Non-Feminist Custody Evaluators See DV as Relational, not Political

Non-feminist custody evaluators see domestic violence as resulting from “toxic” relationships, not from the patriarchal mindset of the father.  That’s the second major part of the findings of the survey I’ve written about in my last two posts.

The first part dealt with the attitudes of feminist custody evaluators toward reports of domestic violence.  The second part deals with the attitudes of “family violence” evaluators.  Those tend to get their information and attitudes from the body of social science that, over the decades, has studied large, random samples of the population.  Feminist inquiry has focused on women in DV shelters, as the authors of the survey make clear.

The salient findings regarding the 14-member group of family violence evaluators include the fact that they overwhelmingly see domestic violence as situational.  That is, they see DV as something that comes as a response to the natural stresses of family life.

Their predominant discourse was distinctly different from feminist evaluators in that they perceived most DV as conflict and stress induced, normative, and mutual. Indeed, they reported seeing almost exclusively situational couple violence in practice.

They also had an “it takes two to tango” outlook on domestic violence.  That is, domestic violence is a product of family dynamics in which there are no clear perpetrators and no clear victims.  It’s the understanding of domestic violence as well as most things in family life as arising from the integrated system that is the family.

For them, all relationships have issues related to control and the ebb and flow of who has power or control at any given time over any given issue describes in part the relationship between the two partners.  That of course can be destructive, but need not be.  And who has and who wants control in a particular situation is not a matter of gender.  Both men and women have a need to feel in control, so there’s a continuing interpersonal “dance” between the two.

Where feminists see only men having power in relationships and believe that male power is inappropriate, these family violence evaluators have a much more nuanced take on the nature of power between intimate partners.

These family violence evaluators distinguish between minor domestic violence such as a push or shove, and “real” DV which involves serious injury such as serious bruising, broken bones, etc.  They utterly condemn that sort of DV, but rarely if ever see it in their practices.  They opine that abusers like that get weeded out of the custody battle long before an evaluation takes place.

Chris explained, “If [the violence is] that bad, child protective authorities or legal authorities or someone else is going to have already dealt with it.’

These evaluators also regarded the minor, mutual DV they see as compatible with parental custody.  To them, neither minor violence like a push or shove nor the usual issues of inter-relational power, automatically disqualified a parent from have custody.

Unlike the feminist evaluators, the family violence group saw false allegations as common and purposeful.

Whereas feminist evaluators estimated that false allegations occurred in about 10% of their cases, family violence evaluators estimated that 40% to 80% of their cases involved false allegations. Two evaluators thought allegations were “grossly exaggerated,’ not entirely false. All reported that mothers made the majority of DV allegations, and false allegations were intended to gain leverage in the custody dispute or alienate the children from their father.

Interestingly, this group was the only one of the two that even mentioned parental alienation.  They did so in the context of false allegations of DV.

Red flags for a false allegation included suspected parental alienation by the mother, the mother”s demeanor (e.g., angry), and lack of documentation of the abuse.

And speaking of documentation, the family violence evaluators were concerned about claims of DV for which there was no objective evidence.

The majority of family violence evaluators emphasized that real DV victims should have documentation (e.g., police reports, pictures, hospital records, witnesses) or physical signs of DV (e.g., bruises); however, there were some disagreements when it came to the importance of documentation. For two evaluators, having an order of protection was the only way to ensure that an allegation was true, but for two other evaluators an order of protection was considered too easy to obtain and did not lend credibility to the allegation.

Not surprisingly, this group expressed the belief that both parents were important to children’s well-being and attempted to promote that where possible in their recommendations to courts.

Family violence evaluators reported making custody recommendations that emphasized coparenting relationships that facilitated children”s contact with nonresidential parents. Jennifer”s perspective was echoed by others: “I”ve been doing this long enough [to know] that children in the past really suffered from not having enough contact with the other parent–the parent they don”t live with.’ Their recommendations focused on modifying negative behaviors of both parties (e.g., conflict management classes or counseling for both parents).

If they suspected parental alienation by one parent, this group of evaluators leaned strongly toward custody on the part of the other parent.

As Michael said, “I would tend to lean toward custody with the so called “bad parent’ because I know [the allegations are] not true, that the [father] is not like that . . . [it] is more like parental alienation syndrome stuff. . . . That relationship [between the father and child] is going to be over if the kid”s living with the [mother].”

In short, these evaluators had different training in DV than did the feminist group and interestingly their understanding of domestic violence appears to be far more congruent with existing science than that of the more trained feminists.

For example, they seem to know that both men and women commit domestic violence.  They observe that they see little severe DV, and that’s what study after study of large populations show as well (see, e.g. the 12,000-person Scottish study showing that 80% of DV resulted in either no injury or only a “minor cut or bruise”).  They’re aware of the existence of false allegations and the possibility of parental alienation.  They make no distinction based on sex about who may make false allegations, while the feminist group said that less than 10% of women’s allegations are false, but 50% of men’s are.  So the overt misandry of the feminists wasn’t apparent in the other group.

Perhaps most importantly, this second group sought to keep both parents connected with children post-divorce whereas the feminist group opted to radically marginalize dads at even the mere allegation of DV by mothers.

As I said before, it’s a small study, but it may tell us a lot about what’s going on, not in court, but behind the closed doors of the custody evaluators on whom they rely.

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