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Maternal Deprivation Inflicted on Battered Women and Abused Children

 

Source: American Mothers Political Party

"Maternal Deprivation Abuse is featured on BMLCTA Blog in an effort to wipe out this heinous crime against mothers and children."

Maternal Deprivation, or Motherlessness, is occurring with alarming frequency due to the unethical treatment of women and children in family court. Maternal Deprivation is inflicting abuse by severing the mother-child bond. It is a form of abuse that men inflict on both the mother and children, especially men who claim they are “parentally alienated” from their children when there are complaints of abusive treatment by the father.

Maternal Deprivation occurs when men seek to keep their children from being raised by their mothers who are the children’s natural caretakers. Some men murder the mothers of their own children. Others seek to sever the maternal bonds by making false allegations of fictitious psychological syndromes in a deliberate effort to change custody and/or keep the child from having contact with their mother when there are legal proceedings. A twisted form of Maternal Deprivation is to kill the children, so that the mother will be left to suffer. Sometimes there are family annihilation murders where the father kills the children and himself (or dies by cop), but the mother is not killed because she has received protective orders and her children have not as in the case of Jessica Gonzales.

In seeking to define this form of abuse certain common elements are found in the Maternal Deprivation scenario as follows:

  • History of domestic abuse that could be physical, psychological, sexual, and/or social abuse occurring on or off again, occasionally, or chronically which could be mild, moderate, or severe, including homicidal and/or suicidal threats.
  • Legal proceedings relating to abuse
  • Hiring of “Fathers Rights” attorney
  • Use of “Hired Gun” mental health professionals to make accusations of psychological disorder against the mother and children in deliberate effort to excuse abuse and change custody or grant visitation that is contrary to safety concerns. Another name for these unethical professionals are “Whores of the Courts“
  • Raising claims of “psychological disorders” against the mother such as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS),Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, Malicious Mother Syndrome, Lying Litigant Syndrome, Hostile Aggressive Parenting or any other mother-blaming psychological disorder that can be used by the unethical professional to re-victimize the victims.
  • Infliction of “Legal Abuse” by continually and excessively filing motions so that the mother continually has to defend herself and her child(ren) causing financial and emotional devastation.
  • Can occur in response to child support legal proceedings as retaliation.

The intent of “Maternal Deprivation” is to punish the mother and the child for revealing the abuse and to falsely claim that they are not abusive. This very commonly occurs as there are more and more “abuse-excuse” parental alienation accusing professionals who use this scientifically invalid theory over and over to achieve specific goals of the person paying them. Maternal Deprivation can also occur in response to child support legal proceedings. When occurring in this manner, Maternal Deprivation is a response to the financial demands as retaliation. Suddenly the father who had little prior involvement wants to take the kids half the time to avoid child support obligations, etc. When the men are really abusive, they ask for sole custody and demand the mother of the child pay them.

Although some people call this “Maternal Alienation”, a distinction needs to be made as the pro-pedophilia“Parental Alienation Syndrome” and the use of the word “Alienation” are most often used AGAINST battered women and abused children. There needs to be a distinction between the phony psychological syndrome and the intentional infliction of abuse on a mother and child by intentionally severing their natural bond. This distinction can best be made by NOT using the label of “Alienation” which will always be associated with the pro-pedophilia monster Doctor Richard Gardner.

Some of the characteristics of the especially heinous abusers who inflict Maternal Deprivation include but are not limited to the following:

  • Angry
  • Abusive
  • Violent
  • Coercive
  • Controlling
  • Threatening
  • Intimidating
  • Demanding
  • Domineering
  • Harassing
  • Stalking
  • Tyrannical
  • Oppressive
  • Forceful
  • Manipulative
  • Deceptive
  • Unethical
  • Un-empathetic (Lacks Empathy)
  • Entitled
  • Immature
  • Self-centered
  • Neglectful
  • Guilt inducing
  • Pushy
  • Intentionally tries to humiliate mother and/or child
  • Harsh, rigid and punitive parenting style
  • Outrage at child’s challenge of authority
  • May use force to reassert parental position
  • Dismissive of child’s feelings and negative attitudes
  • Vents rage, blames mother for “brainwashing” child and takes no responsibility
  • Challenges child’s beliefs and/or attitudes and tries to convince them otherwise
  • Inept and unempathic pursuit of child, pushes calls and letters, unannounced or embarrassing visits

There is a distinct overlap of the intimate terrorist type domestic violence abuser with the Maternal Deprivation abusers as follows:

  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming (Hallmarks of PAS)
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse
  • Male privilege

The people who most often engage in Maternal Deprivation Abuse are most often:

  • Abusive men
  • Vindictive second wives who don’t want to deal with the real mother of the children
  • Paternal grandparents who raised dysfunctional children (abusers)

The effects of Maternal Deprivation often cause the children to become psychotic, depressed, and sometimes suicidal or to have suicidal ideations. Another terrible reaction is when the child retaliates against the parent who accuses Parental Alienation Syndrome as in a Texas case where the child killed his father.Other times when the Maternal Deprivation abuser completely takes over the will of the child by usingbrainwashing techniques similar to those used in prison camps where deprivation and isolation are used to force ideological changes in captives, these children often have a sort of trauma-bonding with the abuser and model their behavior. Sometimes these children will also abuse the mother in the same manner as the father. Another generation is created to carry on the abuse, and will likely do the same to their own spouse and children.

For more articles involving Maternal Deprivation:


Abusers vs The Abused

Source: The Shared Parenting Disaster

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There is no logic in tip- toeing around the subject of who these movements are and what they really are about.
On one side we have the movement that promotes the following messages:

  • Children are brainwashed by their mothers(Parent Alienation Syndrome)
  • Statistics on violence against women are false(RADAR)
  • Pathways to full custody for fathers(Shared Parenting)
  • Mothers are mostly abusers(RADAR)
  • Abused Children and Mothers are liars(false allegations)

On the other side we have a protective movement that promotes the following messages:

  • False allegations are a small factor in the Family Courts
  • Violence against women and children is on the rise and acknowledged by United Nations as a world wide issue across all cultures and classes.
  • Shared Parenting is inclusive of violent fathers
  • Fathers are responsible for the most dangerous forms of abuse that lead to death and disability.
  • Most allegations are not investigated in Family  Courts and this process is often halted and sometimes legally barred from access to investigations in other courts.

The Family Court supports:

  • Reporting cases to the media that are aligned with the first movements interests.
  • Patriarchal models of family where the mother must do all of the work to foster relationships between the child and father even if they are abusive.
  • That the Father is always right and the mother is mentally ill if she disputes this.
  • Full custody to abusive fathers if the mother voices her concerns.
  • Unsupervised access to fathers regardless of criminal histories of pedophilia, murder, drugs and violence.
  • Punishing the child for speaking about abuse.
  • Punishing the mother for trying to protect her child.

Family Court psychologists support:

  • Using diagnosis’s that have not been approved by any scientific organization in the world.
  • Recommending abusive practices such as Gardner’s, "Threat therapy" which involves threatening the child with isolation from key-stakeholders that can document and provide evidence of abuse.
  • Nineteenth century recommendations on the model of family.
  • Coercive control of the mother for the sole goals and purposes of ensuring that she will eventually break down.
  • Using tests that are confirmatory bias towards mothers.

We have three movements that are aligned against one movement.  This one movement has managed to not only survive but thrive regardless of the stakes.  The reason why they have survived is that all actors strive to ensure that the facts that are circulated are correct and the motives are child focused with a secondary concern for mothers.  in cases of family violence, the issues of abuse for both the mother and child are intertwined.  The priority for the safety of both members are crucial, but not nearly enough to reach the status of protected from further violence and permanent damage from the current climate.  
It is largely a case of organizational abuse where women and children in already vulnerable situations go to the family court believing wholeheartedly that these courts will provide orders to protect them.  The problem is that most of the key-stakeholders are men that are fathers and some who have abused or are currently abusing.  The best way to understand how these interests have dominated the family law practice is to look into previous cases of genocide and how large organizations aligned to commit it. 

One of the most well known cases is the holocaust, where thousands of members of the jewish community were murdered.  It all began with the gold star, documenting how many there were of them and then isolating them into an area where they were tortured, murdered or enslaved.  The techniques that were used back then were primitive, but effective in carrying out their goals. Today, we have a more complex world with more of an ability to monitor the masses more effectively.  
Networking to achieve goals are now at our fingertips and thanks to facebook – we can track who is loyal to who.  Compilation of information in the wrong hands could lead to future genocides.  Most of our private information is available to anyone and in some countries people can find out where you live just by googleing your name. 

In the family court system, women are required to inform the courts if there is any violence or child abuse often at the beginning.  The catch is that throughout the proceedings, lawyers(including yours), child protection workers and family consultants will work in unison to undermine your claims and even destroy the evidence that you have provided them.  
On a mental level, they will they will often say that you don’t have evidence even if you have provided them hospital reports, affidavits from specialists and  the abuser has a criminal history.  Sometimes, they might include processes that don’t exist or obey only processes that were pushed in by the abusers movement.  Most Family Courts have too much power to make decisions upon their own accord similar to the old, "at her majesties pleasure" which leaves a lot of room to instigate what some have considered an act of torture. 

Each case is often isolated to lead the victim to believe that they are the only one and that they will “help" protect the child.  It is often too late before the victim discovers that the members worked together to not only diminish your ability to protect yourself and your child, but to ensure that either no one will know or that no one will believe you.  That is why a majority of mothers that lost custody were for the reasons of mental illness and is not consistent to the average statistics of mental illness out side this organization.
  A majority of the cases are only diagnosed by one practitioner – the family courts practitioner.  In the process of pursuing information on what appears to be deciding on the best interests of the children, the information that is most valuable is often how much you might be aware of psychology, whether you could prove them wrong and how many people outside of the court community knows about your case.  In cases like these, one of the first instincts are to go to an authority about it.

Most authorities are so ignorant or involved  that these cases are often ignored.  Thus continues the monopoly.  The next instinct is to contact the media, but family courts can either order suppression of the case by using the child as a justification or in some countries use a general law that prohibits any discussion without the courts approval.  This means that only cases that compliment the courts interests are getting out in the mainstream media.  It also means that deaths that were a result of court orders are also withheld, causing more pain to families. 

So what we have here is a silent genocide. Where children and mothers are being killed and no one knows who and why they are dead.  The manipulation that goes on to ensure that grieving families do not speak out is abhorrent, but all too common.  Like the Holocaust, the ones that are not dead are often tortured by their abuser and isolated from the only one that can help them – the mother.  
Each time protective groups try to advocate they have the family courts abusers lobby group either bullying the media or threatening the advocates into silence and oppression.  Maternal alienation was a grooming strategy that began with pedophiles in order to lock in the abuse.  It is now a widely used systematic tactic to not only alienate the children from the mother, but deprive them for life.  This is because they know that the earning potential when a protective mother has lost custody is more than the father as we know that fathers often give up a lot sooner and thus not as much revenue from court attendance and lawyers.

They know that a protective mother will continue to return to the courts begging them for the children, especially when concerns for the child is amplified by the abuser.   Keeping this extra business concealed from the public is a major priority that these courts will often attend to and worth investing in.  It does not surprise me to see shared parenting councils have a public relationship with chiefs of courts or the government funding fatherhood programs that they know continue to harvest family violence.

The downfall is that they often expect that survivors will indulge in the feeling of being beaten down or that they will forever be afraid of the laws that violate universal laws.  More and more mothers are now discovering that breaking this silence is saving not only their childrens lives but also the lives of others.  People who never knew what the inside of court room doors are beginning to know what is actually happening.  
The united nations is beginning to work on divorce for families affected by violence and reporters have learned that the courts cannot stop them from reporting if everyone reports it in synchronicity on the internet.  The propaganda that has been spread out by the abusers is falling apart because it simply does not match the masses experiences.  We’ve all been touched by family violence in some way or another. Not one person I know has not had a mother sister, daughter, gran-daughter or aunt affected by it as it is that common. 

As a society, we have just begun to learn the consequences of giving feeding abusers and now more and more people are making an effort to stop it from occurring.   It is about time that family courts start to move with the rest of the world and let go of the interests that harm.  If you are a human resources worker, then you have the power to change this by changing the culture of the courts so it reflects a real sense of transparency.  If you are one of the law makers, then you have the opportunity to be the first to role model best practice laws in protecting children and women from violence.  None of them are working as there is always a loophole that transform into a gateway for the abuser to the abused. 

Really listening to the women and children that have been affected by it is the first step, putting in tough laws that protect them and provide equal access before is the last step towards stopping violence from continuing and a conviction that you and your country do not tolerate violence against women and children.

Only then do western countries honestly say that they do not tolerate it and have conviction when they ask other countries to do the same.   


Missing woman found dead in domestic violence case

Another ROI DENIED-Missing woman found dead in domestic violence case read more here;

Turner-Ross-0830
The bodies of Loni "Amber" Turner and Erin Ross were found in a Port Orange motel.

By Stephanie Coueignoux, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, August 30, 2010 10:42 PM

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Harbor House 24-hour hotline  (800) 500-1119 or (407) 886-2244

PORT ORANGE —

Friends and family are mourning the death of a 22-year-old South Daytona woman.

Police said it appears Loni "Amber" Turner’s ex-boyfriend shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

Turner’s friends said even after she told him to stay away, he would call her, text her mean messages, and even show up unannounced at her apartment.  It’s behavior domestic abuse experts said is the first sign of trouble.

"You can never be hit and have it go straight from emotional abuse and economic abuse — the power and control — to a homicide without there ever being a fist raised in anger," said Carol Wick from Harbor House.

As the CEO of Harbor House, a safe haven for domestic abuse victims, Wick has heard hundreds of stories. Many of them are from women who didn’t realize the danger they were in.

"If you feel like you’re not safe with that person, you need to listen to that voice. The number one thing victims tell us is ‘I never thought he would go this far,’" Wick said.

On Monday, the bodies of Turner and her ex-boyfriend, Erin Ross, were found inside a Port Orange motel.

Police said a judge had denied Turner’s request for a restraining order, but had set a hearing for it for Friday.
One possible reason for denying the injunction is that Turner did not have enough evidence her life was on the line.

"You have to show that you are in imminent danger of being beaten or seriously injured," said Lundy Langston from Florida A&M University.

While the majority of injunctions do work, they can make an abuser even more upset to the point where they snap.

"It intensifies the danger that she’s in and she’s more likely to be killed or seriously harmed," Langston said.

Langston said a  judge must hear a case at most 15 days after an injunction is filed. The court has to notify both parties.

"You have to understand that both individuals have certain rights and the abuser has certain rights too that the court has to comply with as well," Langston said.

Even if you’re not in an abusive relationship, experts said it’s always good to have a safety plan.

How would you escape a dangerous person?  Where would you go?  How would you get to a phone?
Experts suggest making a plan for places like your home and work.
Experts also said 98 percent of all victims never spoke with a domestic abuse advocate.

If you know someone who is in a bad relationship, call a hotline and hand the phone over to your loved one.


How Many Children Are Court -Ordered Into Unsupervised Contact With an Abusive Parent After Divorce?

Source American Mothers Political Party

Contact: Joyanna Silberg, PhD, Executive Vice President
tel: (410) 938-4974 or email Joyanna Silberg

According to a conservative estimate by experts at the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence (LC), more than 58,000 children a year are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States. This is over twice the yearly rate of new cases of childhood cancer.

Experts at the LC consider the crisis in our family courts to constitute a public health crisis. Once placed with an abusive parent or forced to visit, children will continue to be exposed to parental violence and abuse until they reach 18. Thus, we estimate that half a million children will be affected in the US at any point of time. Many of these children will suffer physical and psychological damage which may take a lifetime to heal. The Leadership Council urges citizens to work with legislators and agencies in their communities to examine this problem, review state agency policies and procedures, and develop legislative and policy solutions that help ensure safety from violence for children following divorce.

How We Obtained This Estimate:

No one knows the exact number of children who are left in the unprotected care of an abusive parent following their parents’ divorce. The Leadership Council has studied the problem and using the best available research has attempted to come up with a conservative estimate of the problem. We estimate that each year, 58,500 minor children are placed at risk for injury because the courts ordered them into the unsupervised care of a violent parent.

The estimate is meant to be conservative and was obtained using the figures in the following table. The research that we used to obtain these figures is explained in more depth in the following section.

Number of children affected by divorce each year

1,000,000

Number of families with allegations of child abuse and/or severe domestic violence (13%)

x.13

 

=130,000 cases

When investigated, percentage of cases found to be valid or suspected to be valid. (Research suggests that the number is between 43 and 73%, with most data showing the rate is closer to 70%. To be conservative we will use 60%)

X .60

 

=78,000

Percentage of children left unprotected. (Research suggests that the number is between 56-90%, with most data showing the rate is closer to 90%. A conservative estimate is 75%)

X .75

Estimate of children in the U.S. who are left in the unprotected care of an abuser after their parents’ divorce

=58,500

The research:

Estimates suggest that between 1 and 1.5 million children experience the divorce of their parents each year — ultimately 40% of all children are affected by divorce.1,2,3

It is difficult to determine the number of divorcing families affected by violence. The Women’s Law Center of Maryland analyzed an extensive dataset, which consists of a random sampling of all divorce and custody cases filed in Maryland during fiscal year 1999. Domestic violence (including child abuse) was alleged by at least one party in 240 cases out of 1,847 (13.0%).4

This is likely an underestimate as court records often fail to note domestic violence5 and other studies have shown higher rates. For example, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), looking solely at court records, found documented evidence of domestic violence in 24%-55% of custody court records depending on the state.6

In addition, studies suggest that in divorces marked by ongoing disputes over the custody and care of children, there is often a history of violence in the family and a likelihood that the violence will continue after the separation. In many cases, the violence involves severe battering and/or the use of weapons.7

To be conservative we will go with 13%. So how many of these allegations are likely to be valid. Research suggests when allegations of child abuse are investigated, approximately 50-73% are found to be valid.8

However, when courts get involved in determining custody, children are rarely protected from the violent parent. In at least 75% of cases the child is ordered into unsupervised contact with the alleged abuser. (Research has found results ranging from 56-90%; a conservative estimate is 75%).9

So how many children whose parents divorce are left in the unprotected care of an abuser each year in the United States ? Thus a conservative estimate based on available research is that approximately 58,500 are left at risk of physical and psychological injury after being ordered into the unsupervised care of an abuser after their parents divorce. This number includes both those who are left in the sole care of an abuser and those who are required to have unsupervised visits.

Compare this to the number of cases of childhood cancer per year. In 2004 the incidence rate of newly diagnosed childhood cancers in the U.S. was 22,586.10

Most people who divorce do so early in their marriage,.3 and children who are court-ordered into the custody of, or unsupervised visitation with, an abuser will be at risk of abuse until they reach adulthood. Consequently, at any point in time it is likely that a half a million children are left unprotected from a violent parent after their parents’ divorce.

References

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2000). Divorce – Helping Children Adjust. http://www.medem.com/medlb/article_detaillb.cfm?article_ID=ZZZ4KZADH4C&sub_cat=0
(“Every year, more than one million children in the United States experience the divorce of their parents.”)

2. National Institutes of Mental Health. (2002, October 15). Preventive Sessions After Divorce Protect Children into Teens.
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2002/preventive-sessions-after-divorce-protect-children-into-teens.shtml
(“About 1.5 million children experience the divorce of their parents each year—ultimately 40 percent of all children.”)

3. Shiono, P. H., & Quinn, L. S. (1994, Spring). Epidemiology of Divorce.Future of Children, 4 (1). Available athttp://www.futureofchildren.org/usr_doc/vol4no1ART2.pdf
(Each year since the mid-1970s, more than 1 million children have experienced a family divorce.”)

4. The Women’s Law Center of Maryland. (2004). Custody and financial distribution in Maryland: An empirical study of custody and divorce cases filed in Maryland during fiscal year 1999. Towson, MD.
http://www.wlcmd.org/pdf/CustodyFinancialDistributionInMD.pdf
(“Domestic violence (including child abuse) was alleged by at least one party in 240 cases out of 1,847 (13.0 percent). Of these, 169 allegations were made by women and 36 by men.”)

5. Kernic, M.A., Monary-Ernsdorff, D. J., Koepsell, J. K., & Holt, V. L. (2005). Children in the crossfire: Child custody determinations among couples with a history of intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 11 (8), 991-1021.
(Researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center in Seattle , studied divorce cases and found that in 47.6% of cases with a documented, substantiated history of domestic violence, no mention of the abuse was found in the divorce case files. Similarly the National Center for State Courts that a screening process [utilized by the mediation program] revealed a much higher incidence of domestic violence than a review of court records alone would have indicated [see ref 6 below]).

6. Susan Keilitz et al, Domestic Violence and Child Custody Disputes: A Resource Handbook for Judges and Court Managers , prepared for the National Center for State Courts; State Justice Institute," NCSC Publication Number R- 202, p. 5.

7. Johnston, J. R. (1994). High-Conflict Divorce. The Future of Children, 4(1), 165-182, p. 167.

8. Research used in substantiation estimate:

Brown, T., Frederico, M., Hewitt, L., & Sheehan, R. (1997). Problems and solutions in the management of child abuse allegations in custody and access disputes in the family court. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 36 (4), 431-443.
(Researchers reviewed court records of some 200 families where child abuse allegations had been made in custody and access disputes in jurisdictions in two states, observed court proceedings and interviewed court and related services’ staff.The allegations of abuse were usually valid. 70% were determined to involve severe physical and/or sexual abuse. The overall rate of false allegations during divorce to be about 9%, similar to the rate of false allegations in noncustody related investigations.)

Faller, K. C., & DeVoe, E. (1995). Allegations of sexual abuse in divorce. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 4 (4), 1-25.
(Researchers examined 214 allegations of sexual abuse in divorce cases that were evaluated by a multidisciplinary team at a university-based clinic. 72.6% were determined likely; 20% unlikely; and 7.4% uncertain. Of the 20% of cases that were judged to be false or possibly false cases, only approximately a quarter (n = 10) were determined to have been consciously made. The remainder were classified as misinterpretations.)

Thoennes, N., & Tjaden, P. G. (1990). The extent, nature, and validity of sexual abuse allegations in custody and visitation disputes. Child Sexual Abuse & Neglect, 14(2), 151-63.
(Researchers examined court records in 9,000 families in custody/visitation disputes. In the 129 cases for which a determination of the validity of the allegation was available, 50% were found to involve abuse , 33% were found to involve no abuse, and 17% resulted in an indeterminate ruling. [*note: Court records provide less reliable than evaluations by multidisciplinary teams trained in recognizing child abuse].)

Jones, D.P.H., & Seig, A. (1988). Child sexual abuse allegations in custody or visitation disputes: A report of 20 cases. In E.B. Nicholson & J. Bulkley (Eds.), Sexual Abuse Allegations in Custody and Visitation Cases: A Resource Book for Judges and Court Personnel. Washington, DC: American Bar Association, pp. 22-36.
(This article reports on 20 cases evaluated by the C. Henry Kempe Centre which involved both sexual abuse allegations and a parental custody dispute. 70% of cases were found to be reliable and 20% of the cases appeared fictitious.)

McGraw, J.M., & Smith, H.A. (1992). Child sexual abuse allegations amidst divorce and custody proceedings: Refining the validation process. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 1(1), 49-61.
(This study describes 18 cases of child sexual abuse allegations made during divorce and custody disputes. The cases were reviewed using the clinical process of validation used at the Kempe Center in Denver, Colorado. The number of cases categorized as founded was eight [44.4%].  In two cases [ 11%]) there was insufficient information to make a determination, and five were judged to be based on an unsubstantiated suspicion. Three cases were judged to be fictitious [16.5%], only one of which came from a child.)

Paradise, J. E., Rostain, A. L., & Nathanson, M. (1988). Substantiation of sexual abuse charges when parents dispute custody or visitation. Pediatrics, 81(6), 835-9.
(Researchers systematically evaluated child sexual abuse cases in a hospital-based consecutive series and one author’s practice were systematically reviewed. Abuse allegations made within the context custody or visitation dispute [39% of the sample] were compared with cases in which custody or visitation was not an issue. Cases involving custody problems were found to involve younger children [5.4 vs 7.8 years]. Sexual abuse allegations were substantiated less frequently when there was concomitant parental conflict [nonsignificant] but were nevertheless substantiated more than half of the time.)

Trocme, N., & Bala, N. (2005). False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate. Child Abuse & Neglect, 29(12), 1333. (PDF)
Using data from the 1998 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS-98), this paper provides a detailed summary of the characteristics associated with intentionally false reports of child abuse and neglect within the context of parental separation. The national study examined abuse and neglect investigated by child welfare services in Canada.
When there was an on-going custody dispute the substantiation rate by CPS was 40% and an addition 14% were suspected but there wasn’t enough evidence to make a final determination. 12% were believed to be intentionally false. Allegations of neglect was the most common form of intentionally fabricated maltreatment. Substantiation rates varied significantly by source of report, with reports from the police (60%), custodial parents (47%), and children (54%) being generally most likely to be substantiated, while noncustodial parents (usually fathers) have a lower substantiation rate (33%), and anonymous reports being least likely to be substantiated (16%). Of the intentionally false allegations of maltreatment tracked by the study, custodial parents (usually mothers) and children were least likely to fabricate reports of abuse or neglect.

Hlady, L.J., & Gunter, E.J. (1990). Alleged child abuse in custody access disputes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 14(4), 591-3.
(Researchers reviewed the charts of all children involved in custody access disputes seen by Child Protective Services (CPS) at British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital in 1988. Of the 370 such children evaluated by CPS, 34 involved allegations of child sexual abuse (CSA) that arose during custody/access disputes. These children’s physical examinations were then compared with the 219 children seen during the same one-year period for alleged CSA not involving custody/access disputes. A similar percentage of positive physical findings were found in both groups. It is concluded that the concern that allegations of CSA that arise during custody/access disputes are likely to be false is not borne out by these findings.)

9. Research used in this estimate:

Neustein, A., & Goetting, A. (1999). Judicial Responses to Protective Parents, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 4, 103-122.
http://www.haworthpressinc.com/store/SampleText/J070.pdf (go to page 109 of pdf)
(Examined judicial responses to protective parents’ complaints of child sexual abuse in 300 custody cases with extensive family court records. The investigators found that only in 10% of cases was primary custody was given to the protective parent and supervised contact with alleged abuser.Conversely, 20% of the cases resulted in a predominantly negative outcome where the child was placed in the primary legal and physical custody of the allegedly sexually abusive parent (see p. 108). In the rest of the cases, the judges awarded joint custody with no provisions for supervised visitation with the alleged abuser.)

Lowenstein, S. R. (1991). Child sexual abuse in custody and visitation litigation: Representation for the benefit of victims. UMKC Law Review, 60, 227-82.
(This study examined 96 custody and visitation disputes involving allegations of child sexual abuse from 33 states. Visitation was the principal issues in 36 cases. The father was alleged to have sexually molested their child in each of these 36 cases. Yet in two-thirds (24) of these cases the alleged perpetrator was granted unsupervised visitation.
Custody was the principle issue in 56 cases. In 27 of the 56 cases (48%) mothers lost custody. In 17 of these cases (63%) the mother lost custody to a father alleged to be a perpetrator. In two cases (3.6%) fathers lost custody. No father lost custody to a mother whose household included an alleged perpetrator (either the mother, a stepfather, the mother’s boyfriend, or one of mother’s relatives).

Kernic, M.A., Monary-Ernsdorff, D. J., Koepsell, J. K., & Holt, V. L. (2005). Children in the crossfire: Child custody determinations among couples with a history of intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 11(8), 991-1021.
(Examined the effects of a history of interpersonal violence on child custody and visitation outcomes. Mothers in cases with a violent partner were no more likely to obtain custody than mothers in non-abuse cases. Fathers with a history of committing abuse were denied child visitation in only 17% of cases.)

Saccuzzo, D. P., & Johnson, N. E. (2004). Child custody mediation’s failure to protect: Why should the criminal justice system care? National Institute of Justice Journal, 251, 21-23. Available at http://ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/jr000251.pdf
(Researchers compared 200 child custody mediations involving charges of domestic violence with 200 mediations that did not.Joint legal custody was awarded about 90% of the time, even when domestic violence was an issue.)

See also:
Johnson, N. E., Saccuzzo, D. P., & Koen, W. J. (2005). Child custody mediation in cases of domestic violence: Empirical evidence of a failure to protect. Violence Against Women, 11(8), 1022-1053.

10. U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. (2007). United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2004 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute.Available at: www.cdc.gov/uscs .

For more information see:

Dallam. S. J., & Silberg, J. L. (Jan/Feb 2006). Myths that place children at risk during custody disputes. Sexual Assault Report, 9 (3), 33-47. (PDF)

American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence. (2006). 10 Myths About Custody and Domestic Violence and How to Counter Them. Washington, DC: Author.http://leadershipcouncil.org/docs/ABA_custody_myths.pdf

More research is available from the Leadership Council web site
www.leadershipcouncil.org

The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is composed of national leaders in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, law, and public policy who are committed to the ethical application of psychological science and countering its misuse by special interest groups. Members of the Council are dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of children and other vulnerable populations. More information can be found at: www.leadershipcouncil.org


Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases: Legal Trends, Risk Factors, and Safety Concerns

 

Source American Mothers Political Party

Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases: Legal Trends, Risk Factors, and Safety Concerns Daniel G. Saunders in consultation with Karen Oehme (Revised October 2007).

In Brief:

  • Approximately half of all state laws make a presumption that it is harmful to the child and not in the best interest of the child to be placed in sole custody or joint physical or legal custody with the perpetrator of domestic violence. In the remaining states, domestic violence is merely one factor in a list of factors that must be considered in custody and visitation decisions.
  • States have increasingly provided protections for battered women in the divorce process, for example exempting them from mandated mediation, protecting them from charges of “child abandonment” if they flee for safety without their children, and making it easier for them to relocate if they are in danger.
  • Despite a reasonable reluctance to co-parent out of fear of harm to themselves or their children, battered women may end up being labeled “unfriendly,” thereby increasing the risk of losing their children because there may be a “friendly parent” statute that favors the “cooperative” parent.
  • A recent trend is the use of “parenting coordinators” or “special masters,” a mental health or legal professional with mediation training who focuses on the children’s needs and helps the parents resolve disputes. They can make decisions within the bounds of the court order but it is important that they have training on domestic violence and realize when they need to act primarily as an enforcer of the court order.
  • Another recent trend is the use of “virtual visitation.” Web cams and videoconferencing can supplement face-to-face visits or replace face-to-face visits in more dangerous cases.
  • When parents believe the legal system has failed them, they sometimes form grassroots support and advocacy groups. They may conduct court watches and help parents share common court experiences, especially when they lose custody when trying to protect children and themselves from abuse.
  • Half the men who batter their wives also abuse their children, a rate twice as high as that of battered women.
  • Emotional abuse of children by men who batter almost always occurs because nearly all of these men exposed their children to domestic violence, and such exposure often has traumatic and lasting effects.
  • Mothers may be unjustly blamed for harming their children through “failure to protect,” since mothers are supposedly capable of protecting their children from the physical and emotional abuse of their partners.
  • Parental separation does not prevent abuse to children or their mothers. Indeed, physical abuse, harassment, and stalking of women continue at fairly high rates after separation and divorce and the risk of homicide increases. Attempts to undermine the mothers’ authority and to disparage her in front of the children also increase.
  • Men who batter often have chronic but well hidden psychological disorders and problems stemming from childhood traumas that are often not apparent to evaluators and judges; on the other hand, battered woman’s psychological problems, primarily depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, appear to be reactions to the violence.
  • Successful completion of an abuser intervention program does not substantially reduce the risk of re-abuse. Special parenting programs for men who batter are growing in number but remain untested.
  • A high percentage of couples labeled “high conflict” are experiencing domestic violence, and thus attempts to detect domestic violence within “high conflict” families are crucial. Unfortunately, domestic violence is often not detected or not documented in custody/visitation proceedings.
  • Contrary to common belief, allegations of domestic violence are not generally more common in disputed custody cases. When allegations are made, one study found that mothers are more likely to have their abuse allegations substantiated than fathers.
  • Evaluators and judges may need more information on the continued safety risks to children from abusive fathers, the likelihood of post-separation violence, risks of mediation, the inadmissibility of Parent Alienation Syndrome, and the limitations of criminal justice and treatment interventions.
  • The past and potential behavior of men who batter means that awarding joint custody or sole custody to them is rarely the best option for the safety and well-being of the children.
  • Visitation should be granted to the perpetrator only if adequate safety provisions for the child and adult victim can be made. Orders of visitation can specify, among other things, the exchange of the child in a protected setting, supervised visitation by a specific person or agency, and completion of an intervention program for perpetrators.
  • Visitation should be suspended if there are repeated violations of the terms of visitation, the child is severely distressed in response to visitation, or there are clear indications that the violent parent has threatened to harm or flee with the child.
  • Some professional standards developed for supervised visitation/exchange programs contain a section on domestic violence that requires policies and procedures designed to increase safety for domestic abuse survivors and their children. In addition, the U.S. government is providing technical assistance to increase the awareness of visitation/exchange programs and their community collaborators of the special needs of battered women and their children.

Full article follows-

“Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases: Legal Trends, Risk Factors, and Safety Concerns” by Dan Saunders, in consultation with Karen Oehme, To download the paper, please click here.

It may be hard to believe that an abusive partner can ever make good on his threat to gain custody of the children from his victim. After all, he has a history of violent behavior and she almost never does. Unfortunately, a surprising number of battered women lose custody of their children (e.g., Saccuzzo & Johnson, 2004). This document describes how this can happen through uninformed and biased courts, court staff, evaluators, and attorneys and how the very act of protecting ones’ children can lead to their loss. It also describes the major legal and social trends surrounding custody and visitation decisions and the social science evidence supporting the need to consider domestic violence in these decisions. It ends with some recommendations for custody and visitation in domestic violence cases.

Legal Trends

Over the past 200 years, the bases for child custody decisions have changed considerably. The patriarchal doctrine of fathers’ ownership of children gave way in the 1920s and ’30s to little formal preference for one parent or the other to obtain custody. When given such broad discretion, judges tended to award custody to mothers, especially of young children. The mother-child bond during the early, “tender years” was considered essential for children’s development. In the 1970s, “the best interests of the children” became the predominant guideline, although it remains somewhat ambiguous (Fine & Fine, 1994). It was presumably neutral regarding parental rights. Little was known then about the negative impact of domestic violence on women and children, and domestic violence was not originally included in the list of factors used to determine the child’s best interest.

States more recently came to recognize that domestic violence needs to be considered in custody decisions (Dunford-Jackson, 2004; Cahn, 1991; Hart, 1992; for legislative updates from 1995 through 2005, see NCJFCJ, http://www.ncjfcj.org/content/blogcategory/256/302/). Every state now lists domestic violence as a factor to be considered, but does not necessarily give it special weight. However, since the mid-1990s, states have increasingly adopted the custody/visitation section of the Model Code on Domestic and Family Violence developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ, 1994), increasing from 10 states using the code in 1995 to 24 in 2006 (NCJFCJ, 1995a; 2007). These statutes use the model’s wording, or similar wording, that there is a “rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest of the child to be placed in sole custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody with the perpetrator of family violence” (p. 33).¹ Although statutes have become increasingly precise regarding definitions of domestic violence, they may leave children vulnerable to psychological abuse when it is not included in the definition (Dunford-Jackson, 2004).

Statutes also address other issues about custody and visitation, such as standards for supervised visitation and similar safeguards (Girdner & Hoff, 1996; Hart, 1990; Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003), exempting battered women from mandated mediation (Dunford-Jackson, 2004; Girdner, 1996),² protecting battered women from charges of “child abandonment” if they flee for safety without their children (Cahn, 1991), and enabling a parent to learn if a person involved in a custody proceeding has been charged with certain crimes (see Pennsylvania’s Jen & Dave Program on the Web at http://www.jendaveprogram.us/). Some recent statutes make it easier for victims to relocate if needed for safety reasons (Jaffe, et al., 2003; NCJFCJ, 1995a; 1999; see Zorza, 2000).

Other legal protections are also available. For example, in one state (Tennessee), if a parent alleges that a child is exposed to domestic violence, such allegations cannot be used against the parent bringing the allegation (NCJFCJ, 2004). In another state (Texas), a mediated agreement can be declined by the court if domestic violence affected the victim’s ability to make the agreement (NCJFCJ, 2005). Some states (Massachusetts, Ohio) now make the presumption that custody or visitation should not be granted to anyone who is found guilty of murdering the other parent (for a more complete review of the above trends, including legal reforms in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, see Jaffe, et al. 2003).

Unfortunately, courts nd the mental health professionals advising them (Johnson, Saccuzzo, & Koen, 2005; Fields, in press) and lawyers (Fields, 2006) may pressure women to stay tied to their abusers. In addition, “friendly parent” provisions in statutes or policies create another factor for courts to assess in custody decisions, favoring the parent who will encourage frequent and continuing contact with the other parent or foster a better relationship between the child and the other parent (Zorza, 1992). Despite a reasonable reluctance to co-parent out of fear of harm to themselves or their children, battered women may end up being labeled “unfriendly,” thereby increasing the risk of losing their children (APA, 1996).

Along with legal changes, training and resource manuals for judges and court managers are available, including guidelines for selecting custody evaluators and guardian ad litems ( Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006; Maxwell & Oehme, 2001; Goelman, Lehrman, & Valente, 1996; Lemon, Jaffe, & Ganley, 1995; NCJFCJ, 1995b; NCJFCJ, 2006; National Center for State Courts, 1997). One benchbook covers cultural considerations for diverse populations (Ramos & Runner, 1999). A recent trend is the use of “parenting coordinators” or “special masters,” a mental health or legal professional with mediation training who focuses on the children’s needs and helps the parents resolve disputes. With the approval of the parties and/or the court, they can make decisions within the bounds of the court order. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts provide guidelines for parenting coordinators and a discussion of implementation issues (AFCC, 2006; Coates, et al., 2004). The guidelines require that parenting coordinators have training on domestic violence and caution that “the parenting coordinator’s role may be inappropriate and potentially exploited by perpetrators of domestic violence who have exhibited patterns of violence, threat, intimidation, and coercive control over their co-parent” (AFCC, 2006, p. 165). When one parent seeks to maintain dominance over another, the parenting coordinator may need to act primarily as an enforcer of the court order.

Another legal trend is the ordering of “virtual visitation” (Flango, 2003; Shefts, 2002). Web cams and videoconferencing can supplement face-to-face visits or replace face-to-face visits in more dangerous cases. Parents can read and play games with their children and help them with homework. The practice may loosen restrictions on parents moving to different communities. In one court case, the judge ordered each parent to purchase and install computer equipment that would allow video-conferencing (Flango, 2003) . In 2004, Utah passed a law stating that virtual visitation should be permitted and encouraged if available. In some states, prisons provide virtual visitation services (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, http://www.cor.state.pa.us/dallas/site/default.asp). Virtual visits are untested in domestic violence cases and are likely to require the same type of monitoring that occurs with telephone and in-person visits.

Despite the above trends for improved protections, some parents and children believe the legal system has failed them. They may form grassroots support and advocacy groups, such as networks in Arizona (http://www.azppn.com/) and California ( http://www.protectiveparents.com/), that conduct court watches and help parents share common court experiences, especially when they lose custody when trying to protect children and themselves from abuse. The Courageous Kids Network in California makes suggestions to other children who are forced to live with an abuser or molester when professionals do not believe them. They describe themselves as “a growing group of young people whose childhood was shattered by biased and inhumane court rulings, which forced us to live with our abusive parents while restricting or sometimes completely eliminating contact with our loving and protective parent. We know how horrible it is to be forced into the arms of an abuser” ( http://www.courageouskids.net/). A national organization, Kourts for Kids, works to better protect abused children in the family courts by increasing awareness and education for judges, attorneys, guardians ad litem, social workers, officers of the law, legislators, and advocates (http://www.kourtsforkids.org/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1). In 2007, 10 mothers and a victimized child (now an adult) and national and state organizations filed suit against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They claimed that the human rights of abused mothers and children were not protected because custody was awarded to abusers and child molesters (Klein, 2007; Stop Family Violence: http://www.stopfamilyviolence.org/ocean/host.php?folder=3).

In summary, courts in all states must now consider domestic violence in custody and visitation decisions, but only about half of them make it the primary consideration. Legal innovations include protections for survivors who need to relocate due to safety concerns and exemptions from mandated mediation. Many states still have “friendly parent” statutes that do not recognize battered women’s realistic reluctance to co-parent. Domestic violence training materials and guidelines are increasingly available for judges, court managers, custody evaluators and parenting coordinators. Recent trends include the use of “virtual visitation” and the development of grass roots protective parent and advocacy organizations.

Parent Most at Risk for Physically and Emotionally Abusing the Children

Social science evidence can help establish which parent is most at risk to harm their children. The most convincing evidence that men who batter their partners are also likely to batter their children comes from a nationally representative survey (Straus, 1983). Half the men who battered their wives also abused their children. Abuse was defined as violence more severe than a slap or a spanking. Battered women were half as likely as men to abuse their children. Several non-representative surveys show similar results (reviewed in Saunders, 1994, and Edleson, 2001). When battered women are not in a violent relationship, there is some evidence that they are much less likely to direct anger toward their children (Walker, 1984). As expected, time away from the abuser seems to benefit battered mothers and their children (Rossman, 2001).

Emotional abuse of children by men who batter is even more likely than physical abuse because nearly all of these men’s children are exposed to domestic violence (Wolfe, Crooks, McIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2004). This exposure to domestic abuse by their fathers often constitutes a severe form of child abuse. The serious problems associated with witnessing abuse are now clearly documented (e.g., Edleson, 1999; Graham-Bermann & Edleson, 2002; Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003; Wolfe, Crooks, McIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2004). These include short- and long-term negative emotional and behavioral consequences for both boys and girls. However, one must be cautious about generalizing these findings to most or all children since many children find resources that buffer the ill effects of the violence (Edleson, 2006). Parents may not realize that their children can be affected, even if they do not see the violence. For example, children may be hiding in their bedrooms listening to repeated threats, blows, and breaking objects. They may be afraid their mother will be injured or killed and in many cases they intervene physically ( Edleson, Mbilinyi, Beeman, & Hagemeister, 2003) . However, they may have other reactions, such as divided loyalties toward their parents, guilt about not being able to intervene effectively, and anger at their mothers for not leaving (Margolin, 1998; Saunders, 1994). If mothers cannot find safety, their fears and depression may reduce their ability to nurture and support their children as they normally would (Jaffe & Crooks, 2005).

As a result of children’s exposure to domestic violence, mothers may be unjustly blamed for harming their children in cases where evaluators and practitioners do not understand the dynamics of abuse (Edleson, 1999). Cases are sometimes labeled as a “failure to protect” since mothers are supposedly capable of protecting their children from the physical and emotional abuse of their partners (Enos, 1996). Battered women may even face criminal charges ( Kaufman Kantor & Little, 2003; Sierra, 1997) or removal of their children into foster care ( Edleson, Gassman-Pines, & Hill, 2006) . However, battered women’s actions usually come from their desire to care for and protect their children. They may not leave because of financial needs, family pressures, believing the children need a father, or the fear that he will make good on threats to harm the children or gain custody (Hardesty & Chung, 2006; Hardesty & Ganong, 2006). They often leave the relationship when they recognize the impact of violence on their children, only to return when threatened with even greater violence or out of economic necessity (Anderson & Saunders, 2003, 2007). Innovative programs have been developed to address these concerns by helping to coordinate the actions of child protection, domestic violence, and family court systems. The “Greenbook Initiative” sponsored by the federal government is a notable example (Dunford-Jackson, 2004; for information see: http://www.thegreenbook.info/). On a policy level, a few states allow evidence to show that the non-abusive spouse feared retaliation from her partner and thus could not reasonably prevent abuse to the child. However, most of these states impose restrictions on how quickly the protective parent must provide this evidence and how it must be done (Jaffe, et al., 2003).

Factors Related to Risk to the Children

In a given custody case, a number of factors may correctly or incorrectly be attributed to the risk of child abuse and exposure to domestic violence. Several of these factors — parental separation, childhood victimization of the parents, the parents’ psychological characteristics, and abuser interventions — are discussed next.

Parental Separation

Parental separation or divorce does not prevent abuse to children or their mothers. On the contrary, physical abuse, harassment, and stalking of women continue at fairly high rates after separation and divorce and sometimes only begin or greatly escalate after separation (Hardesty & Chung, 2006). Homicidal threats, stalking, and harassment affect as many as 25%-35% of survivors (e.g., Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Leighton, 1989; Thoennes & Tjaden, 2000). In addition, up to a fourth of battered women report that their ex-partner threatened to hurt the children or kidnap them (e.g., Liss & Stahly, 1993), and children may witness violence more often after separation than before (Hardesty & Chung, 2006). Separation is a time of increased risk of homicide for battered women (Saunders & Browne, 2000), and these homicides sometimes occur in relation to custody hearings and visitation exchanges.

Many abusers appear to use the legal system to maintain contact and harass their ex-partners (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Hardesty & Ganong, 2006), at times using extensive and lengthy litigation (Jaffe, et al., 2003). Children may also be harmed if the abuser undermines their mothers’ authority, disparages her character in front of the children, and attempts to use the children to control the mother (Bancroft & Silverman, 2004); this appears to occur more often after separation by the most severe abusers (Beeble, Bybee, & Sullivan, 2007). Children are also likely to be exposed to renewed violence if their fathers become involved with another woman. Over half of men who batter go on to abuse another woman (Wofford, Elliot, & Menard, 1994). As a result, judges should not necessarily consider the remarriage of the father as a sign of stability and maturity.

Parents’ Characteristics

Evaluators may look to childhood risk factors of each parent to assess their child abuse potential. The link between being abused in childhood and becoming a child abuser is not as strong as was once thought, with about 30% of child abuse victims becoming child abusers (Kaufman & Zigler, 1987). Some evidence suggests that this link with child abuse is stronger in men than in women (Miller & Challas, 1981). Neither parent is likely to have severe and chronic mental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder) (Gleason, 1997; Golding, 1999). Personality disorders, as distinct from mental disorders, are much more likely to appear on the psychological tests of the parents. However, the parents’ personality traits and psychological disorders are generally poor predictors of child abuse (Wolfe, 1985). In addition, great care must be taken when interpreting parents’ behaviors and psychological tests. Men who batter often have the types of personality disorders–such as anti-social, dependent, and narcissistic ( Holtzworth-Munroe, Meehan, Herron, Rehman, & Stuart, 2000)–that may keep childhood traumas and other problems hidden from evaluators and judges.

To the extent that psychological disorders continue to be used to describe battered women, they can be placed at a serious disadvantage. Compared with the chronic problems of her partner, a battered woman’s psychological problems, primarily depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, appear to be reactions to the violence. These problems seem to decrease as victims become safer (Erickson, 2006). Many battered women may seem very unstable, nervous, and angry (APA, 1996; Erickson, 2006; Crites & Coker, 1988). Others may speak with a flat affect and appear indifferent to the violence they describe (Meier, 1993). These women probably suffer from the numbing symptoms of traumatic stress. The psychological test scores of some battered women may appear to indicate severe personality disorders and mental illness. However, their behaviors and test scores must be interpreted in the context of the traumas they faced or continue to face ( Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006; Dutton, 1992; Rosewater, 1987). For example, psychological test findings of borderline and paranoid traits can be misleading when the impact of domestic violence is not considered (Erickson, 2006). The psychological tactics used by abusers parallel those used against prisoners of war and include threats of violence, forced isolation, degradation, attempts to distort reality, and methods to increase psychological dependence (Stark, 2007). Severe depression and traumatic stress symptoms are the likely results (Golding, 1999). When women fear losing custody of children to an abusive partner, the stress can be overwhelming (Erickson, 2006; Bancroft & Silverman, 2004).

Interventions for the Abuser

Although there are numerous treatment programs around the country for abusive partners and parents, successful completion of a batterer intervention program does not mean that the risks of child and woman abuse are eliminated. The evaluation of programs for men who batter is in its infancy, including programs for men of color (Gondolf, in press; Saunders & Hammill, 2003). A substantial proportion of women (35% on average across a number of studies) report that physical abuse by their partners recurs within 6-12 months after treatment and psychological abuse often remains at high levels. In controlled studies, the recidivism rates average only 5% lower for the “treated” groups than the control groups (Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004). These results are less optimistic than those implied in the section of the Model State Statute on Domestic and Family Violence (NCJFCJ, 1994) that recommends the successful completion of abuser treatment as a condition for visitation.

Only two studies of programs for men who batter investigated the reduction of actual or potential violence toward the children (Myers, 1984; Stacey & Shupe, 1984). Both of these studies showed promising results but did not specifically focus on parenting issues. Special parenting programs for men who batter have developed in recent years, either as modules within existing intervention programs or as stand-alone programs (Edleson, Mbilinyi, & Shetty, 2003; Edleson & Williams, 2007).

In summary, contrary to what one would expect, separation is a time of increased risk of violence, abusers’ chronic problems may not be apparent, and the trauma from violence and continuing, intense fears may make battered women appear “crazy.” Furthermore, successful completion of an abuser intervention program does substantially reduce the risk of re-abuse on average.

Factors that Compromise Safety of Children and Survivors

Negative outcomes for domestic violence victims and their children include (1) dangerous offenders in contact with ex-partners and children due to unsupervised or poorly supervised visitation; (2) sole or joint custody of children awarded to a violent parent, rather than a non-violent one; and (3) urging or mandating mediation that compromises victims’ rights or places them in more danger. Such negative outcomes are likely to be compounded for women of color, lesbian mothers, survivors whose English is not proficient, and/or immigrant women with little or no knowledge of the U.S. legal system ( Barnsley, Goldsmith, Taylor, 1996; Ramos & Runner, 1999).

Joint custody can be quite beneficial for children of non-violent, low-conflict couples.³ However, joint custody–in particular, joint physical custody or “shared parenting”–can obviously increase the opportunities for abusers to maintain control and to continue or to escalate abuse toward both women and children. Enthusiasm for joint custody 4 in the early 1980s was fueled by studies of couples who were highly motivated to “make it work” (Johnston, 1995). This enthusiasm has waned in recent years, in part because of social science findings. Solid evidence about the impact of divorce and custody arrangements is difficult to find because most data are gathered at one point in time, and thus statements about cause and effect are not possible (e.g., Bender, 1994). There is increasing evidence, however, that children of divorce have more problems because of the conflict between the parents before the divorce and not because of the divorce itself (e.g., Kelly, 1993). Johnston (1995) concluded from her review of research that “highly conflictual parents” (not necessarily violent) had a poor prognosis for becoming cooperative parents. In a study by Kelly (1993), more frequent transitions between high-conflict parents were related to more emotional and behavioral problems of the children. If exposure to “high conflict” parents is damaging to children, then they are even more likely to be damaged by exposure to domestic violence. We now have evidence that a high percentage of couples labeled “high conflict” are experiencing domestic violence, and thus attempts to detect domestic violence within “high conflict” families are crucial (for further review, see Jaffe & Crooks, 2007).

In general, domestic violence is often not detected or not documented in custody/visitation proceedings (Johnson, Saccuzzo & Koen, 2005; Kernic, Monary-Ernsdorff, Koepsell, & Holt, 2005). In one study that interviewed survivors with documented abuse, there were frequent failures to consider documentation of domestic abuse and/or child abuse in the custody decision; unsupervised visitation or custody was often recommended or granted to men who used violence against their partners and/or children ( Silverman, Mesh, Cuthbert, Slote, & Bancroft, 2004). One study found that battered and non-battered women were equally likely to be awarded custody; in addition, offenders were just as likely as non-offenders to be ordered to supervised visits (Kernic, et al., 2005). Similarly, in a random sample of court cases, only minor differences existed between the custody evaluation process and custody recommendations for domestic violence versus non-domestic violence cases (Logan, Walker, Jordan, & Horvath, 2002). Most fathers with protection orders against them were not awarded custody (Rosen & O’Sullivan, 2005); however, this was not the case when mothers withdrew their petitions, which may have been from pressure from their abusers. Mediators in one study were about equally likely to recommend joint legal and physical custody for both domestic violence and non-domestic violence cases; rates of supervised and unsupervised visitation also did not differ between violent and non-violent cases (Johnson et al., 2005). Similarly, O’Sullivan and her colleagues report two studies showing that a history of domestic violence has little impact on courts’ decisions regarding visitation (O’Sullivan, 2000; O’Sullivan, King, Levin-Russell, & Horowitz, 2006). (For further review, see Jaffe & Crooks, 2007.)

A number of reports from state and local commissions on gender bias in the courts have documented negative outcomes. For example, negative stereotypes about women, especially about their credibility, seem to encourage judges to disbelieve women’s allegations about child abuse (Danforth & Welling, 1996; Meier, 2003; Zorza, 1996). A lack of understanding about domestic violence leads to accusations of lying, blaming the victim for the violence, and trivializing the violence (e.g., Abrams & Greaney, 1989). When the abuse is properly taken into account, court decisions that awarded abusive fathers custody are often reversed on appeal (Meier, 2003). Research evidence is now growing that allegations of domestic violence are generally not more common in disputed custody cases; and one study shows that mothers are more likely to have their abuse allegations substantiated than fathers (Johnston, Lee, Oleson, & Walters, 2005).

The influence of fathers’ rights groups on evaluators and judges is unknown, but some groups tend to lobby for the presumption of joint custody and co-parenting and doubt the validity of domestic violence allegations (Williams, Boggess, & Carter, 2004). For example, the National Fathers’ Resource Center and Fathers for Equal Rights “demands that society acknowledge that false claims of Domestic Violence” are used to “gain unfair advantage in custody and divorce cases” (NFRC, 2007). They state, “Fathers’ organizations now estimate that up to 80% of domestic violence allegations against men are false allegations.” Consistent with what might be expected from the gender bias reports, female judges in one study showed more knowledge of domestic violence and greater support for victim protections (Morrill, Dai, Dunn, Sung, & Smith, 2005). Women of color and immigrant women can expect to be placed in “double jeopardy,” as many states report racial and ethnic bias in the courts, in addition to gender bias (Ramos & Runner, 1999).

Research is also illuminating the negative impact of “friendly parent” provisions. Zorza (1996; in press) notes that “friendly parent” statutes and policies work against battered women because any concerns they voice about father-child contact or safety for themselves are usually interpreted as a lack of cooperation and thus the father is more likely to gain custody. A woman might refuse to give her address or consent to unsupervised visitation (APA, 1996). Parents who raise concerns about child sexual abuse can be severely sanctioned for doing so. The sanctions include loss of custody to the alleged offender, restricted visitation, and being told not to report further abuse or take the child to a therapist (Faller & DeVoe, 1995; Neustein & Goetting, 1999 ; Neustein & Lesher, 2005). Even in jurisdictions with a presumption that custody should be awarded to the non-abusive parent, a “friendly parent” provision tends to override this presumption (Morrill, et al., 2005). At least 32 states have statutes with “friendly parent” provisions (Zorza, in press). “Unfriendly behaviors” generally include only those of the custodial parents and not behaviors of noncustodial parents, like nonpayment of child support (Zorza, in press).

The beliefs and training of custody evaluators and judges in relation to outcomes have received very little attention. Evaluators and judges may need more information on the continued safety risks to children from abusive fathers, the likelihood of post-separation violence, risks of mediation, the inadmissibility of Parent Alienation Syndrome (Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006), false allegations, and the limits of criminal justice and treatment interventions (Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003; Saunders, 1994). Ackerman and Ackerman (1996) found that psychologists who conducted child custody evaluations did not consider domestic violence to be a major factor in making a recommendation. However, three-fourths of them recommended against sole or joint custody to a parent who “alienates the child from the other parent by negatively interpreting the other parent’s behavior.” In a more recent study of evaluators, Bow and Boxer (2003) found that many sources of information were used in evaluations, but evaluators did not tend to use domestic violence screening instruments — only 30% administered specialized questionnaires, instruments, or tests pertaining to domestic violence. When domestic violence was detected, it weighed heavily in their recommendations. In one study of judges, those with domestic violence education and more knowledge of domestic violence were more likely to grant sole custody to abused mothers (Morrill, et al., 2005). Some states require initial and/or continuing domestic violence education for judges, 5 custody evaluators, and mediators, which is essential to close the gap between professional standards and their implementation (Jaffe & Crooks, 2005).

Recommendations for Custody and Visitation

Some recommendations can be made based on practice experience and the growing body of research reviewed above. The past and potential behavior of men who batter means that joint custody or sole custody to him is rarely the best option for the safety and well-being of the children. In addition to their propensity for continued violence toward children and adult partners, these men are likely to abuse alcohol (Bennett & Williams, 2003), be poor role models (Jaffe, Lemon, & Poisson, 2003), and communicate in a hostile, manipulative manner ( Holtzworth-Munroe, et al. , 2000). As noted earlier, the Model Code State Statute of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges states that there should be a presumption that it is detrimental to the child to be placed in sole or joint custody with a perpetrator of family violence (NCJFCJ, 1994). The model statute emphasizes that the safety and well-being of the child and the parent-survivor must be primary. In addition, states should repeal friendly parent provisions or, at a minimum, say that they have no weight in cases where domestic or family violence has occurred.

The perpetrator’s history of causing fear and physical harm, as well as the potential for future harm to the mother or child, should be considered. A parent’s relocation in an attempt to escape violence should not be used as a factor to determine custody. Courts sometimes label battered women as “impulsive” or “uncooperative” if they leave suddenly to find safety in another city or state. The model statute specifies that it is in the best interest of the child to reside with the non-violent parent and that this parent should be able to choose the location of the residence, even if it is in another state. The non-custodial parent may also be denied access to the child’s medical and educational records if such information could be used to locate the custodial parent.

The model statute (NCJFCJ, 1994) states that visitation should be granted to the perpetrator only if adequate safety provisions for the child and adult victim can be made. Orders of visitation can specify, among other things, the exchange of the child in a protected setting, supervised visitation by a specific person or agency, completion by the perpetrator of a program of intervention for perpetrators, and no overnight visitation (NCJFCJ, 1994). If the court allows a family member to supervise the visitation, the court must set the conditions to be followed during visitation (O’Sullivan, et al., 2006). For example, an order might specify that the father not use alcohol prior to or during a visit and that the child be allowed to call the mother at any time (see Bancroft & Silverman, 2002, for a description of different levels of supervision).

Unsupervised visitation should be allowed only after the abuser completes a specialized program for men who batter (APA, 1996) and does not threaten or become violent for a substantial period of time. Practitioners need to be aware of the strong likelihood that men who batter will become violent in a new relationship and that they often use non-violent tactics that can harm the children. Visitation should be suspended if there are repeated violations of the terms of visitation, the child is severely distressed in response to visitation, or there are clear indications that the violent parent has threatened to harm or flee with the child. Even with unsupervised visitation, it is best to have telephone contact between parents only at scheduled times, to maintain restraining orders to keep the offender away from the victim, and to transfer the child in a neutral, safe place with the help of a third party (Johnston, 1992). Hart (1990) describes a number of safety planning strategies that can be taught to children in these situations.

In response to the need for safe visitation, supervised visitation and exchange programs are expanding rapidly across North America. Many programs follow the standards of the Supervised Visitation Network, an international organization. The standards include a special section on domestic violence that requires policies and procedures designed to increase safety for domestic abuse survivors and their children (http://www.svnetwork.net/Standards.html). In addition, a number of authors and programs have described the special features needed at these programs to increase the safety of domestic abuse survivors, including heightened security, staff knowledge of domestic violence, and special court reviews (Maxwell & Oehme, 2001; Sheeran & Hampton, 1999). Close coordination with family courts, lethality assessment prior to referral, and recognition of common abuser behaviors are some of the ingredients needed for effective operation of these programs (Maxwell & Oehme, 2001). Programs also need to be aware of the risks of keeping detailed intake, observation, and other records because currently they cannot be kept confidential in family court proceedings (Stern & Oehme, 2002, 2007). The evaluation of visitation programs has occurred only on a small scale thus far (e.g., Tutty, Weaver-Dunlop, Barlow, & Jesso, 2006). Finding promising practices is complicated by the growing recognition that not all men who batter are alike and that interventions need to be tailored to different types of abusers, with variations occurring by levels of dangerousness and the motivation to control. A “think tank” of advocates and legal and mental health professionals met in 2007 to explore the implications of such differences for custody and visitation decisions (Dunford-Jackson & Salem, 2007).

In 2003 the Office on Violence Against Women of the U.S. Department of Justice began the Safe Havens program in order to increase awareness of visitation/exchange programs and their community collaborators of the special needs of domestic violence cases. “Safety audit” reports from four demonstration sites are available, covering the role of visitation/exchange centers in domestic violence cases, how to increase culturally sensitive practices, centers’ relationships with courts, and many other topics related to the infusion of domestic violence knowledge and awareness into programming ( http://www.usdoj.gov/ovw/safehavens.htm).

Finally, termination of access needs to be considered more seriously than in the past. Those with a history of severe abuse and who have engaged in high levels of antisocial behavior may never be able to provide the safety and nurturing that their children need (Jaffe & Crooks, 2005; Stover, Van Horn, Turner, Cooper, & Lieberman, 2003).

In conclusion, although there is a need for much more practice experience and research, our current knowledge of risk factors for continued abuse of women and children means that decision-makers must exercise great caution in awarding custody or visitation to perpetrators of domestic violence. If visitation is granted, coordination with the courts, careful safety planning, and specific conditions attached to the court order are crucial for lowering the risk of harm to children and their mothers.

Author of this document:

Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D. Professor, School of Social Work- University of Michigan

saunddan@umich.edu

Consultant:

Karen Oehme, Program Director, Clearinghouse on Supervised Visitation, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

clearinghouse@fsu.edu

Distribution Rights: This Applied Research paper and In Brief may be reprinted in its entirety or excerpted with proper acknowledgement to the author(s) and VAWnet (www.vawnet.org), but may not be altered or sold for profit.

Suggested Citation: Saunders, D. (2007, October). Child custody and visitation decisions in domestic violence cases: Legal trends, risk factors, and safety concerns.. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved month/day/year, from: http://www.vawnet.org

Endnotes

1 A few states set specific standards for meeting the definition of “domestic violence”; for example, “conviction of domestic abuse” and “convicted of a felony of the third degree or higher involving domestic violence.”

2 The term “mediation” can cover many different practices and is not easily defined. Although many regard it as always unsafe for battered women, this view is not universally held, especially if risk assessment is done properly (e.g., Ellis & Stuckless, 2006).

3 Recently, however, concerns have been raised about how well joint custody works in general (e.g., Wallerstein, 2000).

4 Generally, joint physical custody is being referred to here rather than joint legal custody. There is a trend toward the term “shared parental rights” instead of “joint custody.”

5 As of October 2006, 18 states required education on domestic violence for judges (from a document obtained from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: “State Legislation: Mandatory Domestic Violence Training for Judges”).

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Williams, O. J., Boggess, J., & Carter, J. (2004). Exploring the role of abusive men in the lives of their children. In P. G. Jaffe, L. L. Baker, & A. J. Cunningham (Eds.), Protecting children from domestic violence: Strategies for community interventions. New York, NY: Guildford.

Wolfe, D. A. (1985). Child-abusive parents: An empirical review and analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 97 (3), 462-482.

Wolfe, D. A., Crooks, V. L., McIntyre-Smith, A., & Jaffe, P. G. (2004). The effects of children’s exposure to domestic violence: A meta-analysis and critique. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6 , 171-187.

Wofford, S., Elliot, D., & Menard, S. (1994). Continuities in marital violence. Journal of Family Violence, 9, 195-226.

Zorza, J. (1992). “Friendly parent” provisions in custody determinations. Clearinghouse Review, 26 , 921-925.

Zorza, J. (1996). Protecting the children in custody disputes when one parent abuses the other. Clearinghouse Review, 29 , 1113-1127.

Zorza, J. (2000). The UCCJEA: What is it and how does it affect battered women in child-custody disputes. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 35 , 909-935.

Zorza, J. (in press). The “friendly parent” concept – Another gender biased legacy from Richard Gardner. Domestic Violence Report.

Resources for Battered Mothers

Helping Children Thrive: Information for Mothers who Have Left Abusive Relationships, 2004 by Linda Baker & Alison Cunningham Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System London Family Court Clinic 254 Pall Mall St., Suite 200 London, Ontario N6A 5P6 Canada http://www.lfcc.on.ca/index.htm

When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, 2004 by Lundy Bancroft, New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Little Eyes, Little Ears: How Violence Against a Mother Shapes Children as They Grow, 2007 by Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker

Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System, London Family Court Clinic 254 Pall Mall St., Suite 200 London, Ontario N6A 5P6 Canada http://www.lfcc.on.ca/index.htm

Supervised Visitation: Information for Mothers, 2007 Family Violence Prevention Fund 383 Rhode Island St. Suite #304 San Francisco, CA 94103-5133 http://fvpfstore.stores.yahoo.net/supervised-visitation-information-for-mothers.html

Managing Your Divorce: A Guide for Battered Women, 1998 National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges P.O. Box 8970 Reno, NV 89507 http://www.ncjfcj.org/images/stories/dept/fvd/pdf/managing_divorce.pdf


KANSAS MALE CHAUVINIST PIG: JUDGE J. PATRICK WALTERS OF WICHITA

RightsForMothers

These Kansas Judges need to pull their heads out of their ‘god-syndrome’ asses. WTF—

FILED IN: CHILD CUSTODY, CHILD CUSTODY BATTLE, CHILD CUSTODY FOR SALE, CHILD CUSTODY FOR FATHERS, CORRUPT BASTARDS, JUDGE PATRICK WALTERS, KANSAS, MOTHERLESS CHILDREN,NONCUSTODIAL MOTHERS, SHAWN JONES, TAMMY YOUNGQUIST, CHILD CUSTODY FOR ABUSERS

UPDATE (8/26/10): Today is Women’s Equality Day.  Send Judge Walters a “Happy Women’s Equality Day” email: jwalters@dc18.org

During a hearing yesterday in a Sedgwick County Courtroom, mother Tammy Youngquist sought to have contact with her two very young daughters.  She hasn’t seen them in months.  As most mothers who have been run into the ground financially by the abusive ex, she motioned the court pro se….without a lawyer.  Judge J. Patrick Walters refused to entertain anything in the motion she put forward, and when Tammy was quoting something in Kansas Constitution about rights of women, Assmunch Walters asked “Women have rights?“  Then he left the court room.

So the ex (they weren’t even married) continues to keep total control of the little girls and won’t let them see their own mother.  Won’t even let her see a picture of them while they were in court.  Tammy’s older son was “allowed” by BOS (bag of smegma) Shawn Jones, who was alleged to have sexually abused one of the young daughters, to see his sisters’ pictures, and the boy cried.  Control freaks like BOS Shawn Jones are known to try and control access to anything to do with his property (as he thinks of them as), as they make excellent pawns in the sick game of “keep away.”  He’s so lucky to have Chauvenist Pig Judge Walters right there by his side to let him continue the game.  God help these little girls.

There are no plans for their mother to ever see them again.  But they are promising to try and put her in jail next month for child support.  Bravo BOS Shawn, you would make our Asshole of the Month Club if we had one.  You are an embarrassment to me as a veteran of the military…you wear an Officers uniform, you take two little girls from their mother, one who was born in the hospital when you were out messing with another woman.  You and the “replacement mom” (wife #4?) make buckets of money next to what Tammy makes as a part time waitress.  Shame on you.  Your daughters (and this I know personally) will end up damning you for keeping them from their mother and siblings.

See what others say about Judge Patrick Walters, on The Wall of Shame by P & C Justice:

Judge Patrick Walters, here in Sedgwick county needs to be mentioned on your wall of shame, Judge Walters is NOT following the law. He is handing children over to the alleged abusers, he is denying protective parents a right to see their child/children. Kansas statute reads that a parent is entitled to visitation unless visitation would cause danger to the child. Well, in a recent case and others Judge Walters took away parenting time from a mother because she reported abuse. He stated that she was the abuser, how dare he say such thing, this is why so many children are dying because of Judges like Pat Walters. Lets not forget about Daytona Robertson, when the mother asked to have her daughter protected, and the abuse investigated and Judge Anthony Powell took away parenting time of mom and put her on supervised visits and gave Dad sole custody, then just a few months later little Daytona died from abuse in Dads home, Dad didn’t abuse the child but it was in Dad’s home NOT moms. Judge Patrick Walters needs to be removed from the bench, he is a true danger to children of abuse, children who rely on Judges to keep them safe. Judge Patrick Walters also has taken other children away from mom’s after abuse allegations and put the children in foster care, once again how dare him traumatize these children and take them away from the ONE parent who didn’t abuse them and place them with STRANGERS, NO MORE JUDGE WALTERS, you don’t deserve the HONOR of being a Sedgwick County Judge.


Stepmothers Cannot Replace Biological Mothers

By the awesome RANDI James

Stepmothers Cannot Replace Biological Mothers  (emphasis mine)

Myth — Stepmothers are acceptable substitutes for children’s real mothers. [This is the cherished belief of many re-coupled nonprimary caregiving fathers who seek custody, and also of the custody evaluators who indulge them.]

Fact: "It has been consistently found that stepfamilies are not as close as nuclear families (Kennedy, 1985; Pill, 1990) and that stepparent-stepchild relationships are not as emotionally close as parent-child relationships (Ganong & Coleman, 1986; Hetherington & Chlingempeel, 1992, Hobart, 1989) Many clinicians and researchers assume that stepfamilies tend to become closer over time. However, previous longitudinal studies conducted on stepfamilies have found little empirical support for this (Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992; Kurdek, 1991).

"Exploring the Stepgap: How Parents’ Ways of Coping with Daily Family Stressors Impact Stepparent-Stepchild Relationship Zuality in Stepfamilies," by Melady Preece. University of British Columbia. (1996) http://www.psych.ubc.ca/~mpreece/compdoc.pdf

 

Fact: "The one most significant factor that neutralizes the advantages of remarrying is the psychological dilemma the child goes through over whom to love. The child seems to be polarized, for example, between loving the woman (the mother) who is now, as it usually happens, hated by the father, and the new woman (the stepmother) whom the father deeply loves. Virginia Rutter describes this conflict as "divided loyalty". She further explains that the child feels torn because their parents are pulling them in opposite directions. The symptoms of this divided royalty are that they brew up bad behavior or depression, a forced psychological path to resolve the conflict between the parents(Rutter). On the other hand children whose parents remain single do not experience this because no new figure (stepparent) is introduced to trigger that psychological trauma."

"Reconstituted families vs Single-Parent Families." http://wl.middlebury.edu/derick/ ; Rutter, Virginia. "Lessons From Stepfamilies". Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, Inc. May-June 1994 Vol27 n3 p30 (10). Oct. 31, 2002.

Fact: "Adolescents, however, would rather separate from the family as they form their own identities. "The developmental needs of the adolescent are at odds with the developmental push of the new stepfamily for closeness and bonding,".

Id. Also see "NEW PERSPECTIVES ON STEPFAMILIES:STEP IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD," by Susan Gamache, M.A., R.C.C.* STEPFAMILIES, Fall 1994 http://www.saafamilies.org/education/articles/prof/gameche.htm

Fact: "Only about 20% of adult stepkids feel close to their stepmoms, says the pioneering work of E. Mavis Hetherington involving 1,400 families of divorce, some studied almost 30 years. ‘The competition between non-custodial mothers and stepmothers was remarkably enduring," she writes in For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered. ‘Only about one-third of adult children think of stepmoms as parents,’ suggests Constance Ahrons’ 20-year research project. Half regard their stepdads as parents. About 48% of those whose moms had remarried were happy with the new union. Only 29% of those whose dads had remarried liked the idea of a stepmom.’

"Stepmoms step up to the plate," by Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY. 5/6/2002) http://www.usatoday.com/life/2002/2002-05-07-stepmom.htm

Fact: "Stepmothers have the most difficulty building a relationship with stepdaughters. There is generally less affection, less respect, and less acceptance in this relationship than in other stepfamily relationships. The daughter may resent the stepmother’s closeness with her father… Attempts by the stepmother to fulfill her role in the stepfamily may be perceived by the stepdaughter as efforts to replace her mother."

"Building Step Relationships." Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies. http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1832.pdf

Fact: "Stepmothers are also found to have more problematic relationship with stepchildren; while children, particularly girls, also experience higher stress when they are living with their stepmothers. (Jacobson, 1987 in Visher & Visher, 1993). Visher & Visher (1979) suggested that teenage daughters identify strongly with their mothers and resent any woman who replaces their mother for the father’s affection. Teenage daughters also exhibit much competitiveness with their stepmothers for their father’s affection. These findings suggested that there are strong situational dynamics at work that create special relationship problems for stepmother families. Difficulty between the children’s mother and stepmother has also been mentioned as a possible contribution to the greater stress in stepmother families. (Visher & Visher 1988)

"Exploring the Difficulties of stepmothers in the Hong Kong Chinese Society," by Kwok Yuen-ching, Lily.The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (1998) http://swforum.socialnet.org.hk/article/fulltext/990502.doc

Also see: Ganong & Coleman. Remarried Family Relatioships Sage Publications. (1994); Visher, J.S. & Visher, E.B. "Stepfamilies: A Guide To Working With Stepparents & Stepchildren." Brunner/Mazel New York (1979); Visher, J.S. & Visher, E.B. "Old Loyalties,New Ties." Therapeutic Strategies with Stepfamilies Brunner/Mazel New York (1988); Visher, J.S. & Visher, E.B. " Remarriage Families and Stepparenting" in Walsh, T. (ed.) Normal Family Processes. New York Guilford Press (1993); Vuchinich S. et al (1991) "Parent-Child Interaction and Gender Differences in Early Adolescents." Adaptation to Stepfamilies. Developmental Psychology 1991 Vol. 27, No.4; Smith, Donna. "Stepmothering." Harvester Wheatsheaf. New York (1990)

Fact: "Children raised in families with stepmothers are likely to have less health care, less education and less money spent on their food than children raised by their biological mothers, three studies by a Princeton economist have found. The studies examined the care and resources that parents said they gave to children and did not assess the quality of the relationships or the parents’ feelings and motives. But experts said that while the findings did not establish the image of the wicked stepmother as true, they supported the conclusion that, for complex reasons, stepmothers do invest less in children than biological mothers do, with fathers, to a large extent, leaving to women the responsibility for the family’s welfare."

"Differences Found in Care With Stepmothers," by Tamar Lewin, Tim Shaffer for The New York Times Susan Sasse, vice president of the International Stepfamily Association, with her husband, Erik, and their children in Chesapeake City, Md. (August 17, 2000) http://www.geocities.com/thesagacontinues2000/stepmoms.html

Also see http://www.geocities.com/wellesley/9204/custody.html; and "What’s Normal In a Stepfamily"? by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW. Board member Stepfamily Association of America http://sfhelp.org/04/reality3.htm

Also see: Children living with custodial fathers are less likely to have health insurance than children who live with their mothers. http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p60-224.pdf

Fact: "[C]hildren experiencing multiple transitions, experiencing them later in childhood, and those living in stepfamilies fared poorly in comparison with those living their entire childhood in stable single-parent families or moving into two-parent families with biological or adoptive parents. Other studies show benefits of stable single-parent living arrangements for children’s socioemotional adjustment and global wellbeing (Acock & Demo, 1994), and deleterious effects of multiple transitions (Capaldi & Patterson, 1991; Kurdek, Fine, & Sinclair, 1995), supporting a life-stress perspective."

David H Demo, Martha J Cox (2000) Families With Young Children: A Review of Research in the 1990s Journal of Marriage and Family 62 (4), 876-895.

Fact: "[R]esearch suggests that being a stepparent is more difficult than raising one’s own biological children, especially for stepmothers, and that stepmothers may compete with the child for the father’s time and attention."

Pasley, K., & Moorefield, B. S. (2004). Stepfamilies: Changes and challenges. In M. Coleman & L. H. Ganong (Eds.), Handbook of contemporary families (pp. 317-330), cited in Valarie King (2007) When Children Have Two Mothers: Relationships With Nonresident Mothers, Stepmothers, and Fathers Journal of Marriage and Family 69 (5), 1178-1193.

You can read more at the Liz Library

____

We all know good and bad stepmothers, some are well-intentioned, others are…. These women are often in quite a mess of a situation: They are in their 2nd and 3rd marriages, determined to make the current marriage work, insistent that thishusband is the best (or at least a little better than the last), and sometimes constantly having to convince themselves of this. They often already have children that they are fully responsible for and in addition, they become the caretakers of the husband’s children (please read Remarried Custodial Fathers As Caregivers).

Stepmothers generally believe their husband’s word, as gospel, about his ex wife and are often staunch leaders in the attack against his former girlfriends and wives. She must believe it because it was her choice to marry such a "wonderful" man and surround herself in this complex situation. She cannot look stupid, again. Any woman before her can become the enemy in her attempt to boost her self-esteem.

A stepmother is a husband’s greatest advocate. A judge in an Australian child sex abuse custody case opines [on the stepmother]:

"This lady was an impressive person and witness. I thought she was honest and attempting to assist the court. She clearly supports the father and trusts him implicitly. She would not contemplate a future with him if she suspected that he had been abusing his child .

**Custody was given to the father

They can be like Bonnie and Clyde.

(See: Father Let His 12 Year-Old Daughter Die A Slow Hideous Death After Beating and Scalding

Father Accused Child’s Mother of Abuse in Custody Case; Stepmother Kills Child

Father and Stepmother Tortured 9 Year-Old Child

Stepmother Stabs 14 Year-Old Boy

Father and Stepmother Punched Around 8 Year-Old to "Toughen Him Up" and/or as "Play Hitting"

Where was Her Mommy? Dad and Stepmonster Charged with Criminal Mistreatment

Child Abuse Charges for Minnesota Father, Stepmonster)

From Family in Court for Brutal Child Abuse (in a rare case in which a father was charged for failure to protect, emphasis mine):

The future is uncertain for a two-year-old boy allegedly beaten unconscious by his stepmother. As he continues to recover from severe brain injuries, his family appeared before a Lee County judge trying to decide who will take care of young Kaydin on his long road to recovery.

Rosemary Kunz showed up for family court Wednesday morning.

The Department of Children and Families is investigating child abuse allegations against Kunz.

Detectives say she confessed to hitting her stepson, tripping him, and knocking him unconscious.

She went as far as to say she was "addicted to abusing him" and that she "liked to see him cry."

**Kinda makes you afraid to let your kid go with dad. All we ever hear about is stepDADS and mothers’ boyfriends who do the abusing.

Child support is owed to the ex, taking money away from the family, custody battles may ensue…Stepmothers get stressed trying to hold up the family and juggle each situation as it presents. Much anger and resentment is built. I have seen many a stepmother talk absolute shit about her husband’s ex AND the children.

Here’s an excerpt by Leeahn Griffin-Scott:

"The 2nd X is a psychopathicredheadedfreakofnature. I kid you not. This woman is an unmittigated lunatic. My wonderful husband partnered with her as he walked out the door of his first marriage. Long story. My wonderful husband has a 9yr old child to this fool…

I know this is an awful thing to say, but if I never saw his children again it would be too too damn soon. I cannot and never will forgive them for what they have done to their father. I on the other hand, can and should expect some problems. But what they have done to the only parent that loves them more than life itself, is absolutely without question unforgiveable."

Is it her place to judge a woman she truly knows nothing about? Do stepmothers not understand karma?

My advice to stepmothers or potentials would be to do a background check on your prospective mate…maybe all of those injunctions for protection aren’t just "false allegations." Get to know his family members. Keep in mind that their beliefs about him may be exaggerated in either direction. And most of all, don’t make enemies with his ex. Everything that she is saying may not be false…Think about it! She knows him better than his mama because she’s been sleeping with him and putting up with his shit. She knows his mannerisms, habits, friends…She should be your ally because you never know, one day, you made need her assistance so that you can join forces.

On a personal note, I once, very briefly and nebulously tried to tell my ex’s current wife about the abuse we had suffered, and why I was fighting so hard in my custody battle. She told me that she would never allow "those types" of things to go on in her household, and that they had a very "loving" family. Verbatim, she said,

"There are three sides to every story…"

Which I took to mean,

"Whatever, bitch!"

But she was cordial and reminiscent of a virgin. I left it at that.

Here this "woman" was trying to tell me about the man she had been married to for one year. One. I’ve known him for more than a decade.