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Abuse and alienation in child custody cases

Despite the widely-held belief that fathers face discrimination in family courts in Virginia and across the country, some research indicates that they are actually favored, even when credible allegations of abused are raised by mothers. According to one study of over 2,000 child custody cases involving allegations of child abuse, domestic violence and parental alienation, researchers found that allegations of parental alienation were frequently held to trump abuse claims, even when children spoke about their own experiences of abuse. In the past, mothers were often assumed by default to be the more appropriate caregiver for a child. In seeking to correct that bias, some courts may overcorrect, even when abusive fathers are involved.

Research indicates that around 58,000 children each year are placed into custody or unsupervised visitation with abusive parents. This may be particularly common when the parent accused of abuse, often the father, is wealthy or prominent. Child custody disputes can be costly, especially when they stretch out over multiple rounds of appeals or new claims filed in court. The wealthier parent may have more assets to keep fighting when the other parent's pocketbook is depleted. Some of the cases studied involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.

Parental alienation is a claim that one parent is causing the children to turn against the other parent. The work of the psychiatrist who produced the theory was never accepted by the American Psychiatric Association or other bodies. Still, since the 1970s, it has been given a significant amount of weight in many family court cases.

Parents who are concerned that their children are being subject to abuse, neglect or other forms of mistreatment can take action to protect them. A family law attorney can work with a concerned parent to fight for child custody.

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