(WOMENSENEWS)–Going through a custody battle is like going through a war. One does not emerge unscathed. Yes, one may learn important lessons, but one may also be left broken and incapable of trusting others, including our so-called justice system, ever again.
Custody battles can take a very long time. They range from only several years to more than 15 or 20. They may have profound legal, economic, social, psychological and even medical consequences for years afterward, perhaps forever.
What’s changed since I first started researching and writing about custody battles?
Documented domestic violence does get factored in somewhat more than before. Where real assets exist, judges have the power to award more of them to mothers and children. Fewer mothers and fathers automatically lose custody or visitation because they are gay or because they have high-powered careers.
However, certain injustices (crimes, really) that I first began tracking in the late 1970s have now gotten much worse. For example, battered women are losing custody to their batterers in record numbers. Children are being successfully brainwashed by fathers, but many mothers are being falsely accused of brainwashing. Worse: Children with mandated reporters–physicians, nurses or teachers–who report to them that they have been sexually abused by their fathers are usually given to those very fathers. The mothers of these children are almost always viewed as having "coached" or "alienated" the children and, on this basis alone, are seen as "unfit" mothers.
‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’
I understand that this sounds unbelievable. But it is still true. The mothers of raped children, who are also described as "protective" mothers, are seen as guilty of "parental alienation syndrome." The fact that this concept, first pioneered by Dr. Richard Gardner and widely endorsed by fathers’ rights groups, has been dismissed as junk science does not seem to matter. Most guardians ad litem, parenting counselors, mediators, lawyers, mental health professionals and judges still act as if this syndrome were real and mainly find mothers, not fathers, guilty in this regard. In 2010 the American Psychiatric Association was still fighting to include a new disorder in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders": the parental alienation disorder, to replace the debunked parental alienation syndrome.
In 2009 and 2010 more than 50 mothers from 21 U.S. states and a number of foreign countries all shared their stories with me. Their cases took place between the late 1980s and 2010. Some cases are still ongoing.
In some instances, I spoke with the mothers in person or at length on the phone. Some mothers filled out questionnaires, but many also sent additional narratives and documentation. Some mothers sent me eloquent, beautifully written, full-length memoirs. Some wrote pithy but equally heartbreaking accounts of their marriages and custody battles.
With a few exceptions, most of my 2010 mother-interviewees said that the system was "corrupt" and that lawyers and judges don’t care about "justice," are "very biased," or can be "bought and sold."
Feeling Actively ‘Disliked’
These mothers said that social workers, mental health professionals, guardians ad litem and parent coordinators–especially if they were women–actively "disliked" and were "cruel and hostile" to them as women. (Perhaps they expected women to be more compassionate toward other women. In this, they were sadly mistaken.)
Also, many mothers found that female professionals were often completely taken in by charming, sociopathic men ("parasites," "smother-fathers"), dangerously violent men, and men who sexually abused their children.
Perhaps the mothers who sent me their stories were married to uniquely terrible men who used the court system to make their lives a living hell; perhaps mothers who did not write to me had the good fortune to have been married to and divorced from far nicer men.
Good fathers definitely exist. Some fathers move heaven and earth to rescue their children from a genuinely mentally ill mother but do not try to alienate the children from her. If the mother has been the primary caretaker, some fathers give up custody, pay a decent amount of child support (and continue to do so) and work out a relationship with their children based on what’s good for both the children and their mother.
These men exist. They do not launch custody battles from hell.
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Dr. Phyllis Chesler is emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies and the author of 15 books, including "Women and Madness" and "Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman." She is a cofounder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women’s Health Network. She can be reached through her Web site: http://www.phyllis-chesler.com.
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