Family law judges in Illinois and around the country are sometimes tasked with making very difficult decisions, particularly when the welfare of a young child is involved. It is not unknown for parents embroiled in bitter custody disputes to hurl incendiary allegations at one another, and the decisions that judges make are often based on which parent they believe. According to some experts, judges are often guided in these situations by popular but unproven theories, pseudo experts and their own biases.
It is not uncommon in child custody disputes for mothers to accuse fathers of physical or sexual abuse and for fathers to claim that mothers are guilty of parental alienation. Parental alienation occurs when one parent turns a child against the other. The concept is not endorsed by the American Medical Association or the American Psychiatric Association, but it is widely embraced by family law judges according to research conducted by a George Washington University Law School professor. After studying 2,000 child custody cases involving allegations of abuse and alienation, the professor found that fathers were awarded physical custody twice as often as mothers.
This kind of research has prompted lawmakers to take a closer look at child custody cases, but this interest has not led to much in the way of meaningful action. In 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution that called on courts to investigate and resolve allegations of domestic violence and abuse before making child custody decisions. The resolution floundered in the Senate and died without a vote.
Attorneys with experience in this area may seek to avoid court battles that could emotionally scar children by encouraging parents to put their differences aside and look for common ground. Parents generally want the best for their children, but the vitriol they feel toward one another can sometimes cloud their judgement. When child custody and visitation negotiations are at loggerheads, attorneys may suggest exploring mediation or collaborative divorce as an alternative to adversarial court proceedings.