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Published October 2, 2006 by California Protective Parents Association

Protective Parents Survey - Pilot Study Results

by Geraldine Butts Stahly, PhD

There appears to be an increase in contentious custody disputes between divorcing parents. Some mental health professionals have suggested that this has created an "epidemic" of false abuse reports as a strategy of accusing parents. Other professionals report evidence of an increase in the labeling of parents who report child abuse or domestic violence during custody disputes such that parents who attempt to protect their children from abuse may actually lose custody as a result. Several high profile cases have led to increased public attention, and fractious public debates have erupted between groups supporting the alleged perpetrators of abuse as victims of malicious accusations on one hand, and groups supporting the reporting parent as the victim of malicious psychiatric labeling on the other.

Empirical studies have established the increase in child abuse in families in which there is domestic violence, and the increase in custody challenges by fathers who have a history of battering. There is increasing recognition that custody disputes are an extension of the power and control tactics of domestic violence, and battered women's problems of child custody are now well-established and have been addressed in many states by changes in family law statutes. A few studies document the custody problems of battered women, who make up a subset of "protective parents." However, there have been no studies to date on the extent of the overall phenomenon of "protective parents," the psychiatric labeling of protective behavior, or the extent to which protective behavior appears to be justified by the circumstances and evidence in custody cases.

The current study is the pilot results of a national survey undertaken to study the issue of protective parents. Sixty-seven self-identified "protective parents," male and female, completed a 101-item questionnaire describing aspects of their custody disputes. The pilot data to be presented includes the systematic documentation of the phenomenon of protective parents by including demographic factors, economic impact, and the full variety of protection issues including the range of allegations by both parents and others, the variety of expert examinations, diagnosis and testimony, family court response, and outcomes for children.

The following information is preliminary data from a national survey sponsored by California Protective Parents Association and Our Children Our Future Charitable Foundation. Self-identified "protective parents" completed a 101-item questionnaire describing aspects of their custody dispute. The following information is pilot data from the first 67 participants, as of May 2003.

Participants: 66 mothers; 1 father
105 children involved (59 girls, 46 boys)
253 attorneys involved (average of 4 per participant)

Total spent on cases: $4,618,150.00:
Average per case: $74,000.00

90% of mothers were primary caretakers and had custody at separation
87% of mothers reported domestic violence
58% of mothers continued to experience violence after separation
76% of fathers threatened to take custody of the children

89% of protective parents reported allegations of abuse in court:

  • 76% reported allegations of child sexual abuse were raised in court
  • 67% reported allegations of child physical abuse were raised in court
  • 58% reported medical/physical evidence of the abuse
  • 76% reported other corroboration of the abuse
  • 23% of children received Victims of Crime funds for related therapy


65% of protective parents were advised not to report abuse (due to the risk of losing custody) This advice was given by:

  • attorneys - 55%
  • mediators - 10%
  • court personnel - 7%
  • advocates - 7%
  • others - 23% (AFDC worker, police, psychologist, judge, family court advisor, shelter staff and 11 other protective parents)


88% had psychological evaluations:

  • The average cost of the evaluation was $6,541.00
  • 61% were not permitted to see the evaluation/recommendation
  • 96% believed court personnel ignored or minimized allegations of abuse
  • 48% of mothers were labeled with "PAS" (Parental Alienation Syndrome)
  • 36% were labeled as "alienators"
  • 69% lost custody as a result of the psychological evaluation


84% reported they were denied adequate presentation of information or witnesses
98% believed they were discredited for trying to protect their children
67% lost custody in ex parte proceedings
59% lost custody in proceedings with no court reporter present

67% were threatened with sanctions if they "talked publicly" about the case

OUTCOMES (Some participants reported more than one outcome)

Father has custody; mother has unsupervised visitation - 48%
Mother has custody; father has unsupervised visitation - 17%

Father has custody; mother has supervised visitation - 29%
Mother has custody; father has supervised visitation - 3%

Father has custody; mother has no contact with the child/ren - 29%
Mother has custody; father has no contact with the child/ren - 0%

Mother and father have joint custody - 17%

91% of mothers believe their children are still being abused
67% have stopped reporting abuse for fear that contact with their children will be terminated

75% of the children continue to report abuse
81% of mothers no longer believe they can protect their children

This survey project is ongoing. Please contact us at cppa001@aol.com if you would like to receive a survey form by mail, or get the survey form online at the Mothers of Lost Children site.

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