Answering Critics – Part 1

The many parents I have helped, women and men, express astonishment that some people demonize me, attempt to tarnish my reputation, and spread misleading and false information about my work and me. Although my supporters far outweigh my detractors, the people seeking to quiet my voice yell loudly and work hard to circulate their misinformation.

Until now I have allowed the personal attacks and gross misrepresentations to go without answer. I understand the mentality of a true believer and realize that clarification of reality and objective evidence will hit the brick wall of a closed mind. For various reasons, these people want to hold on to their beliefs. They cling to misguided ideas rather than acknowledge the widespread mistreatment of children described in Divorce Poison and my other works. In some respects, they resemble people from earlier generations who refused to acknowledge the evidence of their senses that children were being physically and sexually abused with alarming frequency. Just as the professionals who first pointed an accusing finger at a society that tolerated such abuse were attacked, I suppose it is my fate to be the target of similar attacks.

Defending myself against such attacks feels a bit undignified. It seems an unnecessary waste of time, and gives currency to a few fanatics who attempt to alienate my audience from me using the same tactics that some parents use to alienate their children from the other parent. Some of these extremists have lost custody of their children in a ruling that seeks to protect the children from severe doses of divorce poison. Rather than recognize the rationale for the court’s decision, these people believe that the judge either was biased or was foolishly taken in by the other parent’s allegations. Some of these people would have you believe that there is an epidemic of judges who take joy in placing children with parents who beat or sexually molest them. In fact, one website claims a conspiracy of Masonic judges who, in every family court across North America (I am not exaggerating), automatically give custody to pedophiliac fathers who in turn pimp their children to pedophiliac members of the Illuminati (the group profiled in Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons). I am not kidding. . . . Nor are they.

As I say in the Afterword to the revised edition of my book, when my wife reads these vicious and absurd accounts, she shakes her head in disbelief at the raw animosity that greets the work I do on behalf of suffering families. She asks, “Don’t they know that you’ve devoted your career to the welfare of children?” The many women I have helped through my writing, consultations, and courtroom testimony cannot understand what motivates the detractors, who claim to be advocates for women.

So why am I writing this article? It occurred to me that those who find value in my work might be confused by the drumbeat of misinformation. The downside of responding to critics is that it fuels their zeal and brings more attention to their smears. They live for the battle and are gratified when anyone takes them seriously. I would rather spend my time providing guidance on how to understand, prevent, and repair damaged parent-child relationships. But, for the sake of those who really want to know, here is some clarification.

One smear that has been making the rounds involves a case where I helped a mother whose children were irrationally alienated. Some important details I cannot divulge because they are not a matter of public record and I wish to protect the family’s privacy. Were these details known, domestic violence activists who criticize my involvement in this case would surely regret their words. They would think twice about circulating the innuendos and arguments raised by the father’s lawyer in his attempt to defeat the mother.

Several mental health professionals concluded that the children’s estrangement from their mother was unreasonable. Even the father’s own expert witness recommended that the one child under the age of 18 be removed from the father’s home (but, for reasons unclear, not placed with his mother).

The case was heard before an arbitrator. The arbitrator found that “the mother was the intentional victim of irrational alienation by her sons, designed and orchestrated by the father.” The decision awarded sole custody to the mother and gave her the authority to make decisions on behalf of her son including, at her discretion, enrolling him in my educational workshop. The Arbitrator’s decision was appealed to the Family Court. The Court did not dispute the findings of irrational alienation. But the judge did rule that the Arbitrator should have ordered another evaluation. In the decision the judge pointed out that I gave no recommendations because, as I made clear to the Arbitrator, I had not conducted a custody evaluation. The judge set aside the Arbitrator’s award and allowed the case to go to a new trial.

Here is where the smears begin. The purpose of my testimony was to educate the court about general issues and the state of knowledge regarding parent-child conflicts and children’s rejection of a parent, and to describe various interventions for families in which the court finds that the children’s rejection of a parent is unjustified, irrational, disproportionate to the child’s experience of the parent, and not in the children’s best interests. An expert witness who testifies in this capacity is obliged to explain the limitations of his work in the case. As is my duty, I clarified the purpose of my testimony and volunteered the information that I had not conducted an evaluation and was not there to make a specific recommendation for this family.

Rather than point out that I had testified in a professionally ethical and objective manner and properly apprised the court of the scope of my work in the case, including limitations, some bloggers imply that the Family Court Judge “discovered” the limitations and that I then had to “admit” that I had not seen the children. This is not what happened. I never testified before the Family Court Judge. The Judge simply noted what I had volunteered in my testimony in the Arbitration. My professional colleagues understand that what I did was precisely in accord with professional ethics.

Now it gets interesting, and this is the part critics conceal from their blogs. This was not the conclusion of the case. A new custody assessment was conducted. The assessment results strongly supported the mother’s position, recommended giving her the authority to enroll her son in Family Bridges, and concluded that the workshop was the best option for this family.

The case did go to trial. But, on the eve of the trial, the father’s lawyer, in what appeared to me to be a desperate last-ditch attempt to try his case in the media when it was clear that the evidence favored the mother, submitted an article to Canada’s Law Times that attacked my workshop as unscientific. Fortunately, the editor recognized distortions in the lawyer’s submission and asked me to submit commentary to set the record straight. My article was published. It effectively refutes the lawyer’s arguments. You do not learn about my article by reading the advocate’s blog posts. (See The Slanted Truth for the use of such tactics by alienating parents.) It is as if it did not exist. You can read my article by clicking here.

What you also never learn from reading the blogger’s accounts of this case is the ultimate outcome. Notwithstanding the father’s lawyer’s maneuvers, again, the mother prevailed on all counts. After hearing all the evidence, the judge concluded that “Mother should have sole legal and residential custody of [the child]. Mother shall have complete authority to make decisions regarding [the child's] welfare. She is not required to consult with anyone before doing so; Mother is specifically authorized to obtain any treatment and/or intervention for [the child] as she, in her sole discretion, deems necessary and appropriate for [the child's] best interests; Mother’s authority described above includes, but is not limited to ‘Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships,’ to enable and assist [the child] in adjusting to living with her.”

By selectively citing the earlier Family Court decision, and concealing the trial outcome, the bloggers leave the impression that the court was critical of Family Bridges and blocked the family from participating in the workshop. In the end, the truth is the exact opposite. (Selective attention is another tactic of alienating parents that critics adopt to try to alienate audiences from my work.)

Here is what the judge wrote in her opinion: “This leaves the Workshop, coupled with a change in custody, as the only potential remedy with any chance of success in this difficult case. . . . The court is faced with compelling evidence that a change in custody, coupled with the Workshop is best for [the child]. . . . The Workshop is a last resort. Obviously it would have been better had these problems been identified and corrected early on. . . . Unfortunately, they were not. This leaves the Workshop as [the child's] best last hope.” [Emphasis added.]

I fully expect detractors to post other information attempting to cast doubt on the wisdom of the judge’s decision in this case (which was essentially identical to the arbitrator’s decision; that is, two different triers of fact, after hearing all the evidence, concluded that the mother should have custody and have the right to enroll her child in Family Bridges). I do not intend to respond to such posts.

As rebuttal to any future innuendoes and misrepresentations, I can state the following. The mother has authorized me to state that she is very pleased with the ultimate outcome of her case. Her formerly alienated son, estranged for six years, participated in, and greatly benefitted from, the four day Family Bridges workshop. He rapidly restored his loving relationship with his mother and they now live happily together.

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29 Responses to Answering Critics – Part 1

  1. TNM says:

    Having witness to the events that lead to this blog post, I would say that it deeply saddens me that fellow women would be so rigid in their views and so easily discount the experiences of those detailing their painful truths.

    I am a mother and stepmother. Early in the relationship I told my husband that if I saw or heard something that I felt was not right in respects to his co-parenting relationship with his ex, that he should expect me to speak out. If he didn’t want to hear it, then perhaps we shouldn’t be together. I was a divorced mother of one working a full time job and raising my child. I thought I could relate to her. What I found out is that she is a very different from me. Along with that revelation and her relentless desire for conflict, I knew that my husband and his kid were a package deal; one day he would have custody.

    Perhaps the most telling of all of the allegations she has thrown out there is her email she sent after they separated and before I met my husband. The email was short and to the point “[Child's name] is not yours.” I cannot imagine ever saying such a thing.

    In the flurry of postings that went back and forth one comment really stuck out to me. The discussion was about the experience of the child believing one version of a story over the father’s and how problematic that is. The poster said something like “maybe the the mother is just more believable than you.” I thought to myself, the mother is more believable because we don’t talk about the things she does. We don’t draw the kid into the parental disputes. The mother does. That’s why she is more believable.

    My assessment of those posters is less generous as yours. Those folks had no ability for self reflection or to see the world from a different vantage point. They aren’t much different than trying to rationally discuss anything with my husband’s ex. You might as well talk to the wall.

    You have done remarkable work and don’t deserve this. Neither did Gardner. I had to laugh that as the experts who support this were lined up, they shot each one down as not being believable for one reason or another. Not unlike my husband’s ex who has shot down every expert and judge as being either bought off or biased against her because they don’t agree with her delusional view of the world.

    Keep up the good work!

    • [Name withheld by admin] says:

      “As I say in the Afterword to the revised edition of my book, when my wife reads these vicious and absurd accounts, she shakes her head in disbelief at the raw animosity that greets the work I do on behalf of suffering families. She asks, “Don’t they know that you’ve devoted your career to the welfare of children?” The many women I have helped through my writing, consultations, and courtroom testimony cannot understand what motivates the detractors, who claim to be advocates for women.”

      Your statement quoted above seems to be sided toward women. I believe you have a valid point but I believe that the alienator can be the non custodial mother who finds support and tools in your teachings to assist her in her manipulation of her child/children against the target father.

      Healthy parents would never wish to separate a child from either parent even if they chose to divorce.

      I am a grandma and one of my grandchildren has a biological mother who is a great fan of yours after she has spent 8 yrs of the childs 10 yr life degrading the father, stepmother and his family, she has made false accusations to CPS almost yearly and files motions for anything she can to eliminate the father and his family from this childs life. Her motives after the divorce have never been based on what is best for the child instead she defined her true motives several years ago when she left the child in NY and moved out of state ( after years of accusations of both physical and mental abuse she claimed against the father ) She moves out of state , began the alienation you speak of with calls of how horrible it is without the child, letters of loneliness and sadness missing the child, telephone calls where she never asks how the child is doing in school etc, instead actually hangs up on the child if the child is busy with a project or friend and asks to return the call, then the mother intimidates the child by sending letters to them stating the child is not welcome in her life or home until she becomes the child she once knew, refuses to participate in shared healthy parenting with the father and stepmother, refuses to support the custodial parent (fathers) position in any action even tho she went to court on her own and gave him custody because the court would not let her move out of state with the child, because moving out of state was only in her best interest not the child. She openly states to the child your father is a jerk, liar and many other words not appropriate for a child to be subjected to. The child has been told by this mother that it is THE FATHER who is an alienator and has subjected her to your Pluto video intimidating the child with secret codes, plans to separate the child from the family she knows, even this last effort has informed the child that her new husband almost divorced her because she missed the child so much, telling the child if we don’t get you to come live with me I will die without you, that a mother needs her child and that her father has his own family. The child has been through years of therapy (the mother refuses to participate in) and the therapy is required after visits to the mother because the mother tells the child how horrible it is to have to go back to “that house” Never once has she helped this child thru any healthy transition for visitation, instead makes the separation so scary the child is now suicidal. SICK manipulation brought on by the mother who needed to move away from her child because she did not like cold weather. Now her version is she is allergic to the cold and the child’s father was sick and abusive (although 2 forensic evaluations proved none of this to be true) that she had to turn her child over to the father to keep the child from the arguing, when in fact the only arguing there is that the mother prefers custody of the child and wants the father out of their lives completly and has stated this to professionals and the child consistently. Now the child believes she would rather die than to have to live with her father because this is the only thing that will make her mom happy. These statements actually brought on by the mother telling her SHE needs her to be together or she will die. She promises the child horses, movie star living and more on the day they get to be together forever. This last visit (unscheduled because the father thinks it important to let the child visit when the child requests it ) the child came back suicidal stating living with her mom is more important that the father, the family or the childs own life. The plans made by the mother have all failed in the past and now they (mother and child) have to find a way to be together without the father. The father was so scared he called the mother and the mother closed her business, drove thousands of miles and instead of trying to help, her only resolution is sign over complete custody to me and the child will leave with the mother. He almost did in a confused effort to help his child and then realized that the only help this child needs is more therapy because this mother is not will to put the childs needs first.

      The healthy parent would help with the transition, share in the reinforcement to the child that both parents are healthy and support the decision SHE made to begin with. So sad to see one of your loyal fans use your teachings to empower her accusations and I can see where a unstable mother can take your theories and twist them for her own self satisfaction, again not shared parenting in the best interest of the child. Yes this child needs a healthy relationship with her mother, however once a mother spends 8 of a childs 10 year life degrading the father you know this is one sick parent who will not stop, she will continue until the child is destroyed because it is not the child’s well being this mother has an interest in it is HER own narcisstic behaviors she has to feed.

      Thanks to her we watched the Pluto video and yes we found she is the alienator and we now understand her illness more. The mother did not have a healthly relationship with her family, even the mother’s father , the child’s grandfather lives within minutes of the child and the grandparents do not interact unless they stop to drop off a present. This child has a healthly family on one side and very different family on the other, we all accept their differences as this child deserves to know all of us, both sides. Yet now I am believing this child needs to be as far away from the mother as possible unless the mother can get professional help as her child has to.
      Sorry to ramble just sickened to have a child used this way and a grandma needs to vent occasionally.

      • No need to apologize for venting. When a child falls victim to divorce poison this is a tragic situation. Talking about the tragedy provides some minor relief.

        The comment you quoted was in response to distortions that only men suffer from the problems I write about. But, as I have repeatedly stated in my publications, including the Introduction to Divorce Poison, the problem of children rejecting a parent and other relatives cuts across gender lines.

        What you described in your email (and I withheld your name to protect the family’s privacy) is an example of projection. See pages 173 to 176 in the revised edition of Divorce Poison. Projection is the practice of falsely attributing to others one’s own unacknowledged feelings, impulses, or thoughts. As I mention in that section of the book, very often the first parent to raise an accusation of brainwashing is the one who has already begun such a campaign.

        I am glad that Welcome Back, Pluto helped you better understand the situation. My hope is that the DVD program also planted seeds that will eventually help your grandchild understand why it is wrong to keep a child from knowing and loving a good family.

  2. Janta says:

    For what it is worth, the fact that you are at the receiving end of such a venomous backlash is an indicator that your work is making a real difference and gaining traction. Anyone who has actually read your work can see that it is written with a great deal of compassion for all involved and that it makes complete sense. If that was not the case, you would not have such vocal critics. Certain people obviously have cause to feel threatened by the good work that you do.

  3. Steve Buchanan says:

    In the military there’s a saying: If you’re not taking flak you’re not over the target.

  4. DNE says:

    I am very familiar with the case that is described in the main post, and you have been very kind to the alienating father and his manipulative lawyer. At the end of the day I am happy with the results but saddened by the wasted years of motherly love that this child (and his older brother) were deprived of.

  5. Frog says:

    Excellent response! I gave up trying to reason with my ex regarding her alienation tactics a long time ago. She doesn’t believe she is doing anything wrong. This really helps to understand the shocking responses from some of the detractors.

    Nietzsche had a few things to say on this topic. I’m going to stop staring into the abyss… ;)

  6. forthelost says:

    When I read about the case on those blogs you speak of, I said to myself “I bet the reason he ‘never met them’ was because he was only testifiying about the general nature of alienation and wasn’t conducting an evaluation at all.”

    • You got that one right. Funny how people can take a virtue and spin it so it looks like a vice. Parents who are the target of their children’s rejection often are in a position where, in the eyes of the other parent and the alienated children, they can do nothing right. For instance, if they try to see a child who wants to avoid them, they are accused of harassing and being insensitive to the child’s wishes. If they cease trying to contact the child they are accused of not really caring. With some people, and in some situations, you just cannot win.

  7. stef says:

    you are dealing with persons who have personality disorders or even delusional thought disorders: nature of the practice you have: you are going to attract these persons as a nature of treating parental alienation: i feel most persons who are in this situation are very ill. it goes towards what mental status these persons have: paranoia: conspiracy theories. just found an old recording of my x wife saying i’m possed by demons…etc…more needs to be done in assessing thought content of the persons perpetrating parental alienation. this goes into assessment also of empathy: alienating persons and alienated children lose their ability to think about the targeted parents feeling: therapy should be measured in terms of empathy scales to measure treatment goals: sort of vital signs for parental alienation that can be objectivized: overall the attacks are interesting in that it directs critical thinking at the attackers as to where they stand in terms of mental status and thought content

  8. stef says:

    also the issue of cults or cult like behaviors amongst a group of persons validates amy baker paper “the cult of parenthood” persons who do not think critically will use propapanda like methods and inflammatory and provocatory language on the internet to make a point. i think the diagnosis of “shared delusional disorder” is something to think about as people protest using outlandish blogs to make a point

  9. stef says:

    my xwife (not yet divorced) will not let me show the movie to my 7 1/2 or 11 year children: my case is a bad case but i am finding that pet therapy a way to get at talking about affection and empathy. learning about various empathy scales but i am not a psychologist so i dont know how to administer but it seems that sessions with the kids requires a objective vital measure to take the problem into the mainstream. i probably should call you with my case. it was recommended we attend your clinic.

    • Regarding pet therapy, one of my readers brought to my attention an article that described the use of horse therapy to help a recovered kidnapped girl with the reunification process. I have no experience with equine-assisted therapy. But, one component of the Family Bridges workshop that we use to ease the transition for children who reunite with a parent is to provide a relaxed setting in which the parent and child can be with each other in a comfortable manner, with their initial attention on something other than each other and their problems. (A more detailed description of this principal can be found in my peer-reviewed article on Family Bridges.) Incidentally, when I conduct this workshop, it is not in my office, or in a clinic or center. Our preference is to choose a resort setting or the family’s own home.

      Perhaps a therapist with experience conducting equine-assisted therapy will weigh in on this topic. Just speculating, I imagine that the focus is on the horse and not on the parent-child conflict. I could see this providing a comfortable way to interact and to bond around a common activity. Also, equine-assisted therapy evokes nurturing feelings, which may help a child reconnect with the feelings associated with the care the parent provided in the years before the estrangement.

      • sam says:

        yes. i agree: i know a middle age lady who has been estranged from her father: mother was a schizophrenic but at time of divorce, she was diagnosed as a simple mental disorder at the time, the daughter took the mother’s side when the father remarried , and was in denial about the severity of the mother’s illness. the daughter was emeshed with the mother and with time would be at her bedside continously when the mother became infirm in the nursing home. with time, i met the father and realized that he had an estrangment from his daughter. this scenario pops up from time to time with primary care people but there is little training in how to counsel on this. in this case the mother has completely deteriorated from diseases of aging. the interesting thing is the commonality of talking about cats and bottling wine as a hobby. not talking about the trigger things is what helps but this needs practice with strong personalities. the patient’s father had been beer maker so hence the making of beer brings the father back to his early nurturing time…and hence he is able to be “a father” and not stuck in the strife and ongoing dysfunctional rejection and drama.

  10. Annabelle Twilley Richardson says:

    There’s an old expression about “sticks and stones” and how they hurt like words can’t. But words can. I feel very sorry that you have to go through this twisted, distorted, angry, embittered storm of comment from people who believe, like alienating parents, that there is only one way to see the world, only one “right”….theirs. And they must defend it by any means. You cannot help but be feeling a bit battered and bruised by all this, because of the immense capacity for empathy that you have. For those that fight and fight, as well as those who seek, use, are comforted by your efforts. I am glad that you have stood up to these people. It is an example for the alienated parent, in walking that fine line between “sucking it up” and not responding in kind, while still affirming their beliefs and their actions on behalf of the children. And like you tell the aggrieved they need support, you do also. We who have been truly helped by your efforts, need to stand behind you, support you. How can we do this ?

  11. Janta says:

    I had not read the blogs Dr Warshak refers to, but I did a quick google search earlier and came across one blog critical of his work. Because the bloggers identify as feminists and women’s rights advocates, I felt it important to leave a comment there. I do not know whether what I say will get them to reconsider their stance; in any case, they posted it.

    Hi there

    I am a survivor of domestic violence and I consider myself a feminist. I have suffered physical and psychological abuse from my ex, some of which would be considered torture if I had been a prisoner of war. One of the forms of abuse I – and my daughters – continue to suffer, however, is parental alienation.

    My ex has turned our daughters against me to the point where they even left the country to live elsewhere – all with the permission of the court. The argument went in the main that our daughters, who are teenagers, are too intelligent and too mature to be influenced, and that it would not be in their best interests to go against their stated wishes. I did wonder what that was meant to say about me and anyone else who has ever been brainwashed by a manipulative spouse: not intelligent enough to see through it? Moreover, my ex’s violence was documented and, surprisingly, admitted, though heavily played down, of course (ever heard of “non-contact kicks and punches”? I am inclined to laugh.) However, it was considered that the physical violence was historic – it had indeed stopped years ago because I had set him an ultimatum; that the psychological violence had essentially stopped on the day of separation; that our daughters were never the subject of it in any case, and that my ex was otherwise a great dad.

    Even though for a long time I did not know what parental alienation was, I could see it happening very clearly in the changes of behaviour in my daughters, which were in fact the same changes of behaviour described in the parental alienation literature. Whether one wants to call it a syndrome or not is irrelevant to me. The evidence of alienation was right in front of me in the form of my daughters’ words and odd, out-of-character behaviours.

    I found that none of what was happening was actually surprising, because it seemed to work in much the same way that my ex used to manipulate me, and given that he never, never gives up on a grudge, it was clear that he wanted to punish me for leaving him and finally talking about what he had done to me over the years. I came across Dr Warshak’s *Divorce Poison* at a time when I felt incredibly disempowered by the rulings of the court, I was depressed and heart-broken and felt I had no way of getting my daughters back unless they miraculously “got it” one day. Dr Warshak’s book has been immensely helpful to me, and because of following its advice I am now in a position where I have some contact with my daughters. The issue to me is not a gender issue at all, it is a question of abusive behaviour, which can be perpetrated by men and women. Parental alienation affects both mums and dads, and Dr Warshak, more than other researchers in his field perhaps, makes that very clear. It seems to me that you got the wrong end of the stick, as unjustified parental alienation is very clearly defined, by Dr Warshak and others, as EXCLUDING cases where children have just cause to reject a parent who is abusive, and where one parent may well be justified in trying to protect the children from an abusive ex. The fact that abusive parents – perhaps successfully – use alienation as an excuse to obscure their violent behaviour and avoid having to face up to it makes no difference to the definition. We expect abusers to manipulate and pervert things which are essentially good and helpful.

    Moreover, the literature shows that there can be a connection between domestic violence and parental alienation, which is discussed at length by Jaffe et al. (2008). They report that , in the case of what they term “abusive controlling violent relationships” (ACV),
    “[a]busive ex-partners are likely to undermine the victim’s parenting role. In a range of obvious and more insidious ways, abusive ex-partners are likely to attempt to alienate the children from the other parent’s affection (by asserting blame for the dissolution of the family and telling negative stories), sabotage family plans (by continuing criticism or competitive bribes), and undermine parental authority (by explicitly instructing the children not to listen or obey; Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Johnston, Walters, & Olesen, 2005). This facet of the abuser’s parenting needs to be considered when deciding what access, if any, the perpetrator should have to the children, what interventions are needed to address these problems, and the prognosis for change with treatment (Scott & Crooks, 2004).” (503)

    It seems to me that your energies in criticising Dr Warshak are misdirected. As I see it, Dr Warshak is very much on the same page as anti-violence campaigners and supportive of victims of violence, in whichever way it occurs. I think we feminists and those that research parental alienation should tackle the real issue together, the fact that parental alienation is emotional abuse, whoever perpetrates it. I hope you will be open to considering the merit of Dr Warshak’s work. It is the single most important thing that made a difference to me this year in addressing the continued emotional abuse from my ex. ]

    • forthelost says:

      When they say “women’s rights advocates” you have to understand they mean “Mothers should always have 100% custody of their children and be able to dictate if their father gets to see them at all.”

      • A wide range of people represent themselves as women’s rights advocates, and I think it is important not to paint all with the same brush. In particular, the position you mention is quite extreme and represents only one segment of those concerned with women’s rights.

      • EC says:

        It’s not rare for even nominally mainstream institutions to tacitly hold and in practice act according to the view that mothers are naturally and `legitimately’ gatekeepers of fathers’ and their children’s access to each other.

        While they don’t represent by any means the sentiments of all or probably most women, and there are exceptions, women’s advocacy organizations have come to largely hang together and as a matter of course favor family law policy that tends to give mothers the upper hand in custody disputes. This includes, for example, organizations that focus on empowering women in the workplace arguing for the law allowing mothers to essentially freely relocate with their children—at great expense to the child-father bond—whenever it advances their career. And most of those who wouldn’t themselves actively promote an absurd claim—such as that that fathers seek joint custody because they want to continue to batter their ex-partner after a breakup, and not out of an interest in their children—won’t take a stand against it.

  12. Monika says:

    The detractors do work hard to circulate their misinformation and I would say they work even harder claiming to be advocates for women. But their advocacy is bent, biased, and blinded. In the name of advocacy, they leave out a segment of women who are falsely accused of being bad mothers. Some groups cannot think objectively and they do not have the ability to reason. They lack empathy. They engage in endless efforts to enervate the damage of emotional abuse.

    I agree; they live for the battle. If you address cases; they move onto costs. If you cover terminology, such as alienation; they ascend to assumptions and assemble illogical attacks. They point out “warnings” from a few advocacy groups; they ” warn” that parental alienation is nothing more than a ploy. They dismiss over two hundred studies indicating that when a parent bad-mouths a child, relentlessly, it is not in the child’s best interest. And, as they consistently point out the warning, they discard the cries of children. They also overlook the hopelessness of women who worry, wonder, and waste an inordinate amount of time pondering what more she could have done.

    Divorce Poison covers power, control, and domination. As one example, a man who did not want a divorce told his wife, “I’m going to show you what it’s like to love someone and not have them love you back.” According to some of these groups, this is not a form of control. They cannot fathom that some men may never hit a woman, but they may use the children as tools or threaten to move off with the children. Some of these threats come to fruition. I know of a woman who was told, “if you leave I will make your life a living hell.” He followed through. From the time this woman’s child was four he taught the child to disrespect the mother. However, these groups would not know that you are an advocate for women because they are too busy worrying about their next smear tactic. And, as Divorce Poison covers, manipulation is well documented in the domestic violence literature. Manipulation works, but some groups turn their head; if they have not had a child belittle them, destroy their property, and report to their ex-spouse every move made in the home (similar to a spy) they do not care.

    No one disputes that some victims of physical assault have lost custody to abusers. This is inexcusable. However, they cannot reason that some women have lost a relationship with a child, are not victims of physical assault, but they are victims of irrational scorn. I think emotional abuse should also be inexcusable. Sadly, this is not the current standard of our society. Brazil realizes that parental alienation is damaging, and consequently made the horrific behaviors illegal. These groups also fail to reason that some alienated mothers may have forced joint custody —with a jerk. Divorce Poison was the first book offering responses, when no one else covered the topic. It also offers responses when an ex-spouse teaches a child to disrespect, demean, or hate his or her mother. And, it also address reality: some ex-spouses are not going to change and they are not going to stop.

    Certainly, there are situations of both physical abuse and parental alienation. It could be thought of that physical abuse, in some cases, is a precedent to parental alienation. Once the woman gains the courage and financial standing to leave, the man has to find a way “to get even.” And, as they are no longer married, he may use what time is allowed, to teach the children to demean the mother. Some may say an abuser would not be awarded visitation or joint custody. But, if he has been “rehabilitated”, or the physical abuse was “not that bad”, the woman, in most courts, will not be awarded sole custody. Additionally, these groups need to wake up to the fact that he will find other ways to reestablish power and control. This other way, will be the children. He will teach them to disrespect the woman; to mock the woman’s rules; to pawn her valuable items, and to steal from the woman. They will be told that they should call immediately if they are “made” to do their homework or follow any of the woman’s “dumb rules.” Unfortunately, these are just a few of the tactics that alienating parents use. The tactics are about as despicable that misinformed groups use to undermine the valuable work that you, Dr. Warshak have dedicated your life to.

    Lastly, in regards to the case. You mentioned that the groups would think twice about circulating innuendos. I do not think some should call themselves advocates. I am not sure they would think twice; I suggest they do not think at all. They cannot decipher a workshop from a warehouse. They certainly do not understand ethical codes. As you mentioned, your purpose was educational and you stated so. But this is not the picture these misguided groups paint. As a social worker, I realize you were in accord with your code of ethics. Yet, once again, they “turn a virtue into a vice.” I thank you for going above and beyond. I also thank you for Divorce Poison. It is the only book that addresses irrational alienation not only for men, but it offers numerous suggestions for women. And, many of the rejected women are survivors of domestic violence. Some may have been chronically controlled, chastised, and condemned. I applaud your work as it exceeds not only community standards, but your efforts have reached hurting children and families across cultural and class lines.

    Sincerely,

    Social Worker

  13. EC says:

    I haven’t seen a single confirmed case of a parent with a substantiated history of either child abuse or spousal battery getting sole or primary custody, with or without invoking parental alienation or the related syndrome in court as a `defense.’ That such parents frequently, routinely, and even preferentially receive custody as a result of standard court process and conventional practice was originally asserted disingenuously, and that the notion is now widely subscribed to by more innocent individuals seems to be an example of the phenomenon in which a lie repeated often enough becomes accepted as if it were a fact.

    In a few cases put up as examples, of which I have some knowledge, I know that there were aspects such as the mother taking up residence in a rehab’ facility, or voluntarily relinquishing primary custody to the father in order to relocate to live with a new lover, compliant with court order.

    There have of course been some extremely tragic instances of a parent committing extreme acts of violence, which was unfortunately not clearly predictable beforehand. In none that I know of was parental alienation a point in the preceding litigation: citing these cases as evidence that all mention of parental alienation should be proscribed in family court is a non sequitur, dishonestly posited.

  14. Janta says:

    EC, my ex has a documented history of not only battering me, but also two previous partners. He not only got sole custody, he was also allowed to move overseas with the children, because his alienation of them from me was so successful.

    And Monica, your comment is spot on.

  15. EC says:

    I hope, Janta, you can give some details that explain and clarify how this seemingly very-bad-for-the-child court ruling came about.

    Did the court acknowledge but then for some reason disregard the fact that the father had an extensive history of committing spousal battery, or did they dismiss the allegations to that effect, and you perhaps contest their handling of the evidence? Spousal battery is not automatically equated to child abuse, but most courts put a burden on a parent with a violent background of any sort that they find credible, of showing the child will be safe in their care.

    Family courts nowadays do not casually allow moveaways, especially international ones, in situations when there’s some degree of joint custody: for one thing they tend to be retentive of their personal jurisdiction. So what points were actually litigated?

    I’ve seen courts variously reason that a moveaway be allowed in cases where there was apparent parental alienation because, since the child wasn’t spending much time with the parent left-behind anyway, there would be little loss, but I’ve also seen them disallow moveaways in cases where the child was in therapy over alienation, which a moveaway would disrupt.

  16. Janta says:

    EC, without going into too much detail (because the court file is long and I also want to protect my children’s identity), I should say that this was not a US court, but one in a Western democracy nonetheless. In theory, adults can get protection orders for physically and emotional abuse. On paper at least, it is quite progressive. The physical violence, which had gone on for many years, had stopped several years before separation because I told my ex that if he hit me one more time I would leave him immediately. My ex had to admit in court that he had battered two other women apart from me, although he played down the extent of the violence. The court acknowledged that my ex had been psychologically abusive towards me until the end of the relationship. Further, the court decided that the children were not in danger of physical or psychological abuse (without any psychological assessment of my ex, and in the absence of any steps on his part – e.g. anger management, therapy, parenting classes – that showed any commitment to fully accepting and adressing his behaviour). The court acknowledged that the children had witnessed violence when they were younger. They decided that the children’s stated wishes and reasons given for wanting to live in another country (which I won’t repeat here, but which would be unusual for any teenager to want to give up a relationship with a parent for) overruled my concerns. The fact that my ex had threatened to abduct the children should I leave him was not taken into account, as it was considered that our daughters had come to their – let’s say unusual – reasoning all by themselves. My daughters do very well at school, and they impressed the court with their intelligence and maturity. (I am not sure what that is meant to say about my intelligence and maturity, at the time I was brainwashed and abused by their father. I was much older than my daughters are now, and, I like to think, not stupid either. It seems to me that some old stereotypes continue to haunt the court system.) They also told the judge and the lawyer for child that they loved me. They certainly did not act like it or treat me like that, and if they loved me so much, why had they refused to see or speak to me for several months, returning letters and gifts unopened? It does not make sense, unless the girls were alienated, and they knew exactly what they needed to say in court to get their way. The fact that they had already not been living with me for a year by the time the case came to a hearing probably did not help either. Notably, the judge was rushed in his decision, because my ex had booked flight tickets for the next day, and the judge also said that he did not know whether the children were alienated or not, and that a proper assessment would have to be done to determine it. (This never happened, of course, because the ruling was made that day.) It was acknowledged that my daughters and I should have a relationship, so the parenting order provided for me seeing our daughters 3 times a year during their holidays. In practical terms, this would never have been enforceable, of course. Once they go overseas, you may well lose them forever. Things turned out a little different, as it happenes, but not because of any intervention or help I got from the court. Does this answer your question?

  17. EC says:

    That the children have been living in a certain situation without manifesting ill effects for a fairly substantial amount of time usually counts for a whole lot in courts in the US: a very heavy burden is almost always put on the parent who wants to significantly change the status quo, to prove that it’s in the child’s `best interest.’ I’m not defending the practice—often a temporary or interim order made in haste becomes locked in by deliberate delaying on the part of the parent standing to benefit from temporizing, among other problems—but if your case had been decided in the US, and perhaps as it is, I would be inclined to believe that that fact was dispositive for the court.

    No violence is really conscionable, but it sounds like your ex’s didn’t rise to the level of unqualified, full-fledged spousal battery: you don’t seem concerned yourself that the children are in danger with him. Likewise for threatening to abduct them and probably at least some badmouthing of you, but it sounds like your daughters are fortunately not actually alienated from you.

    It’s doubtful a court, at least in the US, would cut short an investigation because a party had travel plans to permanently leave its jurisdiction: a family court judge can order an investigation on his own initiative, but it’s often the responsibility of the party to whose case it’s crucial to petition the court to order it and argue for what its scope, etc., should be.

    I deplore the paucity of ordered parenting time you received and hope you have nevertheless been able to maintain some degree of a parent-child relationship, but I don’t see how as you now relate it, your experience supports the notion of there being a pattern, rooted in court procedure or the structure of family law, of awarding custody to overtly abusive parents.

  18. Janta says:

    EC, since I am not on trial here, I won’t give exact details of the abuse to defend myself. I can assure you, though, that the violence was severe, “fully-fledged”, happened daily, over a number of years, and including when I was heavily pregnant. It was accompanied by psychological abuse, some of which is described really well in Dina McMillan’s book “But he says he loves me”, if you are interested in how it works. I have had my life threatened and I had good reason to believe those threats. I have been suffering from post-traumatic stress, flashbacks, recurring nightmares, etc. because of the abuse for years, and during the marriage my ex prevented me from seeking treatment for that, blaming me for “repeating history” and refusing to let go of “the past”, and, of course, blaming me for his violent behaviour and anger in the first place. Between each of the three women he battered (that I know of, and including myself), years passed apparently without incident. It seems to me that he battered whenever he had sufficient power over a woman (by marriage, isolation, pregnancy, etc.) and when he thought he could get away with it. He put a lot of safeguards in place to make sure he could get away with it.

    I can also assure you – again, without wanting to give too many details – that my children were not only alienated but estranged for months at a time – for the most part of a year in one case – in the sense that Dr Warshak uses the term “estranged”. It was only through reading Divorce Poison, explaining the situation to and enlisting some other adults, and some strategising with some input from a wonderful child psychologist, Dr. Warshak, that my children found face-saving ways to reconnect with me.

    I cannot say I am over the moon now, as seeing my daughters once every one to two weeks is far from ideal, but it is a whole lot better than what I have had the past, and I have something to work with and build on. There is still no guarantee that the situation will last. After all, the relationship finances are not settled, and that is certainly one area that has been used to alienate the children (they accuse me of stealing “their” money and know too many, but selective details of the property relationship negotiations).

    I was contending that the children were absolutely “manifesting ill effects” in their out-of-character, hostile and unjustified behaviour towards me, and I was, and continue to be, concerned about the long-term ill-effects that parental alienation can cause. It is a real problem that whilst emotional abuse is recognised on paper, in practice that does not necessarily happen. It also seems that the “status quo” is seen as a satisfactory or good enough state per se, as long as the children do well at school, are physically healthy and seem happy otherwise. What often is not seen is the significant change in behaviour once the children are in the presence of the rejected parent. A friend of mine who knew the whole story and had even gone to the trouble of reading Divorce Poison to see how she could help was absolutely shocked when she actually witnessed one of my daughter’s behaviour towards me. Even though my friend had all that knowledge, she never imagined that this was what parental alienation looks like in action. I imagine judges do not usually see that behaviour.

    This is about as much as I think I can reveal. It is also difficult for me to talk about this, so I will leave it at that.

  19. Talk to mothers, divorce lawyers and child advocates and you’ll hear tales of a family court system thats badly broken….. [Name withheld] describes herself as a squeaky clean soccer mom who lived my life for my children. Behind that facade [name withheld] says she married a monster — a man who verbally and emotionally attacked her for years and their two young daughters…When she finally left him and tried to take her girls with her she encountered a new monster — family court.