Australian fathers involved in child custody cases have a significantly harder time than do those in the U.S. Here, courts have, over a couple of decades begun, however grudgingly, to heed the science that demonstrates, beyond serious doubt, that children do better on average with two biological parents in their lives than in any other living arrangement. So we see a trend toward greater sharing of time between parents post-divorce.
In the Land Down Under, the marginalization of fathers holds greater sway. If academics, the news media and judges have the least awareness of the reality of a child’s true best interests, it’s not obvious. On the contrary, allegations of abuse by mothers are widely considered as true from the outset, and every effort to raise the issue of false allegations is met with cries of “Misogyny!” and the crazy idea that courts are predisposed against “protective mothers.”
And so it is with the most recent study of family court cases in which mothers alleged sexual abuse of children by fathers. It turns out that, of the 380 cases studied, just 12% were found to be true by trial judges. More importantly, the other 88% were found to be false – i.e., either “deliberately false,” “mistaken false” or “other false.” That last category includes cases in which, “[t]here was no explicit finding and the judge's view could not be determined.” Yes, a few of those allegations may have been meritorious, but surely most weren’t. After all, if a judge found that a father had sexually abused a child, don’t you think he/she would have said so?
The news then is that, in contested custody cases, mothers’ claims of sexual abuse by fathers are almost always untrue and, in 20% of cases, were known to be false when made. Now, given that, you might wonder, as did veteran journalist and activist, Bettina Arndt, how many of those intentionally false claims were met with any form of punishment by the court. The researchers didn’t answer that, but they didn’t have to. That’s because, in Arndt’s words, “[a]nyone who followed submissions to the recent Family Law inquiry will know the answer to that one - precisely zero.”
Stated another way, mothers’ allegations of sexual assault of children by fathers are, in family court, a free shot. If they work to deprive Dad of custody or reduce his parenting time, then Mom and her barrister consider it a win. If not, then nothing’s been lost; there’s no downside to lying, at least about child sexual abuse. You might think judges would have more respect for the “dignity” of their courts and selves. But if so, you’d be wrong.
Needless to say, the anti-Dad crowd has ready to hand its one-word answer to the study – “Patriarchy.” You see, to them, any information that supports their anti-father/anti-child point of view = good news. And any, like the current study, that contradicts them is just patriarchal claptrap designed to maintain corrupt men in power over helpless-but-noble women/mothers. (More about that next time.) How they can maintain such an absurd point of view in light of the fact that mothers are routinely given custody and perjury is winked at remains a mystery.
To get an idea of how stuck in time Australian courts are, consider this from Arndt:
Though startling, these results shouldn’t come as a surprise. Over thirty years ago I published an article quoting a retiring family court judge speaking out about the proliferation of false accusations of child sexual abuse in contested cases. Other judges have raised concerns about the problem and it has long been known that false accusations are more common in custody disputes.
That’s right, friends. The problem of false allegations of child sexual abuse has been so bad that, for 30 years, judges have been complaining about it. (30 years!) That of course means the problem well predates those judges’ speaking out. And yet here we are, still studying the matter, still doing nothing to stop it, still allowing children to suffer the loss of a parent due to those false allegations.
And let’s not pretend that this latest study was conducted to further the cause of reform. On the contrary, researchers tackled the issue in the hopes of concluding that false allegations aren’t a problem. Here’s Arndt again:
[T]hese researchers … make it clear they hoped to prove false accusations were rare. Nola Webb, barrister and lead author of the study, proudly told the ABC that she commenced the research because she was shocked to hear from mothers reporting their child abuse accusations were being dismissed in family court.
Faced with devastating evidence that judges conclude most of the allegations didn’t stack up, the researchers do their best to massage the results to disguise the extent of the false allegation problem. For instance, they exclude allegations which are “one of a multitude of criticisms of the other parent” claiming this might “minimise their seriousness and compromise their believability.” What, a mother fires off a barrage of complaints including child sexual abuse allegations and that somehow makes these allegations less serious? Go figure….
Australian courts too often deny children the most important thing in their lives – a healthy relationship with both parents. False allegations of abuse are one mechanism of that denial. To much of the news media, the commentariat and the academy, that’s a good thing.
I’ll say more about that next time.