Very First Custody Crisis Case: Mary Lou 1976

The very first documented Custody Crisis case occurred nearly a half century ago in the mid ‘70’s in the American South. Mary Lou* was a wonderful, loving mother to her only child, Alice. Her story begins when Little Alice is just 5 years-old.

Mary Lou’s story will be the first in a series of historical cases profiled in the coming months, in part to pay tribute to these early, brave victims of the crisis, but also to raise awareness about the history of the issue. It is important to be able to put present cases in the context of the first cases to better understand the nature and cause of the crisis.

Mary Lou’s story begs the question—why did the epidemic of Custody Crisis cases begin in the 1970’s?

At that time, there was a major shift in family power dynamics caused by women gaining the ability to be financially independent and, with it, the power to divorce abusive or otherwise undesirable husbands. At the same time many states and countries began enforcing child support giving men a financial reason for wanting custody.

Mary Lou’s story is told by Louise Armstrong in her seminal book on protective mothers victimized in Family Court: “Rocking the Cradle of Sexual Politics: What Happened When Women Said Incest”. The genesis of the book is custody cases involving sexual abuse, but it extrapolates to all cases with her identification of the crisis as a result of gendered power disparity, i.e. age-old paternal entitlement.

Of course, Mary Lou’s case wasn’t an anomaly. It was just the first in an epidemic of Custody Crisis cases in which judges would discredit, silence, and torment mothers with loss of custody.

Source: (70) Very First Custody Crisis Case: Mary Lou 1976

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