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Phyllis Chesler
Books By Phyllis

Mothers on Trial

Completely updated and revised for the twenty-first century, Mothers on Trial remains the bible for all women facing a custody battle, as well as the lawyers, psychologists, and others who support them. This landmark book was the first to break the false stereotype about mothers getting preferential treatment over fathers when it comes to custody. In this new edition, Chesler shows that, with few exceptions, the news has only gotten worse: when both the father and the mother want custody, the father usually gets it. The highly praised Mothers on Trial is essential reading for anyone concerned personally or professionally with custody rights and the well-being of our children.

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Endorsements for the 1986 Edition

"This is an extremely subversive book. It dares to examine the issue of child custody as one power and sexual politics within patriarchal society. It should and will enrage, entice, incite and liberate."
– Kate Millett

"Chesler examines the ironic and painful web that surrounds the myths of idealized motherhood and negligent fatherhood. This book is a must…After all, whose children have we always been: our mothers'."
– Ntozake Shange

"Not since Kate Millet's Sexual Politics or Chesler's own Women and Madness has there been a blockbuster so sure to inspire anger, understanding and action."
– Gloria Steinem

"Once again, Phyllis Chesler has found the words to tell what women know in their bones."
– Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., author of Father-Daughter Incest and Trauma and Recovery

"Meticulously researched, profoundly moving, Dr. Chesler's commitment to the rights of women and children is inspiring. An essential work."
– Erica Jong

"The whole issue of what makes good parents and what rights children and parents should have has not yet been seriously addressed. Phyllis Chesler's work in Mothers on Trial, as in Women and Madness, is groundbreaking and intellectually provocative."
– Shere Hite

Reviews of Mothers on Trial

Library Journal
June 2011

"Fresh, [with] timely content….Heavily documenting her book with legal precedent, expert input, and studies, Chesler makes her case with all of her zeal intact."

Kirkus Reviews
November 1985

"This book could blow the lid off what may well be a scandalous situation in the family court system."

Library Journal

"A stunning and exhaustive indictment of the treatment of mothers by the modern justice system. Highly recommended."

Psychology Today
February 1986

"There is a widespread belief that when marriages break up and child custody is in dispute, mothers nearly always win, fathers very rarely. And given another popular notion—that of the deeply loving New Father who is willing to take on childrearing and housekeeping responsibilities on his own—this state of affairs has come to be perceived as singularly unfair. Phyllis Chesler's mammoth new work, Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, demolishes these claims, demonstrating on the contrary that when fathers choose to sue for child custody, they very often get it…Chesler is a woman of vision and courage who chooses no small or easy tasks. Her earlier books, such as Women and Madness, have become classics, their arguments part of the public consciousness. No brief review can do justice to the scope or style of her current book, a rich fabric of woven of compelling data from her interviews with warring parents, evocations of myth and poetry, and the transcribed voices of mothers on trial."

The Pittsburgh Press
February 16, 1986

"It's a collection of case histories and life stories about women, children and families as a whole that contains engrossing reading on every page, a veritable collection of true short stories. In addition – and fulfilling the basic purpose of the book – it is a serious, scholarly piece of research by a doctor of psychology who has written four other highly praised books on subjects in her field."

Atlanta Magazine
April 1986

"Her findings are both fascinating and shocking….For parents involved in this painful, no-win situation, it is nothing less than an invaluable textbook."

San Francisco Chronicle
March 9, 1986

"Mothers who step out of line, who ignore or [flout] societal conventions, will always lose custody of their children in a custody battle with the children's father. So we are told by feminist Phyllis Chesler. She writes, always dramatically and sometimes poignantly, of the defeat and humiliation of these mothers."

The Women's Review of Books
February 1986

"As Phyllis Chesler's explosive new study shows, the long and short of it is that, should the marital bubble burst, there is one hell of an outstanding chance that your husband, should he choose to fight for it, will be awarded custody of the kids. Indeed, Chesler shows that a custodially challenged 'good enough' mother will lose her kids to her ex-husband seventy percent of the time....If feminists infatuated with motherhood are reading books on child-rearing, books on co-parenting…they are reading the wrong books. If they are not reading Mothers on Trial, they are missing out on information that could prove vital. Because should a custody battle befall you, you may find yourself in a no-win situation which is truly shocking to the unprepared. As Chesler makes abundantly clear, the standards for measuring the goodness, the fitness, of a mother, remain entirely different from those measuring the goodness and fitness of a father. Even in the worst cases? Where the man is, say, abusive? Incestuous? Especially in the worst cases, where the man is abusive or incestuous." …one of the most impressive aspects of this very impressive book is that Chesler continues to present her material with thoughtful clarity and stylistic grace, even when the material itself borders on the morally insane."

Additional Endorsements for the 1986 Edition

"This is a comprehensive, brillian expose of how mothers lose their childeren because they are civilly inferior as women. Mothers on Trial is heart-rending. Dr. Chesler has broken new ground in the fight for women's rights once again in this superb and moving account.'
– Andrea Dworkin

"Exhaustively documented, passionately written, [the book] provides a new conceptual framework… A sound approach to a desperately difficult problem."
– Marge Piercy

"Phyllis Chesler's stunningly original and audacious examination of the double standard of parenthood through the ages challenges us to make systemic changes in both child custody arrangements and the meaning of motherhood itself."
– Letty Cottin Pogrebin

"Chesler eloquently – and finally – breaks the wall of silence and discrimination surrounding the custody battles that women and their advocates have been facing. This book is a work of art. The combination of scholarship, poetry, politics, history, psychology, and legal analysis is stunning. Mothers on Trial is required reading…"
– Joanne Schulman, Staff Attorney National Center on Women and Family Law

"This book finally destroys the myth that men are disadvantaged in custody disputes…This book is an eyeopener for all of us."
– Lillian Kozak, Chair Domestic Relations, Task Force NOW – NY State

"Mothers on Trial confronts every issue, raises every question generated by the struggle for child custody in this culture. This broad-based study and its far-reaching implications will empower embattled women and children, and educate men of good will - it must be read."
– Judith Arcana, author of Our Mother's Daughters and Every Mother's Son



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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