The San Francisco Weekly was so bombarded with letters that, to their credit, they decided to "dedicat[e] a full page to readers’ response to the story."
The front page San Francisco Weekly story California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody (3/2/11) was a one-sided attack on the legitimacy of Parental Alienation that dismisses the widespread problem of false accusations of domestic violence and child abuse in family court proceedings.Working with Fathers and Families, we issued an Action Alert asking our supporters to write Letters to the Editor of the SF Weekly and tell them their thoughts and experiences with family court and Parental Alienation.
In the San Francisco Weekly story California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody (3/2/11), author Peter Jamison tells us that "family courts [are] helping pedophiles [and] batterers get child custody." Yet in a state of 30+ million people, arguably the divorce/family law capital of the world, he and the coterie of anti-father activists he solicitously quotes came up with a grand total of two clear cases.
By contrast, many California fathers have been targeted by false domestic violence or child abuse allegations.
Moreover, according to Center for Judicial Excellence, whose Executive Director Kathleen Russell was the main source for Jamison’s story, "Kathleen Russell sought out SF Weekly’s Peter Jamison and worked with him for over four months to make the story a reality." In other words, they worked for four months and were able to come up with only two clear examples of a problem they claim is widespread in the nation’s most populous state.
…SF Weekly has focused exclusively on cases, both in the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest of California, where allegations of domestic violence or child molestation were backed up by criminal convictions—and, in one case, a murder-suicide.
This is a good approach, and I told Peter so. The problem is that he found very few cases, but nevertheless proclaims a mythical statewide crisis.
Jamison tells us that "In other [cases], court officials have ignored existing domestic-violence convictions, sending children to live with admitted batterers." Actually, Jamison only cites one such case—the Shari Rivers/Derrick Perryman case—and it’s a problematic one. Jamison writes:
On April 14, 2010, Shari Rivers appeared before San Francisco Family Court Judge Lillian Sing to ask for a restraining order preventing Derrick Perryman, the estranged father of her 5-month-old son, from contacting her or her family members. The previous month, Rivers said, he had struck her during an argument, leaving her with bruises on her face.
Rivers was also requesting a restriction of Perryman’s custody rights for Derrick Jr., the pair’s child. In light of Perryman’s actions, she asked that his visits with the baby be supervised by court-appointed professionals…
During the hearing, Perryman admitted to the judge that the incident took place—"I slapped her, yes," he said—though he denied he had hit her with a closed fist. He said he "didn’t see the need" for a restraining order, "because there is no issue of violence at all."
Sing agreed to issue a restraining order [but]…refused to modify Perryman’s joint legal custody of his son…
Under California Family Code Section 3044, findings of domestic violence are supposed to carry a "presumption" against any form of custody for the abusive parent…[later Rivers’ attorney] discovered that Perryman had pleaded guilty just a week before the hearing to misdemeanor spousal battery in Alameda County, where Rivers had reported the incident to police…[the attorney] urged the judge to modify the custody order. Sing again refused…
This sounds convincing, until we actually hear Perryman’s side which, to Jamison’s credit, is also presented in the piece. Jamison writes:
Perryman, a soft-spoken man with a warm demeanor, acknowledges during a recent interview at his home in the Lower Haight that he struck Rivers. "I did make a mistake," he says. But he asserts it was done in self-defense, after she pushed him to the floor during an argument while he was holding their son.
"When I was pushed down, it put me in sort of a protective mode," he tells a reporter, with Derrick Jr., now 16 months old, perched on his lap and sucking from a baby bottle. "I did strike her. My thing is, I wasn’t the one who started it." Rivers’ facial bruising, he says, did not come from his slapping her but from a shove during the same altercation: "I pushed her in the face, and her eye caught the bottom of the palm, and that’s how her face got bruised."
Perryman says he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence only so he could get out of jail—where he was held for more than three weeks after his arrest—to appear in family court, ensuring continued custody of his son. "I would have pleaded to murder as long as I could have gotten out to make the court date," he says.
"This is about the child," he adds. "Both parents should have custody. If neither parent is a danger to the child, why shouldn’t they?"
If Perryman had ever hurt the child in any way, before or after the custody case, Jamison doesn’t mention it. I’ve no idea whether Perryman is telling the truth or not, but the elements of his story are quite common:
1) Perryman says he was physically attacked by his wife or girlfriend. Research clearly establishes that women initiate at least half of all domestic violence incidents—to learn more, see my Huffington Post column Researcher Says Women’s Initiation of Domestic Violence Predicts Risk to Women (7/6/09).
2) Perryman says he was arrested for defending himself against his ex, who was the aggressor. Again, this is a well-documented phenomenon—to read the research findings of Denise Hines, Ph.D. about what happens when male victims of domestic violence call the police, click here.
3) Perryman says he pled guilty to get out of jail. We often hear this—men are jailed for long periods of time, imperiling their jobs, mortgages, and court situations, so they plead to minor charges to make the situation go away. We don’t recommend this, because often the plea bargain will come back to haunt them in child custody matters. But it’s understandable that Perryman wanted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor to get out of jail.
I don’t claim to know what really happened in the Perryman case. However, it is troubling that the case—one of the main pillars of Jamison’s mythical crisis of batterers winning custody—is an ambiguous, he said/she said case where the father’s description sounds no less credible than the mother’s.
Jamison also discusses the Katie Tagle case:
On Jan. 21, 2010, Tagle appeared before San Bernardino County Family Court Judge Robert Lemkau to ask for a protective order against her ex-boyfriend, Stephen Garcia, who shared custody of their 9-month-old son, Wyatt. Over the previous few days, Tagle had received disturbing messages from Garcia threatening to kill their son if she didn’t reunite with him…
Lemkau refused to modify the joint custody order that was in place…[later] Garcia sent Tagle a suicide note while Wyatt was in his custody. When police tracked him down, a car chase ensued through mountains above San Bernardino…Garcia shot his son, and then himself.
Judge Robert Lemkau evidently thought the emails were fakes or had been altered to be incriminating. The transcript of the hearing in question is here.
Litigants often seek restraining orders based on false allegations in order to gain an advantage in child custody proceedings. In an article in the Family Law News, the official publication of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of California, family law attorneys Lynette Berg Robe, C.F.L.S. and Melvyn Jay Ross, C.F.L.S. explain:
Protective orders are increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side jockey for an advantage in child custody…[the orders are] almost routinely issued by the court in family law proceedings even when there is relatively meager evidence and usually without notice to the restrained person.
Apparently Lemkau believed that the Tagle case was a garden variety false allegations case.
Still, Lemkau didn’t "award custody" to the father—all he did was deny a restraining order pending the family law hearing, which was coming up within a few weeks. Lemkau’s decision was the incorrect one and it led to a horrific tragedy, but, looked at from Lemkau’s vantage point at the time, it wasn’t outrageous.
Jamison asked me for examples of cases where a mother had been awarded custody of her children and later was found to have committed abuse. Fathers and Families quickly provided five child custody cases which more or less fit this profile:
1) The Amanda Jo Stott-Smith case. Custody went back and forth but at one point the court did award the mother primary custody, and she later threw both kids off a bridge. See Nasty custody fight preceded Sellwood Bridge tragedy (The Oregonian, 5/26/09)
2) The Ron Perelman case. The mother had custody of her two-year-old son, while Ron had limited visitation rights. The mother hired a hitman to try to kill Ron and was convicted of solicitation of murder. She was sentenced to three years in prison, of which she served 18 months. Ron won child custody after the murder attempt is revealed. Ron’s case has been discussed publicly by FOX 11 TV news in Los Angeles here.
3) The Cameo Green case. The Long Beach Press Telegram in Los Angeles covered it here. The mother had custody; both the mother and her boyfriend were abusing the mother’s son; the biological father repeatedly reported it to child protective services, who did nothing. In the end, the boyfriend killed the boy and is charged with murder, while the mother is charged with child abuse.
4) The Mazoltuv Borukhova Case. Borukhova and her cousin Mikhail Mallayev were sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, after a Queens jury found them guilty of murder and conspiracy in the shooting death of Borukhova’s husband, Dr. Daniel Malakov. Lead prosecutor Brad Leventhal told the jury, Leventhal said, "She (Borukhova) accomplished in one moment with a payment to an assassin what she could not accomplish through payment of her attorneys — to permanently and forever deprive Daniel Malakov of ever developing a relationship with his little girl."
After Michelle was born in 2002, Borukhova continuously tried to exclude Malakov from contact with his daughter. In 2005, she filed for divorce and was granted temporary custody.
Borukhova claimed that Malakov had physically abused her and sexually abused his daughter. Two different courts — one before and one after Malakov’s death — found no evidence to support her claims.
Yet even Malakov’s modest visitation rights rankled. Court-appointed social workers who were present at Malakov’s supervised visits reported that his wife interfered with even the slightest contact with Michelle, continually distracting her with toys and snacks.
Their report to the judge described Borukhova as "sabotaging (Malakov’s) relationship with the child to an extreme degree." Michelle’s law guardian, David Schnall, testified that it was "very clear" that Borukhova "had no interest in the child having a relationship with her father." Supreme Court Judge Sidney Strauss transferred custody of Michelle to Malakov, explaining "If ever a case cried out for immediate action, it is this one."
That was on October 3, 2007. Soon afterward, in a series of nearly 100 telephone conversations with Mikhail Mallayev, Borukhova plotted the murder of her husband. Mallayev shot Malakov in front of his daughter as he dropped her off at Annadale playground in Queens.
5) The April Griffin and Matthew Sebuliba case. It’s been covered by theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel here and here. She had custody of the boy, but when Sebuliba filed for joint custody, Griffin followed that with a series of actions her own attorney called "outrageous." She claimed, apparently without evidence, that Sebuliba had physically abused her. The father eventually got custody, after which the mother took the boy and hid him in violation of multiple court orders.
The police eventually were able to locate the child in September, 2008. He was with his mother and in terrible condition. According to TIME Magazine:
"Most troubling of all, however, were the statements from doctors included in the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors earlier this week.
"‘Upon the statement of Dr. Angela Bier at Children’s Hospital that [the boy Jesse] suffers severely from failure to thrive, is considered short and underweight for his age, is diagnosed with osteopenia (lack of density in the bones), which is likely rickets caused by a dietary deficiency, and fractures to the right tibia and fibula, and a fracture to the left ulna.’
"Another doctor explained that the fractures appear old and had never been treated."
None of these cases were included in the SF Weekly piece. The Ralph McNeil case apparently also more or less fits this profile—to learn more, see Prosecutors: Man killed over custody dispute (Montgomery Advertiser, 2/24/11).
Jamison extensively criticizes the legitimacy of Parental Alienation Syndrome. He writes:
PAS has never been accepted into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrist’s bible of known conditions. The syndrome has also been denounced by professional groups including the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, which view it as a ploy for obscuring a court’s inquiries into allegations of child abuse.
Again, the radical groups and individuals Jamison employed as sources have ill-served him. There are several problems with the above statement:
1) It is very inaccurate to say that "PAS has never been accepted into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." This is because the last DSM was done in 1994, and preparation for it began just a few years after Parental Alienation Syndrome was first delineated. PAS isn’t in DSM because it couldn’t have been—the first opportunity for it to be included is actually happening right now, with the preparation of DSM-5.
A group of 70 mental health experts from 12 countries are part of this current effort to add Parental Alienation to DSM-5. To learn more about this, as well as Fathers and Families’ involvement in it, click here.
2) It is very misleading to claim that the American Psychological Association has "denounced" PAS. The APA task force referred to by Jamison’s sources took place in 1996. Yet a decade later Rhea K. Farberman, Executive Director of Public and Member Communications of the American Psychological Association, publicly retorted that claims that the APA has discredited PAS are "incorrect" and "inaccurate," and that the APA "does not have an official position on parental alienation syndrome—pro or con."
The APA has put out mixed messages about Parental Alienation Syndrome. Shared parenting advocate Les Veskrna, MD explains that at times "The APA has, in fact, heretofore made a significant endorsement of the validity of PAS." Veskrna analzyed the APA’s history with PAS for Fathers and Families here.
3) The American Psychological Association has distanced itself from its Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family report which criticized Parental Alienation. We wrote Julia M. Silva, the APA’s Director of the Violence Prevention Office Public Interest Directorate in Washington, DC, concerning the 1996 APA report. According to Silva, the APA no longer makes the report available because it is "outdated and needs review" and the APA "has no plans to review and reprint it."
4) According to a 2005 statement from the APA itself, "an APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called ‘parental alienation syndrome,’ and raised concern about the term’s use." This hardly equals "denounced." Moreover, at the time (1996), Parental Alienation had only been delineated a decade earlier, and it wasn’t unreasonable to be "concerned" about its use until there was more research on it.
5) According to former Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young, "It is worth noting that the APA’s own stance may have been influenced by politics more than science: The 1996 family violence task force was chaired by psychologist Lenore Walker, whose own writings on ‘battered woman syndrome’ have been widely criticized as shoddy and ideologically driven."
One of Jamison’s main sources for his piece was Kathleen Russell, executive director of the powerful, well-funded Center for Judicial Excellence. The CJE attacks the legitimacy of Parental Alienation and advocates reforms which will make it easier to deny fathers shared custody or visitation rights based on unsubstantiated abuse claims. Russell told Jamison:
"Alienation is being used in almost every case where a child is taken from a safe parent and placed with a dangerous parent. It’s a legal tactic."
I cautioned Jamison that the vast majority of the "abusive father wins custody after claiming PAS" cases the CJE and its allies put forward are not legitimate. I provided him numerous examples—far more than the number of legitimate cases he found—but none were included in the article. The cases included:
1) Sadia Loeliger—Promoted by groups which Jamison employed as sources, Loeliger lost custody of her daughter after a California Juvenile court found she had committed multiple acts of child abuse. The evidence against her was credible and often horrifying, and came from numerous impartial sources.
2) "Sheldon Creek"—Child custody case promoted by the CJE on the Dr. Phil Show. According to the broadcast, Sheldon Creek was awarded custody of his six-year-old daughter Sylvia, even though he is molesting her. Yet according to Dana A, the minor’s counsel in the case, the mother:
[H]as made repeated sexual abuse allegations against father [Sheldon Creek], which to date, after numerous investigations by CPS, UC Davis Medical Center, the FBI, the emergency room physician at Sutter hospital and the police, have been unsubstantiated…[6 year-old Sylvia Creek] has endured five Sexual Assault Response Team [SART] exams…None of the allegations made by [mother Sarah Creek] were substantiated at ANY time…" [emphasis in original]
3) Holly Collins—Kidnapper and discredited litigant whose claims about her high-profile custody case are disputed by her own mother, grandmother, sister, brother, former in-laws, her ex-husband and his wife, numerous doctors, Guardians ad Litem, social workers, mental health professionals and all seven judges who have heard this case. Collins has made abuse accusations against a wide variety of people.
4) Genia Shockome—False accuser who lost custody of her children after numerous lies and contradictory statements, coupled with her relentless refusal to allow her children to have a relationship with their father. Her attorney, Barry Goldstein, was suspended from the New York Bar for five years due to his "pervasive deceptive conduct" related to the case. The Center for Judicial Excellence is working with Barry Goldstein on a new edition of his book on family court cases.
5) Tynia Canada—In two separate custody cases against two different fathers, two courts found that Canada had tried to alienate her children from their fathers and drive the fathers out of their children’s lives. In one case, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children "strongly recommended" that the father have sole custody, as did Susan Friedberg, ACSW, the court-appointed forensic expert.
6) Amy Neustein—According to former Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young, "Neustein…lost custody of her own daughter, Sherry, in 1986 after accusing her former husband, Ozzie Orbach, of sexual abuse—charges repeatedly rejected by the courts and by family service agencies…[her daughter] Sherry Orbach, then 24 and a student at Columbia Law School, had published an article in The Jewish Press in New York strongly stating that the only abuse she had suffered was her mother’s effort to brainwash her into accusing her father.
Sherry Orbach wrote, "I, for one, owe my existence as a normal young adult to the family judges, Ohel foster care, and the Legal Aid Society attorney who helped me reunite with my father in the face of considerable opposition in the media."
Both Neustein’s sister and brother-in-law sided with the father in the custody dispute.
Interviews with dozens of parents, activists, lawyers, judges, children, and former family court employees, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of family and criminal court documents, indicate that the system’s methods for assessing whether child sexual abuse or spousal battery has taken place—findings that are critical to deciding whether a parent should retain custody of or visitation rights with a child—fall short of the standards accepted by domestic-violence experts and the criminal-justice community.
This is true, but perhaps in different ways than Jamison intends. For one, accusations of abuse are often not investigated properly, but this usually works to the disadvantage of the accused father. A bogus restraining order is issued against him and upheld, and he must fight an uphill battle to stay in his kids’ lives, even though there has been no meaningful weighing of the evidence to support the abuse accusations.
Moreover, I’m skeptical of the "standards accepted by domestic-violence experts." Sadly, the only standard for some of them is that the father is always guilty—a flaw which tarnishes the often noble work they do.
We saw another example of this recently when major domestic violence advocacy groups, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Network Against Domestic Violence, promoted the Holly Collins child custody hoax and other discredited cases at the Eighth Annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference. To learn more, click here.
Jamison asked me for some California fathers who have been targets of Parental Alienation. I gave him some cases and appropriate contact information, but no Parental Alienation cases appeared in the article. I described one case to him on the phone:
After Jim L.’s wife divorced him and moved his daughters out of state, she sent the two girls fake or altered e-mails purporting to be Jim. Afterward, Jim’s daughters refused to see him, explaining only "you know what you’ve done, you know what you said, you know what you wrote."
Once when Jim flew to see his girls for his scheduled weekend visit, his ex-wife decided at the last minute to block the visit. Jim flew home on Sunday without having seen his girls. When he arrived at the airport back home, he checked his messages and found a message from his ex-wife. On the recording his girls could be heard crying in the background. His ex-wife said:
"Jim, the girls are here at the restaurant waiting for you to come pick them up. You said you’d meet them here for breakfast and spend the day with them, and you didn’t show up. The girls are very upset. Jim, whereare you?!?"
Another example is the LaMusga case decided by the California Supreme Court in 2004. Gary LaMusga’s son’s kindergarten teacher testified about the tactics LaMusga’s ex-wife, Susan Navarro, used to try to turn his children against him. The kindergarten teacher explained that Navarro asked her to keep track of the time Gary spent volunteering in his little son’s kindergarten classroom so it could be deducted from his visitation time with his son.
According to the teacher, the LaMusga boy told her "my dad lies in court…if you tell the judge…[the judge] could talk to you" and said that his mom had told him this. The teacher testified:
I finally sat down with him and told him that it was OK for him to love his daddy. I basically gave him permission to love his father. And he seemed brightened by that…
The teacher continued:
The next day that Gary had seen the kids he came to me the following morning and said,’what did you say to him?…He was so happy. He just greeted me with open arms…we had one of the best evenings that we have had in a long time.’ And I just shared with Gary at that point that I had given his son permission to love his father….I’m not sure that he was aware that he could do that.
Jamison incorrectly describes Fathers and Families as a "fathers’ rights group." We are instead a family court reform organization. Our emphasis generally turns towards fathers because they are the ones whose relationships with their children is most imperiled after a divorce or separation, but we support fair treatment for allfamily court litigants.
[Sacks] asserts that the courts still routinely demonstrate a bias against fathers, and are overly protective of moms and punitive of dads when handling abuse allegations. "They’ll err on the side of caution," he says, "without ever stopping to think, ‘Why am I erring?’" Even today, he adds, "The courts are very much biased against fathers. Usually it’s ‘She’s the mom, she’s the real parent; he’s the dad, he’s not the real parent.’" Sacks adamantly defends the legitimacy of parental alienation.
Well, I "adamantly defend the legitimacy of parental alienation" the same way I’d "adamantly" defend the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Parental Alienation is real and is common, even if it can at times be misused.
Fathers and Families has never denied that false allegations of Parental Alienation can be used by unscrupulously litigants in family court, just as false charges of domestic violence or child abuse often are. That doesn’t mean, as our political opponents contend, that Parental Alienation doesn’t exist. In Preventing courts from considering parental alienation will harm kids (Capitol Weekly, 2/25/10), we explained:
Certainly there are fathers (and mothers) who have alienated their children through inept parenting, narcissism, drug or alcohol problems, or abuse, and who attempt to shift the blame to their exes by falsely claiming Parental Alienation.
Sometimes, as research by Janet R. Johnston Ph.D. of San Jose State University confirms, Parental Alienation exists but is only one of several factors causing a deterioration of the parent-child bond. Sometimes parental alienators are unaware of their harmful actions.
Nevertheless, Parental Alienation is a serious problem. When fact-finding in custody cases, judges and custody evaluators must be able to properly consider all available evidence. When abuse is alleged, the accusation merits serious consideration. When Parental Alienation is alleged, the accusation merits serious consideration, too.
[Sacks] also says that "a lot of the progress for fathers has been undermined by [stricter] domestic violence laws" that punish men for alleged acts of which there is insufficient evidence. To be clear, he says, "Not now or ever do we believe that wife beaters should be getting control of their children"…
Sacks’ remarks underline another truth about the family courts: Their problems are entwined with gender politics, and as such are difficult to approach…
This is reasonable, but Jamison soon stumbles again, writing "5 percent of serious incidents of domestic violence are committed by women." In McNair Was a Victim of Domestic Violence (Baltimore Sun, 7/16/09), we wrote:
[O]ver 200 studies have found that women initiate at least as much violence against their male partners as vice versa. Men comprise about a third of domestic violence injuries and deaths. Research shows that women often compensate for their lack of physical strength by employing weapons and the element of surprise…
The most recent large scale study of DV was conducted by CDC researchers and published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study, which surveyed 11,000 men and women, found that, according to both men’s and women’s accounts, 50% of the violence in their relationships was reciprocal (involving both parties). In those cases, the women were more likely to have been the first to strike. Moreover, when the violence was one-sided, both women and men said that women were the perpetrators about 70% of the time.
Attempts to curb the system’s capacity for enabling abusive parents have thus been perceived in the past as antimale activism. When state Assemblyman Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat and chair of the Assembly’s Human Services Committee, introduced legislation in 2009 that would have banned the use of Parental Alienation Syndrome in California family courts, strong opposition from fathers’ rights groups helped doom the bill.
It wasn’t "fathers rights groups" which blocked the bill—it was Fathers and Families working with sympathetic groups of family law professionals. Our common purpose is to protect target parents of Parental Alienation and the children who love them and need them.
Jamison quotes former San Diego family court judge DeAnn Salcido on abuse charges and Parental Alienation. She says that when she first came to the bench:
I was basically told to be suspect of anyone claiming abuse. I had senior judges telling me, "Be suspect. The dad probably has a new girlfriend, and the mom’s upset." The concept of parental alienation, she says, arose in private discussions "all the time" among court officials who espoused it.
Jamison apparently believes that this is incorrect, but in fact it’s pretty much dead-on. It is entirely appropriate to be "suspect" of anyone claiming abuse in a family court proceeding, just as judges should also be "suspect" of people who are accused of abuse and who deny it. One of the two is lying—judges should make every effort to get at the truth and act upon it, whichever way it cuts.
Re: "The dad probably has a new girlfriend, and the mom’s upset," we see this all the time—mom and dad split up and things are relatively tranquil until dad starts dating someone, when all of a sudden the ex goes ballistic, throwing out all sorts of terrible allegations and demanding sole custody based on them.
Geraldine Stahly, a psychology professor at California State University at San Bernardino, likewise says that the family courts need to be revamped so as to devote more attention to evidence—as do other courts of law—rather than the opinions of individuals such as psychologists, mediators, or even judges. "I would like to see judges relying a lot less on psychological evaluations and a lot more on the facts of a case," she says.
We want family courts paying more attention to evidence (or the lack thereof) in abuse accusation cases. Many fathers (and some mothers) lose custody of their children due to unsubstantiated abuse allegations. We also want children and their parents to be protected from those who actually are violent and abusive.
Below are highlights of some of your letters to the San Francisco Weekly. All of the letters can be seen here.
Cricket McCormick, who was alienated from her father as a child, wrote:
I am a victim of parental alienation. I was forced to tell therapists, doctors, and even a California mediator, and countless others that my father had been abusive. Professionals don’t take parental alienation seriously, otherwise I would have been given the opportunity to give my own account without the presence of my alienating mother. The court system, social service system, and health system needs to be aware of this. Make sure one gives a child the opportunity to tell the real truth without the parent involved. I was threatened by my mother and told that the "system" would never listen to me.
Fathers and Families supporter Steve Riddle explained:
Parental alienation is real, and it would be tragic if parents lost the ability to have the court recognize its existence and its damaging effect on families. It is emotional abuse, and every bit as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. The damage and scars are just not easily seen and recognized until too late. Parental alienation is one of those things [a parent] can’t believe until he has experienced it for himself.
Fathers and Families supporter Michael J. Muller wrote:
This is not a gender issue: It is childish and ignorant to assume that all allegations of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are valid, while allegations of the very damaging abuse of parental alienation are invalid. Jamison is grinding an ax, and is not shedding light on this horrible situation. False allegations are made on both sides. Nor is it a gender issue, as he implies. Many women have been hurt by parental alienation, just as have many men. In the very flawed, adversarial system of the family courts, the parties are polarized to opposite extremes, and false allegations fly from both sides.
Longtime Fathers and Families supporter Peter Logan, Esq., wrote:
I found the coverage one-sided and misinformed. Parental alienation is real, as are false charges of domestic violence. Failing to recognize these facts hurts all those who want to live peacefully with partners, ex-partners and children. The problem of domestic violence should not be ignored, but neither should the problems of dealing with it fairly.
San Francisco Weekly writer Peter Jamison has penned another ill-informed attack on the credibility of Parental Alienation—‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’—Judge Isn’t Buying it (3/24/11).
The article is based on the opinions of only one family law authority—Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jerilyn Borack. Borack is the sister of longtime California politician Sheila Kuehl, who is known for being an ardent feminist and sole custody advocate. Borack is known to share many of her sister’s views.
Jamison opens his piece with a very misleading definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Jamison writes:
Invented by the late Richard Gardner—a psychiatrist who argued that society treated pedophiles too harshly before he stabbed himself to death with a steak knife in 2003—the theory of PAS asserts that mothers brainwash children to believe that estranged fathers have sexually molested them.
There are numerous problems with this statement. They include:
1) PAS wasn’t "invented" by Gardner—it was a phenomenon long noted by mental health professionals, family law attorneys, and divorced parents who were targets of it. Gardner deserves considerable credit for delineating the cluster of symptoms that comprise PAS, but to portray this internationally known and widely accepted social phenomenon as one psychiatrist’s "invention" is highly misleading.
2) Attacking Richard Gardner personally has always been a very weak way to challenge the validity of Parental Alienation Syndrome but Jamison does it, so we’ll briefly deal with it. Jamison and many of Gardner’s critics continually use his suicide as a way to discredit him. However, at the time of Gardner’s death at age 72 he was suffering from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a painful neurological syndrome often associated with suicide. Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Research Foundation for RSD/CRPS, explains:
"As RSD progresses over time…the syndrome tends to become more unresponsive to treatment…At an advanced stage of the illness, all patients develop significant psychiatric problems and narcotic dependency, and are left completely incapacitated. Some commit suicide."
How this sad, painful story has anything to do with the legitimacy of Parental Alienation Syndrome remains a mystery to thinking people.
3) To say "the theory of PAS asserts that mothers brainwash children to believe that estranged fathers have sexually molested them" is also misleading. PAS exists in a wide variety of scenarios, of which sexual molestation charges are only one.
Many of Jerilyn Borack’s statements in the article are also problematic. Jamison writes:
As for the underlying idea of PAS—that mothers frequently make false child-abuse allegations as a litigation tactic against fathers—Borack said she doesn’t buy it. Based on her experience as a family-law judge, she said, malicious false accusations simply don’t happen often…[Borack says] "I think it occurs incredibly seldom that someone actually designs a false allegation for an objective."
Actually, family courts are rife with false accusations of all sorts, and false accusations of domestic violence are widespread. In an article in the Family Law News, the official publication of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of California, family law attorneys Lynette Berg Robe, C.F.L.S. and Melvyn Jay Ross, C.F.L.S. explain:
[Domestic violence] protective orders are increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side jockey for an advantage in child custody…[the orders are] almost routinely issued by the court in family law proceedings even when there is relatively meager evidence and usually without notice to the restrained person.
Borack said that inaccurate accusations of child abuse do occur in divorce proceedings, but are typically the result of a sincere belief by one parent that the child is being harmed.
I don’t know of any authoritative studies on how many abuse accusations are made in good faith and how many are simply custody maneuvers, but I do know that a substantial number of them are intentionally false. Still, it is important for litigants to realize that a false accusation isn’t necessarily malicious, and that some parents who make them are acting out of a sincere concern for their children’s welfare.
[Borack] says the key to improving court assessments of potential child abuse is devoting more resources in the form of money or personnel to the system. That could allow more time to look into abuse accusations when they arise…
We are certainly in agreement with this. We have always believed that family courts need to take accusations of domestic violence and child abuse seriously—what we’ve long opposed is the way spurious accusations are so often accepted and are used as basis to separate fit, loving parents from their children.
Borack is correct that one of the biggest problems in cases where there are allegations of abuse is simply that courts don’t have the proper time to examine and weigh the evidence. Unfortunately, given the budget problem most states and the federal government are facing, we doubt that more resources are going to be committed to the family courts any time soon.