The #MeToo movement enjoys a fertile breeding ground in family court. In custody and parenting time disputes, judicial support of almost any and all false allegations of abuse has become #TheCode. For decades, it’s been commonly known, and even expected, that divorce lawyers use false allegations of abuse as a legal strategy to gain an upper-hand for their mom clients in divorce court. And, all too often, it works.
While the rise of the #MeToo movement was well-intentioned, the outcomes of #BelieveHer in family court custody disputes have devastating effects for those who are accused but aren’t guilty. When parental rights and care, custody, time, and relationships with joint children are jeopardized, believing all claims regardless or in lieu of the evidence has created a kangaroo court. Justice and the rule of law seem to be thrown out the window, and children are the collateral damage.
The start of a new year seems like the perfect time to give attention to this prevalent social issue, which has been pervasive, yet silent, in this country for decades.
In early 2021, two people fighting for equality under the law discussed this issue. After experiencing the atrocities of family court in America, Hollywood actor Greg Ellis (Pirates of the Caribbean) started his organization, The Respondent, to shed light on the underbelly of America's family court system. His book, of the same title, will be published in 2021. Early this year, he teamed up with equal parenting expert, Molly K. Olson (founder of The Center for Parental Responsibility and co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting) to discuss the $50 billion divorce industry, specifically related to the problem of false allegations in custody battles and the uphill battle fathers face in family court. (You can watch their full conversation, titled “The Respondent w Public Enemy #1 of Divorce Lawyer Lobbyists Molly K. Olson,” here.)
False Allegations Are the “Silver Bullet” of Family Court
According to The Respondent interview, there are over 20 million cases of false allegations every year in family court alone. The typical policy is that in all domestic abuse police calls, one party must be arrested before law enforcement or anyone investigates if violence actually occurred. There’s a presumption of guilt rather than innocence, and that presumption sticks to the accused like a barnacle throughout their time in family court. Ellis and Olson both agree policies need to change so that the burden of proof falls on the accuser’s shoulders rather than the accused. We must challenge family court to adhere to the most basic rule of law: innocent until proven guilty. John Adams said, “It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished.”
In family court, “it’s he-said-she-said, and she-said always wins.”
Ellis describes the “six silver bullets” of divorce court, specifically used in the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard case. The first is the victimhood story. Hearsay evidence is admissible in family court; as Olson puts it, “it’s he-said-she-said, and she-said always wins.” According to Ellis, other silver bullets strategies in the winner-take-all divorce system include filing first, private investigations, family financial restructuring, and gatekeeping of home and children by one party.
The Harm Parental Alienation Causes
These silver bullets are often accompanied by parental alienation. Parental alienation, a hotly debated topic among family court professionals, is when a child is unjustly hostile to a parent due to alienating behavior of their other parent. This can include badmouthing and even telling the child their other parent doesn’t love them. Olson believes the research is now clear that parental alienation is domestic abuse and child abuse. She has seen how fathers are disparaged as complainers for even mentioning parental alienation in family court.
Some family court practitioners have concluded that parental alienation is “junk science,” using it as an excuse to dismiss or ignore abuse and the frustrations of children, or to excuse a parent who has chosen to walk away from their responsibilities. These practitioners are confusing alienation with estrangement and are unwilling to examine the large body of scientific data that says parental alienation is real and that children suffer the most when alienated. Is it really so hard to believe that a child caught in an immensely emotional situation might be easily influenced by a parent who will do anything for sole custody?
Parental alienation is when a child is unjustly hostile to a parent due to alienating behavior of their other parent.
So why is there so much damage done to families in family court? Why so many lies and betrayals between those who once loved each other? Olson astutely points out that it’s all about the money. Domestic violence groups are some of the biggest opponents of equal parenting simply because they get paid billions of dollars by the government and by well-meaning but sometimes misinformed corporate donors to perpetuate the myth that all victims are women and all perpetrators are men. While this narrative certainly disadvantages men working tirelessly to spend as much time with their children as possible, it hurts children the most.
So, What’s the Solution?
For the last 20 years, Molly K. Olson has been fighting for a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting in divorce and separation. Despite what divorce lawyer opponents believe, this presumption of equal parenting would not make it easier for abusive parents to be given custody of their children, as abuse is one of the exceptions to the presumption. Instead, it would give every fit and able parent the opportunity to participate in as much of their child’s daily living as possible. Most importantly, it would ensure that children of divorce and separation are afforded the same rights as children with married parents: a reliable and consistent relationship with both of their parents. Study after study reveals that joint physical custody yields the best outcomes for kids, and fatherlessness produces significantly adverse long-term effects. Equal-shared parenting gives every child the relationship they need and deserve with BOTH fit, loving, and able parents.
Equal-shared parenting gives every child the relationship they need and deserve with both fit and loving parents.
Divorce lawyers, who have a great deal of influence over their clients, and the divorce lawyer lobby, which often controls legislators, will claim equal parenting keeps people in court longer. At the same time, it’s the plethora of divorce practitioners who benefit monetarily from prolonged and brutal fights that permeate in family court.
A rebuttable presumption of equal parenting is the best way to combat the “silver bullet” of false allegations in family court and to put an end to the domestic violence industry that perpetuates a narrative of anti-gender equality, where only men can be perpetrators and only women can be victims. That same industry paved the way to the silent suffering of Johnny Depp and refuses to acknowledge, let alone help, male victims of domestic violence.
If you would like to support equal parenting time joint custody policies, please visit The Center for Parental Responsibility Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please watch The Respondent interview with Greg Ellis and Molly K. Olson. Reach out to your local and state legislature about this crucial issue.
Let’s make 2021 the year of equal-parenting. It’s not just for the parents, it’s for the kids too!