Parental Alienation Cited in Goldman Decision

Parental alienation is emotional abuse. Judge Guadagno is clear about this. Ruling last week in the Goldman case, the judge calls the behavior of the child’s stepfather and family “contemptible” for filling the boy’s head with false information aimed at undermining his love for his dad.

Referring to the “continuous efforts at parental alienation” begun by the boy’s mother and continued by his stepfather and maternal grandparents, and their “attempt to implant false memories and erase Sean’s true memories of his father,” the judge wrote, “It is difficult to conceive of a more dramatic example of emotional abuse of a young child.”

What is self-evident to this judge is incomprehensible to a cadre of naysayers who deny the reality of this form of abuse unless the perpetrator is a violent man. These deniers fear that the term parental alienation is merely a tool for abusive men to deflect blame for their children’s rejection of them. As advocates for victims of domestic violence, they must acknowledge that some men exact revenge against former spouses by poisoning the children’s affections for their mother. When children become alienated from a mother who is a former victim of domestic violence, they call this domestic violence by proxy.

The Goldman case, though, highlights what is wrong with dismissing all cases of parental alienation except those that fit the pattern of violent man against woman. In this case, the perpetrators of the abuse are male and female. Neither has been accused of domestic violence. They have been accused of alienating a boy from his father — parental alienation. And, no court has found that David Goldman is an abuser.

Unless we deny the reality identified by three court-appointed Brazilian psychologists, the Brazilian court, and the New Jersey court, we must conclude that David Goldman and his son have been harmed by parental alienation, not by domestic violence by proxy.

Can an abusive parent invoke the concept of parental alienation to blame and discredit a protective parent? Yes. Courts must exercise great care before accepting allegations of alienation as true, or they will mistakenly place children with physically and psychologically abusive parents. But this concern must not keep courts from protecting children against the cruelty of being manipulated to disown a good and loving parent.

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4 Responses to Parental Alienation Cited in Goldman Decision

  1. Dr. Warshak many thanks to you on your opinion on the Goldman decision. I feel this case is a huge leap towards legitimacy for parental alienation as a recognizable form of abuse. Organizations such as NOW, who worry that PA is merely some crafty defense that “evil man” abusers use to keep abusing their children, need to welcome themselves to 2011. Enough already, we have been documenting this form of abuse for years now, other countries are moving ahead of the US by recognizing PA in their court systems, in their social service programs. It is time to quell the hysteria created by these radical fundamentalist groups that pretend to protect one person at the expense of another. We are all playing in for the same team, abuse is abuse, it can take many forms and PA is just one of them. These organizations need to reconsider their stance on PA/PAS, or they can just count themselves to be nothing but fear mongers who are part of the problem not part of the solution.

    Chelsey Williams

  2. Monika says:

    Thank you, again, for another great article. As a social worker and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, I am confounded that some advocates refuse to acknowledge children’s affections can be poisoned. Certain groups refer to this as domestic violence by proxy. As one example, the Leadership Council accurately describes that some ex-spouses make good on their threat to attack their ex-partner in the place she is the most vulnerable—by taking her children away. After separation, they continue to wage their campaign of manipulation and abuse by attempting to convince children that their mothers never loved them. Many rejected parents know that children can be convinced that they were never loved.

    The disparity is that the Leadership Council, and other misinformed groups, posit that the “convincing” must be made by a batterer, not a bully. Is that possible? Most domestic violence training that I am aware of and have participated in, considers coercive control and manipulation as a component of DV. Absolutely: domestic violence can include battering, but a woman, or a man, can still endure domestic violence without battering. According the APA Task Force on Violence and the Family (APA, 1996) DV is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors including a wide range of physical, sexual, and psychological maltreatment used by one person in an intimate relationship against another to gain power unfairly or maintain that person’s misuse of power, control, and authority. It seems the Leadership Council did not cast their net wide enough.

    Peculiarly, the Leadership Council claims that calling this behavior “parental alienation” is not strong enough to convey the criminal pattern of terroristic behaviors employed by batterers. On the contrary, parental alienation is not only wide enough it is strong enough. Strong enough to shed tears and taint a once valued relationship. It is also strong enough to capture the “weak” minds of children. That is, to capture the behaviors employed that leads to irrational rejection. As a reminder, the behaviors are not always carried out by a batterer. I concur with Sociologist Walter DeKeserdey who noted, “Narrow definitions not only trivialize many abused women’s subjective experiences, they also restrain them from seeking social support.”

    Alienation, by definition, may or may not suggest separation, but always implies loss of affection or interest. Alienation may be achieved, in part, by a continued campaign of manipulation in conjunction with attempting to convince children that their mothers never loved them. I appreciate your logical view and obviously, one of the few. Yes, an abusive parent can invoke the concept of parental alienation to blame and discredit a protective parent. Clearly caution is in order. It seems beneficial though, for some groups, to realize that abuse is not always carried out via battering.

  3. EC says:

    I haven’t seen any of the actual court papers, but it appears David Goldman is arguing that if the mother’s family is given time with him, there’s serious risk Sean will be abducted again to Brasil and the Brazilian courts may this time keep him there—and putting in evidence the past pattern of parental alienation to illustrate the family’s disdain for and intent to destroy his relationship with his father.

    It’s very good the New Jersey judge agrees with Goldman, but don’t forget had the mother not tragically died in bearing another child, Sean would still be in Brasil and estranged from his father today.