The first ever national study has confirmed that mothers who make complaints of child abuse against a father in court are more likely to lose contact rights with their children.

The research also found that this risk doubled when a father made a counter-claim of parental alienation, leading the researchers to conclude that “alienation trumps abuse”.

The data revealed the following:

  • When fathers alleged mothers were engaged in alienation, regardless of any abuse claims, they took contact rights away from her 44% of the time;
  • When the genders were reversed, and fathers started out with custody of the children, courts removed children from fathers and placed them with mothers  only 28% of the time;
  • Even when the father’s abuse was proven in court, mothers who had alleged that abuse still lost custody in 13 % of the cases;
  • By contrast, fathers lost custody only 4% of the time when a mother’s abuse was proved in court;
  • Overall, fathers were much more likely than mothers to win contact disputes when claiming alienation.

The US study was produced by Professor Joan Meier, a nationally recognised expert in the US on domestic violence, and Sean Dickson, and is the second piece of research they have published on this topic.

A pilot version of the study was published in 2017 and found that family courts only believed a mother’s claim of a child’s sexual abuse 1 out of 51 times (approximately 2%) when the accused father alleged parental alienation.

The investigation went on to discover that in cases where alienation is not mentioned, family courts only believed mothers’ claims about child sexual abuse 15% of the time.

The final study, published in January 2020, and funded by the US Justice Department, revealed that alienation’s impact was gender-specific, and that fathers alleging mothers were abusive were not similarly undermined when mothers cross-claimed alienation.

However in non-abuse cases, the data held that alienation had a more gender-neutral impact.

The research incorporated published court opinions available online between 2005 and 2014, and used those judgments to create a data set of 4,388 custody (child contact) cases.

The team classified the cases into different types of abuse allegations by either parent:

  • Domestic violence against the mother,
  • Child sexual abuse, and;
  • Child physical abuse.

The study also included allegations that one parent was trying to alienate the child from the other parent.

As in their pilot study, Meier and her research team found that only 1 out of every 51 cases in which a mother reported child sexual abuse by the father was believed, when the father claimed parental alienation.

Another recent study in Canada made strikingly similar findings.

Many thanks to Kelly Williamson, who tweeted the new research.