GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan. Under Michigan law, courts are required to consider the best interests of the child when making child custody decisions. 12 factors are taken into account when judges weigh these decisions, among them, the right of children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. According to child custody attorneys like Gordon & Hess, P.L.C. in Grand Rapids, the courts tend to favor the child having an ongoing relationship and connection to both parents. While this makes perfect sense in typical custody cases, courts can sometimes put children and women (and, sometimes, fathers) in danger when they place the need for a child’s ongoing relationship with a parent first over the safety of the child and the abused partner.
According to Salon, family courts throughout the country routinely dismiss allegations of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. More and more commonly, dubious research regarding false accusations of abuse have been used in family court to protect abusers. While there have been rare cases where vengeful spouses have used allegations of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse to alienate children from a spouse, accusations of abuse should always be taken seriously. Essentially, courts have sometimes taken on the extreme perspective that allegations of abuse should be viewed as suspect. Parents who make allegations of abuse are sometimes stigmatized by the very courts that should be protecting them and their children. The reality is that most allegations of abuse have basis in fact. When a court dismisses these allegations, children can be put in serious danger. In fact, one study found that as many as 58 children may have died after they were put in the custody of an abusive parent. Some estimate that as many as 58,000 children are put in abusive situations every year.
Parents who decide to fight to protect both themselves and their children from abusers sometimes face tough uphill court battles. Unmarried parents may also face similar difficulties when trying to protect their children from abusers. Mothers may be forced to co-parent with abusive partners and allow these partners to see their children alone. In some states, there aren’t even laws in place protecting rape victims, who then go on to have children as a result of the attack. CNN reported of extreme cases where women were forced to co-parent with their attackers. These women are forced to expose their children to danger, while also having to re-live the trauma of their attack.
Women who fight these cases may face expensive child custody battles. Changing a court order for joint-custody can be a difficult battle, even when there is evidence of abuse. Family lawyers in Grand Rapids note that changing visitation orders requires higher levels of proof than is required for a first-time order made during a divorce.
Courts, judges, and juries may also not be aware of the prevalence of violence or understand violent dynamics in families. Parental alienation syndrome, in which mothers are villainized just for claiming abuse is also sometimes used as a defense. The American Psychological Association has not added this syndrome to its diagnostic manual, but courts still sometimes hear it as a defense. Abusers are also master manipulators. They can manipulate the facts to make the mother look crazy and the facts appear suspect.
Until child safety becomes the first factor considered in child custody and visitation decisions, abused individuals and families will likely continue to face difficult challenges when fighting for the safety of their children. The family law attorneys at Gordon & Hess, P.L.C. assist families facing a range of tough child custody decisions—from divorcing couples, to unmarried parents facing difficult family law questions.