New “Custody Crisis” Article Perpetuates Dangerous Fallacy
Portrays Unwitting Judges Giving Custody to Abusive “Parents”
The new article, “Custody Crisis: How Family Courts Put Children in Danger Nationwide”, by Laurie Udesky, reports in depth on contested custody cases in which children are being endangered, but unfortunately does a disservice to the cause of ending the crisis. Despite obviously good intentions and otherwise excellent reporting, Laurie Udesky, like many of the journalists who tackle this issue, gets the true nature of what is occurring in family courts wrong. This misinformation diverts women and the public from the truth of the matter, confusing them.
Udesky portrays the crisis as U.S. family courts not protecting children from abusive “parents”, a view that is supported by interviews with professionals in the "protective parent” movement. She depicts the problem as stemming from court-appointed custody evaluators getting it wrong, causing untrained, unknowledgeable judges to make erroneous findings leading to an “abuser” gaining custody.
Udesky represents the problem as essentially gender neutral and uses words like “parent” and “abuser”, although every single example she provides involves a protective woman/mother "parent" and a male/father "abuser".
The truth is that the custody crisis is not just a U.S. phenomenon, nor is it gender neutral, nor is it caused by untrained judges and court-appointed professionals. It is not even fundamentally about children being taken from a male or female “protective parent” and given to a male or female “abuser”.
The truth is that children are being unjustly taken away from primary nurturing MOTHERS/WOMEN in epidemic numbers and given to secondarily-attached (if at all) FATHERS/MEN, abusive or not, causing great harm to both women and children.
Untrained judges are not being unwittingly influenced by their misguided or biased appointees into switching custody to “abusers”. Judges know exactly what they are doing. They deliberately disregard and exclude evidence which supports the father is unfit, abusive or undeserving of joint or primary custody, while accepting false evidence against the mother that she is unfit or abusive.
Getting the nature and cause of the crisis wrong, it is no surprise that Udesky would also get the solution wrong. She supports new policy being proposed in the U.S. which supposedly will make judges prioritize “child safety”. However, because the core problem is not caused by judges not prioritizing child safety, and because women are being falsely found to be the abusers, while men are being wrongly exonerated of abuse, this legislation cannot help, and may even make things worse for women.
If we are going to end the custody crisis, we must fight the true core problem: entrenched systemic male entitlement resulting from persisting patriarchy. The only thing that will stop judges from continuing to empower and entitle men and disempower and discriminate against women is an entirely new system which reduces judicial power to a minimum and provides due process, equal protection and justice for all in contested custody cases.
FOLLOWING are excerpts from the article where parts that portray gender neutrality and erroneous causes are in CAPITALS:
By the time the case was heard by a Tennessee family court judge in 2008, the state’s Department of Children’s Services had already investigated and had determined that Sawyer [father] “‘was indicated’ as the perpetrator of sexual abuse of [their son],” according to court records.
Nevertheless, the family court judge granted primary custody to Sawyer, warning Gill that if she wanted unrestricted visiting rights with her son, she had better quit talking with the boy about the alleged abuse by his father. What’s more, she had to stop taking her son to doctors to be examined for signs of abuse.
Why did the court give the boy to his father despite credible evidence of abuse? It turns out the FAMILY COURT RELIED HEAVILY ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF WILLIAM BERNET, A PSYCHIATRIST AND COURT-APPOINTED CUSTODY EVALUATOR.
HE CONVINCED THE FAMILY COURT TO IGNORE THE MEDICAL REPORT, stating that Sawyer was not a pedophile or child molester and should be awarded custody of Daniel.
… In family courts throughout the country, evidence that one of the PARENTS is sexually or physically abusing a child is routinely rejected. Instead, PERPETRATORS OF ABUSE are often entrusted with unsupervised visits or joint or sole custody of the children they abuse, putting children in danger of serious, often life-threatening harm, according to children’s advocates.
Our two-year investigation – which includes interviews with more than 30 PARENTS AND SURVIVORS in California, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Maryland and New Jersey – uncovered stories of children consigned to suffer years of abuse in fear and silence while the PARENTS who sought to protect them were driven to the brink financially and psychologically. These PARENTS have become increasingly stigmatized by a family court system that not only discounts evidence of abuse but accepts dubious theories used to undermine the protective PARENTS’ credibility.
“PROTECTIVE PARENTS are asking the authorities to step in and protect their children and they’re not,” said Kathleen Russell, executive director of the California-based Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE), a watchdog group that focuses on family courts.
… “The authorities are blaming the PROTECTIVE PARENTS and pathologizing them, and their kids are ending up dead,” said Russell.
How do family courts get away with these kinds of decisions?
“You can take the same amount of evidence to criminal court and a jury will convict beyond a reasonable doubt,” said attorney Richard Ducote, who represents PROTECTIVE PARENTS trying to regain custody of their children. “And the appellate court will uphold the conviction and the sentence.”
But family courts have a different focus, explained Ducote, who also worked as a special assistant district attorney statewide in Louisiana prosecuting termination of PARENTAL rights cases. In theory they are supposed to consider first the best interest of the child. But in practice, Ducote said, “They’re concerned with the REDUCTION OF CONFLICT [WITHIN THE FAMILY] AND GETTING ALONG, which is good unless there is SOMEONE you need to protect the child from.”
… Moreover, THE HIGH COST OF LITIGATION THROWS UP A FORMIDABLE OBSTACLE for most PARENTS fighting to get their children out of harm’s way. There is little research on court costs, but a preliminary analysis of a national survey of 399 protective PARENTS by Geraldine Stahly, emeritus professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, showed that, for some 27 percent of these PARENTS who ultimately declared bankruptcy, the costs were about $100,000.
No government agency tracks the number of children nationally that family courts turn over to their ABUSERS, and existing academic research is largely regional. Advocates have tried to put a number on it by culling statistics from primary and academic sources. They estimate that at least 58,000 children a year end up in unsupervised visits with or in the custody of an abusive PARENT. A 2013 analysis in the Journal of Family Psychology cited studies that show that anywhere between 10 and 39 percent of ABUSERS are awarded primary or shared custody of their children.
… [T]hey regularly hear of custody battles similar to the Sawyer-Gill case in which AN EVALUATOR DEFLECTS THE COURT’S FOCUS ON POTENTIAL ABUSE by alleging that one PARENT is brainwashing the children to believe that they are being abused. This behavior is known as PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (pas) by those who embrace it and deemed questionable science by organizations such as the national council on juvenile and family court judges and the american psychological association.
…Judge Bowles, who trains his fellow jurists in domestic and family violence matters, said that it’s common for courts to believe that mothers press for no contact with their ex-spouses for reasons other than safety. He ties this misconception to LACK OF TRAINING AND UNDERSTANDING AMONG JURISTS [JUDGES] ABOUT VIOLENCE IN FAMILIES.
… A pilot study by Joan Meier, a professor of clinical law at George Washington University Law School, supports Bowles’ observations. In analyzing 240 published rulings in an electronic search for cases involving custody and alienation, she found that more often than not, accusations of abuse did not block access to children in family court settings.
In some 36 cases where a mother accused the father of abusing their children, the court nevertheless ruled in the father’s favor 69 percent of the time. The tendency to discount the mother’s accusation was even more pronounced where sexual abuse was alleged: In the 32 such cases Meier identified, the father prevailed 81 percent of the time. She is now working on an expanded study examining the same issues – including intimate partner violence – in some 5,000 cases with a grant from the National Institute of Justice.
Bernet’s characterizations of Sawyer as the good guy and Gill as mentally disturbed are consistent with a troubling pattern that ORGANIZATIONS FIGHTING TO REFORM THE FAMILY COURTS see in these cases.
… "The research shows that the family courts are a perfect place for ABUSERS to get custody," said former White House advisor Rosenthal. “THEY CAN MANIPULATE THE EVALUATOR; THEY CAN MANIPULATE THE [COURT- APPOINTED] GUARDIAN; THEY CAN MANIPULATE THE JUDGE. They make themselves look good and they make her [the mother] look crazy.”
Cynthia Cheatham, a Nashville-based attorney who represented Gill in her appeals case and whose practice involves helping protective PARENTS fight to regain custody, agreed.
...SOME CUSTODY EVALUATORS APPEAR TO GO TO GREAT LENGTHS IN THEIR EFFORT TO NORMALIZE PERPETRATORS’ BEHAVIORS. Thomas Hanaway, PhD, also in Tennessee, wrote that a father who had already been substantiated as a perpetrator of sexual abuse by the state’s child protective services “appears to be very fond of his children and even if he were engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with them, in my opinion, he would be doing it in a kind fashion .” (Emphasis added).
… Alina Feldman, 16, of Dallas, Texas, WISHES THAT DISCLOSURES OF ABUSE SHE FIRST MADE WHEN SHE WAS FOUR YEARS OLD HAD BEEN TAKEN SERIOUSLY BY THE COURT’S THERAPIST AND CUSTODY EVALUATOR. HAD THEY DONE SO, IT MIGHT HAVE SPARED ALINA WHAT SHE DESCRIBES AS YEARS OF SEVERE ABUSE AND MISERY IN HER FATHER’S CARE WHILE SEPARATED FROM THE MOTHER SHE LOVED.
… THE CUSTODY EVALUATOR IN THE CASE, JOHN ZERVOPOLOUS, TOLD THE COURT THAT LIVING WITH HER FATHER WAS “A MUCH BETTER FIT FOR [ALINA ] in terms of parenting situation.” His reasoning? The father was better able than the mother to control the child during their office visits with him.
… In 2006 Judge Susan Rankin awarded custody to Alina Feldman’s father. In her ruling, Rankin said that Alina’s mother would “endanger the physical or emotional welfare of the child if she spent time with her.” Rankin said that Rachel Feldman “has no insight into how her behavior impacts her child…coaches the child to say certain things…alienates the child from the father…creates the problems in her child that she complains of….” Rankin also barred the mother from coming within 1,000 feet of her daughter. If she wanted supervised visits with her daughter, the judge wrote, she first had to post $50,000 cash bond. Why such harsh terms? The judge deemed Rachel Feldman a flight risk “due to her emotional instability and belief that the father is harming the child.”
… Joyanna Silberg, PhD, a senior consultant for child and adolescent trauma at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, has identified 55 similar cases where courts granted custody to alleged ABUSERS, and where the children were taken back to safety after another intervention.
… While some of those children are managing, she said, “all of them have severe mental health wounds that last a lifetime – the lifetime knowledge of the betrayal of the system against them, of people who are supposed to help them [who] actually harmed them, that their word was not accepted as true.” These children also suffer from the knowledge “that THE PERSON they loved most in the world, often the mother, was disempowered to do anything to protect them,” said Silberg, whose research was financed by the Department of Justice. Then there’s the “repetitive knowledge of the actual abuse they suffered and the harm to their bodies and souls for that.”
… Parental alienation syndrome also made its way into a Cleveland, Ohio, custody case involving physical abuse. Family court Judge Judith Nicely awarded Leonard Doyle custody of his two children in 2012. In her order, JUDGE NICELY QUOTED FROM A CUSTODY EVALUATOR’S REPORT that the “mother was found to have demonstrated a pattern of efforts to alienate the children from their father, to remove father from their lives, and to convince the children that only she has their interest and safety at heart.”
… Judge Nicely discounted the child’s allegations despite a doctor’s confirmation that he was injured. SHE RELIED INSTEAD ON TESTIMONY OF THE COURT-APPOINTED SUPERVISOR FOR THE VISIT, who said she had not seen Doyle strike his son and did not think the incident occurred.
Despite the abuse report, the judge wrote that the father had been “extremely patient during these proceedings,” and that he had “appeared to have matured.” In contrast, she said, the “Mother has done nothing to encourage the children to have a positive relationship with Father after his incarceration and has actively sought to keep Father out of their lives.”
Regarding abuse of the children, THE JUDGE RELIED ON A REPORT BY THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM, SANDRA MCPHERSON. In her report, McPherson explicitly stated that she “works with the premise that domestic violence by [sic] Father against the children did not happen.”
As is common, the court has sealed all of the medical and psychological records relating to the children.
… A resolution asking Congress to recognize that “child safety is the first priority in custody and visitation adjudications” has been introduced by Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas and Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York.
The resolution asks Congress to recognize that more than 15 million children annually are exposed to DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and/or CHILD ABUSE; that child sexual abuse is “significantly under-documented and under-addressed in the legal system”; that research confirms that allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children “are often discounted” when raised in CUSTODY BATTLES, and that “scientifically unsound theories like Parental Alienation Syndrome” are frequently used to discredit REPORTS OF ABUSE.
Join The Women’s Coalition to fight for the new Child Custody Courts:
More on the gendered nature of the Custody Crisis:
“How Gender Neutrality Perpetuates Court Licensed Abuse”
The Power to Keep & Protect