(Adapted from the MOLC Handbook, March 2001)


Dear Protective Mother,

If you are reading this, we assume you're now facing or are already embroiled in a custody and/or visitation battle. This information is designed to help you through the minefield that has come to be known as family law court.

We're so sorry your child has been hurt. As mothers of abused children, we understand how excruciating this is for you and for them. Many of us were also abused as children. As bad as that abuse was, it is even worse for us to know we couldn't keep our precious children safe.

Many mothers have learned through painful experiences that the court system is often not friendly to women and children who have been victimized. Over the last two decades, the courts have become biased in favor of abusive men who seek custody. This is disturbing news, but you need to know it so you can be ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Some days you may feel as if none of this could be real. You may feel like Dorothy in Oz, or Alice in Wonderland. Nothing is as it seems, and most of it is dangerous. There is important information that you need to know.

We would like to give you some idea of what to expect, and to assure you that you are not alone. There are many of us who have started to connect with each other for support and ideas.

Know the abuser will probably use the court system to continue the abuse. Cases involving an abuser do not proceed like other cases.

Know that, although there are good people in the court and legal systems, there are also people with prejudices and biases against women and children. Those people are not interested in helping you or your child, and may do just the opposite. Judges and court-related personnel may claim they want to help you, but in reality they may buy and sell you and your children to the highest bidder. You will need to proceed with caution.

Prepare yourself for a long, drawn-out, nasty fight. The chilling reality is that abusers often get custody of their victims. According to Phyllis Chessler in Mothers On Trial, abusers were getting custody about 70% of the time. You need to be very careful how you proceed, what you say and how you conduct yourself. Find ethical and trustworthy people to assist you.

We recommend you try to keep to a balanced schedule for you and your children. Try to get enough sleep or rest as you can. Eat as well as you can, and consult with your doctor about a vitamin program to combat the stress you are under. We suggest you find a strong support system, such as family, friends, advocacy groups that support women and children, your faith community, and/or trustworthy counselors. Al Anon has been a helpful support for many of us who are relatives or spouses of alcoholics. Some of us also found support in Alcoholics Anonymous if we began to rely on substances to numb our pain. Many of us have found it very helpful to be in contact with someone else with similar problems in family law court.

The purpose of these recommendations is to encourage you to take very good care of yourself, so you can remain calm under enormous stress. It is important to present yourself as a reasonable, articulate person to the court system. It is also important to have the strength to nurture your child, and to be the best role model possible.

"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of it's women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave it's warriors, nor how strong their weapons." Cheyenne Proverb

Catch 22 Often Awaits Parents in Child Molest Cases

Special Article, by Anne Hart, Excerpted from The Davis Enterprise, Sunday, October 11, 1998

The term 'protective parent' has recently been coined to describe a parent who attempts to protect a child from a violent or incestuous spouse. It appears, at first glance, to be an apt and descriptive phrase. However, it is a misnomer.

The parent who seeks to protect his or her child from abuse often walks innocently into a Catch-22. In fact, some parents liken it to stepping into a bear trap. Imagine yourself a mother in this situation:

  • Your child has a series of terrible symptoms. He has nightmares, insomnia, maybe regresses in toilet training and exhibits a host of fears and phobias.

  • He becomes dissociative (spaced out) and depressed or out-of-control, even suicidal. You take him to a therapist. He tells you and the therapist he has been sexually abused by his father. He is only 4 years old.

  • The therapist makes a mandatory suspected child abuse report. You, the non-offending parent, are interviewed at length by the police. Your child is taken to be interviewed by a team of professionals. Medical examination shows evidence of penetration.

  • You are in shock. Your trusted your husband completely. You become exhausted and overwhelmed from trying to cope with your child's many symptoms, and are unable to sleep from your own fear and anxiety. Nevertheless, you separate from your spouse to protect your child.

  • You find an attorney, file for divorce and request full custody. You feel confident that there will be no problem. The Catch-22 begins. You have entered a world you never knew existed.

  • Your soon-to-be ex-spouse finds an aggressive attorney who goes on the attack. Every day, a blizzard of incomprehensible paperwork arrives in your mailbox.

  • You go to a therapist to cope with your own misery, but your insurance will not pay for the treatment.

  • You receive notice that the police have closed the case due to lack of corroboration. The allegations are considered unsubstantiated or unfounded.

  • You are called into a series of hearings, in front of a judge who appears bored, irritated or uninterested. Your attorney tries to ameliorate the situation, at the rate of $250 an hour, since he has already spent the $10,000 retainer you gave him.

  • A psychological evaluation for the family is ordered, half of which you must pay. Your child begins to have temper tantrums. The nursery school calls to say your child tried to be sexual with another child.

  • You bank account begins to decline precipitously.

  • Your job is in jeopardy due to taking time off for a seemingly endless series of appointments for testing, mediation and therapy, as well as taking a day off to cry and sleep.

  • You take your child to a doctor due to a rash. Evidence of molest is again found. The police interview your child, and again close the case.

  • The psychological evaluation comes back, with no mention of the sexual abuse. The report states you are alienating the child from his father. It says you are suffering from an exotic problem such as Munchhausen's Syndrome by Proxy or Parental Alienation Syndrome and delusions.

  • The report states that the only way to save your child from the effects of your alienating behavior is to place him in the custody of the father. Suddenly, you find yourself losing ground rapidly.

  • The judge makes a ruling that follows the evaluator's recommendation. Your child is placed into the full custody of the accused offender. You get to have your child every other weekend from Friday until Sunday.

  • You burst into tears, and the judge makes another ruling. Due to your hysterical behavior, you are ordered to have only supervised visits.

  • From that point on, everything you do only tightens the noose. The father chooses a new therapist for the child. You have heard the therapist is biased in favor of men, and fear the worst.

  • During the visitation, your child whispers that daddy is still doing "nasty" things.

  • Your child receives his own court-appointed attorney. The attorney for the minor files a motion to suppress all evidence of molest. The judge agrees, and rules you may not take your child to a doctor.

  • Another blizzard of paperwork, motions and hearings occur. Your visitation time is reduced, and you are barred from going to the school.

  • Your former husband demands child support from you. He gets it.

  • You can no longer afford an attorney, and are forced to represent yourself. You lose your job because you cannot concentrate on sales presentations. You learn that your child is failing in school.

  • The judge still refers to the recommendations of the psychological evaluation and maintains the custody arrangements.

  • The situation can get worse. You file complaints with the district attorney, the Medical Board, the State Bar and the Commission on Judicial Performance. They receive the complaints.

  • You file an appeal, which costs about $30,000. The Court of Appeals decides there is no breach of law, since the judge has broad powers of discretion.

  • You approach every agency related to children's issues you can find. Each official says his hands are tied, and refers you back to the prior agency.

  • You go to your legislator. He or she is concerned, but says the branches of government are separate.

  • You file for bankruptcy.

  • A gag order is placed on you, so you can no longer discuss the case. Your friends begin to avoid you, and no longer return your phone calls.

  • The visitation supervisor quits, and now you cannot see your child at all, since the other side will not agree to the supervisors you suggest.

  • Your health begins to deteriorate from the ongoing stress.

This scenario sounds impossible. Unfortunately, it is a true story. It is happening in many parts of the United States, including California, as documented in A Mother's Nightmare, Incest by John E..B. Myers, a professor of law at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento; The Hostage Child by Michelle Etlin; Divorced from Justice by Karen Winner; and Mothers on Trial by Phyllis Chessler.

These books describe chilling accounts of children being placed in the custody of the accused offender, and cut off from the 'protective parent' who loses everything.

The Catch-22 consists of the following:

  • You, the non-offending parent, can be charged with felony child endangerment and arrested for not protecting the child, if you do not report to the authorities.

  • However, reporting child sexual abuse triggers a series of events that often lead to the child being placed in the custody of the accused offender.

Why is this? The professionals who make the recommendations and judgments have been educated to minimize allegations of incest whenever there is a custody dispute, due to the remote possibility of a false allegation. Therefore, they often miss the real allegations.

The result is that the testimony of the young victim/witness is effectively silenced, and the child is endangered."

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