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.  

May 24, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I swear, there must be a recipe – a recipe for this type of article (CBC, 5/17/18). It’s about the fifth one I’ve seen and each follows in lock-step with the others.

The article is about parental alienation and takes the position that all parental alienation is a ruse by violent fathers to wrest custody from “protective” mothers. The recipe goes something like this: begin with one “example” of PA that’s not an example; stir in one statement that PA isn’t in the American Psychological Association’s DSM-V; add a quotation from one domestic violence “expert” that men are violent and leave aside any mention that women are too; under no circumstances add a mention that, in your example, DV hasn’t been established; add a healthy amount of claims that courts opt for shared parenting even when there’s DV and that DV isn’t taken seriously by courts.

Overheat all of the above and - presto! – you’ve got your article. Never mind that it’s utterly misleading and nothing but an attempt to derail children’s legitimate interest in maintaining meaningful relationships with their fathers post-divorce.

The linked-to piece follows the recipe to a “T” and, unsurprisingly, ends up an indigestible mess.

The writer’s “example” of a mother wronged by a claim of parental alienation by her ex in a custody case is “Mandy.” Does the writer, Leah Hendry, ever offer a single iota of evidence that (a) Mandy’s ex was violent, or (b) his claim that she’s attempting to alienate him from their child isn’t true? She does not. Of course those are highly pertinent issues to the case at bar, but Hendry ignores them completely.

She moves on to claim that parental alienation has “since [the 80s] been debunked by the American Psychological Association.” Uh no, actually it hasn’t. The reality is that parental alienation has all but been included in the DSM-V. Its symptoms appear under other names, but they’re there and described as worthy of therapeutic involvement. And of course the mountain of evidence for the existence of PA and how to treat it grows daily. About that, Hendry is flat wrong.

But of course she is. That’s because the “expert” on DV she quoted was Peter Jaffe, whose name has long been associated with flawed research and bogus reporting. Long ago, Jaffe took information from women in DV shelters and pretended it applied to women generally. A more scurrilous and outcome-oriented methodology would be hard to imagine. So relying on Jaffe for anything is dubious at best.

Hendry then moves on to quote from – of course – a woman who runs a DV shelter. That woman, Marielle Albert, is a virtual fount of disinformation.

“The [custody] evaluator assumes the [child’s] aversion to dad is because of the mom's negativity towards dad," said Albert. 

Citation? None. Of course there’s none because there are no data on that point. Albert (like Jaffe) has listened to the complaints of women in DV shelters, assumed them to be true and drawn conclusions about Canadian courts generally on the basis of those complaints. It was a lousy methodology when Jaffe used it and it’s lousy now.

Albert says there also appears to be an inherent bias in the court system toward shared custody, even if one of the parents has a history of being abusive.

Citation? None. It’s the usual trope of the anti-dad crowd: we don’t need shared parenting laws because courts already order it anyway. In this case, the claim is that courts are biased in favor of shared parenting and do so even when Dad (never Mom) is violent.

The problem being that the claim is outrageous nonsense. So, for example, this report from Statistics Canada states that about 15% of children of divorce live primarily with their fathers and 9% spend about equal time with Mom and Dad. That’s “inherent bias” in favor of shared custody? For Hendry’s information, it took me under three minutes on Google to locate that information. But needless to say, she’s not interested in information; that’s why she quoted Albert instead of taking a couple of minutes out of her busy day to find out the truth.

Then of course there’s the fact that Hendry managed to not contact anyone with an opinion contrary to hers. Did she even try to talk to an expert on parental alienation, i.e. someone who’d have told her the truth instead of the warmed-over claptrap produced by Jaffe and his ilk? Apparently not.

Did she make any effort to talk to Mandy’s ex? Nope. Had she done so, she might well have found out some facts that are uncomfortable both for Mandy and the thesis of her article. She might have learned that Mr. Mandy has some very good reasons for claiming what he’s claimed.

Did she look at the court’s file in Mandy’s case? Again, she didn’t. Given that it appears to be a long, drawn-out affair, there are probably affidavits by her ex, reports submitted by psychologists, custody evaluators, etc. Those too could have thrown light on the reality of Mandy’s case.

But Hendry was careful not to expose herself or her readers to anything that might run athwart of her narrative. Her article isn’t journalism, it’s advocacy. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s clearly characterized as such, but it’s not. Worse, it’s advocacy for a position that’s scientifically vacant, legally wrong and opposed to children’s well-being.

But that’s just how these people roll. They’ve got nothing with which to support their bankrupt positions. Still, periodically the anti-dad movement spews out another article that tries to convince readers of something essentially everyone knows to be untrue – that parents don’t sometimes try to alienate their kids.

You might think that these people would be able to grasp the fact that their efforts, to the extent they have any effect at all, do themselves a disservice. What if they successfully sowed the seed of doubt about PA in some judge’s mind? And what if his next case involved a mother who was being alienated from her child by her ex-husband? That obviously tends to thwart their plain pro-mom bias. Do they really not see that?

Whether they do or not, the notion that allegations of PA are just a trick by fathers is believed by no one in family courts. That’s partly because there’s so much science demonstrating PA to exist and partly because judges and court personnel see it so often in custody cases.

People like Hendry are wasting their time and the articles they write are recipes for unscrupulous disinformation.

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