The “Abuse Rabbit Hole” is one of many rabbit holes women get caught in when trying to make sense of why they lost custody or were not able to protect their children in Family Court. The “Custody Crisis Rabbit Holes” series reveals the most common ways women get sidetracked from understanding and fighting the core cause of the Custody Crisis. It is important to recognize these rabbit holes divert from what is really going on in contested custody cases, because it is only by attacking and eliminating the root cause of the crisis--systemic male entitlement--that women will be able to stop the rampant, unjust switching of custody to abusive and self-serving fathers.
The Abuse Rabbit Hole is by far the most populous of the Custody Crisis rabbit holes, in part because most contested custody cases involve reports of abuse by women and/or children, hence abuse appears to be the fundamental issue. Also, because women whose cases involve abuse are much more likely to become activists or join social media groups due to the serious nature of their situation. But also in large part because organizations, groups, professionals, and activists have misled mothers into believing the crisis is essentially about abuse, i.e. that that “judges are giving custody to abusers”, rather than “judges are switching custody to fathers”.
MISIDENTIFICATION OF THE CENTRAL ISSUE
The main problem with the abuse rabbit hole is the fundamental issue of the custody crisis is misidentified as abuse. However, abuse cannot be the core issue because it is not the common denominator in all Custody Crisis cases. Approximately one quarter of cases do not involve reports of abuse, yet judges still switch custody to fathers, many of whom want to avoid child support, maintain control, or seek revenge. The only common denominator in Custody Crisis cases, in fact, is disparity in the judicial delegation of power--the empowerment of fathers to take custody of children, and abuse them if they so choose; and the disempowerment of mothers to maintain custody and protect their children.
Abuse groups misidentify how and why the crisis is happening as well. They endorse the false narrative that judges disbelieve mothers’ reports of abuse and believe fathers’ denials due to lack of education or training. In fact, judges don’t disbelieve women; they discredit them. And they don’t believe fathers; they credit them. Judges routinely falsely find women to be liars, alienators, mentally ill or emotionally abusive simply as a tactic to switch custody. They commonly disregard and conceal credible evidence of abuse by fathers in the process.
ABUSE IS GENDER NEUTRAL
A major problem with the abuse perspective is that it is essentially gender neutral, since, of course, abuse is bad regardless of whether fathers or mothers commit it. But that deflects from the fact that in contested custody cases, the only injustice happening in epidemic numbers is good mothers losing custody to abusive and self-serving fathers. In the relatively rare cases in which a judge takes custody away from a good father and switches to an abusive mother, it happens for different reasons. Conflating cases involving mothers who are being discriminated against, with fathers losing custody because of a bad judge, leads to confusion and division, and diverts from an effective solution.
Although some abuse groups acknowledge gender bias occurs, it is usually attributed it to individual judges’ unconscious biases or ignorance, which could be remedied through education or new laws. This misses the crux of the issue: that it is the system itself that is the problem, with its underlying agenda to keep the father entitled and empowered in his family after divorce, so training judges and court-affiliated professionals and new DV and child protection laws will not a significant difference in the crisis.
A major problem with gender neutral abuse groups is that they often include fathers’ rights activists [FRA’s] who claim their ex-wife has made false allegations of abuse against them, accusing her of “parental alienation” [another convoluted Rabbit Hole]. FRA’s started by claiming that men are being discriminated against in Family Court, but have branched off into gender neutral “parents”, “family” and “children” focused groups after failing to prove systemic discrimination against fathers. These offshoots, which now make up the bulk of the FRA movement, assert generic Family Court corruption, i.e. the “divorce industry”, is the problem; and mandatory equal parenting, which is very harmful to women and children, is the solution. This gender neutral approach also sows confusion and division and will be discussed in the “Gender Neutral” Rabbit Hole.
OFFSHOOTS IN THE ABUSE RABBIT HOLE
There are many offshoots within the abuse rabbit hole. Some “abuse groups” focus on child abuse, some on spousal abuse or domestic violence, and some are inclusive of different forms of abuse. Some prominent abuse groups focus on sexual abuse, narcissistic abuse and Child Protective Services mishandling of abuse cases.
A substantial percentage of cases involve reports of sexual abuse--approximately 50%, according to respondents of a TWC poll. So it’s not surprising women get detoured into the groups opposing pedophilia, organized sexual abuse or ritual abuse. Some activists contend “sex trafficking” is what is occurring, which comes under the “children as commodities” explanation. Although some court officials do profit from sexual abuse cases, financial incentives do not explain all, or even most, Custody Crisis cases. [The “Money Rabbit Hole” discusses the financial motivation theory in depth.] Although there are some cases in which the father is involved in organized abuse, it is important to recognize that the vast majority of sexual abuse cases involve otherwise upstanding fathers, who are simply abusing their parental power.
The narcissistic abuse rabbit hole is also quite populous. It is safe to say that most men who would launch a custody battle from hell and deprive children of a loving mother would have narcissistic traits, if not full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. That means most mothers in Family Court are battling narcissistic exes; hence, it’s a popular place for women to relate, vent and commiserate. However, these mothers are being misled into thinking the crisis is caused by judges not understanding narcissism, whether the mother or the father, and that educating them is the solution.
Another branch of the abuse rabbit hole is occupied by Child Protective Services [CPS] activists, as many mothers blame CPS for their loss of custody. Either social workers didn’t do a proper investigation of abuse by the father, didn’t substantiate the abuse, or, worse, reported falsely that the mother was abusive. The fact is, CPS rarely does decent investigations or substantiates abuse by middle to upper class fathers. They are acutely aware of the possibility of being sued by middle class fathers, so they usually only pick on powerless poor fathers and single mothers. CPS shunts cases into family court, fully aware judges ignore or minimize abuse by fathers. Not uncommonly, CPS colludes with a Family Court judge and removes children into foster care as an intermediate step to placing them with the father. And, while some mothers get involved in “legal kidnapping” or “forced adoption” advocacy, in which CPS removes children into foster care, it’s important to recognize that dependency cases are different than contested custody cases and require different solutions.
Misidentification of the central issue of the crisis as being abuse has led to advocacy for ineffective solutions, which is apparently a major reason why, for decades, nothing has changed. Two main categories of solutions pursued by abuse groups are: 1) training/educating judges and court-affiliated professionals; and 2) enactment of new child protection and domestic violence laws.
But education won’t help, as evidenced by judges’ deliberate disregard and suppression of credible evidence of abuse by fathers and the fabrication of negative evidence about mothers. And new child protection/DV laws won’t help, because Family Court judges violate laws (and rights) with impunity. Mothers commonly cry, “Judges need more oversight/accountability!” But there is no way to hold judges accountable within the Family Court system: that is the point. The system is designed specifically so that they have virtually unlimited discretion, i.e. nearly absolute power, and can use it to keep men empowered in their family.
Hopefully, an understanding that the Custody Crisis is not being caused by judges unwittingly giving custody to abusers, but by judges deliberately switching custody to fathers, will help women escape the abuse rabbit hole and unite to fight the core cause of the epidemic: systemic male entitlement. Since the Family Court system is designed so judges can empower fathers and disempower mothers, the only way to end the crisis is for women to unite as a class, as half the population, and demand a new system. The Child Custody Act codes for a new system in which women’s right to due process and equal protection, and children’s right to safety and wellbeing are safeguarded.
Join The Women’s Coalition and help raise awareness and fight for the Child Custody Act.
Cindy Dumas, M.A. has been researching, writing, and raising awareness about the Custody Crisis since 2003, when she was unable to protect her children from their abusive father. She fled into hiding when Family Court failed her and was tricked into returning home, when her children were given to their abusive father.