The hidden half of domestic violence
How to have eternal life
Shared Custody Could
by Dianna Thompson and Glenn Sacks
Men's News Daily
September 23, 2002
Armed men burst in the door and seize a nine year-old boy. His father
resists, and is beaten by the masked intruders. Bloodied and dazed he
makes a frantic call to 911, saying "they stole my son, my son!" The
person accused of orchestrating the kidnapping is the person one might
least likely suspect....the boy's mother.
While much attention has been paid to the kidnappings of Danielle van Dam,
Samantha Runion and others, the vast majority of child abductors are not
strangers but parents, as in the recent abduction of nine-year-old
Nicholas Farber of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Two-thirds of the
kidnappings in Colorado between 1998 and 2001 were carried out by family
members, as are the vast majority of the roughly 350,000 child abductions
in the United States each year.
According to the US Department of Justice, mothers and fathers abduct
their children in equal numbers. Since custodial mothers outnumber
custodial fathers four to one, custodial fathers are at a much higher risk
of having their children abducted by noncustodial mothers than custodial
mothers are of having their children abducted by noncustodial fathers.
There are many different reasons why parents abduct their children. In
some cases, like the Farber abduction, the abducting parent is mentally
unstable and/or a drug abuser. In others, according to Robert Muchnick,
Executive Director for the Center for Children's Justice in Denver, the
parent abducts because of "power, control and narcissism."
Muchnick explains that parents without custody often feel inadequate and
powerless. Seizing the child gives them the "keys to the kingdom" by
making them feel like the better parent and also by giving them control
over their children.
Many abducting parents are narcissistic, he explains, believing that
"abducting the child would be in their children's best interest when, in
reality, they are only acting to gratify their own desires."
Most experts agree, however, that revenge against a former spouse or
partner is the primary motive in the majority of parental kidnapping
cases. Such emotions are often the malignant outgrowth of the unjust
win/lose child custody system.
For women, losing custody of one's children can be devastating
emotionally. Also, because courts lean so heavily towards mothers in child
custody rulings, mothers without custody often bear the terrible stigma of
"unfit mother," even if they ceded custody voluntarily and for healthy
For fathers, losing custody does not bear the same stigma, simply because
few fathers are able to win custody of their children. However, fathers
also acutely feel the loss of daily contact with their children following
a divorce or separation. Perhaps more importantly, studies show that half
or more noncustodial fathers are victims of access and visitation denial
or "move-away moms." This unrecognized epidemic often cuts fathers out of
their children's lives entirely, and can make some desperate or vengeful
enough that they resort to seizing their children.
Government efforts to address parental kidnappings, such as the 1980
federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, have not solved the problem
largely because it is often difficult for the parent whose children have
been abducted to find them and their abductor. What is needed is to reform
the child custody system in order to prevent the kidnappings from
occurring in the first place.
According to the US Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice,
children in sole custody are at a far greater risk of being abducted by a
parent than children in joint physical custody. One effective way to
reduce the incidence of parental kidnaping is to replace the current
win/lose, adversarial family court system with shared parenting and the
rebuttable presumption of joint physical custody.
Under shared parenting, if divorcing parents are unable to agree on a
shared parenting plan, the courts would implement a plan which affords
both parents equal physical time with the child or children. Judges would
not be able to deviate from this egalitarian arrangement unless there is
strong evidence that one of the parents has committed acts which render
that parent unfit, such as child abuse or domestic violence.
By assuring both parents that they will be able to remain equal
participants in their children's lives, shared parenting takes much of the
conflict and struggle for power out of divorce. In turn, it will lessen
the anger and fear endemic to custody battles--emotions which can lead
some parents to commit vengeful and harmful child abductions.
This column first appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette (9/22/02).
[ http://www.gazette.com/ -- and has also been posted at
Dianna Thompson is the executive director of the American Coalition for
Fathers and Children (www.acfc.org) and is a nationally recognized expert
on families, stepfamilies, divorce, and child custody. She can be contacted
by email at DThompson2232@aol.com. Glenn Sacks is the only regularly
published male columnist in the US who writes about gender issues from a
perspective unapologetically sympathetic to men and fathers. He can be
reached at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.
Copyright © 2001 - 2002 Glenn Sacks. All Rights Reserved.
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JUNE is Domestic Violence Against Men Awareness Month