Joan Dawson: Parental alienation and domestic violence
Posted: January 20, 2011 02:36 PM
"I hope there’s more cases just like this, where people don’t want to let their spouses see their kids…I hope it happens more and more, until the law finally says you know what? There needs to be something done so these parents can be with their kids."
These were the words fired by Randall Todd Moore as he denied having "not one ounce of remorse" for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing his ex-wife.
But was his ex-wife ‘alienating’ the kids, as Moore alleged, or trying to protect them from danger?
This case is clear, but as those working in domestic violence and child abuse realize, all too often clarity comes at a price.
Parental alienation (PA, or PAS for Parental Alienation Syndrome), a topic pro-PA psychologist Richard Warshak recently covered on Huffington Post, alleges a parent poisons the mind of a child to fear or hate the other parent. The defamation results in a damaged relationship or estrangement.
Those opposing parental alienation admit parents can bad-mouth the other parent either deliberately or inadvertently; however, factors such as poor parenting skills or personality on the part of the mother or father and stages of normal development or reactions to divorce on the part of the child can also cause alienating behaviors.
Dr. Paul Fink, President of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, and a former President of the American Psychiatric Association states, "Science tells us that the most likely reason that a child becomes estranged from a parent is that parent’s own behavior. Labels, such as PAS, serve to deflect attention away from those behaviors."
More dangerously, parental alienation can mask domestic violence, child abuse and child sexual abuse. What is the difference between fearful or uncooperative battered women and alienating," vindictive" mothers? If parents try to withhold access to children, are they alienators or protectors? If they try to provide evidence of abuse – interviews with psychologists, medical examinations or discussions with the child – are they gathering proof or further alienating the ex? What is the difference between alienated children and abused children?
The behaviors can be indistinguishable.
Indeed, it’s not just domestic violence survivors’ advocates who witness the problem with PA. The American Bar Association, American Prosecutors Research Institute, National District Attorneys Association, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges all denounce the use of parental alienation in the courtroom. The National District Attorneys Association says on their Web site, "PAS is an unproven theory that can threaten the integrity of the criminal justice system and the safety of abused children."
That hasn’t stopped courts from using PAS, resulting in accusations against individuals, mostly women, of maliciously denying access to children.
Katie Tagle, for instance, sought a restraining order on Jan. 21, 2010 against her ex-boyfriend Stephen Garcia to stop him from having unsupervised visitation with their nine-month-old child.
She told the judge Garcia threatened to kill the infant. The court transcript records Judge Robert Lemkau as saying, "One of you is lying," and later, "Mr. Garcia claims its total fabrication on your part." Garcia also referred to it as "little stunts and games" that she used to deny him access to his son.
Even when she tries to produce evidence of the threats, he says, "Well, ma’am, there’s a real dispute about whether that’s even true or not." And finally, "My suspicion is that you’re lying" (said twice). He denied her the order (as did two other judges). Garcia took their son that day and drove off into the mountains. Ten days later, they were both found dead.
The transcript is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/26434649/tagle-garcia-court-transcript-dent-protection-to-baby-now-bay-is-DEAD
This case clearly demonstrates another issue women have in courts: credibility. It’s easier to believe a woman is lying than to believe a man can abuse or kill a woman or child. In reality, in family court, denying abuse is more common than fabricating tales of abuse. Most allegations are made in good faith (see the American Bar Association’s 10 Custody Myths and How to Counter Them). And most denials are made by perpetrators, perpetrators skillful at manipulation – even of professionals.
Indeed, we must not forget family court is the place for couples with high conflict and abuse. The overwhelming majority (up to 90%) of couples create their own parenting plans. Those that cannot, go to family court.
Judges, though, have been known to downplay even well-documented cases of abuse and to give more weight to parental alienation than to abuse allegations. In the case of Jennifer Collins, for example, the judge told her mother to "get over" the abuse as at least two years had passed, according to Collins’ Web site. The judge reversed the custody decision because her mom’s fear was "interfering in his relationship with us." Jennifer’s mother Holly took her two children and fled to the Netherlands, where they were granted asylum. (See also the Courageous Kids Network of children who were court-ordered into relationships with abusive parents.)
58,000 children a year go into sole or joint custody arrangements or unsupervised visitation with physically or sexually abusive parents, according to an estimate by the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence. That’s over 1,000 children a week the courts place in harm’s way.
Giving custody to the supposedly alienated parent is one way to "solve" the problem of parental alienation. Jailing the mother is another.
Tiffany Barney and Joyce Murphy are two women who’ve been jailed; their cases were covered in the media. Both alleged child sexual abuse and neither were believed. Barney fought for five years, at times losing custody or having limited supervised visitation. Murphy was called "toxic" to her daughter and deemed the cause of the child fearing her father. She fled with her daughter. When found, she was jailed for felony abduction and later granted limited visitation. It wasn’t until three more girls came forward with molestation charges that her ex was finally the one jailed.
A few other cases making headlines include: Court Punishes Woman in Alienation Case; WI: Judge Jails Mother over Daughter’s Refusal to Visit Father and Judge Dismisses Abuse Allegations.
To sum it up, any behavior that does not promote access to children can be classified as parental alienation and punished with jail time or limits on/loss of custody. With this threat, parents are less likely to report abuse and more likely to share custody with an abuser.
It should also be noted that when violent partners make good on their threats to take the kids away, it’s referred to as domestic violence by proxy -a continuation of domestic violence – rather than PA or PAS. Some battered women who’ve lost custody use PA or PAS to describe their particular situation. This both minimizes the nature and scope of abuse women face and promotes the use of a dangerous weapon (PA/PAS) that can be used against them in court.
I wouldn’t hand an angry man a agun, nor would I readily hand over a legal strategy to potential pedophiles, abusers or killers. Yet that is exactly what PA/PAS is doing.
For more information, visit:
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence
Stop Family Violence
Center for Judicial Excellence