November 15, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
I’d like to think we’re just watching the end of a bad horror flick from the 50s. You know the type – the grainy black-and-white footage where the monster finally meets its end after destroying much of, say, Tokyo. Amid roars and hisses and the thrashing of its tail, it sinks beneath the turbulent sea waters, never to be heard from again. Or will it? Stay tuned.
That’s the image that’s come to my mind when, in the past few weeks, I’ve read article after article all aimed at the same thing – casting doubt on the latest Australian governmental review of family law and courts in the Land Down Under. Those who oppose children having full, meaningful relationships with their fathers post-divorce don’t like the new review for the simple reason that they fear the truth may at last come out. Their shockingly hateful and misleading remarks put me in mind of that horror film monster gasping its last.
The previous review was much more to their liking. It called for even the modest requirement that family judges “consider” shared parenting to be scrapped. The anti-dad crowd in Australia considered that just the thing to keep mothers in control of custody outcomes and therefore maintain the flow of funds from fathers to mothers, but not the other way around.
So the very same suspects are howling like banshees, not about the new review, that’s yet to be begun, but about the very prospect of it. After all, they reason, since the last one survived just a couple of months, the new one will draw different and more fact-based conclusions. Of that, they’re justifiably afraid.
It’s no surprise then that they’re pulling out all the stops to repeat their talking points, ad infinitum. Here’s the latest case in point (The Conversation, 11/7/11).
In it, attorney Zoe Rathus, writes at length, but manages to make no point that (a) hasn’t been made countless times before and (b) hasn’t been thoroughly debunked as often. Her target of course is parental alienation. I swear, someone must have come up with a template into which one can simply plug a date here or a name there and – presto! – there’s your article on PA. Truly, all of these things look alike.
First, there’s the elision of the difference between PA and parental alienation syndrome. The latter term seems no longer to be in use, so the various fellow travelers figure whatever aspersions can be cast on PAS apply equally to PA. That of course is absurd, but when you’re attacking the unassailable, you use whatever weapon comes to hand. The validity of parental alienation as a fact and as a mental health concept is no longer seriously in doubt. Indeed, the DSM-V includes the concept, albeit under a different name.
Plus, my guess is that every veteran family lawyer in the English-speaking world and likely beyond has seen at least a few cases of obvious alienation by one parent against the other. The notion that PA doesn’t exist is patent nonsense.
And no article on the subject would be complete without an entirely false “definition” of parental alienation. Rathus naturally follows suit.
But it is generally understood as the actions of one parent to prevent a child from having an ongoing relationship with the other parent.
No, actually it’s not. A two-minute search of the term using one’s favorite search engine would have provided the actual definition, but Rathus isn’t interested in the realities of PA. She misdefines the term for a very clear reason – to support the rest of her article.
Like all the rest, Rathus portrays PA as something that violent fathers use against protective mothers as a sneaky and nefarious way of wresting child custody from them. The idea that fathers sometimes engage in parental alienation at the expense of mothers goes entirely unmentioned, despite the ironic fact that, in attacking the very idea of PA, people like Rathus seek to undermine the very defense an alienated mother might use to get custody. How can something so obvious not occur to these people?
And, again like all those other similar articles, what Rathus is going to bat for is child abuse. Memo to Zoe: that’s not the side you want to be on. Parental alienation seeks to and often succeeds at depriving a child of a loving parent, one who’s necessary to the child’s well-being. That alone is abusive. But, if the child is very young, of an age at which he/she can’t clearly differentiate fantasy from reality, the lies told by the alienator can cause very real and deeply injuring and long-lasting mental damage.
When a parent on whom a child entirely depends insists time and again that the target parent doesn’t love them, is abusive toward them, etc., the child believes. But when that same child’s experience of the targeted parent is the opposite of the tale told by the alienator, it can create a crisis. How to believe both the alienating parent and the child’s own lived experience? It’s a terrible burden to place on a small child. Whichever way the child seeks to resolve the dilemma seems dangerous and destructive.
To their everlasting shame, that’s the sort of child abuse the likes of Rathus are promoting.
I’ll say more about this later.