• Icon_print
  • Mail-icon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Newsvine
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Twitter
  • Icon_join
Published Newsletter Vol. 4, 2006 by ABA Commission On Domestic Violence

10 Custody Myths and How To Counter Them

by American Bar Association Commission On Domestic Violence

Any attorney who represents clients in custody matters will recognize at least some of the following unfounded clichés about domestic violence and custody. Here are some resources that the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence  provides for practitioners to use when representing victims of domestic violence.

For a print version of this document with references click here


MYTH 1:  Domestic violence is rare among custody litigants.

FACT: Studies show that 25-50% of disputed custody cases involve domestic violence.

MYTH 2:  Any ill effects of domestic violence on children are minimal and short term.

FACT:  “Children who are exposed to domestic violence may show comparable levels of emotional and behavioral problems to children who were the direct victims of physical or sexual abuse.

FACT: Adverse effects to children who witness DV are well-documented, including aggressive behavior, depression, and/or cognitive deficiencies.

FACT:  A continuing study by the CDC has shown a significant relationship between exposure to “adverse childhood experiences” (including witnessing domestic violence) and development of adult health problems, including pulmonary disease, heart disease, hepatitis, fractures, obesity, and diabetes (not to mention IV drug use, alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases and depression).

MYTH 3: Mothers frequently invent allegations of child sexual abuse to win custody.

FACT: Child sexual abuse allegations in custody cases are rare (about 6%), and the majority of allegations are substantiated (2/3).

FACT: False allegations are no more common in divorce or custody disputes than at any other time.

FACT: Among false allegations, fathers are far more likely than mothers to make intentionally false accusations (21% compared to 1.3%)

MYTH 4: Domestic violence has nothing to do with child abuse.

FACT: A wide array of studies reveal a significant overlap between domestic violence and child abuse, with most finding that both forms of abuse occur in 30-60% of violent families.

FACT: Other studies have shown intimate partner violence (“IPV”) to be a strong predictor of child abuse, increasing the risk from 5% after one act of IPV to 100% after 50 acts of IPV.

MYTH 5: Abusive fathers don’t get custody.

FACT: Abusive parents are more likely to seek sole custody than nonviolent ones…

FACT: …and they are successful about 70% of the time.

FACT: Allegations of domestic violence have no demonstrated effect on the rate at which fathers are awarded custody of their children, nor do such allegations affect the rate at which fathers are ordered into supervised visitation. (i.e. abusers win unsupervised custody and visitation at the same rate as nonabusers)

MYTH 6: Fit mothers don’t lose custody.

FACT: Mothers who are victims of DV are often depressed and suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, and as a result, can present poorly in court and to best-interest attorneys and/or custody evaluators.

MYTH 7: Parental Alienation Syndrome (“PAS”) is a scientifically sound phenomenon.

FACT: The American Psychological Association has noted the lack of data to support so-called "parental alienation syndrome," and raised concern about the term's use.

MYTH 8: Children are in less danger from a batterer/parent once the parents separate.

FACT: Many batterers’ motivation to intimidate and control their victims through the children increases after separation, due to the loss of other methods of exerting control.

MYTH 9: Parents who batter are mentally ill, OR Parents with no evidence of mental illness cannot be batterers.

FACT: Mental illness is found only in a minority of batterers, and accounts for only 10% of abusive incidents.

FACT: Psychological testing is not a good predictor of parenting capacity.

FACT: Mental health testing cannot distinguish a batterer from a non-batterer.

MYTH 10: If a child demonstrates no fear or aversion to a parent, then there is no reason not to award unsupervised contact or custody.

FACT: Children can experience “traumatic bonding” with a parent who abuses the child or their other parent, forming unusually strong but unhealthy ties to a batterer as a survival technique (often referred to as “Stockholm Syndrome”).


The ABA Commission on Domestic Violence publishes its Quarterly e-Newsletter four times a year in electronic format. Subscriptions are free to all interested parties, and are distributed via e-mail and by download from the Commission website. Largeprint editions are available upon request. Quarterly e-Newsletter includes substantive articles by experts in the field, resources and tools for representing survivors of domestic violence, and caselaw updates and trends.

The ABA hereby grants permission for copies of the materials herein to be made, in whole or in part, for classroom use in an institution of higher learning or for use by not-for-profit organizations, provided that the use is for informational, non-commercial purposes only and any copy of the materials or potion thereof acknowledges original publication by the ABA including the title of the publication, the name of the author, and the legend “Reprinted by permission of the American Bar Association. All rights reserved.”

Requests to reproduce portions of this publication in any other manner should be sent to Copyrights & Contracts, American BarAssociation.

The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association or the Commission on Domestic Violence unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the ABA.

Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advicefrom their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.

Stay Informed

Privacy Policy