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Apparently Even the Research Gets Abused in Child Custody Disputes

June 8, 2016

Last week I was at a conference in Seattle. The conference was provided by an organization I belong to, called AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts). AFCC describes itself as:

… an interdisciplinary, international association of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict. AFCC promotes a collaborative approach to serving the needs of children among those who work in and with family law systems, encouraging education, research and innovation and identifying best practices.

AFCC members include family court judges, family law lawyers/attorneys, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and researchers.

Of the workshops I attended, one was provided by a group of well established researchers. They discussed Scholar-Advocacy in Family Law.

The short and the long of it is that these leading researchers discussed how social science research can be intentionally misused in the context of family law litigation to support a particular claimant. The strategies of misuse included:

  1. Cherry Picking: Using only those pieces of research that support your argument;
  2. Stacking the Deck: Using pieces of research that both support and refute your arguments, but including more supporting than refuting pieces;
  3. Widening the Net: Applying irrelevant research to somehow support your cause;
  4. Over Simplifying:Taking complex issues and leaving out important information to better support a claim;
  5. Differential Evaluation: In assessing the validity of research different standards are applied so that one’s preferred pieces of research are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as the less preferred pieces of research;
  6.  Straw Man Arguments: This is a manipulative strategy of refuting arguments that are irrelevant and distracting from real matters of importance.

Examples cited by the presenters included research on overnight parenting time involving infants and toddlers. It was pointed out that the substantive research on the subject offers little in terms of suggesting what is really best for whom in any given situation. The research so far only really opens up the issues involved. However, those seeking to support their claim either for or against overnight parenting time for both parents have manipulated the research to give a false impression of supporting their respective goal.

The presenters also discussed the hateful comments and threats researchers have received by individuals and groups when it is felt the researcher or results are biased unfavorably against their interests. Who knew there were so many ways to abuse the research, let alone the researchers.

It just supports my views that courts are about the worst place to resolve parenting disputes. Court causes the litigants to do all they can to line up information to support their objective, even if that means distorting or contorting research information or shooting the messenger to suit their goal. Hardly a healthy place for anyone – parent, child clinician or even researcher.

Hopefully all of our professional skills can be put to better work through more peace-making strategies of conflict resolution. Chose mediation or Collaborative Law. Be reasonably informed and create parenting plans that account for the developmental needs of children.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this information? Please scroll down and share this article. To view my full list of peacemaking strategies to facilitate settlement, check this out. Thank you.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

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