NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

dadand daughterSeptember 27, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Last time I began discussing an article in the Washington Post that makes the remarkable claims that (a) claims of domestic violence, child physical abuse and child sexual abuse by mothers result in their losing custody to abusive fathers and (b) much of that comes about due to fathers’ allegations of parental alienation that is a “controversial claim.”  For the most part, Post writer Samantha Schmidt reports those claims unquestioningly.  Her sole “balance” consists of a quotation from law professor Nicholas Bala who points out that the study that’s the article’s raison d'être relies on selection bias to make its claims.

Now, that fact alone should be enough to render the study questionable at best.  I’ll say more about the study in a future piece, but for now I’ll only point out that it was conducted by law professor Joan Meier who’s not only long been a frank enemy of fathers maintaining meaningful relationships with their children following divorce, but is willing to make some quite astonishingly untrue claims in order to do so.

Back in December of 2017, Meier wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in which she said,

The reality is that fathers have been winning [custody] far more than mothers for decades and that joint custody or shared parenting is already the overwhelming norm in state family courts.

Seriously, she said that.  In writing.  Never mind that there’s literally no serious evidence for anything she said.  Never mind that the best study ever done of court decisions when compared with parents’ requests in court, Maccoby and Mnookin’s Dividing the Child, found that courts grant mothers’ requests for custody at four times the rate of fathers.

And never mind the surveys in which judges and lawyers alike frankly acknowledge the pro-mother bias of family courts.  And never mind the data from, for example, the states of Washington, North Dakota and Nebraska that show far, far greater rates of maternal custody than paternal.

For 26 years, the U.S. Census Bureau has tracked who gets custody of children and who doesn’t.  In 1993, maternal custody stood at 84%.  Today it’s 81%.  But according to Meier, “fathers have been winning far more than mothers,” and have done so “for decades.”  Strange how the Census Bureau never picked up on that.

In short, Meier doesn’t exactly obscure her agenda.  Despite the fact, the Post’s Schmidt channels her claims with virtually no questions asked.  That’s too bad because Meier’s claims are nothing if not questionable.

So, for example, Schmidt barely notices the difference between claims of abuse and actual abuse.  Students of the custody wars in family courts well know that claims of abuse, whether true or not, are sometimes deployed solely to gain an advantage.  But time and again, both Schmidt and Meier (whom she liberally quotes) make no mention of whether the claims of abuse made by mothers were true or not.

When the claim is that judges insufficiently credit mothers’ claims of abuse, one would think that the issue of whether those claims are true or not would be important, but they seem not to be to Meier and barely so to Schmidt.  Buried far down the page we find this:

 Meier acknowledged that the findings do not demonstrate that courts’ denials of abuse claims were wrong — only that they are happening at very high rates.

That of course raises the salient point: if the courts denying claims of abuse were getting it right, then what’s the problem?  It’s a question neither Meier nor Schmidt can answer.  Remarkably, neither even tries.

And, as Prof. Bala pointed out, Meier makes no effort to distinguish between types of abuse claimed.  So a push or shove rates the same in her study as a fatal stabbing.  Needless to say, that failure on her part casts serious doubt on her thesis that courts’ pro-dad stance ends up hurting kids.  Over the years, we’ve adopted some very expansive definitions of what constitutes domestic violence.  Needless to say, violence is no way to solve familial problems, but what neither Meier nor Schmidt addresses is what sorts of abuse should be sufficient to deprive a child of a parent.  Should Mom pushing Dad one time suffice to separate her from her child?  What if Dad tries again and again to get Mom to curb her spending?  Few would say ‘yes,’ but what Meier’s answer remains a mystery.

Read Part 1 here

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