4 Reasons Divorcing Parents File Allegations of Sexual Abuse with Child Protective Services

Some people look at a child and don't see a child

Some people look at a child and don’t see a child

“Dad has a big penis” Sweet Bee says giggling and pretending her hand is a penis, while we are horse playing on the bedroom floor.

“EXCUSE ME!” I blurt out.

“Yeah, and then he does this and this” Muppet joins in.

WHOA SILVER!

and then

WHAT THE FLYING F%$# ??????? (Excuse my language)

This completely caught me by surprise and I wasn’t sure what to think of this. So many questions and concerns were racing through my head. On the one hand, kids don’t come up with this all by themselves, there is, at a minimum, a foundation of truth. On the other hand, despite all that is ‘wrong’ with Ex, I highly doubt he would sexually abuse the girls.

I quickly changed the subject as I had to think about this and how to approach this delicate problem. Because it is a problem.

It is a huge problem.

The Department of Justice reports that as many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually abused in childhood. That is horrendous. It is also a problem, because it is very controversial, delicate and tricky subject in Family Court.

So why do parents file allegations of sexual abuse with Child Protective Services?

1. Allegations are true

Unfathomable, but a sad reality. Some people look at a child but do not see a child. Unfortunately, approximately 47% of sex abuse occurs by an immediate or extended family member; parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles/aunts, cousins.

Talking with local and national experts, the anecdotal consensus seems to be that about 90% of the allegations of sexual abuse at the onset of divorce are true. These truthful allegations surface at the divorce proceedings because;

  1. The non-offending parent finds out about the sexual abuse and immediately files for divorce.
  2. There is long-standing sexual abuse that is revealed only in the context of divorce. The child finally feels ‘free’ to disclose the abuse and the perpetrator will have a much harder time to maintain the secrecy.
  3. Sexual abuse is triggered by the marital dissolution. A parent either starts to sexually abuse the child to retaliate against the divorcing spouse or because the stress of the divorce results in more impulsive and regressed behavior.

The anecdotal consensus is that the further out from the filing of divorce the parents are, the less likely it is that the allegations are true.

2. Misunderstanding the child, and/or misunderstanding normal child development

The stress of divorce have us on edge, and parents are much more sensitive, even hypersensitive, to the slightest deviation of ‘normal’ and it is easy to take things out of context.

When a 5-year-old girl comes home from Dad with an irritated vagina it raises eyebrows from Mom. However, 5-year-old girls are notorious for not wiping their booty properly and urine is irritating and can cause redness. A pre-schooler does play with his/her private parts, they are on a road of discovery.

A parent involved in a high-conflict child custody dispute, may be ready to jump to premature conclusions without full facts, or fully understanding the development of a child. Alarmed, the suspicious parent, may ask suggestive and leading questions to the child and inadvertently reinforce the suspicion of sexual abuse. And because of the level of hostility, distrust and anger it is easy for a parent to believe the worst about their former spouse.

3. Repressed sexual feelings and desires of the accusing parent

Psychological repression is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one’s own desires and impulses toward pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious.

The problem with repression is that it has to find an outlet, and the individual with repressed feelings will ‘act out’. They know, are very aware, that abusing a child is wrong and will not do so themselves, but they are obsessed with the possibility that the child has been or may be sexually abused.

Such a parent may question the child repeatedly, examine genitals following visits with the other parent, and repeatedly take the child to doctors until some professional affirms the suspicion.

4. Mental illness and/or Personality Disorder of the parent

Several researchers have published various studies about the incidences of false allegations of sex abuse and the personality traits of the accuser (Charles V. Ford, K. Ross, G. Blush, H. Wakefield, G. Underwager, etc.). They found that parents making false allegations during divorce proceedings are likely to have personality disorders and/or other psychiatric problems. Approximate 74% of the parents making false accusations had a personality disorder diagnosis, 3% had another mental health diagnosis, while 24% was not determined or free of psychopathology.

In contrast, 70% of the falsely accused were assessed as normal (sound familiar?).

The personality disordered parent is obsessed with hatred and hostility toward an estranged or former spouse. This parent does whatever he or she can to hurt the spouse, and their child becomes a pawn in the ongoing battle. They foster a false accusation as a way to get custody, as a way to punish a former spouse.

The personality disordered parent has blinders on, sometimes not even aware of their hatred, and convinced they are absolutely, undoubtedly right; the abuse is taking place. They are unable to accept that there may be other explanations for the child’s behavior, or the circumstances. In true cases of sexual abuse, the accusing parent often explores all possibilities.

bathroomSo what really happened?

After my initial shock, I had to make a plan to discover what was really going on. I had to weigh my options and approaches. I had to balance between calmly finding the truth and fiercely wanting to protect the children.

Turns out both girls ‘regularly’ walk in on their father when he uses the bathroom and he sometimes walks around the house naked. This is by all means inappropriate behavior, considering the girls are 4 and 8, but not new behavior. With a previous girlfriend, he would walk around her house naked, in front of her then 7-year-old son.

Personality disordered parents are egocentric and have poor boundaries. They can not distinguish between their own emotional, psychological and physical needs, and that of the children.

This was a stressful situation. Protecting the child is also finding the truth in a calm manner, not just immediately calling Child Protective Services. If a parent is over reacting or fabricating an allegation, the child’s emotional health is also threatened. Bresee et al. assert that an allegation of child abuse is clear evidence that the child is at risk, whether or not the allegation can be proved. Wakefield & Underwager (1988) believe that a parent involved in developing a false allegation may not be qualified to be a custodial parent. Many states have (case) laws reflecting this opinion.

True or False?

Here I want to put in a word of caution. There are many studies out there that investigate the incidence of false allegations; some use small samples and some use large samples. None of these studies distinguish between the time of filing the report and the time of filing the divorce.

The smaller, and often anecdotal, studies report high incidences of false allegations. The larger studies report 2-8% of the reports made are deemed false. In approximately 50% of the allegations are found to be true, and 40+% to be ‘undetermined’.

And ‘undetermined’ is just that, they can not find conclusive evidence, it was not properly investigated or even investigated at all. ‘Undetermined’ doesn’t mean there was no sexual abuse, nor that it was a false allegation. It means there is a child in trouble, because abuse is taking place; either by a parent sexually abusing the child, or by a parent jeopardizing the psychological wellbeing of that child by making false allegations.

You Speak an Infinite Deal of Nothing

“You speak an infinite deal of nothing.” ― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

6507071701_87013c3949_o Ah, yes, those emails, we’ve all received them. They make you scratch your head, thinking ‘Did I just really read that?’ Emails that make absolutely no sense, emails that have nothing to do with reality, or are completely irrelevant. Yet at the same time, those emails can be very telling. I have received some true gems in the past, and the following snippets are part of another great one. Grab a cup of coffee (or any beverage of choice) and read along with me.

“It has come to my attention that Muppet has not been attending school most of the days that she is with you…”

You mean daycare? Lets call a spade a spade, because that is what it is. Muppet is 3 years old and signed up for daycare while at Dad’s. When the girls are with me, I make sure I’m with them. As in, I actually use my parenting time to be a parent.

Shocking!

I know. I prepare their food, make sure Sweet Bee gets to the bus on time, does her homework, we do fun stuff together, dentist appointments, doctor’s appointment. You know, the usual parenting things. Apparently the child being with the Mother is an issue. It is preferred that the child be in daycare while the other parent is available.

“I had no idea the magnitude of this issue until I looked at Muppet’s attendance records… “

Oy! Houston, we have a problem! Should we send out first responders? Apparently not attending daycare but being with a parent is a real problem. The ‘magnitude of this issue’ certainly implies we are dealing with a catastrophe here! Does it surpass world hunger, wars etc? Immediate action required!

 “This is doing an incredible disservice to Muppet.  I am copying ‘Parenting Coordinator’ on this email so she can schedule a meeting for us ASAP to discuss and resolve this issue.”

Thank heavens, the legal first responder has been called. I have to admit that was a huge relief to me. Now she could read herself the crazy I’ve had to deal with. Previously I would be pointing out behavior patterns, and it was perceived that I was just trying ‘to make the father look bad’. A clear case of ‘shooting the messenger’. It is easier to discard solid evidence as misgivings from a scorned spouse, then accepting that there may be truth to it. Now it came straight from the ‘horses’ mouth’, there is no denying it now any longer. This is just how Ex is. This is not me trying to make him look bad, this is him showing his true colors.

“I would be more than happy to keep the girls more time during the week if that is what it takes to make sure they get to school.”

HD20812 There we go. Jack popped out of the box!

I was waiting for it. I knew it was coming. I’m continuously on edge waiting for another attempt at getting a change of custody. Ex can’t help it. That is part of the definition of a personality disorder; a persuasive pattern. He will continue till the end of times. Our CPS investigator said it the best; I can only hope it will subsides when the youngest turns 18.

The pattern is pretty evident. We’ve had false reports with CPS, we’ve had false criminal charges, we’ve had Ex show up during my access time with the sheriff’s to claim custodial interference.

Yes, I’m not kidding. During the divorce proceedings Ex would show up on my weekend with law enforcement, and I would have to show them the custody order to proof that it was actually my access time. Talk about really trying to sour and interfere with the other parents relationship with the children.

And that is really what it is. This email is another good example of Parental Alienation at its finest. I previously wrote about delusional parental alienators. I wrote about how they misconstrue reality to suit their perception of ‘the best interest of the child’. Here Ex thinks it is better for the child to be in daycare then be with the mother and he wants to go to bat for it.

I can only scratch my head.

But there is more. When it is his access time, Ex is not available. He puts the children with babysitters.

Alienators choose third parties over the targeted parent to care for the child when he/she is ill and/or not in school, regardless of the targeted parent’s availability and willingness to care for the child. The alienating parent will use every opportunity to keep the targeted parent from having the chance to parent the child regardless of the wishes of the child or targeted parent so at times the alienating parent will hire a babysitter or choose a family member in preference to allowing the targeted parent to care for the child.” – Prof Amy Baker

To top it off, Ex does not consistently use one and the same babysitter, no, he gets whom ever is available. He goes to great length to find somebody, anybody, as long as it is not the mother.

Less than a mile away, on the other side of the block, the mother (me) is readily available to care for the kids. Yes, I’m at home, I’m available and the girls know it. By putting the children with random babysitters he is sending the non-verbal message that anybody is better than being with the mother.

And that is sad.

Ex’s feelings towards me supersede what is truly best for the kids; a relationship with the other parent. It is more important to posses the children, then for them to be with Mom. The delusional alienator can not differentiate between their own wants and needs and that of the children.

And Ex doesn’t have a clue, he does not see how he is harming the children with this behavior. It is his reality. That is why it is called the delusional alienator, they egocentrically confuse their own issues with what really goes on and they can’t ‘snap out of it’, they are not sensitive to reasoning. They refuse to see it any other way than their way.

And so the story will continue. Part of a personality disorder is that history will repeat itself. Over, and over, and over, and over………

Ad Infinitum, ad nauseam.

 

All Alienators are Equal; Some Alienators are More Equal then Other Alienators

So I’m divorced!road_sign_bright_future

Excitedly I told family and friends. People certainly laughed at my reaction.

I guess it would have been politically correct to ‘grief’, but they know the hell I’ve been through and the relief I feel. I’m extremely lucky and thankful for all the support I have from family and friends! Without them, I would not have been where I am now.

Thank You!

Making the rounds in telling people, I called 1 of my friends, who started the divorce proceedings about a year ago. She had filed for divorce as she suspected her husband was sexually abusing 2 of their children. I was shocked, didn’t see that coming at all. In my first conversation with her, I warned her, she should get real solid evidence. If she could not really proof it, this would work against her in the divorce proceedings and she would lose custody. I had just witnessed how an acquaintance who had rock solid proof, including a confession of the perp, had an incredibly hard time protecting the kids. A very disturbing situation to say the least and absolute hell for her and the boys (I’m still FUMING when it comes to this situation!).

As my friend updated me on her situation since we had not spoken for quite some time, it became clear, even to me, that there never had been sexual abuse. A lot of parents would end up in prison if her allegations would be called sexual abuse. Fathers would not be able to wipe a daughters bootie when potty training (I guess a diaper rash is preferred over proper hygiene), a mother can not take a son into a public ladies room (I guess leaving him outside without supervision is preferred). Yes, it was that absurd.

As our conversation progressed, it is became more and more clear this is a situation of parental alienation and my heart sank. To paraphrase Orwell, “All Alienators are Equal, some Alienators are more Equal then other Alienators”.

There are 3 types of ‘Alienators’. All parental alienating is bad, but some is just devastating. Parental Alienation affects all relationships; between the child and the target parent, between the child and the alienator and most importantly the relationship the child has with him/herself; the self-esteem.

The Naive Alienator

“Naïve alienators are parents who are passive about the children’s relationship with the other parent but will occasionally do or say something that can alienate. All parents will occasionally be naïve alienators.” Douglas Darnell

Admit it! You have said things about the other parent you should not have said on an occasion, especially in the beginning of the divorce proceedings. When the heat is on……. I have, I admit, and I have apologized to the kids. It came out of my mouth and the kids were within hearing distance. I should have kept it to myself. I immediately apologized to the children. It was wrong and I’m not proud of it. Since then I have been very conscious of my words and actions, as it is very harmful to the kids, who are innocent in all of this.

The ‘good’ thing is, naive alienators are ignorant of what they are doing and are willing to be educated and to change. Once made aware of their actions, they regret and make a concise effort not to do so again. These parents can separate their needs from the needs of the children and care enough to make things right. To naive alienators the relationship between the child and the other parent is not a threat, but they welcome it. For the benefit of the child.

The Active Alienator

“Active alienators know better than to alienate, but their intense hurt or anger causes them to impulsively lose control over their behavior or what they say. Later, they may feel very guilty about how they behaved.” – Douglas Darnell

Active alienators lose control.

Generally these parents mean well, there is no malicious intend. They do facilitate a relationship with the other parent, and do see the tremendous benefit it has for the children to have both parents in their lives.

But the hurt takes over; the frustration, the bitterness and they lash out. The lines between parent and child blur. These parents know right from wrong, but momentarily lose control. At those moments they cannot separate the needs of the child with their own needs. I guess you could call it a ‘momentarily insanity’. And I’m writing this with tongue-in-cheek, at it is never right to exhibit this behavior and I’m certainly not justifying the behavior.

When the overwhelming and intense feelings are over, theses parents settle down and feel guilty or bad about what they’ve done. There is remorse.

This oscillating between impulsive alienating and then repairing the damage is confusing and unsettling especially for the younger child. There is no stability in the relationship or the view of the target parent, and the child doesn’t know how to respond. (S)he lives in the world of confusion and has a hard time adjusting to the divorce.

Active alienators can be very rigid and uncooperative with the other parent, though they do comply with court orders. This is usually a passive-agressive method of dealing with their own emotions.

These parents are open to and would benefit from counseling. Therapy can help them to work through their negative emotions towards the other parent and maintain control of their outbursts.

The Obsessed/Delusional Alienator

“Obsessed alienators have a fervent cause to destroy the targeted parent.” – Douglas Darnell

These (grand-)parents have all the characteristics of a personality disorder; splitting, denial, blame-shifting and distortion of reality (including delusional twisting). I understand that researchers, psychologists and custody evaluators want to be politically correct and not ‘label’ the parent, but that is doing a disservice to the child. It is abandoning the legal standard of ‘Best Interest of the Child’ in favor of parental rights.

These parents split; there is the all good parent and the evil target parent. They deny; they fail to acknowledge or even recognize their part in the problem. They blame-shift; all problems are the fault of the target parent.

And then there is the most harmful aspect for the child; they distort reality. This is particularly harmful to the child, as it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between right and wrong. It skews their whole world.

The delusional alienator has poor boundaries between parent and child. They cannot separate the needs of the child from their own needs. These parents align the children and enmesh their personalities and beliefs into the children. Children, who naturally put their parents on a pedestal, are vulnerable to these manipulations.

And then the heartbreak starts.

These manipulations and distortions of reality turn the whole world upside down for a child. What is right? What is wrong?

Delusional alienators are convinced of their reality and nobody can change their view. If you try then you become the enemy. Or as my friend said; “All these so-called experts are stupid, they have no clue what they are talking about”. Sure, 1 person can be wrong, but if you are told the same thing by several experts……………

The delusional alienator will use the court to punish the target parent. When the courts agree with them they will flaunt it and use it. When the courts disagree, they will violate court orders and they will defy the authority of the court.

Goodbye my friend, I wish you well.

I spoke with my friend for several hours, several days in a row. I listened carefully, hoping that perhaps I was wrong about my friend. But her arguments and stories just made no sense. She is a well-educated and smart woman, yet there was a complete disconnect in her stories. I tried to point out the inconsistencies to her, but she didn’t get it. She is absolutely convinced, and can not see what she is doing.

At first she tried to align me with her, but when I put up too many questions and counter arguments, I became the enemy and our conversation turned sour. At that point I knew this was a lost cause. We hung up and haven’t spoken since.

I think of all the (grand-)parents that have such a hard time of protecting the child from a perp when there is clear evidence. They are viewed with skepticism because there are parents out there that use sexual abuse as a tactic of parental alienation.

It’s a sad situation.

 

The Scorpion and the Tortoise; Ancient Life Lessons of Character

“The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver;
just how would he manage to get across the river?”

The scorpion had a problem, a big problem; he wanted to get across the river and can’t swim.Tortoise_and_Scorpion Luckily a tortoise is nearby and the scorpion tries to entice the tortoise to cross the river with the scorpion on its back.

The tortoise wouldn’t think of it. “You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding: there’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.”

The scorpion cleverly replies that stinging the tortoise would also kill himself, and who would be so foolish? After some hesitation the tortoise agrees to bring the scorpion across. The scorpion certainly had a perceived sensible argument, so the tortoise ignored his inner voice.

But just a few moments from when they set sail,
the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.

As the tortoise was drowning he asked the scorpion: “Why?” Now they are both going to die.

“I don’t know!” cried the scorpion. “You never should trust
a creature like me because poison I must!

I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,
but I just can’t help it; my form is my function.”

“It is better we should both perish than that my enemy should live.”

I was thinking about this ancient story while driving to a meeting with the parenting coordinator and Ex. From Sanskrit to Aesop, children throughout history and all over the world, have been taught that one is, and always will be, true to their nature. It’s your character, your personality.

Only eight days prior to this mandatory meeting, Ex had yelled at me that he was never going to sit face-to-face with me, yet I was on my way to exactly such. This could be interesting and I was certainly going in with mixed emotions.

Part of me knew exactly how this was going to go; Ex has something to gain with maintaining a favorable impression with the parenting coordinator, so he was going to be exceptionally charming and I would have to calmly bring to light his manipulations and hope the parenting coordinator is smart enough to see through them. The scorpion wants to get across the river and so he did, at least he attempted.

I walked away from the meeting thinking about a high school history lesson;

“Franklin, you have some GREAT ideas, let’s form a committee about it” – Stalin to FDR

Despite Churchill’s warnings, FDR said “… I have a hunch Stalin is just not that kind of man…”. FDR felt a lot was accomplished, yet Stalin plundered Eastern Europe while the US essentially single-handedly rebuilt Western Europe.

That is exactly how our meeting went. Superficially it seemed a lot was accomplished, but when you look deeper that sense evaporates. Committees were formed; “I’m working on it,” “I will look into it,” Ex said. If this wasn’t about the well-being of the children, the parallel would have been amusing.

“I’m working on it”

Yes, this was what he said about facilitating a relationship with the mother. For healthy psychological/emotional people this would be appalling!

Early on in the divorce proceedings things are highly emotionally and every (healthy) parent will admit they could have handled certain situations with the children better. We all make mistakes.

However, if this behavior continues 2 ½ years into/after the divorce it becomes deeply disturbing. That parent is either still consumed with hate for the other parent, or has severe psychological problems and never gained the developmental ability to share or form secure relationships.

It takes a village to raise a child. Children have many relationships; with parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, teachers, friends and spouses/children later on in life. So many people make a contribution to a child’s life. When a parent has trouble with ‘facilitating a relationship with the other parent’, they need to have control over the social and emotional life of the child, with the subsequent long-term consequences and abilities for that child to form (future) relationships.

When a parent is secure in their relationship with their child, they welcome the relationships they have with others, and there is no need to control and possess the child like it is property. There is no need to be ‘working on it’. Because that is really deep down what it is; control, possession and insecurity.

My guess is that Ex is still ‘working’ on it, as the solutions discussed have as of yet not materialized. Realistically, he can be ‘working on it’ for a long time.

“Looking into it”

My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was at a loss for words. He couldn’t seriously be saying ‘that‘, it had nothing to do with reality.1150946_605933376125603_910446225_n

This discussion was one of the most blatant examples of ‘externalization of blame‘ I have ever seen. It left me speechless for a moment. The evidence was so crystal clear, like 1+1=2, yet he came with, very weak, arguments that it was ‘my fault’ and could not possibly have happened during his access time.

The Parenting Coordinator stepped in and Ex agreed to ‘look into it’.

In reality it was a really small issue. A psychologically healthy person would have said something along the lines ‘let me fix that for the well-being of the kids’ and it would be done.

This response is an ingrained defense by Ex, he literally can not help himself, like the scorpion couldn’t help stinging the tortoise. Current research is very clear that ‘externalization of blame’ is positively correlated with aggression and lack of empathy, it is the core of psychopathy.

Now why is that so harmful to (young) children? Kids rely on their parents and adults to teach them about the world, about morals and values, how society works. When an adult, or even worse a parent, distorts reality through externalization of blame, it fundamentally undermines their self-esteem and perception of the world around them. They learn not to rely on objective observations and factors, but on the distortions of the person of authority, who are asking them to “smell the color 9”.

And psychopaths are charmingly good at distorting reality. At the end of our meeting I told a funny story to the Parenting Coordinator. Ex jumped in and made himself part of this story. Even to me it seemed plausible he was around when it happened, while I knew he hadn’t. I started doubting myself. I had to go back and check the records to be sure, and sure enough, Ex could not have possible been present during the incident. I now utterly understand that the DSM requires the diagnosis of psychopathy to be made based on records, not on interviews. Or that the FBI requires a computer analysis of the words used, not rely on the interview itself.

From committee to action?

So now what? These issues were raised with the Parenting Coordinator for a reason. I will have to raise them again after some time and hope ‘for the best’.

People don’t change unless they really want to change. A person with a personality disorder can not change, as they do not accept that anything is ‘wrong’ with them, and if nothing is wrong with you, why would you want to change?

Am I disillusioned? No. Belief in human goodness may want us to believe that somebody will change, but I accept that is not going to happen. I accept that Ex is what he is. Now it is about managing the situation.

We will have to see if the committee has ‘sprung into action’ on at least 1 subject.

If I Can’t Have the Kids, then Neither Can You! Child Homicide during Custody Disputes.

“Ostara, Ex thinks you are seriously going to hurt the children”

“Excuse me?” I say dumbfounded.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“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
  • other/unknown

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.

The Genetics of Psychopathy and Why it Matters in Child Custody

“The last scan in the pile was strikingly odd. In fact it looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath—or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one….When I found out who the scan belonged to, I had to believe there was a mistake….But there had been no mistake. The scan was mine.”

Oops.

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Brain scans of Dr Fallon and family

You are a world leading expert on brain imaging for violent criminals and psychopaths and you find that your own brain image is that of a psychopath. YOU are a psychopath. That has to be hard.

Wrong.

That is what a normal person would think; we have empathy, we have emotions. The psychopath doesn’t, (s)he will look how to turn this into a personal gain. And so did Dr Fallon; without empathy for what this public knowledge would do to his immediate family, he turned his discovery into a book about entering the dark side of the brain of a psychopath, included his family history of violent murderers and psychopaths. To top it off he then sought publicity with a huge media campaign. Book sales = money.

And I’m hopping on the band wagon, because his story is of extreme importance for child custody and there are 4 reasons why;

  1. Psychopathy has a genetic link; it passes on from parent to child. A child of a psychopath is at risk.
  2. Psychopathy is in the brain, it is not curable. Forced joint custody, parenting coordinators, therapy, etc will not improve the situation.
  3. Hitler vs Dr Fallon; Society’s misconception about the violent vs socially ‘adapted’ psychopath.
  4. Make or break the child; Influences in the early years.

1. The genetics of psychopathy

Yes, psychopathy passes on from parent to child through genetics. Dr Fallon in his book talks about several violent (and infamous) murderers that are related to him. He has a very interesting family tree to say the least.

Research has shown that Antisocial Personality Disorder (psychopathy) has an about 56% genetic component to it. Just to compare, breast cancer also has a genetic component. Women who have the mutated genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a chance of getting breast cancer in about 55-65% or 45% respectively. Angelina Jolie in 2013 went public with her double mastectomy because she has the gene mutations.

That is a different perspective, isn’t it? They are in the same range.

Just because you have the breast cancer gene, doesn’t mean you get breast cancer. If you have the gene for psychopathy, doesn’t mean you actually become a psychopath. But your chances of becoming a psychopath or getting breast cancer are the same when you have the gene for it.

Kids get some genes from Mom, some genes from Dad, it is a mix. This means children of psychopaths are at risk. It doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to have the gene, but there is a considerable possibility they do.

And when the kids do have the gene, it takes outside factors for psychopathy to become present, just like it takes outside factors for a woman to develop breast cancer.

2. Psychopathy is in the brain

Well-meaning people will say: ‘O, it will get better, it just takes time’, ‘Why doesn’t he go into therapy, that will help’, ‘If he just realizes what is going on, he will change’. I’ve heard my attorney say it, I’ve heard friends and family say it and I have to admit, I was of the same mindset during the marriage as well. I believe in human goodness and thought it would get better. I now know better.

Looking at the brain scan of Dr Fallon is sobering. It is clear that certain parts of his brain are functioning differently than his family members do. Sure, I read the research that psychopathy is not curable, I talked to experts, I preached and told it. Yet deep down inside I hoped it would be different; for the children’s sake. When I saw the scan, reality hit.

A psychopath is not going to change, no therapy will cure him/her. Nothing can change their brain.

3. Hitler vs Dr. Fallon

When we think about psychopaths, we think about Hitler, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and perhaps even Jodi Arias, Ariel Castro or the Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza. We think of creeps, we think of violent criminals.

Certainly not of a well-respected neuroscientist, husband and father like dr Fallon.

And that’s where society and the judicial system go wrong. The world’s leading expert in psychopathy, Dr Babiak and dr Hare, wrote the book ‘Snakes in Suits‘ and as you probably guessed, it is not about violent criminals. The percentage of psychopaths in high-powered positions in society is similar to the percentage in prison.

However, not only is our view of psychopaths skewed, our perception of their ‘damage’ is also clouded. Violence and murder are tangible concepts. We see the horror. Psychological trauma is so much more difficult to grasp, especially when you are not the victim.

Caregiver behaviors …… negatively affect the child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development. Psychological maltreatment has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems, disruptive behavior, and later psychopathology. American Academy of Pediatrics

Despite the fact that the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have policies in place that recognize the frequency and long-term injury of psychological abuse, family court dismisses or even fails to recognize its existence. Yet the psychological damage of being raised by a personality disordered parent is well researched in the field of psychology, this is an unmistakable and devastating disconnect for the child.

4. Make or break the child

So how is it possible that Dr Fallon turned out ‘reasonably well’ and others have gone off the deep end? It is the early years. It is the environment the child grows up in.

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Picture by Steve Corey (Flickr)

Nurture

Dr Fallon explains he was loved as a child. He was the first-born after several miscarriages. He was wanted. He was important to his parents, or at least by 1 emotionally and psychologically healthy parent. A parent who was able to form secure parent-child attachments. So there was at least a 1-way of love.

As I’ve written about before, psychopaths cannot form secure attachments, but the love of Dr Fallon’s parent(s) provided him with a cushion to soften the impact of his genetics.

Just like smoking can cause lung cancer, red food coloring can aggravate ADHD, so is lack of love a trigger for becoming a psychopath. A psychopathic parent per definition can not express love; they are incapable of having empathy and without empathy there is no love. And a parent without empathy can not teach a child empathy.

Love is a deep concern for the other. Love is caring for the other. Children of psychopaths often endure neglect at best, or worse, physical abuse. This environment encourages the next generation to be psychopaths when they are at risk.

Dr Fallon emphasizes over and over again that the timing of the emotional/psychological injury determines the effect on the brain and what type of psychopath you become. For the gene to be expressed, the child needs to be exposed to trauma before puberty. Having the gene and being exposed to violence, or child neglect, is the recipe for disaster. The more severe the exposure, the more violent the psychopath becomes later on.

Family Courts Responsibility

‘Best Interest of the Child’ is the legal standard, not what is fair to each parent, or what a parent would like. Yet the courts do not follow-up on this, they would rather cater to Parental Rights organizations and work on a compromise between the 2 parties as if the children are property that needs to be divided equally. The legal standard is blatantly ignored to favor what can be agreed upon, not what is in the best interest of the child.

First of all courts need to put aside their misconception that psychopaths are violent criminals and realize that ‘upstanding’ members of society can be psychopaths as well. All persons involved in child custody decisions need to put the child first, and not the glorified theory of coming to an agreement and divide the property equally. This is the wellbeing of the next generation decisions are being made about.

When a child is at risk because 1 parent is a psychopath it is particularly important one limits the environmental influence of said parent. This could be a tipping point for the child to develop a personality disorder. It is extremely important that the child be around the parent that can express love, values, care and empathy. That does not mean the psychological disordered parent should be eliminated out of the life of the child, but the influence needs to be managed appropriately.

I can not repeat this enough; conflict is the single most predictable factor for the worst outcome for children of divorce. Forcing joint custody is perpetuating conflict for children. It is making the situation for children who are already at risk even worse. The acrimonious behavior of the psychopath is not going to change. They can’t change, their brain is set.

It is the courts responsibility to protect and safeguard the child, failure to do so has long-term consequences for the child and society. It is time courts recognize and take appropriate actions when there is a parent with a personality disorder and not stick their heads in the sand to cater to parental rights organizations. Our children are not 2nd rate citizens, they are our future. 

Procrustean bed of Joint Custody.

“O weary traveller, come and sleep in my magical bed and all your troubles will be resolved.” — Procrustus

Divorce is the end of the nuclear family and the start of new beginnings. Theseus_Procrustes-600x450Parents each go into different directions and the child is in the middle. Enter the theory of ‘joint custody’, or the inherent right of a child to have a ‘meaningful relationship with each parent’.

And in ‘Utopia’ we all live ‘happily ever after’. Or do we?

Research data shows us that children who have a meaningful relationship with both parents do better in life than children who don’t. This of course is a good argument for joint custody. What is often failed to mention, is that those studies compare divorced single parent families with nuclear non-divorced families.

This is comparing apples and oranges. And this data is manipulated in the media to either advocate against divorce, or pro joint custody. It is not that simple. It would mean that children who lose a parent due to military service or death of a parent are essentially doomed and that is not necessarily the truth, nor is that supported by other research.

There is one thing that all researchers agree upon. What makes the biggest contribution to a child’s failure to adjust well long-term, is the level of conflict between the parents. Both in marriage and after divorce. The worse the conflict, the worst the outcome for the child. The NY court of appeals and appellate courts have it right, when the acrimony between parents is such that they can not communicate and get along, joint custody is out of the question. It is not in the best interest of the children. The emotionally and psychologically more healthy parent that contributes to most to the child’s life should be the sole custodian. It is now also mentioned in the bible of psychology:

Child affected by parental relationship distress: “…. if the negative effects of parental relationship discord (e.g., high levels of conflict, distress, or disparagement) on a child in the family, including effects on the child’s mental or other physical disorders.”  DSM-V

There are other situations where it is very clear that sole custody is the only option. Sole custody does not mean that a parent is or should be eradicated from the children’s’ life.

When there is (sexual) child abuse, it should be clear that sole custody with supervised visitation of the other parent is the only option. Too often we hear that joint custody is still given to the abuser (M/F). And lets not forget that statistically the most severe abuse takes place at the hands of the stepparent. Courts simply can not exclude stepparents from coming to a custody decision.

With a parent in prison, joint custody is going to be hard. Though Bill Eddy in his book ‘Splitting’ talks about taking kids to visit their parent in prison. Supervised visitation is also warranted when there is mental illness like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder.

But there is also hidden abuse, abuse that courts fail or even refuse to see. Just because they turn the blind eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t cruel to the children involved.

Parental Alienation is now in the DSM-V as psychological child abuse. The makers of the DSM-V had to stay ‘politically correct’ and therefore the term Parental Alienation is not named per se:

Child psychological abuse: “nonaccidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.”  — DSM-V

Science won, lobbyist for some parental rights organizations lost. Finally, so now we have to get the courts on board and recognize the damage that is done to children.

Who perpetuates most of the alienating behavior? A normal healthy psychologically parent may be angry at the beginning of the divorce and say and do some things that they later regret, but they will have no problem to admit their mistakes to their children and ex-spouse and assure the children love the other parent.

However, personality disordered parents per definition can not change, it is an enduring character flaw, and they are defensive of their mistakes. It is always the other, the target’s, fault. As time passes on, the children also become the target of the personality disordered parents defensive behavior.

We expect from the justice system, be it judge or jury, to be a trier of fact. We expect them to look at the evidence presented at trial. The 6th amendment assures each of us have a right to a fair trial, criminal or civil. In custody cases the stakes are high, the decision is about the emotional, physical and psychological health of the next generation, the generation that carries our country and future. It wouldn’t get to a custody trial if there weren’t severe issues to be addressed.

Procrustean bed: And arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced

Procrustus persuaded travellers in Greek Mythology to come and sleep in his bed. He claimed his bed was perfect and would fit each traveller. The iron bed in fact was a torture device, where Procrustus (meaning ‘The Stretcher’) would stretch the person who was too small and would cut off the legs of those that were too long.

Forcing joint or 50/50 custody on embattled or personality disordered parents, despite the evidence presented, discarding hard evidence that does not fit your theory and embellishing unsubstantiated accusations as being truthful, or justifying lies, undermines the justice system and hurts children. A personality disorder is a game-changer in custody decisions; it is time the courts realize the damage they are doing.