Very often in contested child custody conflicts everything appears to the court opposite of what it actually is.
It has been documented that fewer than ten percent of disputed custody cases go to court – (see “Divorce Wars,” Ellis, American Psychological Association, 2000 – for more recent citations see my article in The Journal of Child Custody in my ebook). It is my experience that this small percent are “high conflict” cases meaning one parent is desperately seeking help from the court to protect h/her from the other parent. No matter how bad things have been up to this point, unless h/she is very well prepared, h/she will find that their problems have just begun as it is unlikely that the victimized parent will be believed. (You might read Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial and Neustein and Lesher’s From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts — and What Can Be Done About It.
Rather, the accused will redirect those accusations back to the victim by means of a defense known as “projective identification.” These accusations are likely to seem more credible as we tend to believe and to support the more powerful person. All abuse (and most cruelty) stems from this defense.
I have found that, regardless of the socioeconomic status of the family, court custody disputes begin with the real victim quiet, crying or in a daze as the authorities have removed h/her children from them as they believe the accusation the abuser has made about h/her, and end when the children are grown and determine their own relationship with their parents and caretakers.
Before going to court, it is critical for the real victim to know the law in their state on child sexual abuse, emotional abuse and financial and physical abuse and to make certain that they begin their court proceedings with incontrovertible evidence of that abuse. (Understandably, many people rely on tapes to prove abuse. Whether these are admissible has to be determined by state law and, politically speaking using them can have the effect of making the real victim look calculating and possibly duplicitous.
The conduct of the real victim is essential to success in court over the long-term. The only way you are going to seem credible is to be steadfast, articulate, reasonable and respectful of everyone concerned. You must begin virtually every statement with “I can understand how this must seem from your perspective “ . . . and then explain their perspective and only then, state what your concerns are. Revenge, rage and despair lend credibility to the abuser’s accusations. You must not get caught up in what is fair because while you are experiencing the injustice of h/her false accusations, the court has no such perspective. It might be helpful to try and think of the abuser as more sick or afflicted than bad and that you have to manage them as opposed to fight them.
While this is a daunting task for the real victim you do have laws making abuse a crime which a generation ago did not exist, and you have a network of individuals and organizations who will try to assist you in significant and meaningful ways. Call your local domestic violence agencies and state coalitions for legal references and make sure they have experience litigating contested custody disputes. Also, LundyBancroft.com is an excellent resource.