Domestic Diversions

The Ideological Battle between Parental Alienation and Domestic Violence – what is the real cancer in the court?

Written on October 5, 2006 by Randy Flood

Newsweek recently published (September 25, 2006) an article titled “Fighting over the Kids”.  This was an article describing the phenomenon of battered women loosing custody of their children due to batterers using the parental alienation defense.  Domestic Violence advocates and some Family Court Councils purport that parental alienation is “junk science” and is a “cancer in the family courts”.Parental Alienation allegedly occurs when children reject or are systematically alienated from a parent.  The unique aspect of the alienation is that it isn’t created by the experiential relationship with the alienated parent, however by the alienating parent or the dynamics of a high-conflict divorce process.  In other words, the children may reject the alienated parent while remaining attached and loyal to the alienating parent out of fear, love, or confusion.  The children experience, and as a result, develop an ideology that it isn’t safe for them to love both parents.  They must denigrate and reject one, while idealizing and supporting the other. In the Newsweek article, they cited a case in which a mother, Genia, lost custody of her children and was barred from contacting them.  Is that not a case of Parental Alienation as it is defined?  Reportedly, the children are alienated from their mother not due to their experiential relationship with mother, but because of the father’s campaign to alienate her from the children.  His motivation?  Perhaps it is an extension of his control and abuse, taking away her “prize possession”, the children.  Imagine how that would make him feel powerful or perhaps vindicated; “see, you shouldn’t have divorced me”. Despite the criticism regarding the origins and applications of parental alienation, it is a well documented phenomenon in divorce cases.  Peer reviewed journals such as the Family Court Review have published several articles regarding parental alienation and its intersection with domestic violence.  Those who do the work in the trenches and sit on the benches know very well the blank stare of the child who refuses to go to mom or dad’s house, despite no sound evidence of poor parenting. In the same vein, those of us who work with mental illness and read professional journals about this problem know very well about individuals who are psychotic that display poor judgment and aggressive behavior without any conscious intent to harm anyone, yet do.  We also get angry at criminals who use the insanity defense in an attempt to absolve themselves from criminal behavior.  Do we denounce mental illness in an effort to hold criminals accountable, and protect the victims of crime?  No, we evaluate each and every case to determine the truth in that particular case.I am dismayed by the current efforts of domestic violence advocates to denounce parental alienation in an effort to take away a batterer’s arsenal.  Although it is a noble cause, it isn’t professional, it isn’t judicious, and it isn’t ultimately advocating for the best interests of all children.  It is advocating for a discipline, an ideology, and it is, in effect, trying to simplify a very complicated issue facing Family Courts.  It is black and white, litigious thinking, not allowing for depth, dynamics, and nuances. Those of us who work with batterers understand very well that they are masters of obfuscation.  They will bend, twist, and shade facts to avoid accountability and shift blame.  Accordingly, Parental Alienation becomes a high powered weapon for them in courts.  Some of us who work in domestic violence get scared and angry about this and reflexively seek to remove “the weapon” from society.  It is understandable.  When your daughter gets shot and killed by a criminal with an unregistered gun, you may wish to rid society of guns to feel safer.  A more judicious and less emotionally reflexive response is to work on gun laws that develop polices of getting guns out of the hands of criminals and only into the hands of responsible citizens.This is what I advocate to the Family Courts.  I’ve done hundreds of custody evaluations as well as worked with hundreds of batterers.  I’ve seen batterers obsessively pursue control over their partner by alienating the children from their ex-wife.  I’ve also seen angry, vindictive mothers who act out their abandonment rage systematically by alienating their children from a father with no history of poor parenting.  And, I’ve seen cases that are dynamic.  One parent has a history of problems such as substance abuse, poor parenting, or abusive behavior toward their partner.  This parent experiences a “wake up call” from the divorce and begins a legitimate path to recovery.  In other words, they begin changing.  Nonetheless, the other parent is understandably traumatized from the past and remains wounded, fearful, and untrusting.  This wounded parent begins acting this out with parental alienation tactics.  As such, the level of fear and attendant requests for restriction and limitations of parenting time emanates more from a wounded parent with unresolved trauma than current realities.  When this happens, the courts needs to afford the traumatized parent treatment not collude with their protracted trauma response by restricting the other parent’s parenting time.  At the same time, the courts need to remain vigilant in holding the “recovering parent” accountable.The real cancer in Family Courts is unwavering advocacy of a rigid ideology interfacing with a litigious process that promotes bi-polar thinking of winners and losers: Is it domestic violence or parental alienation?  This cancer progresses to thinking, “if batterers use parental alienation effectively as a defense to win custody, then we should consider parental alienation junk science and eradicate its use in court”.  This is fear based, ideologically based, and it will not forward the best interests of ALL children. We need to train professionals, including judges, on the intersection of domestic violence and parental alienation.  Then we need to evaluate and process each family case by case.  Will mistakes be made because we are human?  Yes!  Do some criminals pretending to be mentally ill get reduced sentences?  Yes, but it happens less and less as forensic psychology becomes more advanced in evaluating the insanity plea.  I propose that we continue to study, research, and evaluate parental alienation, rather than throw it out.  The more we learn about how vindictive parents can effectively alienate children from a good and loving parent, the more we can protect parents like Genia and her two children from Parental Alienation by a batterer.

8 thoughts on “The Ideological Battle between Parental Alienation and Domestic Violence – what is the real cancer in the court?


    thank you for this.I am going through a case with my ex who is an IDIOT!!!!!He has basically torn me out of the family photo.I havent seen my daughter in 16 months.Its a long story but, I have the definition of parental alienation to help argue my case.Thank you

  2. Susan Greenhalgh

    if it is truly in the best interest of the children than any parents that refuse or cannot communicate or will not seek intervention to try and facilitate communication should have 1.
    evaluations for possible mental illness which is highly probably of one or both parties and 2. they child should go to family of good values and morals and those people calling themselves parents will have no child / children to hurt, abuse.

    It is hi time that people are concerned about the well being of the child enabling them to be healthy happy children and grow up in an environment that teaches them good morals and values.

  3. Jamie

    I must confess…. I have been so against this whole use of PAS in courts because of what it has done to my children and myself.
    I hate that Gardeners agenda was to cover real abuse issues and lets face it he aimed this towards mothers in general.
    But after reading your article here and this comment you made…. I couldn’t of said it better myself…. and lets not throw out the baby with the bath water… lets take a more indepth look at it. You said……..
    “Those of us who work with batterers understand very well that they are masters of obfuscation. They will bend, twist, and shade facts to avoid accountability and shift blame. Accordingly, Parental Alienation becomes a high powered weapon for them in courts.”

    This is what ws done to me. I lost my children because of this. I was labeled the Parental alienator. Now after 8 yrs of no contact with my children like the case you mentioned… my children are talking to me, cring to see me, and disclosing years of abuse. I am now hearing stories of how dad and step mom spoke so ill of me on a regular basis… if my child did something to get in trouble she was told….. Your a whore like your mom. Or your mom doesn’t want you, she abandoned you, she doesn’t love you. This is alienation. My kids are now getting to the point where they are not wanting much to do with dad. But now its his alienating his behavior that is causing the alienation.. not mine. Fact is… when a child discloses rape and sodomy and child porn… there not exactly going to feel safe with that parent. And you hit the nail on the head in your comment…. he was the master of obfuscation. Blame shifting everything he was doing on me. Despite the fact that I was never accused of any form of abuse… the courts could not find any reason to take my children from me and swap custody… so they labeled me with PAS.
    I think a massive effort to educate the system should be in order…. DV issues are real and most DV perps don’t like to be responsible. I agree there are those who genuinely want to change and see their mistakes… and should still be watched closely.. but placing children in further harm and sentencing them to a life of abuse based on a rubber stamp PAS ruling has done far too much damage. I’d like to see some law suits filed against the system who has screwed up so many chidren’s lives… perhaps it would force the system to take a mor eindepth look at what it is perpetuating.

  4. GM

    I left my wife on September 13th 2006.
    I left her for a divorce which we were talking about for 3 years prior.We knew this was not working out and every day in the summer of 2006, my ex fought with my 9 year old boy. I broke up the fights. A month before I left, he pulled a large kitchen knife on her out of total frustration. I intervened. I reported it to his therapist and she denied that I did so. I filed with DSS Salem office about this abuse.

    As I was leaving, her two girlfriends were there. One went inside the apartment with her while one waited in the car. She said she was giving me til Adam came home from school to be gone and wanted me gone well before he did. She said she was going to find out her rights.I told her to remember our amicable divorce agreement. I was to be able to call my son everyday if he wished and see him. We were not going to use him as a weapon during the divorce.

    I left and called a day later, she told me that she got a restraining order against me and hung up. I called the court and the police station to let them know were I am so I can be served. I get the RO. It was for death threats against her and my son. I did no such thing. Was this her rights?

    I showed up at court and she is there too. She is blurting out “Viagra” before the officials filed in several times laughing hard and dodging in and out of the court . We get infront of the judge and she starts to pour out tears and a fake cry. She spins a web of abuse, fear and death threats I never made. 6 months! the judge advises me to get a lawyer, which I cannot afford because of my disability income.

    Febuary 2007 she calls me to try to tell me that she is dropping charges and lets me speak to my son on 2 occasions. The 3rd time she is trying to extort money from me.

    March 26th 2007 the court appearance she tried to extend the order. The Judge gives me a No Abuse full contact and half custody modified 209A after I explained that she is not afraid of me and she called me.

    I called the next day, phone number changed! I called her friend, the one that drove her to the first 209a. My ex calls the police department and a few days later I get a letter on cancellation of my license in 90 days due to a warrant for my arrest. I am 120 miles away from my ex.

    I called the Beverly Mass police department and the officer said that I have a restraining order still active. I called the Beverly Mass police department again to speak to the chief of police. He said he would back me up if I showed up at Salem district court because I was in my full rights to contact her. I drove 120 miles to find out that he rescinded the warrant.

    A week later in March 2007, I am in York Maine with my new girlfriend and her family in my minivan visiting a girlfriend of hers who just had a baby. I get pulled over by the York Police because I have a license plate light out. They have their lights shining on me and guns drawn telling me to get out of the vehicle with my hands up. They ask me if the women in the car is my ex. And if it is then we will both be arrested because there is still a restraining order active. They let us go with a warning.

    I clear this with the court that there is no restraining order against me other than the No Abuse order which is the same document that a restraining order is issued on and looks like one. The cops don’t read well. I feel like I am in a perpetual nightmare! I am missing my son more and more everyday. I am in Therapy but the pain never stops.

    In Late May of 2007 memorial day weekend, one of her other friends who was there calls me to recant her statement that she will beat up my new girlfriend that she made the day I left my wife. She also explains that my ex will not let me see my son unless I take her to family and probate court for visitation. I beg her to tell my ex to contact me to end this civilly.

    I called her friend June 4th 2007 still under the impression that the no abuse with contact order is in effect to try to contact my ex and see my son. June 6th I get a new restraining order delivered to me by the West Springfield police. June7th, another RMV notice of a warrant and license suspension. I called the BPD to find out the RO was taken out June 5th and 4 hours later the violation of restraining order was called in by my ex. I never called June 5th! How can she lie and get away with it and me at risk of going to jail on perjury she committed????

    I am in court for pretrial hearings. I have one November 2nd with an appointed lawyer Thomas. He is trying to get funding for an investigation and get this dismissed or go to trial. Anyways, I have been arraigned on a lie! I have a Police record due to perjury done by my ex. I AM NOT A CRIMINAL! I am guilty of wanting to see my now 10 year old son. I did nothing wrong. All I wanted was a divorce from my wife, not my child.

  5. Bonnie Murfet

    Great objective article – many valid points including the alienating parent not being supported to deal with their alienating tactics because of their personal reality – whether its right or wrong, what other childhood abuse has attributed to their view of the world, any biochemical/mental health issues ie depression – through the court system. Certainly related to this and what good is it to put children in harms way by trying to fight for contact when the alienating parent isn’t cognizant of their actions and effect nor do they have the self restraint or responsibility to act appropriately. When can anyone say they are the better parent when they are either a batterer physically or they’re one psychologically. I wonder if the alienating parents have the empathy to understand what it would be like to be without their kids for years and for their kids, their own flesh and blood, to be taught to hate them. It certainly is extremely sad to see when alienating parents don’t understand they are the ones who have been divorced – not the children

  6. Lyhue

    This article is obviously feminist and one-sided in naure. PAS does exist. It isn’t a vehicle for abusers to destroy their ex wive’s with. Its an all to real issue many parents face. In fact, women who claim to be abused tend to alienate the children from the fathers out of spite for the father, not because they wish to protect the child.
    Cases happen all the time, wherin the woman cries “abuse” in order to get easy custody or to validate her reason for leaving the relationship. Lots of inept mothers, who have drug addictions or lack the means to support the children alone, cry ‘abuse’ in order to secure the children and subsequent child support checks. These same women also tend to leech the taxpayers’ money in the form of WIC and other free aid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.