MOTHERS ON TRIAL: The Battle for Children and Custody by Phyllis Chesler

MOTHERS ON TRIAL: The Battle for Children and Custody

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A feminist writer (Women and Madness; Women Power and Men) presents evidence that the ""maternal presumption"" in child-custody suits is being abandoned. In fact, Chesler has found a number of recent cases where the father was awarded custody, even though the mother was demonstrably closer to the children and a more experienced parent. She examined in depth 60 custody challenges between 1960 and 1981 in the US and Canada and found that 70% of the mothers lost custody either in court or through private arrangements. The judiciary was often arbitrary and inconsistent. The same judge who stripped one mother of her children because she had a career told another he would award custody to the father because she had no job. Chesler's small sample may be a statistical anomaly, but she presents it as proof of a growing judicial trend back to pre-20th-century law--which regarded children and wives as the husband's chattel. She also includes details from a number of sensational custody disputes, some so appalling that had Chesler not included documentation, the reader would think she had conjured them out of a sick imagination. One example: In 1980, Kentucky judge Richard Revell removed a five-year-old girl from her mother's to her father's custody, despite a doctor's evidence that his examination after a paternal visit revealed that the child had been sexually assaulted. The judge announced he couldn't believe a father would have sex with his own daughter and ordered the wife to jail for trying to ""ruin a good man's reputation."" The material is so strong that one wishes Chesler had played down her patently feminist bias. At times, she even seems to favor maternal needs over children's welfare. This hyperventilating style also demeans her material. The pages sizzle with indignation; subheads in 20-point type shout questions such as ""WHAT TREND OR HIDDEN TRUTH DOES THIS STUDY REVEAL?""; and gratuitous remarks such as ""Women: whatever you do, don't quit fighting for your kids"" pepper the text. But quibbles aside, this book could blow the lid off what may well be a scandalous situation in the family-court system. Very timely.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1985
ISBN: 1556529996
Publisher: McGraw-Hill