November 22, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Well, that didn’t take long. I’ve been writing about the reaction, by those who apparently want fathers marginalized in their children’s lives, to the latest review of family law in Australia. Their claims have little basis in fact and are best viewed as efforts to maintain the status quo in family courts.
Their main point is that judges routinely ignore mother’s claims of domestic violence and child abuse in order to hand over child custody to abusive fathers. Of course, in many cases judges rule against mothers who claim abuse because there’s insufficient evidence of it or, sometimes, the claims are deliberately fabricated. But according to the likes of Zoe Rathus and Jess Hill, mothers apparently never lie about abuse. If Mom says it happened, it happened. Such seems to be their basic assumption.
Indeed, the headline to the Rathus article was “Parental Alienation: the debunked theory that mothers lie about violence is still used in court.” Never mind that that’s not what PA is and never mind that PA has never been “debunked” and in fact is coming to be more and more understood by legal and mental health practitioners. The key to the Rathus piece (and others) is the assumption that mothers don’t lie about violence or abuse. It’s patent nonsense, but that’s their claim.
Now, hard on the heels of those scurrilous claims, comes a case out of Nebraska that demands an answer from those who claim that, when a mother claims abuse, it’s always the truth. What do they say to every judge in the case and every witness, expert and non-expert alike, who testified under oath that the mother in the case was not only wrong in her claims of abuse, but obviously so? What do they say to the clear evidence that what Mom did in the case was itself abusive of her daughter? Facts are stubborn things, so I’d be interested in their response.
Eric and Kelly Manka were married and, in 2009, had a daughter, Bailey. They soon divorced and Kelly began claiming that Eric was physically and sexually abusing the little girl. Kelly levelled numerous such allegations at Eric, calling the child abuse hotline so often that, eventually, its operators told her that they would accept no more claims from her about Eric.
Kelly took Bailey to hospital emergency rooms claiming abuse, but her claims were never substantiated. She reported her claims to the police who duly investigated, but found no evidence of abuse. Soon enough, the Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s child welfare agency, took Kelly to juvenile court, in part due to her shocking exposure of Bailey to unnecessary medical examinations. In the two years following the divorce, Kelly took Bailey to doctors and hospitals an astonishing 117 times. Many of those involved examinations for rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Understandably Bailey came to fear doctors and strongly resist even when their attention was necessary.
Meanwhile, Eric had been contacted so often by the police, doctors, DHHS caseworkers, lawyers, etc. about Kelly’s allegations that he and his new wife turned their lives upside down in the hope of avoiding future claims. Eric no longer bathed his daughter and was never alone with her. His teenage son by a previous marriage was likewise prohibited from being alone with Bailey. They all were “walking on eggshells,” fearing another claim by Kelly.
For her part, when it was time for her to go back to her mother’s house following visitation with her father, Bailey strenuously resisted.
So, in 2016, Eric asked the court to modify the custody order to give him half of the parenting time and the final say as regards Bailey’s education, religious upbringing and medical care. Prior to that time, he’d had only every-other-weekend parenting time plus a few hours on Wednesday nights, some holidays and time during the summers.
The court agreed with him that Kelly’s behavior was clearly deleterious to Bailey’s well-being and that her continued insistence, against all the findings and evidence, that Eric was abusing his daughter constituted a change in circumstances requiring a change in custody. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
So what about it Ms. Rathus, Ms. Hill? How does this case square with your claims that mothers never lie about abuse? Would you, if you had been the judge, have left Bailey in her mother’s sole care because of your theory that, against all the evidence and common sense, mothers never lie? If so, wouldn’t you have been abetting the mental and emotional abuse of a little girl?
Writers like Rathus and Hill are free to peddle their bankrupt ideology all they want. But judges ruling in child custody matters must look at the evidence. And the facts are that parental alienation is real and parents, including mothers, do sometimes lie in order to gain an advantage in court and marginalize the other parent in the lives of their children. They do that in part because the system all too often rewards that behavior. And it’s that system that needs to change. For the sake of children, for the sake of parents and for the sake of fairness and justice, that system needs to change.