AMERICAN JOURNAL OF FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY, VOLUME 15, NUMBER 4, 1997
THE SPECTRUM OF PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (PART II) (cont.)
(Second of 3 HTML files)
Forensic Psychologist, Deirdre Conway Rand, PhD
Benign and Positive Characteristics of Target Parents
Studies of target parents who are falsely accused of abuse report they tend to be less disturbed than their accusing counterparts (19, 21-23). Blush and Ross observed that falsely accused fathers tended to display passive or dependent features as compared with their more histrionic spouses (19, 21, 22). Sanders, an attorney who represents fathers in PAS type cases, indicated that she often found her clients to be emotionally and financially stable individuals who, prior to the separation, functioned as the primary parent for their children (30). When Dunne and Hedrick studied the effectiveness of various interventions in severe PAS, they found that better outcomes were achieved when the alienated parent was given custody (2). The alienating parents in the change of custody cases exhibited significant emotional disturbance in contrast to some of the target parents who were deemed fit and capable of establishing and maintaining a healthy parent/child bond.
Rogers reported similar findings in her review of cases in which certain alienating parents who made false allegations of abuse were found to suffer from Delusional Disorder, with the result that the father/target parents were eventually awarded custody in several in stances (31). The fact that target parents make good custodial parents in some cases is demonstrated in the vignette of S and her father, reported above. S's father was an unassuming man who worked in a clothing store. He was convinced that his daughter could not grow up well without him and was determined to play a positive role in her life. When he remarried, it was to a kind, capable woman who took a strong interest in S and who provided invaluable support when S was 13 and the father/daughter relationship was reestablished.
THIRD PARTIES WHO BECOME INVOLVED
Unholy Alliances and Tribal Warfare
In high conflict divorce, the social networks of the spouses can be come incorporated into the dispute scenario, helping to maintain, solidify or expand it, leading to "tribal warfare"(6). With the breakdown of the marriage, once private details of the couple's relationship often become the subject of lengthy conversations with sympathetic, potentially supportive others about what went wrong and who is at fault. Hearing primarily one side of the story, family, friends and professionals may lose their objectivity as they try to protect someone they care about or to bolster a parent's self esteem. Such support may be mixed, however, with what is experienced by the distressed parent as criticism, interference, obligations and demands which create stress above and beyond the divorce itself.
Johnston found that women were more likely after separation to depend economically on family members or kin. Women were also more likely to involve these "support people"in the parental disputes (6). Third parties entering the dispute initially were likely to do so on behalf of the mother. According to Johnston, the other side typically responded by as sembling a comparable array of allies. A stepwise progression of active and reactive coalition building was then likely to ensue.
The advent of a new partner in divorce may escalate parental disputes over the child or precipitate new ones (6). A parent who feels threatened by an ex-spouse's new partner may initiate efforts to gain increased control of custody and visitation. Sometimes, new partners are the instigators and mobilizers of custody disputes, where previously there was little overt conflict between the parents. The new partner may be experiencing difficulties in the new marriage, feel a need to prove themselves, or be gratifying their own needs for domination and control. Alternatively, the new partner may bring a more objective viewpoint regarding the degree to which the child is being harmed by an emotional disturbance of the parent in the other household and provide a balancing influence.
Role of Mental Health Professionals
Mental health experts can become involved in contested custody/visitation disputes in a variety of roles: as evaluators, therapists, advocates, mediators, case managers, educators and/or consultants to parents or their attorneys. Mental health professionals may assist in identifying the needs of the child, assessing strengths and weaknesses of the parents, modifying the specific dynamics of parental conflict and advising the courts. In many jurisdictions, the courts are increasingly relying on the assistance and input of mental health professionals. This entails rising costs for divorcing parents who must pay for these services. Some argue that mental health services which help to reduce the often escalating cycle of action and reaction between the parents saves them money in the long run by reducing litigation costs. On the other hand, mental health services may be protracted and ineffective in high conflict cases. Sometimes they actually cause damage to the parties and to family relationships.
Potentially Harmful Influence of Mental Health Professionals
Written and verbal statements by custody evaluators can have a negative impact on disputing parents, especially when the situation is explained in terms of what is wrong with the parents (6). Parents are particularly vulnerable during the upheaval of the separation. Comments by mental health professionals in this context, especially when publicized, can escalate parents' needs to vindicate and defend themselves from further exposure and humiliation.
Lund pointed out that therapists, especially individual child therapists, can unwittingly become part of the system maintaining PAS (3). This is more likely to occur when the therapist takes statements by the aligned parent and child at face value, lacks knowledge about PAS and avoids contact with the target parent.
Campbell (32) discussed the pitfalls of triangulated relationships in doing therapy with children of divorce, citing Gardner's first book on PAS (33) in the opening paragraph. One of the problems for therapists seeing children of divorce is that the parent who selects the child's therapist, who brings the child for therapy and who arranges for payment is in a position to influence the therapist regarding the therapist's role, the goals of treat ment, and who participates. Therapists who are provided with incomplete, selective data are at risk for reinforcing and endorsing the idea that the child needs to be "saved" from the alienated parent. A variation of the victim-villain-rescuer triangle may then develop. Citing well known family therapist Murray Bowen, Campbell observed, "When clients and therapists organize their relationship around the reciprocity of victim and savior, the identity of each demands that the other persist in their respective role " (34; p. 479). When abuse is alleged, advocate therapists may become so overinvolved as to exhibit what amounts to a shared paranoid disorder with the aligned parent and child (35).
Campbell observed that professionals can become slowly compromised by the "us versus them "mentality in the context of adversarial family relationships and legal proceedings (32). As discussed in the section to follow, an advocate therapist for an aligned parent and child may inappropriately use the therapy sessions to "validate "allegations of abuse against the target parent, rather than helping the child adjust to the divorce and maintain affection for both parents. The individual therapist for an alienating parent may agree to recommend to the court that the client have custody, without meeting the other parent. Target parents may also recruit advocate therapists to their side, as demonstrated by the father in Judge Tolbert's case (26), which is presented below. Mental health professionals who make custody recommendations without interviewing both parents may be in violation of ethical standards. Where professionals compromise themselves in high conflict cases, valuable information about parental dynamics can often be gleaned from analyzing the process by which this occurred.
Influence of Therapist Attitudes
The fundamental beliefs of many therapists about the etiology of psychological problems and what constitutes appropriate treatment can make the therapist an unwitting reinforcer of alienation. Psychotherapy is a potent form of social influence. Campbell conducted a study which revealed that the majority of therapists. make significantly more negative than positive inferences about significant others in their client's lives (34). In addition, therapists frequently assume that the client's psychological distress has its origins in an interpersonal environment which is "disrespectful psychologically avoidant, unempathic and punitive". These assumptions can substantially influence the course of treatment and the client's view of their situation. Children of divorce may feel overwhelmed by the chaos and hostility of their parents' conflicts. They may also feel a sense of betrayal when a parent moves out and the parents are focusing more on their conflicts with each other than on their parental responsibilities (32).
Child therapists who are predisposed to making negative inferences about significant others in the child's life may inadvertently reinforce a child's sense of anger and blame toward a target parent, sometimes in very subtle, pernicious ways. Where the therapist's own view of the target/alienated parent is negative, even if only to mild degree, the therapist's view is likely to adversely influence the child. This provides fertile ground for the development and reinforcement of PAS. A detailed example of such a process is presented in The Real World of Child Interrogations which contains an analysis of multiple child therapy sessions in a contested custody case (36). Transcripts of the sessions illustrate the process by which the therapist helped teach the child to make abuse allegations and reinforced the child's expressions of hatred toward the target parent - in this case the father.
When abuse is alleged, anyone in a position of authority can act as a "validator," including therapists, police, child protection workers, and medical personnel (37). Validators are professionals who, when presented with allegations of abuse, assume that abuse occurred. They see their role as validating the alleged abuse rather than conducting an objective investigation. Validators are relatively easy to find, especially when sought out by a parent seeking to strengthen their position in legal proceedings.
Validator interviews of the child tend to promote the child's voicing of an abuse scenario, whether or not abuse occurred.
Real World of Child Interrogations
Once the issue of molestation is raised, the child is often subjected to repeated interviews and evaluations, sometimes more than 20, according to a family law judge in California (28). An analysis of 150 tape-recorded abuse interviews with children identified specific adult interviewer behaviors which influence children to alter accounts and to say things that will satisfy or please the interviewer (36). Most adults are unaware of how their ideas and expectations teach children to conform their accounts to the expectations of the adult interviewer. When the child is brought by a parent for an abuse interview, the parent's report of what occurred tends to shape the interviewer's ideas about what occurred and the questions which are asked. These interviewer expectations are communicated to the child through the adult's reactions, leading questions and other suggestive techniques (e.g., drawings or "anatomical dolls"). Such effects occur even among professionals trained not to use suggestive methods.
Suggestibility of Children's Recollections
There has been a growing body of research in recent years which shows the potential for interviews to teach children what adults expect to hear. Ceci and Bruck conducted a comprehensive historical review and synthesis of this research in an article on the suggestibility of witnesses (38). These authors cited Gardner as raising important questions about the ability of powerful authority figures to coach children and about children's ability to differentiate fact from fantasy. Ceci and Bruck's review resulted in several important scientific findings:
1) There appear to be significant age differences in suggestibility, with preschool children more vulnerable to suggestion than either school-age children or adults.
2) Children can be led to make false or inaccurate reports about very crucial, personally experienced, central events.
3) Children sometimes lie when the motivational structure is tilted toward lying.
4) The previous points notwithstanding, children, including pre schoolers, are capable of recalling much that is forensically relevant.
Ceci and Bruck concluded that in order to know the reliability of a child's report, the conditions surrounding the report need to be carefully evaluated, including prior access to the child by an adult motivated to distort the child's recollections. Distortions frequently occur as a result of relentless and potent suggestions by adults, sometimes to the point of outright coaching.
Memory Research and its Forensic Implications
Many people subscribe to the incorrect belief that memory is somehow fixed and not malleable. Loftus and her husband surveyed 169 people from a variety of socioeconomic groups (39). The majority of respondents endorsed the belief that everything we learn is permanently stored in the mind and that consciously inaccessible details can be recovered with the use of special techniques such as hypnosis. Psychology graduate students were particularly prone to endorse this view, although it is disproved by three decades of research. It turns out that memory can be altered in a myriad of ways.
The implications for law enforcement and the courts are staggering since eyewitness testimony is heavily relied upon in these set tings. The American Psychological Association sought to address these problems where children are concerned, publishing a compilation of articles by psychology's leading authorities on memory entitled The Suggestibility of Children's Recollections: Implications for Eyewitness Testimony (40). Ceci and Loftus were among the contributors.
Parents as Interviewers
Parents who are preoccupied with suspicions of abuse by the other parent often question their children repeatedly. Some false allegations of abuse in divorce begin with a parent questioning the child after visitation about a rash, a bruise, or bathing at the other parent's house. Everson described the case of a six-year-old-boy who produced more and more elaborate accounts of abuse in response to the attention and support he received from his mother as they discussed "his memories" of abuse each night at bedtime (41). Initially, the child provided a consistent, plausible account of a teenage baby-sitter fondling his genitals and anus. The baby-sitter confessed to this. Over the course of several months, however, the child's description of what occurred became more elaborate, bizarre, implausible, and finally impossible. According to Everson, the child may have become confused about the source of his more fantastic "memories" which probably grew out of the conversations with his mother. This is sometimes referred as "source amnesia". Everson referenced Gardner's work relating to the assessment of child sexual abuse.
When Cults Have a Role in Parental Alienation
In extreme cases, a divorced parent determined to deprive the other parent of a relationship with the child will join a cult for the powerful help the group can provide in alienating the child from the other parent. In an effort to recruit and control members, cults have perfected the art of parental alienation. Cults are sometimes involved in parental child abductions. Attorney Ford Greene, who specializes in litigation against cults, contributed the following family law case (42).
Mr. Y was wounded and angry when the mother of his only son decided to end their common law marriage. Mrs. Y was eager to mediate the dissolution and offered to stipulate to joint legal custody with reasonable visitation to the father. Mr. Y refused and took Mrs. Y to court, where the judge ordered the custody/visitation plan first suggested by the mother. Mr. Y became involved with a quasi-religious cult. He used his visitation time to involve his 10-year-old son in the group's activities. Under the auspices of the group, the boy was regularly hooked up to a biofeedback device for the purpose of training him to become "emotionally disconnected" when thinking about or interacting with his mother. The child's mental state and behavior gradually deteriorated. One day, the boy did not return to his mother's home after school. Instead, he rode his bike ten miles from school to the ferry, crossing the bay and riding through a bad part of town to reach the group's headquarters where his father was waiting for him. Mother turned to the court for assistance in getting her son back and protecting him from the father and the group. The group tried strenuously to prevent the court from intervening, invoking the special protections the law provides for religious beliefs. Greene, who was representing the mother, focused on specific group practices which were physically or psychologically detrimental to the child's best interests. He stayed away from the legitimacy of the group's religious doctrines. After hearing the evidence, the court found that the group's influence on the child was mentally and emotionally detrimental. Mother was awarded sole legal and physical custody.
People tend to think of cults as large, well organized groups. According to Singer and Lalich, however, cultic social organization can also be found in very small groups, such as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) which abducted Patricia Hearst (43). Cults can be organized around different ideological themes such as prosperity, health, psychotherapy, UFOs, or religion.
Regardless of size or thematic focus, cults share certain social structures in common. The group is built around a charismatic leader who controls the members directly, or indirectly with the help of loyal followers. Cults routinely employ deception in recruiting, often using elaborate, cleverly conceived fronts to conceal the true nature of their activities. New members are taken through a progressive process of thought reform, sometimes referred to as "brainwashing". Compliance is obtained in small steps which isolate inductees from the influence of non-members and which foster dependence on the group. The process discourages criticism of the group's ideas and encourages inductees to replace "old" ideas and relationships with the group's ideology, which is portrayed as "new" and more advanced. Recruits are encouraged to reject the past and to drastically reinterpret their life history. These tactics destabilize the inductee's sense of self and increase motivation to serve the group and its leader. When the recruit's indoctrination is complete, he or she can then be deployed as an agent of the organization, to help expand the group's financial resources, power, and influence.
Almost anyone can be drawn into a cult under the right set of circumstances (43). People are most vulnerable to recruitment when they are depressed and between affiliations. Almost by definition, parents of divorce are "between affiliations". To varying degrees, they are also likely to experience depression at some point in the divorce process. Religious cults may appeal to divorce parents who are seeking validation of their blamelessness and moral superiority in the proceedings. Pastors and other church members in fundamentalist religious cults may openly denigrate the target / alienated parent to the children, claiming the authority of their holy book in referring to the target parent as an "adulterer", "harlot" or "whore".
In a presentation at a recent forensic conference, Bower (44) pointed out similarities between the mechanisms by which cult leaders control their followers and the tactics of alienating parents who form "unholy alliances" with their children. Similar comparisons appear in Children Held Hostage (1). This study of 700 divorce families, was reviewed in Part I. Clawar and Rivlin anchored their research in 30 years of literature on the psychology of social influence, including indoctrination techniques variously referred to as brainwashing, mind control, thought reform, modeling, reeducation and coercive persuasion. Bower likened the alienating parent to the leader of a one-on-one or small group cult, pointing out that children's dependence on parents makes them vulnerable to this source of influence. The aligned parent and child, along with other supporters of the alienating parent's views, come to share, a closed, impermeable belief system, similar to the fixed ideology of an organized cult.
In normal circumstances, the power differential in parent / child relationships helps parents to instill a sense of conscience and moral values in their children. As children grow, the love they experienced from their parents in early years becomes a model for treating others with courtesy and considering other people's feelings. In more severe PAS however, the child's social and moral development are co-opted to varying degrees by the alienating parent's agenda. In extreme cases, children growing up in the custody of an alienating parent become "corrupted," in the sense defined by Garbarino et al. They are encouraged to use deceit, manipulation and aggression in the service of the PAS agenda. The SLA succeeded in "corrupting" Patricia Hearst for a time: after she was subjected to isolation, indoctrination, terror and intimidation, she was induced to participate in a bank robbery, a violation not only of the law itself, but of her previous moral values. Once separated from the SLA, she was able to resume prosocial values.
In extreme cases of cult indoctrination, members are trained to commit suicide rather than have contact with "evil", "dangerous" outsiders. In a parallel situation, severe PAS sometimes involves direct or indirect encouragement by the alienating parent for the child to threaten suicide or homicide if forced to have contact with the alienated parent. Johnston encountered a case in which a 10-year-old boy hung himself when the court ordered that he be placed in the custody of his alienated father (10). Two cases of attempted homicide by the child were reported in Part I (4, 45). Both boys were in folie a deux relationships with their disturbed mothers after the parents divorced.
One boy tried to poison his father (4), the other tried to burn his father's house down (45). Careful evaluation and case management are required when there is reason to suspect that the child may be a danger to self or others. Part III, devoted to interventions in PAS, will include the case vignette of two sisters who threatened suicide and homicide when told they would be court ordered to see their father. Father had been the custodial parent per order of the family court. Mother succeeded in alienating them and got custody through the dependency court, by involving the children in false allegations of abuse. The girls' threats were taken seriously and the family court ordered hospitalization at a facility willing to deal with the possibility of PAS. In the safety of a contained, closely monitored, therapeutic setting, the girls were successfully returned to father's custody.
PAS IN THE LEGAL ARENA
Legal Recognition of PAS
An increasing number of attorneys are publishing articles which recognize and seek to address the problem of parental alienation, variously using the term Parental Alienation Syndrome in the title, in the text or in the bibliography (30, 46, 47, 49, 50, 54, 55). California attorney Patrick Clancy posts his Points and Authorities for the Admissibility of PAS Testimony on his web site. An article by Wood opposes legal recognition of PAS (56). Family law judges have been producing a growing body of opinions which discuss PAS by name or include findings of parental alienation without giving it a special label (26, 46, 47, 54-57). A 1997 issue of The Judges' Journal included an article on managing visitation interference by Turkat (57), who has been referencing Gardner's work on PAS for several years. Judge Vernon Nakahara in Alameda County, California, spoke with author Deirdre Rand about his opinion that judges need to be made aware of Gardner's work on PAS. Judge Nakahara also shared his views on the role of the family law court in dealing with PAS and other high conflict cases.
A Florida attorney was the first to write about PAS after Gardner introduced the term in 1985. Palmer's article, published in 1988, described PAS as a strategy some parents were using to avoid their obligation to share parenting responsibility under Florida law (46). She discussed two legal cases, including Schutz v. Schutz in which the judge opined: "The Court has no doubt that the cause of the blind, brainwashed, bigoted, belligerence of the children toward the father grew from the soil nurtured, watered and tilled by the mother. The Court is thoroughly convinced that the mother breached every duty she owed as the custodial parent to the noncustodial parent of instilling love, respect and feeling in the children for their father. Worse, she slowly dripped poison into the minds of these children, maybe even beyond the power of this Court to find the antidote" (46; pp. 361-362). Palmer foresaw the need for early evaluation and intervention in cases of PAS and those with that potential, in order to prevent the development of completed, intractablealienation. She recommended the use of judicial sanctions to hold alienating parents accountable and to provide incentives for changing their behavior.
In 1991, a Canadian law journal published an article by Goldwater which strongly supports legal recognition of PAS (47). According to Goldwater, Gardner's 1989 book on family evaluation in child custody (48) "is certainly required reading for the family practitioner and should be considered the source document on the phenomenon of parental alienation syndrome...Indeed, there is a moral failure in smugly asserting that children have 'rights' without taking into account their evident lack of autonomy and their material and psychological vulnerability to control and manipulation" (47; pp. 121-122). Although the title is in French, most of the text is in English. Canadian law and case citations are discussed.
In 1993, two articles were written by attorneys; one from New Hampshire (49) and one from South Carolina (30). These articles took a practical approach to the special difficulties PAS cases pose to family lawyers, mental health professionals and to the courts. Ward and Harvey are a psychologist and an attorney, respectively (49). Their article distinguishes between "typical" divorce and "alienation". Alienation cases are distinguished by the nature and extent of a parent's willingness to involve the children.
According to Ward and Harvey, alienation family systems require their own specific interventions, a point Gardner continues to emphasize. They build on Gardner's concepts about PAS and synthesize them with Johnston's work on the divorce impasse and high conflict families.
Sanders discussed PAS along with bad-faith relocation and fabricated sex-abuse allegations (30). She referred to Parental Alienation Syndrome as a disorder named by Gardner. She thought that mental health professionals and family law judges were becoming increasingly aware of the harmful process of parental alienation, regardless of the terminology used. Support for this contention can be found by perusing the programs of family law conferences in recent years. Since at least 1994, conferences of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have featured presentations on parental alienation. Gardner's concepts regarding PAS are often referred to and his books on PAS are listed in the bibliographies of hand outs (50-53). Gardner himself presents at major conferences, for example, the Children's Rights Council Conference in Washington, D.C., which is attended by mediators, psychologists, and attorneys, who receive continuing education credits. Continuing education credits were also available to professionals attending the 1997 conference of the American College of Forensic Psychology, which included a presentation on the similarities between PAS and cults, discussed above (44).
Practicing psychology and law in Wisconsin, Waldron and Joanis put forth the view that PAS was readily accepted not because it was a "discovery" but because Gardner succeeded in conceptualizing and describing a familiar, complex, perplexing problem of divorce families which can have tragic consequences and is resistant to change (54). The article contains a number of case citations and a discussion of Karen "PP" v. Clyde "00. " This case involved a mother who sought to have father's visitation supervised because of alleged sexual abuse. Opinions of the ex-parts involved differed as to whether or not the alleged abuse occurred. According to Waldron and Harvey, this case is often inaccurately depicted as showing the "dangers" of PAS. The court's opinion is often criticized for quoting Gardner's work at length (56), as if this was the sole basis for the court's findings. However, when Waldron and Joanis examined the text of the court's rulings, they found that the court's decisions were based on the evidence presented, not on Gardner's theories. Their article is distinguished for its use of the social influence model outlined by Clawar and Rivlin and its reference to their research.
In Florida, Walsh and Bone practice law and psychotherapy, respectively (55). Their article on PAS, published in June, 1997, appears to be the most recent paper on the subject by attorneys. According to these authors, courts in their state are not at all hesitant about making a decision regarding PAS where the challenging parent can present credible proof and evidence of incidents in which the other parent has been practicing alienation and visitation interference. Four Florida case citations are provided in support of this assertion. These authors highlight the need to assess and understand parental deceit and manipulation, referencing Turkat's work on child visitation interference (57). "Make no mistake about it. Individuals with either PAS or a related malicious syndrome will and do lie! They are convincing witnesses, and their manipulative skills may influence others to follow suit" (55; p. 94).
One of the presentations (50) and three of the articles (49, 54, 55) mentioned above were coauthored by an attorney and a mental health professional. This may represent a trend of increasing collaboration between legal and mental health professionals who provide divorce related services. Recently, psychologist Sharon Montgomery from New Jersey discussed PAS during a panel presentation with two attorneys (58). California psychologist Anita Lampel (7, 8) began editing The Family LAP in 1996. The first two issues of this newsletter for attorneys and others interested in family law and psychology contained columns on children of divorce who are alienated or who have rejected one parent (59).
Wood argued against the admission of PAS testimony in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review (56). She was outraged over the outcome of a divorce/custody dispute in which Dr. Gardner testified. Father was awarded custody after the court found that mother's allegations of abuse against him were without merit. Wood attacked Gardner personally as well as arguing against his ideas. She warned that an erroneous decision based on PAS testimony could result in a child being placed with an abusive parent and leave the child with "no one to tell." Wood failed to point out that allowing a child to remain in the custody of a parent engaged in serious alienating behavior, if such is the case, puts the child at risk for significant psychological maltreatment, as in the case vignette of S, above.
Judge Tolbert on PAS
An extensive opinion by Judge Tolbert, published in the New York Law-Journal in 1990, demonstrates the court's ability to match specific evidence with expert testimony on PAS (26). Judge Tolbert heard testimony on PAS by two experts, including Dr. Gardner who was originally involved as the court-appointed custody evaluator. The child in the dispute was a 9-year-old girl who was refusing visitation with her father. Father retained his own psychological expert who testified that the child's refusal to visit was the result of severe PAS on the part of the mother. Father's expert recommended that the father be awarded custody, although he did not interview the mother. Dr. Gardner testified that mother's contribution to the child's refusal to visit constituted PAS in the mild to moderate range and that the mother / daughter bond was basically healthy. Based on the evidence presented, including the testimony of other witnesses, Judge Tolbert concluded that the father's own behavior was a significant contributing factor to the child's refusal to visit. Father had been unreasonable and provocative toward the child's mother and his excessive rigidity made him insensitive to his daughter's needs. Judge Tolbert found that the facts of the case supported Dr. Gardner's testimony and that the mother should retain custody. He ordered the parents to participate in family therapy aimed at addressing the problems each of them brought to the situation. Judge Tolbert opined that PAS is not so much an emerging area of expertise as a phrase pioneered by Dr. Gardner, similar to the view expressed by Sanders (30) and Waldron and Joanis (54).
Judge Nakahara on PAS and the Role of the Court in Family Law
Judge Vernon Nakahara in Alameda County, California, served on the family law bench for a year after many years as a criminal court judge [Judge Nakahara provided the material in this section by personal communication to author Deirdre Rand in 1997]. When the assignment expired, he elected to continue as the judge for a particularly severe case of PAS. It had taken him several months to grasp the complexities of the case and he was concerned that the case would be set back if a new judge had go through the process all over again.
Judge Nakahara learned about Gardner's concept of PAS from the testimony of the court appointed reunification therapist for the child in a severe PAS case. The idea made sense to him and helped to explain some of the divorce family problems he was seeing. Upon reading the above quote from the judge in Shutz v. Shutz, Judge Nakahara indicated that the description was consistent with his experience. He observed that the alienating parent in more severe PAS usually had significant psychological problems. False allegations of abuse were also more likely to be part of the equation. According to Judge Nakahara, varying degrees of PAS were evident in most of the family law cases he heard, similar to what Gardner (33) and Johnston (9) report. He cautions family law judges to be aware that in addition to the child, professionals upon whom the court relies may also be "brainwashed" by the alienating parent. This includes attorneys, family court services and private counselors. The opinions of various professionals who become involved should not be accepted as authoritative simply because individuals designated as professionals are making them. The opinions of professionals need to be tested and critically evaluated by the court.
Attorneys and parents also need to be held accountable. During his term on the family law bench, Judge Nakahara did not allow the common family law practice of the court relying on attorneys' representations as to what their client / parents and other witnesses would testify to if called. Similar to criminal cases, he insisted on live testimony so he could test the credibility of witnesses himself. At first, family lawyers in his courtroom were surprised that he expected them to show substantial proof in support of their claims and of the client's position.
They were also surprised by his readiness to impose sanctions. Attorneys quickly learned that they needed to be more careful about their representations in Judge Nakahara's court room and that they would be required to back up their claims.
According to Judge Nakahara, holding parents accountable builds success. Relieving a parent of sanctions builds failure and increases the likelihood that unacceptable behavior will recur. Failure to impose sanctions when sanctions are called for reinforces parents' disregard for court orders and their belief that they can do as they please. When Judge Nakahara threatened parents with sanctions, he gave them choices. One alienating mother failed to take her child to 12 of the 15 court ordered therapy appointments. Judge Nakahara gave her the following choices: 1) take the child for the sessions; 2) spend a day in jail for each session missed; or 3) if mother continued her refusal to cooperate, custody would be switched to the father. At this point the mother decided to start bringing the child for therapy. In another case, a parent with a pattern of visitation interference was frequently tardy for visitation exchanges. Judge Nakahara required the late parent to pay $ 1 for each minute past the appointed time. He also applied sanctions for such issues as refusal to produce income and expense information, failure to participate in court ordered alcohol treatment and failure to attend the requisite number of anger management classes.
When lesser sanctions failed to produce results, Judge Nakahara did not hesitate to order that a noncompliant parent be taken into custody. The first time he did this on the family law bench, it created a "shock wave" throughout the county legal system - it had been five years since a family law judge in the county had imposed this level of sanction. Experience taught Judge Nakahara that five days in jail is the optimum period of time to make a significant impression on a parent who persists in violating and resisting court orders.
Role of Attorneys
In the advocacy role, attorneys customarily allow the client to define the goal of the attorney's efforts, zealously advancing the client's position. In PAS cases, this approach may not be in the client's or the child's best interest, especially when the attorney is representing an alienating parent or a fully alienated child. Waldron and Joanis observed, " The lawyer for the AP [Alienating Parent] has a difficult role. The AP has collected evidence and invested time and energy in his or her role and has rectitude and certainty on his or her side, or so he or she believes. The AP wants badly for the lawyer...to agree with him or her. The lawyer has been hired, however, for his or her knowledge and judgment " (54; p. 130). Waldron and Joanis recommend that attorneys who represent such parents should advise their clients to terminate the behavior, in the best interest of their case. Furthermore, " When an attorney...has been appointed to represent the interests of the child...this attorney needs to avoid being swept up in the seductive process of PAS and remain neutral, with a focus on concrete evidence" (54; pp. 130-131). Sanders, who primarily represents rejected / alienated parents, recommends that before taking action, the attorney should determine whether the client is the problem, interviewing collaterals, obtaining a polygraph, or asking the client to undergo an independent psychological evaluation if necessary (30). Similarly, Ward and Harvey assert, " It is incumbent on the attorney to sufficiently explore the client's motivation and the reality basis of the client's beliefs before litigation is undertaken " (49; p. 35).
Psychological Experts in Divorce
According to Sanders, attorneys representing target parents in PAS cases must retain a strong psychological expert (30). For judges unfamiliar with PAS, the expert's role in educating the court is essential. Otherwise, the judge will most likely make orders which are not strong enough to remedy the problem. This is especially true for judges who are unfamiliar with family law cases and do not have a particular interest in that area. In some jurisdictions in California, including Alameda County where Judge Nakahara presides, judges are assigned to the family law bench for a one year. Certain states, such as Colorado, do not have a family court system. Judges in some districts can be assigned to family law cases that they do not want, and their motivation to read custody reports and be alert to alienation issues may be minimal (50).
Sanders reported that when an alienated father is seeking custody, he should have a psychological expert who is prepared to give a strong opinion on the severity of the problem and the improbability that individual therapy for the mother or a restraining order against alienating behavior will be enough to remedy the situation (30). It may be crucial to persuade the court that the child's relationship with the target parent cannot be re paired unless custody is removed from the alienating parent.
Waldron and Joanis identified the danger in PAS cases of the professionals who become involved becoming as split and contentious as the parents (54). When possible, they recommend that mental health professionals who become involved work collaboratively with each other and with the attorneys. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for an expert who enters the case on the side of one parent or the other to eventually become part of the case management team, especially if the court orders it, as in the case vignette of S, above.
Ackerman and Kane included a section on PAS in the 1991 supplement to their reference work on psychological experts in divorce and other civil actions (59). In a subsequent edition, information about Gardner's work on PAS was included in the body of the text (60). Attorneys involved in difficult family law cases must be able to critically assess the qualifications and work of mental health professionals. Family lawyers may be expected to cooperate and participate in the selection of a custody evaluator, case manager, or therapist for the child. Attorneys must also be prepared to probe the findings of mental health professionals and to cross-examine them.
Family Law Versus Dependency Court
Decisions by the court in family law are based on "best interest of the child," usually interpreted to mean that children are better served when the court makes orders which enable them to maintain a positive relationship with both parents. There is also support for the rights of the parents to have a relationship with their children. The dependency system is designed to find abuse and to protect children from parents thought to be abusing them. In dependency or juvenile court proceedings, the state acts to protect children who are deemed to be at risk of being harmed, with the court assuming the role of the custodial parent. The juvenile court has the power to order a child taken into protective custody prior to a hearing and can terminate parental rights. The juvenile court may take jurisdiction in a family law matter even when the allegations of abuse have been previously litigated in family law court and found to be invalid (61).
Some alienating parents succeed in mobilizing the child protection system (CPS) to help sever the target parent's contact with the child. This is what happened in the case vignette of Mr. and Mrs. C in Part I. The case was unusual for the fact that the alienating parent was a father. He obtained custody of his daughter in dependency court after failing to accomplish this goal during several years of family law proceedings. Most of the CPS workers who became involved rejected the idea of PAS, despite in formation from mental health professionals who had been recognized by the family law court or who had provided therapy to the girl and her mother. As this case demonstrates, CPS workers tend to be less familiar with the dynamics of high conflict divorce. They are less likely to consider such potentially contaminating factors as parental influence and repeated abuse interviews of the child by police, social workers, therapists, and others. In severe alienation, the alienating parent may move from one county or state to another, beginning a new round of investigation into the abuse allegations and seeking better support for terminating the target parent's contact with the child (52).
On the other hand, when CPS workers are receptive to the experts' diagnosis of PAS, CPS can help contain the alienating parent's behavior, as the following case illustrates.
Mr. H successfully alienated his 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter from their mother after learning of mother's desire to divorce. Prior to the separation, mother was the primary parent. A court ordered custody evaluation found her parenting ability to be average. Father and the children used mother's new significant other as a rationale to vilify her.
The siblings played off each other and supported each other's extreme and hysterical protestations of hatred against their mother. The children did not see their mother for a year. A Special Master was appointed who referred the family to a PAS expert for treatment. When the therapist informed the children of his intention to hold a conjoint counseling interview with them and their mother, the 11-year-old boy became physically ill. Despite the therapist's efforts to persuade father and children of the need for a meeting with the mother, they refused to participate. The Special Master ordered such a meeting and still father refused.
Finally, the PAS therapist contacted CPS and made a suspected child abuse report against the father for severe psychological abuse in conjunction with his alienating behavior. The social worker who talked to the father and children was supportive of the therapist's concerns and agreed to back him up. The therapist, too, met with the father. He told Mr. H his reasons for the suspected abuse report and informed him that CPS was prepared to intervene, possibly removing the children from his home, if he did not turn the PAS situation around within a few months. The therapist gave Mr. H Gardner's book on PAS to read and told him that he was acting in this manner with his children. When father tried to tell the children that they had to rebuild their relationship with their mother and begin visitation, the children became angry and combative. Father became frightened that he would have problems with CPS and might be dragged into family law court by the children's mother. Mr. H worked harder to turn the situation around. The CPS worker met with the children twice and continued to advise father of the gravity of CPS' concerns. Soon, the children were able to begin visitation with their mother every other weekend. After several months, visitation was increased to every other week with each parent. Father needed a great deal of support to remedy the situation and mother was in a position to help him. As a result, a moderate degree of coparenting became possible and CPS formally closed the case. At two year follow-up, the children were doing well with both parents, a "win-win" solution for everyone involved, due to the willingness of CPS to work with the PAS expert.
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