February 20th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A Pennsylvania State Representative, Thomas Murt is trying to get April of 2012 designated “Parental Alienation Awareness Month” by the state. I say “More power to him.” Read about it here (Hatboro-Horsham Patch, 2/15/12).
The anti-dad crowd has long viewed parental alienation with fear and loathing, not because it harms children, but because it has the potential to lessen mothers’ power over fathers’ rights. They would have us believe that, whenever a father complains that a mother is denying him access to his children, he’s just an abuser trying to surreptitiously get custody by falsely accusing the mother of parental alienation.
In short, according to those opposed to children having an ongoing relationship with their fathers, parental alienation is a trick by fathers to unscrupulously deprive mothers of custody. In their telling, courts, psychologists, guardians ad litem, custody evaluators and the like are all witless dupes of fathers exercising their enormous power in family courts. Usually unstated is their assumption that mothers should invariably have custody of children.
I know, their claims sound too bizarre for anyone to actually make, but they do. One of the anti-dad crowd’s favorite dodges is to try to confuse parental alienation with Parental Alienation Syndrome. They have all sorts of ways of misrepresenting PAS. One is that it was the brainchild of Richard Gardner. Actually, six researchers working separately came up with the concept of a distinct personality disorder in children who are the victims of alienation by a parent.
Those opposed to children’s rights to their fathers move on to claim that Gardner was an apologist for pedophilia, which is patently untrue. More disgracefully yet, they claim that Gardner’s suicide resulting from chronic, incurable pain in some way casts doubt on his scientific findings.
They finally claim that PAS has been “discredited.” What they mean by that is that it’s not yet been approved for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The fact that hundreds of researchers all around the globe strongly believe it should be included and have considerable persuasive science to back them up is never mentioned by those opposed to children having full relationships with their fathers post-divorce.
But theirs is a lonely and losing battle. The utterly threadbare nature of their opposition should indicate well enough that trying to get legislatures and courts to turn a blind eye to what judges see every day – the willful alienation of one parent by another – is a non-starter. Face it, if they had a cogent argument, we’d have read it by now. What they have are laughable mis/dis- information, outdated data and outright falsehoods.
One of the latter is the claim that allegations of parental alienation are only levelled by fathers and only at mothers. Even a cursory reading of any literature on parental alienation and/or PAS shows that researchers are well aware that both sexes engage in the behavior. That the anti-dad crowd claims otherwise is proof positive of the facts that (a) they have no real arguments on their side and (b) they’re willing to lie to try to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor.
It’s not working. The practice of one parent attempting to turn a child against the other parent is simply too common to be ignored. Judges, second spouses and countless mental health professionals see it every day and nothing anti-father radicals can say will blind them to it.
Moreover, state after state is including the concept in its custody laws. Time and again we see states changing their laws to include, as one of the considerations in deciding custody, that the parent facilitate the relationship of the child with the other parent. Stated another way, state legislatures more and more are instructing judges to be on the lookout for parental alienation and to change custody when they find it occurring.
It’s been one of the many salutary developments in child custody law over the past few years and I have no doubt that it’ll continue, as it should.
Another thing that strikes terror in the hearts of the anti-father crowd is parental alienation’s potential to undermine false allegations of abuse. As we’ve seen, charges of domestic violence and child abuse are the main ways in which mothers have been able to thwart efforts by state legislatures to move away from sole maternal custody.
As countless attorneys practicing family law have told us over the years, claims of abuse are routinely made to secure an advantage in the child custody battle. Those claims are so common because they work. And of course they need include no allegation of actual violence and are therefore easily made by mothers and with a clear conscience. As one Washington State family lawyer told the Seattle Weekly recently, “When I tell them (mothers) that barring a doorway is abuse, they’re shocked.”
Aren’t we all? Although no one knows what percentage of those claims are fabricated, the point is they don’t need to be. Factually true claims of slightly offensive behavior (like blocking a door) can serve the purpose of cutting a father out of his child’s life for long periods of time. Add those to the blatantly false claims that accomplish the same thing, and you have a family court system that is rife with abuse of fathers and children by those very claims and the mothers who make them.
But if a parent has a legal obligation to facilitate the relationship between the child and the other parent, i.e. refrain from parental alienation, then dubious claims of abuse begin to look very much like a violation of that obligation. In short, false or picky claims can have the opposite of their intended effect; instead of removing the father from the child’s life, they may end up getting him custody instead.
And that’s got the anti-father crowd screaming bloody murder.
I’m sure they’ll do the same with Rep. Murt’s bill to make April Parental Alienation Awareness Month. After all, we can’t have people aware of one of the major ways by which fathers are kept away from their children, now can we?
NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission. All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.