Friday, November 27, 2009

Dallas Man Acquitted of Molestation Conviction based on allegations in Custody Case after 15 years

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently issued a order exonerating a Dallas father accused of molesting two of his young daughters during a heated custody battle and then being wrongly convicted based on testimony of the two girls, then 6 and 4. The dad was convicted, spent 2 1/2 years in prison, and then was released as a convicted sex offender. He had steadfastly maintained his innocence, and after his daughters reached adulthood, they recanted their childhood testimony completely, and admitted that they had decided that the adults weren't going to listen to them so they "just told them what they wanted to hear". The father, once a lawyer, was working as a truck driver at the time of his exoneration, and has been reunited with his daughters.

While this is an extreme example of parental alienation in a custody case, allegations of sexual abuse in too many custody cases. Based on overall occurrence of sexual abuse outside the context of divorce litigation, the incidence of father-daughter incest is very low (less than 1 in 1000 families or less) with the validation of incest occurring in more than 95% of reported cases. In the context of divorce litigation however, the number of reported cases is relatively high (10% of divorce cases or more), but with the validation of those reports occurring in fewer than 5% of those cases. Bottom line, incest allegations in divorce cases are almost always FALSE, while incest allegations in outside the custody arena are almost always TRUE. Of course, base rates don't determine the facts in a single case, but they constitute an important contextual clue about what is LIKELY to be going on in an individual case.

Despite the decline of such serious allegations in divorce cases over the last 25 years, parents in contested custody cases continue to make false allegations about the behavior of their spouses and to coach their children about "bad things" the other parent has done or is doing. These parents, many of whom have very poor judgment, a blurry line between fantasy and reality, and a "black and white" view of the world and the people in it, do not appreciate the damage that they are doing to the children in the zeal to win the "custody battle". The long term research on the effects of divorce on children continues to show that the best predictor of damage to children in divorce is the result of ongoing conflict between the parents--when parents continue to fight, children are harmed--period.

Professionals involved with divorcing families and the parents who are divorcing must all recognize that when parents attack each other in court during the months of the divorce litigation, the children are damaged for the next 20 YEARS or more. I am sure NO parent really wants that kind of future for their children.

So given these risks, what are some alternatives?

1. Even when divorcing, agree to disagree without including the children.
2. Give the children access and visitation with both parents.
3. Avoid making allegations without objective proof substantiated by a third party.
4. When in doubt, don't.
5. If you really suspect child abuse, find a mental health professional with LOTS of experience in child abuse and child abuse allegations in divorce cases and let them decide whether to file a report about the "abuse".

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