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Research examines abuse, alienation in custody disputes

Fathers in Texas may still get custody of their children even if the mothers of their children accuse them of abuse. Among the mothers in a study conducted by a professor at George Washington University Law School who were accused of parental alienation and who also said their child was being abused, none had their abuse claims substantiated in court if the father's claim of parental alienation was substantiated.

The study examined over 2,000 custody cases from around the country that involved claims of child abuse, domestic abuse and parental alienation. It found that in cases where a mother alleged that sexual abuse was taking place, only 1 in 51 claims was substantiated if the father also claimed parental alienation. Some critics say that courts are too quick to assume parental alienation, a situation in which a parent turns a child against the other parent. The research of the psychiatrist who advanced the theory has not been recognized by the American Medical Association, and Maryland is looking at ways to apply more empirical research to child custody decisions.

In one case, a mother in Maryland ran out of money to continue appealing against her ex-husband, who she said was sexually abusing their son. The father got full legal custody, and the parents were ordered to allow the children to split time between their homes.

A parent who is concerned about a child's safety in divorce may want to talk to an attorney about what kind of documentation to present if the child is unsafe with the other parent. For example, medical or police reports that support abuse accusations may be helpful. Parents should be aware that if the court does not believe the child is in danger, it will usually try to ensure that he or she has time with both parents.

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