Child abuse: when family courts get it wrong
States must reform a system that too often awards custody to the abusive parent.
San Rafael, Calif
When a parent harms his or her own child, family courts are supposed to step in and safeguard the victim.Skip to next paragraph
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Can you imagine what a tragedy it would be if courts awarded custody to the wrong parent – the abuser?
Actually, according to one conservative estimate, more than 58,000 children per year are ordered by family courts into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States.
The fact that this type of scandal is taking place in the American justice system defies the imagination. Not since the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal has the US seen this level of institutional harm inflicted on innocent children.
Consider the case of Jonea Rogers, a hairstylist from Marin County, Calif. During her costly divorce, she sought help from numerous law enforcement, child protection, and family court authorities to protect her daughter from what medical evidence and reports by the child and her baby sitter suggested could be ongoing neglect or sexual abuse or both by the girl's father or grandfather.
None of the authorities she approached would effectively intervene to protect her daughter. So in 2000, Ms. Rogers eventually felt that she had no choice but to flee with her child to protect her.
More than three years later, this protective mother was caught and jailed for five months, while her daughter was immediately handed over to her alleged abusers. Rogers faced criminal charges for violating a court order by fleeing with her child. After considering the evidence in her case, a jury of her peers completely exonerated her of all wrongdoing.
The very same evidence that exonerated her in the criminal court had been called "frivolous" by the family court judge and disregarded. Despite her acquittal, Rogers was never granted custody of her daughter, who lives with her alleged abusers to this day. She is now forced to pay a fee to visit with her daughter a few times a month in a supervised visitation facility.
As we see in many cases across the country, even when physical or sexual abuse of children is alleged during a divorce, American family courts routinely award custody to the parent with an established record of domestic violence restraining orders, child abuse, neglect, alcoholism, addiction, dangerous mental illness, or a combination.
Meanwhile, the child's other parent, commonly referred to as the "protective parent," is typically demonized by court professionals as an "alienator" for bringing evidence of child abuse to the court's attention.
This happens because the reigning paradigm in family courts across the country is an unscientific, discredited theory known as "Parental Alienation Syndrome," or PAS.
PAS and its many derivatives suggest that the parent who asks the court to protect his or her child by limiting the alleged abuser's access to that child is "alienating" the child from the other parent.
The theory suggests that a parent "coaches" a son or daughter to fabricate false abuse allegations, and the court's attention immediately shifts away from investigating an alleged crime and instead focuses on the "uncooperative parent" who refuses to share custody of the child with the alleged abuser or molester.