In The Courts

Courts Must Open Eyes and Ears to Abused Children

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My story is a case study of what is happening in many courtrooms where good mothers are having their children taken from their arms and handed over to their abusers. We must change our system so protective mothers and abused children are treated fairly.

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Credit: SalFalko on Flickr, under Creative Commons

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(WOMENSENEWS)-- My long involvement in our often archaic and biased judicial system is a journey that should never have been necessary in the face of abuse that should never have occurred.

Not much has changed since my battles began, and the myth that mothers make more false allegations of abuse than fathers during divorce and custody battles still holds sway in too many courtrooms. This remains true even though the American Bar Association reports fathers are far more likely than mothers to make intentionally false accusations (21 percent compared to1.3 percent). Change, dramatic change, is needed now, to end these tragic outcomes.

At the outset, I had full custody of my little girl and her father had limited visits twice a week.

Legal Remedies

  1. Move cases like this one to criminal court since sexual abuse and assault are crimes. If one adult does this to another, we call this a crime; why not when a parent rapes and molests a child? Do not let this be addressed in family and child custody courts.
  2. Ensure "safety first" for children who report abuse, including safety from those about whom there are reports of sexual and other physical abuse.
  3. Bring in multidisciplinary teams and forensic interviewers to videotape the children's testimony and/or descriptions of the abuse they are experiencing.
  4. Recognize parents who are acting in good faith.
  5. Completely discontinue parental alienation syndrome and similar arguments.
  6. Require the courts to consider past and/or present domestic violence, the abuse of the protective parent herself.
  7. Build effective oversight and accountability for judges and training in this arena.
  8. Require continuing education taught by experts in child sexual abuse and domestic violence for all court professionals and judicial officers. Include exams to certify passing these courses.
  9. Develop a system to more easily remove incompetent, poorly trained professionals, including judges and custody evaluators.
  10. Require disclosure of conflicts of interest on the part of all involved in these legal processes at all levels. Require judges to receive training about psychopaths and how they can manipulate the legal processes and family courts.

But after raising sexual abuse allegations against her father, and spending three years in the family court trying to protect my daughter, I was reduced to one-hour-a-week supervised visits for eight years and treated as if I were a hardened criminal. This was all due to a custody evaluator's opinion through an "ex-parte" (a hearing without all the parties present). That evaluator cited Dr. Richard Gardner's debunked "parental alienation syndrome" and left out all medical reports, police reports and pre-school teacher reports.

The ordeal began the day I took my beautiful little girl Ami, freshly bathed, with her dark hair in a high ponytail and wearing a pink dress, to her day care center. On the way I imagined how her father would pick her up for his three-hour visitation that afternoon.

That evening, I went to his house to pick up Ami. I knocked and waited until he finally came to the door. He waved me in and said he would get Ami. As I waited, I noticed that Ami's beautiful clothes were strewn about the living room floor.

When he brought her down, Ami was wet, nude and limp in his arms. Her arms dangled at her sides, her ponytail was out of its band and her hair was matted. She was soaked with sweat. My heart sank and my gut pulled tight. "What happened to her?" I asked him. He looked at me with a strange smirk. That may have been the first time he abused our daughter. And that terrible sight of him carrying her down the stairs limp in his arms would wake me out of sleep over and over, causing me to sit straight up in my bed shocked and horrified.

Fighting a Hydra-Headed Monster

No words can express what it is like to realize your child is being sexually abused. My precious little girl would tell me and others about unimaginable things that were happening to her that made my heart feel like it was getting ripped out. But trying to stop the abuse was like fighting a hydra-headed monster.

Each year, 58,500 children who seek protection from abuse through the U.S. family courts are ordered into the custody of a violent or sexually abusive parent.

A mother risks losing custody when she fights to protect her child from the child's abusive father. These cases then get turned against her. Research published in 1999 in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse found that when a father wants custody he wins it 70 percent of the time. When a parent is accused of child abuse by the protective parent the abuser gains full or partial custody 90 percent of the time. And where there is domestic violence, the court tends to overlook the fact that these abuses were perpetrated by the same man.

This abuse of the child becomes part of the overall abuse scenario, complicating and magnifying the pain as the abuser gains control of the child while losing control of the mother in the divorce. The people who are supposed to be protecting these children (judges, custody evaluators, court appointed specialists, social workers) are failing miserably.

When the child resists going with the abuser and the mother asks the family court to protect the child, the mother is often cast as the one in the wrong, said to be alienating the child from the father. This so-called parental alienation syndrome, concocted to create compassion for fathers accused of pedophilia, has been debunked as junk science but remains influential in the courts. It has helped abusers retain custody and subjected mothers who make the accusations to gag orders, jail sentences and loss of custody.

When I went through this over 20 years ago I didn't know any of this. I had no indication of what was happening. I lost courtroom battle after courtroom battle. The more I fought the system the more time the father got with my daughter. And this was in the face of physical evidence of his sexual abuse in doctor reports, hospital reports, police reports and day care provider and pre-school teacher reports. All of these were either ignored or suppressed by the court. Worst of all Ami, the child being abused, had no voice. My child was not heard!

The Same Story

After I lost custody in 1992, I was asked to testify before Congress with 10 other mothers who had cases like mine. Each one of those women could have been telling my story. I finally saw I was not alone. There are thousands of these cases. That day I was empowered and vowed to never stop fighting this great injustice.

I managed to hold myself together psychologically so I couldn't be labeled hysterical, vindictive or inept in any way, but it did not matter. Women will be labeled as crazy, hysterical, dishonest, lying, coaching the child. If women in my situation show their distress they are called emotional and unstable. If they are stoical they are described as lacking emotion and insincere. I truly felt that if we had been living in another time, this would have been a "Salem Witch Hunt" and I surely would have been burned alive at the stake.

I paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, therapy and evaluations. I was ordered to pay the abuser's attorney fees and child support. Left with only one hour a week of contact with my child, I was beyond devastation. And my poor little girl must have felt abandoned by her maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who were barred by the courts from seeing her. My daughter was isolated and silenced. The abusing parent gained complete control of her life. Imagine her pain and my anguish.

I got my daughter back after eight years of supervised visits when she was 12. I never regained custody but when she was 13 I was finally allowed 50 percent shared time.

Most mothers who go through court battles like mine can't bear the pain of supervised visits and other barriers to their children. They can't bear not being able to protect their children. They expend themselves in all directions and become emotionally and financially depleted. If they try to run with the child, they will face pursuit by the FBI and the risk of prison. The stress and pain is more than unbearable. I have watched mothers go to jail, commit suicide and die inside every day.

I am so sorry to say this is still going on. My story is one of hardship and pain. It is also one of fighting for what is right, making a difference and getting this information out to the world.


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Falsely accused dad still mending his life after 15 years of hell

by Mike McPhee, Denver Post

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.

Monday, September 20, 2004 — An Arapahoe County jury recently found Children's Hospital and a physician's assistant guilty of outrageous conduct and invasion of privacy for falsely accusing a man on national television of sexually molesting his daughter.
The father and his daughter have asked for $1.25 million in damages. Judge J. Mark Hannen is expected to rule soon on the damages.
The father, Peter Liggett, said his life turned into a nightmare 15 years ago when he filed for divorce. According to court documents, his wife became so enraged during their bitter divorce battle that she began accusing him of molesting their daughter, who was 2 at the time.
Liggett adamantly denied the accusations as health officials began examining the daughter.
No evidence of abuse was found, but the wife persisted in her accusations, according to Liggett's attorney, Jeff Pagliuca.
Just the weight of the accusations was enough to tip Liggett's world upside down. He lost his roofing company, his home, his family and nearly his mind, he said.
"It was the most difficult thing I've ever been through," Liggett said.
Eventually two judges, acting separately, ruled there were no grounds for the accusations and ordered the wife to stop.
But even after the couple was divorced, the mother continued to accuse Liggett. In October 1991, she took her daughter to Children's Hospital, where pediatric physician's assistant Donna Nelligan examined the girl's genital area twice, according to court documents.
Nelligan concluded that the girl's vaginal condition had undergone changes from the previous year so she reported the findings to social services, according to court documents.
Finally, Arapahoe County Judge Michael Bieda ruled that the charges were without merit and that everyone had suffered enough.
He wrote a 19-page opinion dismissing all investigations, prohibiting further examinations of the girl and gagging everyone from talking with the media, Pagliuca said.
A few years later, CNN began interviewing families in which children had been used as pawns in family wars. The network set up cameras in the Children's Hospital emergency room, then interviewed the mother, Nelligan and others.
In 1996, CNN broadcast nationally a show titled "Parental Alienation Syndrome," examining families in which one spouse persuades the child to turn against the other spouse, sometimes even fabricating accounts of sexual abuse.
On air, Nelligan told the interviewer that she had found evidence of "inappropriate sexual contact" in the Liggett's daughter's vagina.
Liggett, nearly penniless and alone, became enraged.
"I asked more than 20 lawyers to take my case, but no one would touch it," he said, saying they refused because of CNN's financial strength to defend itself and because of Children's Hospital's good reputation.
So in 1997, he sued CNN and the hospital without using a lawyer. For three years he fought gallantly, but feebly, until attorney Joyce Seelen agreed to take his case. She managed to negotiate a financial settlement with CNN before she retired and her former partner, Pagliuca, picked up her cases.
The jury returned a guilty verdict against Nelligan and the hospital for conspiracy, negligence and outrageous conduct, Pagliuca said.
Defense attorney Alan Schuchman said the defendants would not comment.
Liggett has since patched his life back together.
He was awarded custody of his daughter but now shares parenting with his ex-wife. After undergoing surgery to replace both of his hips, he recently started a residential real estate brokerage business.
"I don't know whether I should hide in the corner or stand on a mountain and shout about what happened to me," Liggett said.

Staff writer Mike McPhee can be reached at 303-820-1409 or

I find this story lacking in many ways. It is a terrible story, but where are the facts? Where are the sources used to make the story? There are always a few select cases that may somehow get through the ultra feminist legal system, but those are few and far between. For every verified story you bring, I can bring you 10 equally devestating stories from men. There are numerous accusations and statistics thrown into this report without citations. I have actual citations that completely differ from this story. I guarantee that 70% of men who ask for costudy do not get it. That makes it even more impossible for 90% of abusers to get custody. This story is completely lacking in factual content, but it makes a great story to try and promote the lies it tells.

My bet is that the multitude of judges, magistrates, doctors, psychiatrists, and child specialists found her to be as lacking in credibility as you do. This story is preposterous.

This link highlights a similar situation where the courts are making harmful decisions with little recourse. This is but 1 of many similar situations. Part of the problem is that deadbeat controlling men seem to think they can force a woman to keep a child the birthmother feels will be better off in a different home. Then they expect to show up whenever they feel like it so they can fool themselves into believing they are fathers. There has to be a better solution..especially in situations like this.

This is terrible and truly tragic. Even some scientists who support the idea of parental alienation like Ira Turkat say there is not proper research on alienation and even his own proposal called divorce related malicious parent syndrome has no scientific evidence. Courts need to get much better at protecting abused children in cases like this, its really inexcusable. I am so sorry for you, and my heart goes out to you. See and



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