Family Court Custody Crisis

What is a Protective Mother?

Protective mothers protect their children from an abusive parent who is attempting to obtain custody of their children.

These cases often involve child abuse and child sexual abuse as well as domestic violence. New research from the Department of Justice shows that in more than 80% of decisions, judges in custody court cases award custody or unsupervised visitation to dangerous abusers.

Violent parents are not good role models.

The Saunders Study, a major study by the National Institute of Justice, found bad practices were behind most of the worst decisions. These include a belief in Parental Alienation Syndrome, a lack of knowledge about domestic violence and child abuse, and the discredited belief that women frequently fabricate allegations of child abuse and domestic violence.

Judges must be tougher on abusers if they are to protect children.

Click the button to read more about the crisis in the custody courts.

Are you a protective mother?

Have you left your violent partner? Are you thinking of leaving? As a protective mother you are not alone. Check out our resources page for protective mothers.

A mother’s impulse to love and protect her child appears to be hard-wired into her brain, a new imaging study shows.

New York Times



Domestic violence is a crime. Why do judges overlook that when making custody decisions?
Only a very small percent of reports of domestic violence result in police records, and even fewer of those result in criminal convictions.

Plus, a great deal of crippling domestic violence isn’t physical (it may be entirely emotional or financial) and as such is technically legal. That means there are a lot of divorces involving domestic violence that don’t have police records, only the word of the victim.

An improperly-trained or prejudiced judge is likely to assume the protective mother is making these allegations in order to get a leg up in custody through a discredited theory called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). And as such, a logical response to her “push” is to “push back” in the opposite direction.

Tales of documentation proving domestic violence or child abuse going “missing” from files are also fairly common among this group.

How often does this happen?
It’s hard to know, but nationally, 3.8% of divorces are considered “high conflict”, and 75-90% of these involve domestic violence. Research also shows 13% of divorces involve allegations of DV or child abuse, obviously the overlap isn’t perfect.  
What’s the relationship between child abuse, domestic violence and the family courts?

Men who abuse their partner are much more likely to abuse their children, so there is a lot of overlap. Each form of violence can happen without the other, but it is important to remember that both direct abuse and living with an abused mother are Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Why would someone who abuses their children want custody of them?
When an abuser does this, their main motivation is to further control their partner. Sometimes the threat of custody is used to encourage the victim to drop charges against the abuser. In the case of sexual abuse, the abuser may want continued sexual access to the children. And even abusive parents will often enjoy parts of their parenting experience. Another facet of this is that this is a way for the abuser to drag the victim into court, again and again, to drain her resources and emotionally exhaust her. This is called Domestic Violence by Proxy; rather than directly abuse his partner, the abuser is using the legal system to hurt and control her.   
Doesn’t CPS investigate allegations of child abuse?
Yes. And CPS is generally over-worked, inconsistently supervised, and under-trained. Nationally, workers only stay in their job for an average of nine months; not nearly enough time to learn all there is to know about something so complex. The same incorrect beliefs about women and children frequently making false allegations of child abuse during custody disputes tend to work their way into CPS. So it’s common for CPS to unfound a case that later gets indicated, a case for which there is abundant evidence, etc. This is exacerbated by the fact they generally have little to no training in domestic violence. So while it’s important that CPS does their job, it’s also important to realize they don’t always have the expertise courts assume they do.  
How do courts assess for domestic violence or child abuse?
Courts rely heavily on court appointed psychologists. Unfortunately, training in psychology doesn’t make someone an expert in domestic violence. Richard Gardner, the psychiatrist who invented Parental Alienation Syndrome, stated in his writings that child sexual abuse wasn’t common or terribly harmful, and this belief has also worked its way into the world of court ordered psychologists.

Another place where psychologists fail protective mothers is with evaluations; it’s common that an abuser will “look” more normal during an evaluation than the woman he has abused who is in danger of losing her children. And one of the stranger misapplications of psychological testing is using the Able test (which tests for sexual attraction to children) as evidence that someone did, or did not, sexually abuse a child. This is like using someone’s checking account balance to “prove” they didn’t steal money.

How can a judge justify putting a child at risk for abuse?
Most judges who make such horrifying decisions would say child abuse is terrible. But without the ACE study to prioritize different kinds of harm, a child “alienating” from an abusive parent can be interpreted as being as harmful as experiencing outright abuse. Without the guidance of the ACE study, it’s common to think of some types of child abuse as being “more severe” or ”less severe” than others; the ACE study proves it all is a matter of life and death.
Do all of these cases look similar and follow a similar path?
No, but they all have some common elements. The most litigious cases tend to involve participants with money, because litigation costs money. Some cases are handled almost entirely by CPS, which can be extremely dysfunctional. These cases often involve allegations of abuse by both parents. In some cases, there is domestic violence and no child abuse, in some there is child abuse but no domestic violence.
I know substance abuse is a common problem among battered women. What’s the appropriate decision when there is a battering father and a drug-addicted mother?
Living with a parent with a chemical addiction isn’t healthy for children and is an ACE. However, someone is much more likely to quit a chemical addiction than to cease battering their intimate partner, especially if the addicted person is using alcohol or drugs to cope with their abuse.

The same logic applies to mental illness; the intense stress of being abused exacerbates it, and acute symptoms are likely to fade once there is separation from the abuser. Many people can successfully parent with mental illness if they have proper support. Some mothers abuse their children, but will stop once they are separated from their abusive partner, and some won’t. All of these risk factors and variables can be weighed successfully by someone with genuine expertise in child abuse. When left to court ordered mental health evaluators, what’s likely to happen is that a laundry list of each parent’s mistakes and weaknesses is formed. And the person with the most money and the most power is likely to have the shortest list. That’s rarely the protective mother.

I’m in an abusive relationship. I have kids. I’m about to leave. I’m scared my husband will do this to me. What should I do?
It’s important to remember that not all cases get mishandled. Leaving is important to ensuring the protection of your children, and if you don’t, it’s possible you will run afoul with CPS.

Call your local domestic violence shelter, even if you don’t plan on staying there. DV shelters may have a resident lawyer or paralegal who can provide advice and help you with the necessary paperwork. Keep documentation of anything that can be considered evidence of child abuse and domestic violence, including police reports, medical records, and all reports with CPS. Learn about the laws in your state, and reach out to support groups.

Why does this happen to children?
The Saunders Study, a major study by the National Institute of Justice, found bad practices were behind most of the worst decisions. These included a belief in Parental Alienation Syndrome, a lack of knowledge about domestic violence and child abuse, and the belief that women frequently fabricate allegations of child abuse and domestic violence.

Family Court Custody Crisis

New research from the Department of Justice confirms what many mothers know already. The custody court crisis means too many courts are making dangerous decisions that send children of divorce to live with violent domestic abusers and child molesters. Studies show this is the rule, not the exception.

What is a Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a discredited theory created by Dr. Richard Gardner for use against protective mothers in custody and divorce proceedings.  PAS is not based on any research but rather the personal beliefs, experience and bias of Dr. Gardner who believed that virtually all reports of domestic violence or child abuse must be false.  PAS is not recognized by any legitimate scientific organization and is not included in any version of the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).