Posted in: Gender, Psychology & Law, Gender
Published on Oct 22, 2015 by Phyllis Chesler
The Great American Custody Wars
I have been battling the Great American Custody Wars ever since the mid-1970s. I could not believe what was happening to mothers then—and when I broke the news, in the 1980s, few people believed me.
The prevailing myths were that women had an unfair advantage in custody battles and that men were discriminated against. This was not true then and it is not true today.
People also believed that only unfit mothers lost custody and that only very fit fathers obtained it. Mainly, the opposite is true.
No one believed that courts actually enabled or legalized incest or removed children from very competent mothers and gave them to exceptionally violent fathers—and then savagely restricted a mother's access to them.
Today, even I have a hard time accepting the fact that things have gotten worse.
Permit me to suggest that you read the 2011 updated and expanded edition of Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, which I originally published in January of 1986. I was savaged in the media, attacked by Fathers Rights groups—and embraced by a multitude of mothers. I organized a series of press conferences, interviews, and unprecedented Speak-Outs on the subject. Popular television programs featured the subject—but little changed.
Therefore, I urge you to read Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, edited by Dr. Mo Therese Hannah and Barry Goldstein and just published this week.
I warmly welcome this book. It is an amazing and important work about custody battles in America and features the words of very brave, utterly uncompromising, and dedicated scholars and activists. Dr. Mo Hannah and attorney Barry Goldstein have been pioneer advocates for mothers under siege, especially battered mothers, and even more so for those whose children are being sexually abused by their (custodial) fathers or alienated from the mothers who try to protect them.
Hannah and Goldstein—and all the author–lawyers, author–judges, and author– psychologists—offer devastating and accurate critiques of the system from within which confirm in every way the moving stories of "protective" mothers, children, and their advocates.
The subject is "dark," in the sense that these tragedies are compounded by how the legal system enables them and fails to rescue the most vulnerable children and women from the clutches of evil.
Although I welcome this book, its appearance also causes me some anguish. Surely, by now, one might have expected some progress, some amelioration of the enormous suffering that mothers and children (and sometimes fathers) experience in America.
While some things have improved (for gay parents, perhaps for wealthy couples where money actually exists to be apportioned), many things have actually gotten worse.
This precious book, edited by Hannah and Goldstein, confirms this worsening spiral and describes the gut-wrenching trench warfare that very good mothers must endure in order to fight to save their children. It is a fight that is very hard to win.
One chapter focuses on court-enabled child murders—cases in which judges awarded custody of children to fathers who then proceeded to murder them.
The situation is a scandal. But this book is also written by heroes, by those who risk everything for the sake of truth-telling and who pursue true justice. The stories here are extraordinary: Read Jennifer Collins, a former child "underground," whose mother, Holly Ann Collins, was granted political asylum in the Netherlands based on America's refusal to protect Holly and her children from domestic violence.
Know that Dr. Mo Hannah, who founded the Battered Mothers Custody Conference, is also a hero in that she turned her own long-lasting custody battle into a life work on behalf of women caught up in the clutches of expensive and/or incompetent lawyering; vindictive ex-husbands; and misogynistic guardians ad litem, mental health professionals, and judges—a system that is Dickensian in terms of pace.
Full disclosure: I wrote a brief Foreword to this excellent volume and was one of the four activists whom Dr. Hannah interviewed in her closing chapter.
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