My Experiences in Courts of Law in Dealing With Parental Alienation Cases
by Ludwig Lowenstein Ph.D
I have had many years and numerous encounters in Courts of Law facing what can only be described as many hostile adversaries when I raise the subject of parental alienation as being a reason why a child does not wish contact with a parent. I have represented both fathers and mothers who seek real and equal contact with their children and the opportunity of playing a loving and caring role in their lives. Sometimes I have succeeded in this. More often than not I have failed. I have attempted to analyse the reasons for success and failure. It depends to a large degree on the Judge of the case and whether there is any possibility of moving forward as a result of the Judge decreeing very firm punitive actions against any parent who fails to encourage a child to have contact with a non-resident parent. Fortunately, at least half of the time I have been appointed as a single joint expert witness. This of course is helpful if one is independent and seeks to represent both parties in a dispute, and with the effort of seeking to resolve such a dispute for the benefit of children as well as both parents.
My own position has always been that I will continue to be even-handed. Both parents have the right to help to care and rear a child they have mutually created. This is my basic principle. The obvious exception is that there has to be irrefutable proof that none of the parents has abused or is likely to abuse a child, physically, sexually or emotionally. This approach or principle I consider to be both independent and even-handed.
One might say that such a position or such a principle would be deemed just and fair before a Court of Law. As may be seen by what follows, this certainly is not always the case when viewed by a Judge. This is especially likely to occur when a child/children refuse to have contact or anything to do with one of the parents. It would appear that Judges are ill-disposed to question in any depth why a child should refuse contact with a parent with whom that child had in the past a good or warm relationship. My dialogue with a number of Judges can be summarised and illustrated by what follows.
The conversation is between a Clinical Psychologist (myself) and at least half a dozen eminent Judges with whom I have had such conversations. The narrative, for reasons of confidentiality, has had to be fictionalised. My various dialogues with a number of judges have been combined into one. The content of this dialogue represents a difference of view as between the psychologist (P) and the Judge (J).
P – I am pleased that you have allowed me the time and opportunity to discuss this case with you in private.
J – I will of course have to keep a record of this conversation as this case is ongoing. I suppose that you realise that the child does not want contact with ……………
P – That is what the child says, but in my assessment of the child and the family in greater depth I find that there has been considerable influencing by the custodial parent.
J – That may or may not be the case, but there is no doubt in my mind that this child is adamant about not wishing contact, or only wishing very limited contact, with the absent parent.
P – Does it not matter what the basic reasons are for such an implacable hostility to one parent? It should be remembered that before the break-up of the relationship between the parents, and their acrimonious separation, the child loved and enjoyed interacting with both parents.
J – So the parent claims. You claim to have evidence of this and I have read it and it could well be true. It is, however, what the child feels here and now that matters to me. There must be very good reasons why the child rejects his/her parent. Perhaps the parent and the child were not as close as the absent parent indicates, or the evidence you have presented indicates.
P – There is, however, good evidence via pictures and videos of the child being affectionate and close to the parent that is now being rejected. That was before the acrimonious divorce or separation.
J – I spoke to the child about that. The child states categorically that he/she was pretending to be happy with that parent.
P – Pretending! Why should a child pretend to be happy with a parent? One could easily now say that the child is pretending to be unhappy with the parent and therefore rejects that parent because of the influences of alienation processes.
J – It is not my habit to play with words Dr. I simply accept the fact that the child wants no contact or very limited contact with this parent. There is no way of changing that fact, whatever the reasons are for this.
P – I believe there are ways of changing the child’s attitude. I think you and I differ in so far as I look for deeper reasons why a child feels estranged from a former close parent. Very often, it is due to the alienation the child has experienced while under the total control and influence of the custodial parent. I have provided evidence of this in my report.
J- That may be so, but even if you could prove this has occurred, how does it alter the facts: the child is unhappy with the remaining absent parent and wishes nothing or little to do with the now absent parent.
P – Do you not think that there are both short and long-term negative effects in thus sidelining a parent?
J – Sometimes a child, over time, may change his/her mind and might want contact, but isn’t that up to the child?
P – Can you really leave such important decisions to a child, who is vulnerable having been brainwashed against the absent parent?
J – As you are aware, the views of Sturge and Glaser, people in your own field, are that the child’s decision on parental contact needs to be final.
P – There are a number of psychiatrists and psychologists who disagree with the views of Sturge and Glaser and are opposed to these opinions and the groundswell is growing. There are reasons for this and there are alternative ways being suggested for dealing with parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome.
J – As a Judge, I myself am being judged, not only by the judiciary who agree to certain precedents but by society at large. I know your views. These are on the whole in the minority, that the child who has been proven to have been programmed against an absent parent should be removed from that parent and handed to the alienated parent.
P- That, I agree is an extreme solution and one that I do not altogether favour. What I actually advocate is that the child be removed from the poisonous environment where the process of programming and brainwashing continues unabated. The child should be removed to a neutral environment where he/she can receive treatment and where gradually increased access can occur between the child and the alienated parent as well as the alienator. Access should initially be under the supervision of both parents.
J- Do you really believe that it is better for the child to be removed from the one parent with whom there is a relationship?
P- Yes I do believe that. A custodial parent who programmes a child against another parent is conferring on that child pathological long-term harm. The harm done is perpetuated in the child’s life as well as the next generation. There is considerable evidence for this. We must consider such long-term harm to the child.
J – I have read the few pieces of research that point to the possibility of long-term harm being done to the child via the process of alienation, but I am faced with dealing with the here and now.
P – The evidence is growing that being reared by two loving, caring parents is still best for the mental health of the child in the short and the long-term. Don’t you think we should be aware of the long-term pathological consequences as well as current situations?
J – To tell you the truth I am more concerned with the here and now. I do not believe that tearing a child away from a custodial parent, whether that parent is an alienator or not, is both feasible and of value to the child. It appears to me a heartless thing for a Judge to impose and I for one cannot do it.
P – This is because you are viewing the matter not in depth or in the long-term. You and I view the matter from a different perspective. You see things from the short-term while I see it from the long-term. You see the temporary harm done to a child who, having been brainwashed, is removed to a non-indoctrinating environment, where the child can experience gradual contact with the sidelined natural parent. The child can gradually experience a healthier emotional environment having been removed from the “folie a deux” influences. If possible, the alienating parent should also receive some form of treatment although this is a difficult task to achieve successfully.
J – Do you really believe that such a move is good for the child?
P – Yes, I do when compared with them remaining totally under the pathological influence, often a psychotic influence, of an embittered alienator. I liken it to the cutting out of a cancer: painful in the short-term, but life-saving in the long-term.
J – I am, as you know, not a surgeon but a Judge. The custodial parent should co-operate with allowing contact of the child with the absent parent. Whatever happens behind the scenes, the child is at present the basis on which I make my decisions and so do many of my other colleagues in the judiciary.
P – Yes, it appears we cannot agree, but at least we have been able to consider our different positions, and others can read about it. Judges are often fathers of children and sometimes their relationship also ends acrimoniously, or they know someone close to them where this has occurred. It will take but one or a few Judges to consider the harm done in the long-term (see bibliography) to the child and the injustice to the alienated parent, before the laws will register this and the many injustices inadvertently currently committed by the judiciary will come to an end.
J – Until that time, I cannot see any Judges forcing a child to have contact with a parent that the child claims to fear or abhor, whatever the reasons may be for this.
It may be noted that there has been no final resolution as to how the judiciary and the current psychologist, along with a number of others, can see eye-to-eye in the matter of parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome. The opportunity has however been given to see how each views the situation. This may well in due course lead to research being carried out providing evidence of the short as well as long-term effects of excluding one or other of the parents from the child’s life due to the insidious way children are programmed against a former loving partner and parent following an acrimonious separation or divorce.
Further research into this situation may well in due course provide sufficient evidence for the judiciary to alter its current adopted view of judging by the reality, as they see it, of a child’s wishes. It is vital for psychologists, psychiatrists and the judiciary to work more closely together, and perhaps even in harmony, in making decisions which will provide children with the love, care and guidance of both parents contributing to their future. Failing to provide access for either a father or mother to children because they claim they do not wish contact could be viewed in a similar vein as the child who refuses to eat what is healthy and instead preferring sweets or convenience foods such as burgers! Children who have been swayed towards one parent can equally be unswayed and be eventually capable of adjusting to both parents who have so much to contribute to his/her future happiness and security.
Baker, A. J. L. (2005a). The long-term effects of parental alienation on adult children: A qualitative research study. American Journal of Family Therapy, 33(4), 289-302.
Baker, A. J. L. (2005b). The cult of parenthood: A qualitative study of parental alienation, Cultural Studies Review, 4(1), np
Fox, D. (2001). Children of divorce: Is there a personality component? Journal of Divorce & Marriage, 35(3-4), 107-124.
Gardner, R. A. (2004). The relationship between the parental alienation syndrome (PAS) and the false memory, American Journal of Family Therapy, 32(2), 79-99.
Laughrea, K. (2002). Alienated family relationship scale: Validation with young adults. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 17(1), 37-48.