Allegations of Family Violence in Court: How Parental Alienation Affects Judicial Outcomes

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Harman, J. J., & Lorandos, D. (2020). Allegations of family violence in court: How parental alienation affects judicial outcomes. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Advance online publication.

We tested a set of findings reported by Meier et al. (2019) related to the use of parental alienation as a legal defense in cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. A total of 967 appellate reports in which PA was found or alleged were sequentially selected from a legal database search. Nineteen research assistants blind to the study’s hypotheses coded the reports for the variables used to test six preregistered hypotheses using a series of logistic and linear regression models. We failed to find any support for the conclusions made by Meier et al. Parents found (vs. alleged) to have alienated their children, regardless of their gender, had greater odds of losing parenting time, losing custody of their children, and losing their case. These findings held even when the accusing parent had been found to have been abusive. Losses or decreases in custody were not found when the (alleged) alienated parent was found to have been abusive. Results indicate that the majority of courts carefully weigh allegations of all forms of family violence in their determinations about the best interests of children. These findings, along with several others, raise concerns that the methodological, analytical, and statistical problems we detail about Meier’s report that make her conclusions untrustworthy. Discussion focuses on the importance of using open science practices for transparent and rigorous empirical testing of hypotheses and the dangers of misusing scientific findings to mislead influential professionals who affect the well-being of millions of families.