May 18, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In our imperfectly organized society, there is no provision as yet for the young woman who claims the privileges of marriage without assuming its obligations.
- Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
Speaking tongue in cheek as she was, Wharton would doubtless be appalled to find today’s society so much more perfectly organized than her own. This story is but one of many to make the point (Marilyn Stowe Blog, 5/13/16).
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the years-long parental alienation of a father by a mother should be endorsed by doing precisely what the mother wanted all along – the complete removal of their daughter’s father from her life. Adept observer of her social milieu that she was, Edith Wharton would note that the mother has the child usually afforded by marriage and the man’s money, usually afforded by marriage, without the inconvenience of sharing any of it with him. Such, apparently, is progress.
The case reported on is Buchleither vs. Germany. The parents never married, had a child and began to dispute about custody almost immediately after her birth in 2003. That began a 13-year round of the mother’s denying the father access to his child and his going to court in increasingly unproductive efforts to assert his parental rights. Those of course are supposedly guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
But time and again, the mother prevailed. Dad got only the most minimal contact with his daughter, despite there being no indication of unfitness on his part. On more than one occasion, a court simply suspended all contact between him and the girl, each such time at the mother’s request. One suspension lasted over a year. By the time the case reached the ECHR, he hadn’t seen his daughter in over four years.
By then, the girl was 13 years old and didn’t want to see her father. Why? Not because he wasn’t a good father, but because she wanted peace and jettisoning him was the only way she could see to get it. The ECHR noted this:
“The Court of Appeal considered that the child’s attitude had been influenced by the loyalty she felt towards her mother, who continuously talked negatively about the father. The child felt obliged to feel the same way as her mother. She longed for the dispute between her parents to come to an end so that she would no longer be exposed to a conflict of loyalties. She saw rejecting her father as the only way to preserve at least her mother’s love.”
A more succinct description of parental alienation of a child would be hard to imagine. Couple that with the fact that more than one child welfare organization had simply refused to deal with the mother because of her obstreperous behavior, and the picture is complete. This mother began her campaign of removing the father from his daughter’s life immediately after the child was born and continued it for 13 years. The father tried time and again to get relief from the courts, and was repeatedly denied. Denying the father meant abetting the mother in her efforts to bar her child from having a father.
And now the process is complete. Irrespective of how they see their role in this sorry case, German courts and now European ones worked hand-in-glove with a mother who was and is abusing her daughter. The mother demanded the child’s undivided loyalty and the courts made sure she got it.
That of course tore the girl in two emotionally. She wanted a father and probably still does, but she long ago came to understand that, as far as Mom was concerned, to do so was an act of betrayal that merited punishment. Imagine the resentment this girl has built up over the years against her mother. Imagine how she’ll feel when she becomes an adult.
But the mother isn’t the real issue here, the courts are. Individual litigants often behave badly and there’s not a lot anyone can do about it. But here, some German court should have stepped in early and handed the girl over to her father, with strict limitations on the mother’s access. The mother should have been required to attend mental counselling to acquaint her with how destructive and intolerable her behavior had been. She should have been told that increasing her access to the girl meant improving her behavior toward the father. She should have been given to understand that parental alienation is child abuse of the sort that could lose her custodial rights altogether.
That’s the approach recommended by mental health professionals who are expert in parental alienation. But German courts did the opposite. At every turning, they supported the mother in her abusive behavior. And a child was damaged and her father cast out of her life.
As a final indignity, the ECHR ruled that the German courts in fact violated the father’s “right to private and family life,” but that fact didn’t warrant overturning the case. Again, Mom had done wrong, but the courts offered no remedy.
The determined father than took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that indefinite suspension amounted to a breach of his right to private and family life, as defined by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ECHR ruled, by a margin of four votes to three, that there had been a technical breach of Article 8, but the decisions which lay behind that had been based on the circumstances of the case and consideration for the child’s welfare, decisions which had not exceeded the authority of the German courts.
In short, every court to hear this case over 13 years failed both the father and the child.
By now, parental alienation is well- understood. Heavy tomes including hundreds of cases are now available to educate judges on the issue. Mental health professionals knowledgeable about PA abound throughout the Western world. There is by now no excuse for allowing parental alienation to occur – much less prevail - in any case in any court.
It is long past time that courts began recognizing parental alienation and putting a stop to it.
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