February 20, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The “protective parents” movement is at it again. Here’s the latest article channeling their mostly bogus claims. It’s by Laurie Udesky and, to anyone not versed in the matter of parental alienation and allegations of child abuse made in family courts for the purpose of gaining the upper hand in custody battles, the piece would certainly appear authoritative. Udesky presents three heart-rending cases in which an apparently abusive parent managed to get custody over the objections of the other parent who may well have been trying to protect the child. Such cases make for painful reading and no one dismisses them lightly.
I can’t comment on Udesky. She’s a long-time journalist with some awards to her credit. But if her linked-to piece is any indication, she’s no journalist, she’s an advocate and a highly unscrupulous one at that. She’s a zealot.
A fair description of her article would be this: the ethically-compromised organization, the Center for Judicial Excellence, provided Udesky with a list of cases in which children had been abused by fathers, the mothers had objected to family courts, but the dad got some form of custody anyway. The reason the mothers had been sidelined was that the courts found them to be alienators bent on removing the dads from the children’s lives.
Of the 30 such cases, Udesky reports on three. Now, should a reader be at all familiar with the realities of parental alienation and the various nefarious people who try to convince all and sundry that it’s a “dubious” theory, Udesky’s piece will be all too familiar. In a nutshell, all the usual suspects make their appearance. Joan Meier is there, as is Joyanna Silberberg. Lynn Rosenthal makes an appearance as does attorney Richard Ducote.
Who doesn’t make an appearance anywhere in the article is a single soul who understands parental alienation and supports it as the unquestionable reality that it is. Udesky says she tried to contact Dr. Edward Bernet, but he declined an interview. So, Ms. Udesky, that’s the extent of your effort to let your readers hear from anyone who’ll give a balanced opinion on PA? What about Louise Gottlieb-Kase? What about Dr. Amy Baker? For that matter, what about any of the hundreds of researchers who’ve written on the subject over the years? Udesky obviously spent long hours and days working on this article and yet she managed to not interview a single expert who could balance the frankly sleazy misrepresentations about it she doesn’t hesitate to include in her piece.
So much for the “who,” now what about the “what?” More amazing still is the fact that Udesky couldn’t locate a single case in which the parental abuser was the child’s mother. Now that takes real effort. When 40% of all child abuse and neglect is committed by mothers acting alone and another 20% is committed by them acting with a boyfriend or other partner in crime, it’s downright difficult to write an article about abused kids and not report on a single case in which the mother was the wrongdoer. If she’d called me, I could have given her a dozen off the top of my head, but of course she didn’t. And not just cases of abuse, but those in which Dad had begged courts and child protective agencies to heed his warnings, only to be ignored.
Now, the CJE wants us all to believe that parental alienation is a bogus theory and Udesky sees no reason to question the claim. So of course Udesky nowhere locates any of the some 1,000 recorded cases in which parental alienation was found by a court to have occurred and the fact was corroborated by the child. No indeed. In the cases cited by her PA may have been incorrectly concluded to have occurred.
Interestingly, had Udesky done that most basic of journalistic jobs of looking into the backgrounds of her sources, she’d have immediately found a case that contradicted her thesis. It appears that Richard Ducote represented a woman in Texas named Suzanne DeWalt. Here’s how the Austin Court of Appeals reprised the facts of the case.
The dispute began with Suzanne's accusations of abusive conduct by Michael against their son. Rather than seek a modification of the conservatorship, Suzanne filed suit to terminate Michael's parental rights. Michael denied the allegations and replied by filing a motion requesting sole custody of the child. The trial court temporarily suspended contact between Michael and his son and appointed psychiatrist Maureen Adair to conduct an independent evaluation of the circumstances to determine whether Michael's continued contact with the child would be in the child's best interest. Upon Dr. Adair's recommendation, the court allowed Michael supervised visitation with the child…
The case was eventually tried on the merits, and the jury named Michael sole managing conservator of Jeremy. Immediately after the trial, Suzanne fled with the child rather than comply with the verdict.
Yes, it’s all there – the alienating mother whose story is disbelieved, not by a judge, but by a jury, the dad gets custody and Mom abducts the child. Udesky could have followed up on that case, but my guess is that, as is usually the case, when PA is found to have occurred, the finding is correct.
So what appears at first blush to be a good article is actually agitprop. It’s not journalism at all. It’s not reporting, it’s repeating. Udesky adopted the point of view of the CJE and never looked back. No voice supports the idea of PA, no case presents fathers in a good light, no case shows that mothers can abuse their kids.
Udesky’s bias masquerading as reporting is bad enough, but her piece is actually worse still. One of the standard tactics of the anti-dad crowd is to pretend that parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome are, in some way, the same thing or, if not the same, too similar to bother with distinguishing. That of course is so much nonsense.
Parental alienation is the act by a parent of attempting to turn the child away from the other parent when there’s no justification for doing so. Parental alienation syndrome is a certain set of extreme behaviors by the child against the targeted parent in response to PA. PAS hasn’t been recognized by the APA while the DSM – V recognizes PA in all but name. And no family lawyer or judge would ever contend that PA doesn’t exist. It’s far too common. Throughout, Udesky elides the important differences between PA and PAS, the better to pretend that whatever legitimate criticisms there may be of PAS, they in some way apply to PA too.
But more to the point, is there a problem? In how many cases was PA found to exist when it didn’t? In how many cases are allegations of abuse actually ignored by a judge? The closest Udesky gets to addressing those questions comes in her reference to the ubiquitous Joan Meier.
In analyzing 240 published rulings in an electronic search for cases involving custody and alienation, she found that more often than not, accusations of abuse did not block access to children in family court settings. In some 36 cases where a mother accused the father of abusing their children, the court nevertheless ruled in the father’s favor 69 percent of the time. The tendency to discount the mother’s accusation was even more pronounced where sexual abuse was alleged: In the 32 such cases Meier identified, the father prevailed 81 percent of the time.
Amazingly, it appears to be Udesky’s contention and possibly Meier’s as well that an accusation of abuse should, without more, “block access to children in family court settings.” That’s certainly Udesky’s language and she certainly appears to be indignant that mere accusations aren’t sufficient to deny parental rights to the targeted parent.
Now to some arithmetic. Meier analyzed 240 cases. In 36, mothers accused fathers of abuse and in 32 they accused them of sexual abuse of children. Assuming there were no cases in which both physical and sexual abuse were claimed, that leaves 172 cases. Were those cases in which fathers accused mothers? What were the outcomes? Did accusatory dads fare better or worse than moms? Is it a surprise that Udesky doesn’t tell us?
The facts are simple, much as the likes of Udesky, the CJE and so many others would like to deny it. Parental alienation exists in family courts. It’s actually fairly common. When presented to the court, the judge has to figure out if there actually is alienation or if one parent is truly the ogre described. That’s not always an easy call to make and doubtless sometimes courts get it wrong.
What isn’t true is that courts routinely ignore claims of abuse made by a parent. Neither do courts routinely give custody to parents they know or have good reason to suspect are seriously abusive.
And here’s what else is true: for every abusive father who somehow manages to get custody of a child, there are many, many abusive mothers who do. After all, mothers commit far more abuse of children than do fathers and yet 82% of custodial parents are mothers. Udesky could have said that, but she didn’t. She could have found case after case of that, but she didn’t. The fact that she did neither stands as mute testimony to her frank bias. She’s not interested in protecting children, only in further marginalizing fathers.
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