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