“Ostara, Ex thinks you are seriously going to hurt the children”
“Yes, Ex said that not only is he afraid you are going to hurt the children, but also that when Sweet Bee was an infant, you called him on the phone when he was on the other coast and threatened to snap her neck,” the custody evaluator said.
I was shocked, completely shocked and absolutely horrified. It was like lightning at a clear blue sky. What the heck was this about? I don’t believe in spanking, never have spanked the children. I believe in redirecting negative behavior and age appropriate expression of right from wrong. I was stunned where Ex would get this from. This is opposite of who I am, that I didn’t even know what to say at first.
And then I got angry, really angry. How dare he not call his parents, who only lived 10 minutes away to assure the safety of the child if this really happened. How dare he not call the cops to assure the child was not harmed. How dare he not call Child Protective Services. And why on earth did he not catch the first plane home if that phone conversation really took place?
What a horrible false accusation to make! Reading the story about the father, on his first unsupervised visit, throwing his 3-year-old son of a high-rise in New York City, and then jumping off himself, reminded me of this particular, however just 1 of many, false accusation.
It is hard to fathom, but yes, parents do kill their children. However, mothers and fathers tend to do it differently. They have 1 thing in common though, and that is the existence of severe psychological disturbances at the time the murder(s) take place. It doesn’t come out of the blue, there are warning signs and courts should be aware of that. The legal standard is ‘The Best Interest of the Child,’ yet knowledge about the psychological dynamics in child custody is almost non-existent. Family court failed the murdered child and it could have been prevented with knowledge.
What is concerning is that the US was ranked 1st in the developed world in child homicide for children in 1997 across all age groups (0-17 years). That is disturbing. That should be a warning sign, we are not doing enough to protect our children. More updated information with regards to those statistics were not available.
In the US, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 30% of child homicides are by the mother, 33% by the father, 28% by the partner, 7% by family, 2% by strangers or unknown.
Why do parents kill their kids? What are the characteristics of parents who kill their kids?Bourget and Gagné classified filicide, or the killing of children by their parent, in 5 different categories;
- mental illness of the parent; psychosis, exacerbated schizophrenia, etc.
- fatal abuse; shaken baby syndrome etc
- retaliation; custody situations (if I can’t have the kids, neither can you)
- mercy; severely ill child
Mothers who kill
So what are the characteristics of mothers who kill their child(-ren)?
Mothers are more likely to kill the younger child. Different studies come to slightly different conclusions; scientific global studies put the average age between 3-4, some even younger. Almost all neonaticides (killing of infants less than 24 hours old) are by the mother and the result of unwanted pregnancies.
The mothers are often younger, with the average age in the 20s and have a history of mental health problems, unemployment/poor economic prospect and substance abuse. Postpartum psychosis, exacerbated by intense fluctuating hormone levels, is often diagnosed. Some studies suggest at least 50% of the mothers suffer from acute psychosis or psychotic depression when they kill their children.
The majority of the mothers kill their children for altruistic reasons (a suicidal mother doesn’t want to leave the child motherless) followed by psychotic filicide. Much less often the death of the child is because of fatal abuse, where the death was not anticipated or desired, and unwanted filicide where the mother doesn’t want the child. The rarest of all cases is the retaliatory filicide.
Of the rare cases I could find of mothers killing their child(-ren) during custody disputes, there were consistent factors; prior to the killing there had been accusations of sexual abuse which had been deemed ‘unfounded’. All the mothers had prior serious mental health issues (delusions, psychosis, schizophrenia) and if the suicide was unsuccessful entered a plea of not guilty by insanity.
Fathers who kill
Fathers are more likely to kill older children. Most studies only include children up to age 12 and give an average age of 5-7 years old. When teenagers are included, the average age goes up dramatically.
Fathers are usually a bit older than mothers who kill, with average ages reported in their late 30s. Fathers often did not have a history of mental health problems. About 25% of the fathers are diagnosed with psychosis, whereas 67% of the fathers were diagnosed with a personality disorder.
The most common cause of a child’s death by the father is fatal abuse. The fathers are more likely to be intoxicated when this happens. The 2nd most common scenario is during custody disputes, followed by mental illness or rarely altruistic motives.
In the first scenario there is evidence of intimate partner violence prior to the fatal abuse of the child, it is not a stand alone incident. Many of these cases already had prior involvement for abuse with Child Protective Services.
Because of the frequency of fathers murdering their children during custody disputes, a separate category ‘retaliation killings’ was made in the filicide classification. Common consistent factors are that the father had made threats to kill the children, there are prior reports of intimate partner violence, there is economic abuse of the mother and anger/jealousy towards the mother. These fathers rarely have a prior history of mental health issues. The child homicide during custody disputes by fathers is also of a more violent nature, with shooting the most predominant.
The sad reality
Every child that is murdered is 1 too many, yet it happens way to often in our modern-day society. It is really horrendous to know that there are parents who actually kill their child(-ren) during custody disputes. This intentional infliction of harm, this ultimate revenge against the ex spouse, is despicable.
Allegations of threatening child homicide should be taken very seriously. When fathers make this allegation, the mother’s mental health history is a red flag. When we exclude mothers murdering their babies within the first 24 hours, the likelihood of filicide during child custody disputes by mothers is small. For a mother to overcome the natural instinct and mother-child bond, she has to have serious mental health issues. Mothers who kill within the first 24 hours of birth have not developed the mother-child bond and the pregnancy was unwanted and thus the child already rejected. However for a mother to kill a child that she already has bonded with, she must have severe mental health issues.
Fathers are much more likely to murder their children during custody disputes. While there are fathers who have a mental health history, most fathers do not. This does not mean it comes out of the blue and can not be prevented. There are several red flags that the courts and all involved in child custody decisions should be aware of; incidences of intimate partner violence, death threats to child and/or mother, economic abuse (both during the marriage and divorce proceedings) and anger/jealousy towards the mother.
In all cases of child murder by the father, the mother had repeatedly requested the courts to intervene to safeguard the children. They repeatedly came with the same allegations, they didn’t ‘switch’ or ‘alter’ allegations, as often happens in false allegations. Interestingly, they were often discredited because they still facilitated, or insisted on facilitating, a relationship with the father.
All the warning signs and red flags were present in this recent case in NYC. When making such important decisions as child custody, lack of knowledge is not an excuse. This court failed the child.