Myths That Place Children At Risk During Custody Disputes

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Myths That Place Children At Risk During Custody Disputes

By Stephanie J. Dallam, RN, MS, FNP, and Joyanna L. Silberg, PhD.

Sexual Assault Report 9(3), 49 (January/February 2006)

Stephanie J. Dallam is Secretary and Research Associate, Leadership Council; former Pediatric Surgery and Trauma Nurse Practitioner, University of Missouri Health Sciences Center. Joyanna L. Silberg is Coordinator, Trauma Disorders Services for Children, Sheppard Pratt Hospital, Baltimore, MD. She is also Executive Vice President Leadership Council and Past President, International Society for the Study of Dissociation. The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is a nonprofit independent scientific organization composed of respected scientists, clinicians, educators, legal scholars, and public policy analysts. Its mission is to provide the public with accurate, research-based information about the effects of maltreatment on children and to help preserve society's commitment to protect its most vulnerable members. It is located at 191 Presidential Blvd., Suite C-132, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004; tel. 610-644-5107,

The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is a nonprofit scientific organization concerned about the welfare of children. We have become increasingly concerned about the legal system’s treatment of victims of family violence during divorce proceedings and child custody disputes. In preparing this paper, we have reviewed documentation from a number of cases in which children were placed in the sole custody of a parent that the child alleges abused them. These children were often prohibited from any contact or provided only limited contact with the parent seeking to protect the child – despite the fact that this parent had never been found to have harmed the child. In many cases the child’s allegations are quite credible. We have also reviewed the emerging body of research showing that children who allege abuse are at great risk of not being protected when here is a custody dispute between the parents. Many of these children are victims of incest.

There appears to be a need for scientific information to educate professionals about the risks children face during divorce and custody actions. Too often the child’s need for protection -- which is supposed to be paramount -- is lost in the fray.

Some groups have opposed exposure of this problem claiming that the information is politically motivated or constitutes “father-bashing.” Our analysis indicates that the problem of abusers or batterers obtaining custody is widespread and well documented by research. Presenting this information is not an attempt to “bash” any particular group, only to educate those who seeking to learn more about this problem.

To this end, the Leadership Council has developed the following information sheet to help clarify issues that affect children’s safety in contested custody disputes. We urge readers to use this information to work on ways to help society work toward better protection of those who have the misfortune of being both abused and in the middle of a custody dispute.

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