February 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
In case anyone missed the point of Naomi Cahn’s article in Forbes, she’s the very soul of clarity (Forbes, 1/26/20).
June Carbone, a family law professor at the University of Minnesota, finds [Joan Meier’s] study highly troubling: “It shows the power of the shared parenting idea. An abuse allegation rejects the possibility of shared parenting. Parents who allege alienation by the other parent cloak themselves in the mantle of the shared parenting norm and judges reward them, even if the parent is an abuser.”
Yes, the whole point is to cast aspersions on shared parenting. Cahn does so by accepting without question the findings of Joan Meier’s study of litigated and appealed cases in family courts. The fact that the study is laughably bad deterred Cahn not a whit. I dealt with Meier’s study here, here, here and here.
The shortcomings of her work are far too numerous to detail here (for that, see the linked-to posts), but perhaps the most important one is her failure to even try to ascertain whether judges were getting right the orders they made. Meier’s study deals with cases in which mothers alleged some sort of domestic violence or child abuse against a father who then either did or did not claim parental alienation by her. She found that in some cases judges sided with the father and in some with the mother. She (and Cahn and others) then leap to conclude that this constitutes a problem, the underlying assumptions apparently being that all such allegations by mothers must be well-founded and all such claims by fathers must not be.
So the obvious and necessary question is whether the judges were getting it right or not. If Mom alleged abuse, did she have evidence to prove it? If Dad alleged alienation, did he? Those are questions most people, I suspect, would find highly relevant to deciding whether or not family courts are witless dupes of scheming dads. But neither Meier nor Cahn is interested in them. On such, the whole of the study founders.
But, as the above quotation indicates, the point is not to give an accurate account of how well or ill judges are doing when faced with competing claims of DV and PA. The point is to attack shared parenting by pretending that the entire concept of parental alienation is a figment of the imaginations of folks who promote children’s rights to real relationships with both parents post-divorce. And not just a figment of our imaginations, but a clever ruse to disguise our true ambition – to deprive children of their mothers.
It’s a curious claim, to say the least. After all, it’s the whole point of the shared parenting movement that neither parent lose custody of their children, because kids need both. That’s done by ensuring that each parent shares parenting time equally or almost equally. In short, the shared parenting movement embraces the equality of mothers and fathers and it does so because that’s best for kids, as a wealth of science demonstrates. Who could argue?
Well, Joan Meier and her ilk can, that’s who. It’s not as if these people go to great pains to obscure their agenda. After all, Meier’s the one who claimed in a 2017 letter to the Washington Post that fathers have been getting the lion’s share of child custody “for decades.” The utter absurdity of that claim is revealed by data maintained yearly by the U.S. Census Bureau and more occasionally by other organizations. Data out of the states of Nebraska, Washington and North Dakota further give the lie to Meier’s claim.
The point being that Meier is now and apparently always has been opposed to fathers having custody of their kids in any meaningful way and that she’ll say pretty much anything to further that aim. Cahn seconds that emotion.
Plus, even Meier’s data show no bias by judges in favor of fathers.
[T]he study found that when courts believed the claims of alienation, then mothers and fathers were equally likely to lose custody (73%). It also found that in cases without abuse claims (as reported in courts’ opinions), mothers and fathers’ alienation claims seemed to have a roughly equal impact on outcomes.
That of course urges the question “What’s the problem?” As I mentioned last time, in only about 1.8% of Meier’s cases did a father’s claim of alienation override a mother’s claim of abuse. And again, that may have been because there really was no abuse and/or there really was alienation. Further, Meier studied only litigated and appealed cases, i.e. far less than 3% of all custody cases. So what she found was that DV claims being trumped by PA claims occurred at all in only the tiniest sliver of cases and that judges don’t discriminate between mothers and fathers when adjudicating those claims.
So, what’s the problem? Meier and Cahn are certain there is one, but even a casual glance at Meier’s data says otherwise.
Here are a few reality checks: Kids need both their parents, both before and after divorce; equal parenting is the best post-divorce arrangement for children, assuming both parents are fit, competent and non-abusive; sometimes domestic violence occurs; sometimes child abuse occurs; sometimes parental alienation occurs; it is the job of courts to make the best call they can when parents allege DV, child abuse or alienation; not all abuse warrants removing a parent from a child’s life; not all alienation does either.
There is no job harder for a family court judge than sorting out competing claims of abuse/DV and parental alienation. Everyone who opines on the subject should admit that. Work like Meier’s ill serves everyone who takes seriously child well-being and parenting time arrangements following divorce. Ideology doesn’t help. It only makes murkier an already difficult topic. If people like Meier and Cahn don’t want to be part of the solution in family courts, they should find other work. Their disinformation only makes more difficult, an already difficult process.