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Study examines child abuse, parental alienation claims

Wisconsin mothers who accuse their children's father of abuse and who are in turn accused by the father of parental alienation may lose custody of their children. In a study of 2,000 nationwide custody cases involving abuse and parental alienation conducted by a professor at George Washington University Law School, a mother's claim of child abuse was never substantiated if the father's parental alienation claim was. In cases involving sexual abuse, just one in 51 were substantiated if the father also claimed parental alienation.

Parental alienation syndrome involves one parent's manipulation of a child until the child becomes ambivalent or negative toward the other parent. It was popularized in the 1980s by a psychiatrist and is believed to be widespread, but it remains a controversial diagnosis. It may also contribute to what the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence estimates is around 58,000 children each year who are placed in the custody of an abusive parent or allowed unsupervised time with that parent.

Maryland may now become the first state to use empirical research to investigate allegations of child abuse. The professor who conducted the research says she hopes to put it into a form that is more accessible so that lawmakers in Maryland and throughout the country can be better informed.

The aim of a family court in custody decisions is to choose the arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. Most of the time, the court will try to find a way to ensure that the child spends time with both parents. The exception is if the child is in danger with one of them. A parent who believes this is the case may want to talk to an attorney about what kind of evidence to provide and how to present it in court.

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