,” and at least four states have passed legislation to curtail its use in custody cases involving allegations of domestic violence. “It’s really been a cancer in the family courts,” says Richard Ducote, an attorney in Pittsburgh who has represented abuse victims in custody cases for 22 years. “It’s made it really difficult for parents to protect their kids. If you ask for protection, you’re deemed a vindictive, alienating parent.”
 
I also shortened this & posted it:

 

Sherman, Rorie. (Aug. 16, 1993). Gardner’s Law: A Controversial Psychiatrist and Influential Witness Leads the Backlash Against Child Sex Abuse ‘Hysteria,’ National Law Journal, 15, at 1, 45.

This article notes that forensic child psychiatrist Richard Gardner is one of the most prominent experts who is speaking out against what he considers to be child abuse hysteria.  Most of Gardner ‘s court testimony is devoted to defending men accused of child sexual abuse.  Gardner ‘s theories, most of which have never been tested empirically, are influencing court-appointed therapists around the country.  Gardner has been certified to testify in at least 70 sex-abuse cases, both criminal and civil. He is an outspoken media commentator and has hired his own publicist to help him gain access to more media outlets. Gardner calls child abuse allegations the “third-greatest wave of hysteria” that nation has seen, with the first two being the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings. Many of his colleagues state that there is little scientific evidence to support his theories.  They also note that his ideas are not filtered through the peer-review system before they reach the courts because he publishes them himself.
To help cure society of false allegations, Gardner suggests that courts should appoint therapists familiar with his theory of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) to evaluate custody cases. This theory suggests that there is an epidemic of vindictive women accusing fathers of child sex abuse to gain leverage in child-custody disputes.  The only way to deal with severe cases of PAS, according to Gardner , is to take the children away from their brainwashing mother until they can be deprogrammed.  Gardner claims that the vast majority of sex-abuse accusations made during custody disputes are false, in-spite of numerous research studies which show the opposite is true. There is no research that confirms that PAS even exists, yet Gardner recommends that children be removed from their mother’s care based on it.  Critics state that Gardner almost always sides with a man against his wife, and even testified that a man who murdered his wife during a custody dispute should be found not guilty because his wife had driven him temporarily insane
Gardner also developed a psychological test called the Sex Abuse Legitimacy Scale (SALS) which is a checklist of criteria that Gardner claims will help determine whether child sex-abuse accusations are credible.  Since 1987, therapists nationwide started using this scale even though there was no research documenting that it was valid.  Recently the SALS has been discredited by academics, rejected by one appellate court and withdrawn from the market by Dr. Gardner.  One researcher used Gardner ‘s SALS to evaluate confirmed cases of child sexual abuse and found that the scale produced inaccurate assessments. A lawyer commented that under the theories expounded by Gardner , no matter what a woman who discovers her child is being sexually abused does, she is going to do something wrong unless she disbelieves her child. If a mother goes to an attorney or a doctor for help, the SALS finds the child’s allegations less credible. When asked to explain why all of the men who hire him to testify for them in sexual abuse cases are confirmed innocent by him, Gardner says that guilty men don’t ask him to testify for them.  Gardner states: “People who are falsely accused are more likely to come to me…Pedophiles recognize that I am not so easily fooled.”
 

And this-
 

 

“PAS is junk science at its worst,” says Dr. Paul Fink, President of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, and a former President of the American Psychiatric Association.  Dr. Fink explains, “Science tells us that the most likely reason that a child becomes estranged from a parent is that parent’s own behavior. Labels, such as PAS, serve to deflect attention away from those behaviors.”
 

 Oh yeah, here’s Warshak’s article: Stop Divorce Poison