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Study raises concerns over courts' handling of abuse

Some people believe that fathers face discrimination in California child custody cases. While in the past mothers were often believed to be the "natural" caregiver for a child, courts have long since shifted to a model that prefers shared physical custody. In fact, many studies have found that when fathers pursue custody, their claims are given a higher level of credibility in the courtroom and they are more likely to be successful than mothers. Some research has pointed out troubling numbers that could indicate that credible abuse claims are being pushed aside in decisions that could be related to stereotypical or social beliefs about fathers and mothers.

One study of 2,000 child custody cases nationwide has raised concerns about how allegations of abuse are often handled in family court. The cases involved in the research all included allegations of child abuse, domestic violence or parental alienation. Parental alienation refers to activities of one parent to drive the child away from a good relationship with the other parent. Historically, it is associated with psychological theories that were commonly invoked in 1970s custody cases that typically blamed mothers for alienating their children from fathers. These theories were never accepted by the American Psychiatric Association, but they found a relatively warm reception in the family courts.

Despite the evolution in theories related to parental alienation over time, research indicates that when a parent raises charges of parental alienation, the court is much more likely to discredit allegations of abuse. Estimates indicate that up to 58,000 children each year are placed in the custody of abusive parents.

When a parent is concerned that the children are unsafe in the hands of the other parent, he or she can take action. A family law attorney can work with a parent to pursue child custody and document allegations.

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