NLQ FAQ: Custody Issues for ex-Quiverfull Parents

NLQ FAQ: Custody Issues for ex-Quiverfull Parents May 29, 2009

By “Dogemperor


NLQ Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What resources are available for former Quiverfull parents seeking to retain/gain legal custody of their children?

A. The following guest column by NLQ reader, “Dogemperor” addresses this issue in detail:

Firstly, I’d like to thank Vyckie very much for asking me to do this guest column–and a minor caveat or two here: I am not a lawyer, merely someone who grew up in a “New Apostolic Reformation” coercive religious group that now tends to be a heavy promoter of the Quiverfull stuff.

Anyways, Vyckie had notified me that a lot of parents who have left the Quiverfull movement (and coercive “Bible-based” groups who have promoted it) and are now running into potential custody issues with children. Hence, I’ve compiled this guide that may be helpful for parents in this situation.
Again, a caveat: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Internet. This is primarily based on experiences I have had reported to me regarding custody issues in general surrounding coercive religious groups, plus what I’ve been able to research; if you are in a custody situation, I strongly recommend obtaining the services of a Real Life Attorney to help out. (This info may be helpful to forward to an attorney, though.)

 Step 1: Getting an attorney

 Folks who are leaving a coercive religious group–and especially women leaving Quiverfull groups–do not tend to have the financial resources to afford expensive lawyers. One alternative is to contact your state’s Bar Association–a little-known fact is that most Bars require attorneys to set aside a certain amount of casework a year as pro bono work. The American Bar Association has a list of state and local bar associations here.

Another alternative is to contact a local law school (of course, you don’t want to go with something like Regent University, but state universities that have law schools tend to be excellent resources).
Another alternative, if you live in a larger community (especially considering that there is occasionally religiously motivated spousal abuse) are legal resources for abused spouses. Many if not most communities have specialised legal groups helping women in these cases; these tend to be listed in the “community section” or “blue pages” sections of phone books.
In some communities (such as New York State) children’s welfare services (as in those services assisting disadvantaged children) do have special training in regards to kids escaping coercive religious groups.
In addition, some exit counseling groups and advocacy groups fighting religiously motivated child abuse (see in the next few sections below) can also help out with legal assistance.
Step 2: Learn about the legal history of custody cases–in general and with “religious” overtones–in your area

 Some communities are better than others in regards to custody cases involving coercive groups. Texas in particular tends to be a bad state in regards to cases involving “Bible-based” groups; on the other hand, many states tend to give preference to women in custody hearings. (Again, this is an area you want to talk to a Real Life Attorney about; they have info on the general history of such cases in your area.)

Unfortunately, some areas do tend to throw up substantial roadblocks to parents fighting for custody of kids due to potential religiously motivated abuse–but knowing the obstacles also helps one work around them.
Step 3: Educate yourself–and your attorney–about the special issues of kids coming out of coercive groups.

Parents escaping Quiverfull have a bit of ammunition that is not normally available–namely, that much of what goes on in the Quiverfull movement (and especially the churches promoting it) are what are termed coercive religious groups.

A particular group educating laypersons and professionals about coercive religious groups–the International Cultic Studies Association–is a particularly good resource on this. Of particular note, they have a specialised library of resources for professionals regarding child custody cases; the ones of particular use to ex-Quiverfull folk would be Dr. Michael Langone’s Child Custody and Cults, Randy Frances Kandel, JD’s Litigating the Cult-Related Child Custody Case, and Ford Greene’s Litigating Child Custody with Religious Cults. ICSA is also known to occasionally assist with these cases.
One particular contact with ICSA that parents may wish to contact is Dr. Janja Lalich; she in particular has co-authored and written several books on coercive religious groups, does seminars for ICSA on “multigenerational walkaways” (people who were raised in a coercive religious group and later escaped), and is conducting a longterm study of multigenerational walkaways that has already shown that children who are raised in coercive groups do have some socialisation issues. (As a multigenerational walkaway myself, I can definitely attest to this.) One of the few “formal” documents regarding these issues is from Dr. Leona Furnari’s Born or Raised in Closed, High-Demand Groups or Cults: Developmental Issues which relies in part on Lalich’s research. Susan Landa’s Children and Cults: A Practical Guide is also useful.
Step 4: Educate yourself–and your attorney–on religiously motivated child and spousal abuse

In a number of groups promoting Quiverfull, there is also material promoted that can be stated to be promoting religiously motivated child and spousal abuse. (I myself am preparing a book on the subject, and also working with another author on a separate book on the issue.) Particularly notable co-promoters of Quiverfull and religiously motivated domestic abuse include the Ezzos, Michael and Debbie Pearl, and Bill Gothard.

For those who require documentation, I’ve noted info on the Ezzos and the Pearls here (including numerous links to other articles I’ve done that show that the Pearls’ and Ezzos’ books can kill if “used as directed”), and I’ve written on Bill Gothard in the second part of this series.
Gothard in particular is linked to not only religiously motivated child abuse, but “kiddie gulags” in Indianapolis and other areas (the Indy one was shut down due to reporting by a local news team), some indications of paramilitary activity, and is widely suspected to be a contributing factor to the murder-suicide of Matthew Murray. (It hasn’t been reported much in the media–I am aware of it largely because I am a member of a walkaway community Murray was a member of–but Murray was in fact raised in a “Gothard home” and was isolated to the point his only contact with the outside world was surreptitiously getting on the Internet; he later started having essentially psychotic PTSD when he was at Youth With A Mission, a highly abusive “New Apostolic Reformation” group targeting young adults.)
A particularly good site that I’ve used in some of my own writing is Stop The Rod–itself run by a (non-Quiverfull) Christian homeschooling mom who was horrified at what was being promoted in “Christian homeschool” circles. She includes excerpts from multiple books promoted in Quiverfull circles promoting religiously motivated child abuse.
An international NGO that can help out as well is RISE International, whose entire focus is stopping religiously motivated child abuse (including assisting walkaway parents with custody).
Step 5: Know you aren’t alone–find a supportive community and someone to talk to
One of the hardest things to deal with in walking away is the feeling you’re alone and essentially stepping into society after spending many years at sea alone–or if you were raised in a group, feeling sometimes like an alien or someone raised by wolves. (I myself have compared it to being raised in a pit full of zombies; the one comparable situation I know of outside of growing up in a “Bible-based” coercive group are with other coercive groups–like ex-Scientologists, or refugees who have escaped North Korea.) This is even worse when you still have kids trapped in it.
One thing I can suggest is learning everything you can about how coercive groups work–and finding other folks who’ve been in that situation. One guide I’ve found particularly useful is Dr. Janja Lalich’s “Take Back Your Life”; there is also an excellent tool at Steven Hassan’s Freedom of Mind Institute is the “BITE Model” included in the essay Spiritual Responsibility. (The BITE Model is essentially a checklist of “abusiveness” of groups.)
Another biggie is finding a good walkaway support group. A particularly good community for folks who ended up in Quiverfull from pentecostal and charismatic groups (including those branding themselves as “New Apostolic Reformation”, “Third Wave”, “Joel’s Army”, “Joshua Generation” or “Elijah’s Army” in particular) is Association of Ex-Pentecostals; another good forum is Walk Away which is probably the longest-running community of walkaways on the Internet. Most exit counseling sites (like Rick Ross Foundation and FACTnet) also have online forums, but these two communities in particular are set up as “safe places”.
There are also online communities on social networking sites for walkaways; the X-Fundies community on Livejournal is one, for starters. For Australians, Cult Awareness and Information Center is a particularly good resource–and is good for Americans, too. (Of note, CAIC actually has a listing on Quiverfull.
One thing I’ve also found helpful is finding info online that shows I’m not alone. Sometimes simply Googling for “(name of your group)” “spiritual abuse” or “(name of your group)” “cult” or “(name of your group)” “survivor” can turn up other folks who’ve been through it–or even in some cases entire walkaway communities. Just knowing that what I dealt with was not isolated helped me in realising I wasn’t going crazy.
And yes, don’t be afraid to start your own survivor community! (In a way, this blog in and of itself has already done that! :D)
If at all possible, I do recommend folks obtain formal exit counseling–it does help to sort out what one has been in. Failing that, one thing I *can* recommend is finding a good family therapist who has specific experience in dealing with spousal and child abuse (ask!).
Hopefully this helps out parents–any other suggestions, please feel free to add along.

“Dogemperor” is a prolific writer/researcher on coercive religious groups within the “religious right” and is presently moderator of one of the largest discussion forums on “religious right” issues on the Internet (Dark Christianity @ Livejournal:

“Dogemperor” has written in particular on the subject of religiously motivated child abuse within “Bible-based” groups…and works to inform people about the parts of the “religious right” that aren’t widely publicised and particularly about the issues people who leave the more coercive “religious right” groups face.

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