New research suggests that family court judges are more likely to award custody of a child to a parent after they make an allegation of parental alienation in cases where the other parent brings up an allegation of child sexual abuse.
Professor Joan Meier’s and Sean Dickson’s research published in 2017 found that family courts only believe a mother’s claim of a child’s sexual abuse 1 out of 51 times (approximately 2%) when the accused father alleges parental alienation.
The investigation also discovered that in cases where alienation is not mentioned, family courts only believe mothers’ claims about child sexual abuse 15% of the time.
Professor Meier, who is a nationally recognised expert in the US on domestic violence and the law told Forbes in August 2018 that a lack of belief in mothers’ claims impacted the way custody decisions were made.
Meier noted that mothers lost custody of their children 28% of the time when they alleged child sexual abuse, with mothers losing custody of their children more than half the time (56%) when alienation was mentioned in the decision.
Meier told Forbes, “Once again we have found that child sexual abuse allegations brought by mothers and children against fathers are almost never credited… In addition, the data confirms what we have seen in the courts — that rates of mothers losing custody to alleged abusers are at their highest when the mothers allege child sexual abuse.”
A report from Court Watch in 2014 also highlighted concerning practices around domestic violence cases in Montgomery County, which Forbes also mentions. The report notes that judges “sometimes appeared to second guess the mother’s description of risk to herself and her children… At times, the manner of these judges appeared highly skeptical, incredulous, even trivializing of the petitioner’s claims.”
Professor Meier has been the national lead on several domestic violence projects in the US, has co-written several important pieces of federal and state legislation, and also trains attorneys, judges and a range of professional organisations.
Sean Dickson is the Senior Manager of Health Systems Integration at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors.
- Mapping Gender: Shedding Empirical Light on Family Courts’ Treatment of Cases involving Abuse and Alienation (Meier’s Research)
- Bitter Custody – Podcast mentioning Meier’s research
- How family courts treat abuse and accusations of alienation – Radio interview with Professor Meier
This research was done on the US Family Court system then? Is there any independent research by UK academic researchers which shows any valid extrapolation to the UK family court system from this research on the US system? Or any relevent UK research on the topic of parental alienation. Or has research only been done in Australia and the US? If any UK resarch exists, can anyone provide the details of the researchers please?
Adrienne Barnett said:
Doughty et al (2018)’s study (Cardiff University and Cafcass Cymru) surveyed the literature and analysed reported cases on parental alienation in England and Wales but filtered out cases involving domestic abuse. There will be a Special Issue of the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law on parental alienation published in early 2020 which will contain at least a couple of articles by UK researchers. However, there is no wide-scale study yet in the UK comparable to Meier’s study.
Thank you for this info 😀
[Name Withheld] said:
I have been in this situation in Ireland.
Father puts loaded gun to child’s head. Son told the judge- and Parental alienation was used.
Father is caught sexually abusing daughter and Parental alienation was used.
Thank you Natasha for highlighting this research.
Thank you for sharing you story, an incredibly courageous act.
There are biases and discrepancies yet some minor truth in Meier’s approach. The bias is that she is a feminist, so the benefit of any doubt is provided to women. There is a huge amount of doubt where the family courts are concerned, and she claims it all. If only the likes of her could be objective, we could actually use her work to press for change.
The family courts are completely dysfunctional and arcane, unable to reliably differentiate between genuine sexual abuse and parental alienation cases. They don’t even do it to the 50% burden of proof they claim to. The product is that the family court inevitably persecutes genuine victims and the falsely accused here, whilst rewarding false accusers and genuine abusers there. There is no real way that the family court differentiates between any kind of case, be it genuine abuse or allegations rooted in a party’s mental health problems; it decides based on whose advocacy it prefers, at best.
The family courts are not equipped for family cases; as a ‘clinical’ lawyer Meier should know this. There is no independent forensic monitoring of the family court to make sure it runs as it should, even on a legal basis. The family courts, and many of the operatives on both sides of the bench, are untrained, pathetic, slow and cruel. Children abused, be it by sexual or physical abuse, or by being alienated, often suffer an additional abuse at the hands of the wrong professionals and the fallacy that judges are adequately skilled. Judges are authorised to sit on family cases; they are not qualified to.
Meier wants it both ways: slating the family courts for getting it wrong indicates she accepts the courts have institutional shortcomings. Here, she is correct. She then wants to induce a bias into the arbitrary workings of the family court, as if that would make it all better.
Professor Tommy MacKay wrote of his experiences in UK family courts: 70% of allegations proved wrong, 90% unsubstantiated, most made by mothers against fathers, with many of the exonerated fathers never seeing their children again. Many of the children in these kind of cases were tracked during litigation timelines and observed to develop clinical disorders. The disorders are inflicted not by the allegations but the institutional failures to get a grip within a timeframe that prevents attachment disorders.
Meier needs to accept that false allegations and parental alienation are two sides of the same coin, so where alienation is apparent, it potentially swings any court to believe the allegations are wrong. Children abused will often still see their abuser. Protecting a child from a real or suspected abuser does not require a parent to alienate the child. Alienation is a more serious abuse than what may be alleged against the supposedly abusive parent. What Meier also misses is that the overwhelming outcome for alienated children in the UK family courts is that they are given assessment, often by inadequately qualified professionals and experts, but denied any useful intervention. Alienation is an effective, litigious weapon. And yes, alienation is deployed by genuine abusers as well. But in twelve years of monitoring, I have only seen one case where a genuine domestic violence abuser did actually have care of the children transferred to him.
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Thanks for your comment. May be worth mentioning she co-wrote the research with a man?
Men can write one-sided articles too. Not really worth mentioning at all.
“twelve years of monitoring” Perhap you could have spent 6 of those also doing a PhD to research, find and present independent evidence for your own ‘observations’ rather than just swinging the usual misogynist ‘feminist’ banner above your head as the easier option.
Oh, I’d love to. But that requires permission from the Family Justice Council to view files. Very rarely given, but when it is, any properly conducted forensic research doesn’t paint the family courts in the best of lights at all. Nor indeed any type of court, or set of judges. Meier’s is not properly conducted; it simply makes assertions that the courts are getting alienation and DV cases mixed up. Unless you can reliably ascertain the truth of allegations, the opinions of this type of research are groundless, and do not present ’empirical’ findings at all, they simply present Meier’s confirmation bias. What’s needed is for a set of cases to be properly managed at court, allegations adequately tested, and apparent alienation adequately investigated. Until we have a reliable set of cases, there is nothing to build the research on. She legitimately raises a problem but skews its presentation. But then most legally qualified persons do little more than advocate one position or the other; the truth is someone else’s problem. She has no facts, but who needs them when you have skills of persuasive narrative and a platform to disseminate your views? What she has done is construct an article veiled as research that, if properly conducted, could have been really useful for genuine domestic violence victims and alienated children alike.
@ionsb65, well if Shroedingers theorum holds true, then any and all research findings including so called empirical ones are always skewed anyway…. So it will always come down to everyone having to make do with the best they’ve got when making or defending a case. Probably the only truth which exists is that we all make our own reality.
Adrienne Barnett said:
lonsb65: you don’t get permission from the Family Justice Council to review court files; you need permission from the Ministry of Justice. It’s not impossible to get, for credible, well-drafted applications. You also need research funding. I’m guessing you haven’t applied for any. And you couldn’t have read Meier’s final research report because it hasn’t been published yet. Perhaps best to reserve judgment until the report is published.
Mike Cox said:
A very even-handed and insightful analysis of the short-comings of “Family” Courts which follow the English common law jurisprudence, and why they are unfit for purpose.
I wouldn’t agree that they follow any jurisprudence, Mike. Mostly, they simply sit in and abuse the court’s authority by fudging each hearing towards the next one. There are plenty of good Hgh Court and Court of Appeal judgments on what to do. If those principles were applied, PA would die out as legal strategy and we’d only be dealing with the mental health cases. I have never seen a case in the lower court handled as the senior courts direct. The quickest resolution I have seen is 6 months, costing the parents £250k between them, The alienated child was in an awful state and needed an intense, in house intervention. He was fine within a week, showing that even the very worst cases where children are brainwashed are solvable. There are many other cases that lasted an entire childhood, only falling out of the courts when the children reached 16. The few good judgments give a false impression of the system might do, and it has to be said that each of those judgments were probably handed down on appeal by judges not doing the everyday work themselves.
Meier does have a point about men using alienation to try to obtain custody. Men do alienate, and make false claims of alienation, which is also cruel because it may cause children to have to undergo intensive programs and transfers that work if kids are alienated but won’t help if not. I have had four cases of men alienating in the last year. Three required no more than some help in pointing stuff out to the court. One was a case where the alienating father had already gained the children and we are trying to reverse that now, but facing the same judges as the mother previously did, who now refuse to accept they might have made a mistake, even though the mother has not seen her kids for two years. In the book, ‘Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law’, the author details a few cases, including one where the father alienated teenagers against their mother in the months before filing for divorce. The book is a far more rounded commentary than Meier’s. I understand it’s planned for an update later this year. But mainly, this is a mental health issue, where personality disorder expresses itself in the scenario of family separation, and of lawyers manipulating the ill parent for their own commercial gain. It just so happens that women are more prone to the disorders than men. They need support, but the “support” on offer in the family court only exists for women who make allegations, because that’s where the money is.
Research involving a clinical population should be done by clinicians using clinical standards and significant findings. The day we are guided by streetsweepers doing research on brain surgery, or lawyers doing research on PA, we are in even more trouble. In the absence of clinically conducted research, Meier’s work is invalid, especially when taking a broad brush to her conclusions. It goes on all the time, sadly. Not sure that the UK research by the Family Justice Council is any better (Jane Ireland’s 2011 research on expert witnesses being one exception). Michael Gove once said that UK Universities are the worst for it; most are so strapped for cash that research and outcomes are for sale.
Mike Cox said:
@lonsb65 – I was referring to your contribution above, rather than than Professor Meier’s!
Ian Josephs said:
What Is far worse than the mothers being routinely disbelieved is the vicious cruelty show by the judges to those mothers.
These mums are forbidden all forms of contact with their children direct or indirect.
Mothers have been jailed for sending a birthday card or waving at their children in the street!Vicky haigh was sentenced to 3 years prison when she met her daughter at a petrol station when her father drove there with the daughter to fill up .The case was raised In parliament and reduced but she still served nearly 2 years.
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Maureen Jenner said:
A balanced view? Almost an impossibility given the facts and historical track records. What biased creatures we humans are, however well educated we like to believe ourselves.
Reaching an objective conclusion is never easy. Where children are concerned, it seems to become well nigh impossible – even for the experts.
But we, and they need to be aware that truth is often stranger than fiction. This is true where the welfare of children is concerned, Here, the manipulation of witnesses is a real threat to truth and justice.
It needs a very shrewd judge to see through the veils of manipulation. There are all too few with this ability – or the gift of seeing the whole picture, particularly when pieces of the jigsaw are missing.
Dear Maureen Jenner,
‘the missing pieces of the jigsaw’ that you refer are the evidence and papers that most Judges do not bother to read. Far too many Judges take the word of the SS, Cafcass and Children’s Guardian as fact. Whilst ignoring a stack of evidence from witnesses and other professionals (not that I would refer to the former as professionals).
In my experience Cafcass are unable to be objective and will portray perpetrators of domestic violence in the most positive light as possible. I fear that parental alienation will be used as yet another excuse to cover up domestic violence by Cafcass.
If I had not gone through it myself, I would have found it hard to believe what Cafcass are really like. They Lied in reports, committed perjury, used bullying tactics, and said in court that I had a personality disorder (have never been diagnosed with one in my life), all because I spoke out about domestic violence (he had other disturbing behaviour as well) and I was opposed to contact because of this. I feel it is important that you know that I have experienced the family courts which is why I have given you a bit of background. I have always spoken with full honesty and integrity and I very quickly learnt that Cafcass will stop at nothing to get results. With this, and the experience of others in mind, I fear that so called ‘parental alienation’ will be just another mask that Cafcass will use to cover up domestic violence.
This seems like a sensible article to me that is backed up with actual figures.
This article is full of fallacies, starting with the title.
The article talks about “… allegation of child sexual abuse.”
But the title conveniently omits the “allegations”.
Then there’s another fallacy, the implication that the allegations of PA cause the Judge to unduly devalue allegations of abuse.
Would you expect that when someone alleges abuse, there are more judgements finding abuse is present than when there are no allegations of abuse? I would.
If so then would you expect that when there are allegations of PA that there would be more findings of PA than if there were no allegations of PA? I would.
So this is not telling us whether the Judges finding of PA or of abuse is accurate. Its data is a curiosity only.
sylvester witter said:
What’s clear about this article is that the author and publisher have something against fathers and children. They encourage abusive women and enable toxic femininity.
Thanks for your comment, Sylvester. Your view is not correct. Please explore the site. As for the article, it relays a development. I’ve made my point about how the site feels about parental alienation, you should read those comments. Please also note that we don’t tolerate rudeness on this site or defamatory language. Cheers.
I would concurs with those statistics being accurate. There is a whole domestic violence industry built upon pushing the lies of women while using children as tools. Kudos to the Judges who see through the lies.
Ian Josephs said:
Now you know why I advise mothers on my site NOT to report sexual abuse of their children by the fathers without absolutely cast iron proof ! Why? Because the courts 98% of the time (accoring to the statistic study) will not only give custody to the father but far worse will order that the mum will have no contact at all with her children and will jail her if she so much a sends them a birthday card !
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The paper seems to promote sexist views that are out of touch with reality. Both men and women abuse children (and their partners), yet the paper promotes the false stereotype that only men abuse women. In peer support forums like the subreddit r/RaisedByNarcissists, Google search suggests that there are more mentions of “nmom” than “ndad” (narcissistic mom / dad).
This form of sexism can make it more difficult for non-stereotypical victims to get justice. It’s dangerous and should not be tolerated.
There is also the subtext that it isn’t “real” abuse unless there is sexual or physical abuse occurring. Most (but not all) abuse victims report that their emotional abuse was more harmful than the physical abuse. This hurts victims when they live in a country where coercive control is not illegal (e.g. in the US).
Ian Josephs said:
If physical abuse leaves you blinded ,lame,or crippled it is worse than emotional abuse
so stop whining ……… !
Also physical injuries can be proved but emotional abuse can usually only be alleged.
Either way jailing parents for emailing their own kids or waving to them in the street must be wrong and the judges who do that should themselves be jailed !
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parental alienation is not a myth but in an already illogical and gender biased environment of Family Court, women’s rights groups are now trying to discredit PA rather than focus on the REAL victims- the children. Each case has its own merit, but rubbishing a stark reality of a cruel child abuse is not in the interests of children. Knowledge is key and PA is recognized by the World Health Organisation as a DISORDER. It is not about women, it is not about men, it is about the welfare and wishes of the child(most definitely the ascertainable wishes rather than the expressed ascertainable wishes- children’s actions speak far louder than words)
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Paul Anderson said:
False Allegations of Parental Alienation like all forms of abuse do exist and are undertaken by both mothers and fathers sadly. But real cases of domestic abuse and parental alienation abuse do exist too!Anyone who wants a balanced view on Parental Alienation may be well informed if they read https://osf.io/zm2kf/ rebuttal of Meier’s “woozled” research by well qualified and experienced experts (Woman & Man) plus a well-considered rebuttal of Adrienne Barnett’s research by a Woman who is not only qualified but has experienced PA herself – https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6011b469294d070cd1a7a415/t/6019cd06e119915dafe3253e/1612303623096/Briefing+Paper+%28Parental+Alienation%29+-+Domestic+Abuse+Bill+%28Committee+Stage%29.pdf