More on Breaking the Silence

My column on the PBS documentary Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories, which deals with abusive husbands/fathers who win custody of their children after divorce (and manages to insinuate that most men seeking custody of their children are abusers), is now up at the Boston Globe.

For more on the subject, see this post.

Update: RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) is another website that has provided excellent analysis of Breaking the Silence.


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5 responses to “More on Breaking the Silence

  1. Ampersand

    In contested custody cases, mothers are two to four times more likely to prevail.

    What’s the source for this statistic, please?

    I don’t disagree with anything you said in your column, although possibly you could have acknowleged that the federal violence against women study you cite also found that the more serious the violence, the more men predominated as abusers.

    On the whole, though, it sounds to me as if you’re right, and that the documentary (which I haven’t seen) is unbalanced.

    On the other hand, if they had included one case in which the non-abusive parent was the father, then MRAs still would have objected because it wasn’t 50-50.

  2. Cathy Young

    Barry, the numbers come from several studies, admittedly all going back a few years — don’t know if there are any newer numbers.

    Sanford Braver’s study in Arizona (in the early 1990s, I believe) found that 2/3 of mothers and 1/6 of fathers ended up with the custody arrangements they wanted.

    A study in Ohio published in a journal called Family Advocate (a respected academic journal, not an advocacy publication) in 1993, by Wendy Reiboldt and Sharon Seiling, found that only 4 out of 45 contested custody cases resulted in a custody award to the father.

    The largest study, by Eleanor Maccoby and Robert Mnookin (1,000 California couples divorced in the mid-1980s) found that if both parents requested sole custody when filing for divorce, the mother got sole custody 45% of the time and the father got sole custody 11% of the time (the rest being joint physical custody). When the mother wanted sole custody and the father wanted joint custody, the mother received sole custody about 2/3 of the time.

    Most of these disputes were negotiated and only five couples vying for sole custody actually went to trial. Of these cases, the father won sole custody in one case and joint custody was awarded in another. (Eleanor Maccoby and Robert Mnookin, Dividing the Child, Harvard University Press 1992.

  3. Richard Bennett

    the more serious the violence, the more men predominated as abusers.

    Quite the opposite is the case in child abuse, where the more serious the abuse the more likely the abuser is the mother (or her lover) than the father.

    Maccoby and Mnookin is a good study, but it probably overstates success of fathers in family court since it was conducted in a very progressive jurisdiction. (Please note that in family law, “progressive” means “favorable to joint custody”.)

    Regarding the movie, the invocation of Joan Meier as the authority on DV and custody should be a dead giveaway. Ms. Meier is an advocate, not a researcher. It’s as if somebody did a movie on fathers and custody tried to pass me off as an impartial authority with some sharp research.

  4. vbspurs

    Quoting an excerpt:

    The filmmakers contend that their only concern was the well-being of children. Yet, if the film contributes to a climate in which fathers who seek custody are tagged as suspected abusers, it could endanger children as well.

    By using the broadest of brushstrokes, by presenting one example, and making it universal, yes.

    I don’t think there is anyone who would like an abuser to have custody of the child.

    My only plea to them is not to assume it is the father who is automatically the villain in these circumstances.

    PBS should rectify this bias by presenting programs with a different point of view.

    Come on, now. That’s not going to happen. It’s not a point-counterpoint type of entity, PBS.

    Still, you could’ve done worse but to ask. 🙂


  5. tom gallen

    I love it when experts discuss subjects that they never will experience. I wonder how many experts have been terrorized as I was. I lived in fear of a woman for over sixteen years. Was I ever a statistic, I don’t know. When I spoke to DV hotlines, it was hard to talk over the laughter. “Well, what you are describing is a classic example of spousal abuse but I’ve never heard it from a man before”. You get the same reposnse from the police and the courts get downright angry when you suggest that women can be abusive. The media paints a totally one sided picture, quoting those darn statistics which paint fathers as beasts and mothers as saints. Strangely, I know only one or two women who were abused by a man but I know very few men who haven’t been abused by a woman. I wonder whether all these men have been counted and indentified as abused males. I could claim that if you could identify and count abusers, abusive women would far outnumber abusive men and I might be right but then I would be just like the experts that have demonized fathers, stolen their children and their lives and I don’t want to be like them.

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