Few issues affecting families are as heartbreaking as those involving Parental Alienation. PA cases often arise after a divorce, as one parent turns his or her children against the other parent, destroying the loving bonds the children and the target parent once enjoyed. Today California family courts are only marginally effective at combating PA. A new bill authored by Assemblymember Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City) will harm children of divorce by making it much harder for courts to protect children from alienation. Under AB 612, mental health professionals will be discouraged from issuing findings of PA in child custody cases.
The backlash against PA is being driven by misguided women’s advocates such as the California National Organization for Women. While both mothers and fathers can and do poison their children’s minds, usually it is the custodial parent who is best able to alienate children in a divorce or separation, and most custodial parents are mothers. CANOW insists that PA is “junk science” which noncustodial fathers use as a courtroom weapon against mothers, and Executive Director Helen Grieco labels it a “scam.”
Nevertheless, Parental Alienation is a common, well-documented phenomenon in divorce. For example, a longitudinal study published by the American Bar Association followed 700 “high conflict” divorce cases over a 12 year period and found that elements of PA were present in the vast majority of the cases studied. Mental Health professionals have been making progress in increasing recognition of PA, and three states now officially recognize April 25 as “Parental Alienation Awareness Day.”
The pain and heartache PA causes children would be hard to overstate. Family law mediators J. Michael Bone, Ph.D. and Michael R. Walsh Esq. explain that in PA situations children fear abandonment, and “live in a state of chronic upset and threat of reprisal.” Bone and Walsh note that when children “express positive approval of the absent parent, the consequences can be very serious…The child is continually being put through various loyalty tests…the alienating parent thus forces the child to choose [between] parents…in direct opposition to a child’s emotional well being.”
Last fall, The CBS Early Show discussed PA’s effect on children in its series How Divorce Wars Take a Toll on Kids. Michelle, an adult child of divorce who had been alienated from her father by her mother, told CBS:
“I couldn’t love my mom and my dad at the same time. I felt bad…It shocked me how quickly and dramatically I changed my opinion of him. I would have nothing to do with him…He hadn’t done anything to hurt me. And so, when I was asked for details [why she was so angry], I didn’t have them…I still, to this day, have to live with the mean things I said to him. The letters that I wrote to him. There are things I did purposely to hurt him.”
When a parent’s children are being alienated, he or she must wage an often long and expensive fight to get family courts to recognize the alienation and take decisive action. AB 612 would discourage independent mental health professionals from issuing findings of Parental Alienation in divorce/custody cases. It would also make it more difficult for target parents to get courts to order psychological evaluations as part of child custody investigations. Under AB 612, such evaluations will be allowed only under “exceptional circumstances when there is strong evidence that a parent’s current mental or psychological status might seriously impair his or her parenting ability.”
This standard is unreasonably high, and will prevent many target parents from saving their relationships with their children. The legislature should be exhorting family courts to protect children from Parental Alienation, not putting up barriers to prevent them from doing so.
- Riverside Press-Enterprise4/3/07