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Study finds fathers favored in some custody cases

Some mothers in North Carolina might not get custody of their children even if they allege that the other parent is abusing the children. This was one of the findings of a professor at George Washington University Law School. She examined over 2,000 child custody cases in which domestic violence, child abuse and parental alienation were factors and found that courts never affirmed a mother’s claim of child abuse if they agreed that the father was facing parental alienation.

In cases where the mother alleged sexual abuse, only 1 in 51 claims was substantiated if the father also claimed parental alienation. Critics argue that children are being placed in abusive homes, and the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence estimates the number is around 58,000 each year. In many cases, parents simply spend money on legal fees until they are out of money and can no longer appeal.

This was the case for one Maryland mother who says that she learned her husband was sexually abusing their 4-year-old. The court would not allow evidence from an out-of-state social worker, and a custody evaluator assigned by the court said that she was trying to alienate their children from their father. Maryland lawmakers are now looking into ways to bring empirical evidence, such as that gathered in the study, into the courtroom to help judges make custody decisions.

Dealing with child custody and visitation issues can be difficult for parents even when abuse is not an issue. For example, parents must recognize that even if they have very different parenting styles, the child can thrive in both environments. In fact, courts generally start with the assumption that the child should spend time with both parents. Parents may want to create an agreement with certain provisions that are particularly important to them, such as when the child’s bedtime should be.