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Studies find some courts skeptical of abuse claims

When parents in Virginia get a divorce, child custody negotiations can sometimes turn unpleasant. In some cases, one parent may accuse the other of abusing the child. The other parent might counter with a claim that the abuse allegation is untrue and that what is actually happening is a phenomenon known as parental alienation syndrome, in which one parent attempts to turn a child against the other parent.

Although PAS is often cited in contentious divorce cases, some experts say it has little basis in fact. The phrase was originally coined by a child psychiatrist in the 1980s who noticed a large number of child sexual abuse claims during custody battles. He theorized that mothers were making it up in order to get custody. While both mothers and fathers claim PAS in custody cases today, one researcher who did a nationwide study found that it is much more common for fathers who say PAS is happening to get custody than mothers. Mothers who said their children were being physically or sexually abused by their fathers sometimes lost custody altogether.

Even when the court considered abuse to be proven, the other parent might still lose custody. This happened to mothers in 13% of cases, but it only happened to fathers in 4% of cases.

Ideally, parents can negotiate an agreement for child custody and support. If they have to go to litigation, they can still create a healthy co-parenting relationship afterward. However, some parents may be concerned about child abuse and neglect. If the child is not safe with the other parent, the parent may want to discuss the situation with an attorney and what steps to take to protect the child. For example, a parent might want to gather documentation, such as any police or medical reports that support the claim.

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