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Report: Family Courts Award Custody to Accused Abusers

According to a new investigative report, family courts systemically discredit claims of child abuse and award custody to the accused parent. (Pixabay)
According to a new investigative report, family courts systemically discredit claims of child abuse and award custody to the accused parent. (Pixabay)
February 14, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Over the past eight years, 58 American children were killed by their custodial parent after a court ignored abuse claims by a protective parent. And according to a new investigative report published by 100Reporters.org, family courts systemically discredit claims of child abuse and award custody to the accused parent.

The author interviewed 30 families from across the nation who lost custody battles even after their children's claim of abuse was substantiated by police or child protective services, only to see the abuse continue.

Reporter Laurie Udesky, an independent journalist who wrote the article, says the crisis is fueled by a lack of accountability in a family court system that too often dismisses credible evidence of abuse, while accepting questionable theories that can subvert the protective parents' credibility.

"There is a dubious theory called parental alienation syndrome that is used to discredit the abuse and it says that the mother is brainwashing the child," she said.

Udesky says it's a systemic problem in which judges, custody evaluators and mediators often see the father as the more confident, credible and financially stable parent.

This is not to say that all custodial parents who abuse their children are men. In the analysis by the Center for Judicial Excellence, for example, of the 58 murders of children by a custodial parent, six of the perpetrators were women.

Udesky believes court officials would benefit from additional training on domestic violence and child sexual abuse.

The article cites research coauthored by Linda Krajewski, an adjunct professor of psychology at San Bernardino Valley College. In that study - Krajewski and her colleagues surveyed almost 400 parents who lost custody while trying to defend their children.

"Quite often the person who has been identified as the perpetrator, as the abuser, winds up getting custody and sometimes we wind up with protective moms losing custody and even being on supervised visitation at least in part because of their efforts to defend their children," she explained.

Krajewski says part of the problem is that the mothers have often been abused themselves, and suffer symptoms of PTSD that hamper their ability to present themselves well in court. Also, she notes that the fathers can often afford much more effective legal representation. For some 27 percent of these protective parents who lost custody and ultimately declared bankruptcy, the average costs were about $100,000.

This story was produced in partnership with Laurie Udesky for 100reporters.org, based on original reporting Udesky produced as an associate of the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, and supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY