Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Parental alienation used against mothers in custody disputes

In the 1980s, a child psychiatrist introduced the theory of "parental alienation," which claims that many child sexual abuse allegations against fathers are made up by vengeful mothers to wrongfully gain custody of their children. Over the years, many experts have noted that this theory is not backed by science. However, a new study finds that the concept still regularly appears in child custody cases in Virginia and across the U.S., usually to the detriment of mothers.

For the study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, researchers from the George Washington University Law School analyzed opinions from 4,388 custody cases alleging abuse by either parent that were published online between 2005 and 2014. The types of abuse allegations listed in the cases included child sexual abuse, child physical abuse and domestic violence against the mother.

The study found that when a father accused a mother of making up abuse allegations to alienate their children from him, family courts removed the kids from her custody 44% of the time. However, when mothers accused fathers of parental alienation, the courts took the kids from him only 28% of the time. In parental alienation cases where abuse claims against a father were proven to the court, mothers still lost custody 13% of the time. The authors of the study concluded that "alienation trumps abuse" in many custody cases, and they urged family courts to use greater care when considering allegations of parental alienation, particularly since it is not backed by science.

Parents facing child custody disputes might benefit from contacting a family law attorney. The attorney may be able to offer advice throughout the legal process and work to negotiate favorable agreements on child custody, child support, visitation rights and other important legal matters.

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