I received the following question from a targeted parent:
“I am in a custody/divorce battle that has gone on for over two years. I have spent every penny that I could raise on this, over $150k and I am now little more than a broken parent living on very little. I can no longer afford anything for my case so I am now representing myself in Court. I would love to get some ideas on how to present PA in Court. Thanks much.”
I receive variations of this request a lot. I wish there was some positive answer I could offer.
This is exactly why the Gardnerian model of PAS is a failed paradigm. The Gardnerian PAS paradigm requires that the targeted parent prove “parental alienation” in Court, and this becomes a long and expensive process. Too expensive for all but a few parents, and it takes years of legal struggles. And all the while, through the years of protracted legal battles trying to prove “parental alienation” in Court, the child’s symptoms become ever more severely entrenched, so that recovering the authentic child becomes increasingly difficult even if there is a positive outcome in Court.
But, except in the most severe cases of “parental alienation,” there is seldom a positive outcome in Court.
The Court will issues orders for custody and visitation that the narcissistic/(borderline) parent will ignore. The targeted parent will return to Court seeking contempt charges, and the Court will not levy sanctions but will instead modify its orders and stress to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent the importance of following Court orders, and these new orders will simply be ignored by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The targeted parent will AGAIN need to return to Court to obtain the compliance of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent with the PREVIOUS Court orders and the judge will reprimand BOTH parents for not adequately co-parenting.
Meanwhile, time passes and the child’s symptoms become ever more severely entrenched, the child grows farther away from the love of the targeted parent, and the child increasingly surrenders with each passing day to the distorted influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
The Court will order “reunification therapy,” even though no such thing as “reunification therapy” exists in any established models of psychotherapy (see On Unicorns, the Tooth Fairy, and Reunification Therapy post). The construct of “reunification therapy” is a fraud perpetrated by mental health professionals on the Court and public. No such thing exists.
I’m aware that “fraud” is a strong accusation, but this blog has a Comments section and I challenge any mental health professional to provide me with a professional reference for what “reunification therapy” entails. None exists. No model of “reunification therapy” has ever been proposed or defined within the professional literature. There is no such thing as “reunification therapy” and professional psychology should be ashamed of itself for fostering this “junk therapy” upon the Court and public.
Since “reunification therapy” has no established model, it is essentially whatever the “reunification” therapist makes it up to be. The construct of “reunification therapy” is a made up and fraudulent therapy construct. If any therapist disagrees, there is a Comment section available to you on this post…
There are psychoanalytic models of therapy, humanistic-existential models of therapy, cognitive-behavioral models of therapy, family systems models of therapy, and post-modern models of therapy, but there are no models that define what “reunification therapy” entails.
Nevertheless, the Court will order “reunification therapy” as if it exists, and even this therapy will be delayed by the non-cooperation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. When it does eventually take place, the reunification therapist is revealed to be clueless regarding how to treat and resolve “parental alienation” and the ineffective and pointless “reunification therapy” will continue for months, or even years, without producing any change whatsoever.
And all the while, the child’s symptoms become ever more established and entrenched, the loving relationship with the targeted parent becomes ever more hostile and rejecting, and the child falls ever more fully under the distorting pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. No one apparently sees or recognizes the degree of the pathology.
This is the only “solution” offered by Gardner’s model of PAS, and it is no solution at all. Gardner’s model requires the litigation and proof of “parental alienation” in Court. As long as the construct of “parental alienation” is defined through Gardner’s model of PAS then there will be no solution available to the nightmare of “parental alienation.”
An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” redefines the construct of “parental alienation” entirely from within standard and established psychological constructs and principles, and seeks the solution FIRST in the mental health system, which can then be leveraged to achieve an efficient and effective solution in the legal system.
When mental health speaks with a single voice, then the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve “parental alienation.” The solution to “parental alienation” is in the mental health system, not the legal system. Mental health remains divided by the Gardnerian model of PAS (i.e., it is not accepted by establishment mental health as represented by the DSM diagnostic system), so it requires that targeted parents prove “parental alienation” in Court.
An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” is based entirely in established psychological constructs and principles that are accepted by establishment mental health (i.e., the attachment system, personality disorder dynamics, delusional processes), which can then be used to establish professional standards of practice, and the single voice from mental health can then be used to efficiently and effectively guide decisions before the Court.
Until a paradigm shift occurs, no solution is available.
I fully understand the desperate struggle of targeted parents seeking a solution, as you feel your relationship with your child slipping away into a nightmare of distortions, hostility, and rejection. I understand that you’re hoping that because I understand what “parental alienation” is that I will have some magic words to give you that will help the Court and therapists understand. Unfortunately, I don’t have magic words to enlightened the unenlightened.
The solution is to be found in a paradigm shift to an attachment-based model of parental alienation (see Finding Empowerment post), and until this paradigm shift occurs within establishment mental health, no solution will be available. I’m sorry. I wish it were different. But its not.
If you’re struggling with the Court, your attorney may find my expert testimony helpful (my professional expertise is in child and family therapy, child development, and parent-child conflict; not in “parental alienation”). I can review reports by other mental health professionals and provide a second opinion on the clinical data contained in these reports, and I can provide testimony in response to hypothetical questions that are posed to me by your attorney that mirror the features of your case. This may or may not be helpful to your case. I am not an attorney. For legal advice consult an attorney and follow the advice of your attorney.
In general, my opinion as a psychologist is that reframing the issue away from “parental alienation” and over to “pathogenic parenting” that focuses on the child’s symptoms may possibly be helpful, but that is a decision for you to make in consultation with your attorney.
For parents who lack the financial resources to hire an attorney… I fully understand, and I am sorry, because it is unlikely that you will be able to have my testimony or materials admitted into your case because you probably don’t know how to navigate the requirements of the legal system. That’s the expertise that attorneys provide. But legal representation is expensive. I understand that, which is why I am convinced that any solution to “parental alienation” that requires extensive litigation will be unproductive. We need a solution that is practical, that can be accomplished within 6 months, and that does not require excessive financial expenditures. In my view, an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides this solution once it is accepted into establishment mental health.
However, I am not an attorney. For legal advice, consult an attorney.
To achieve any hope of a solution, the Gardnerian paradigm of PAS requires that you have a good attorney who can effectively navigate the legal system. Trying to be successful in the legal system on your own will very likely prove unproductive with regard to “parental alienation.” To make use of my testimony or my materials in Court will likely require the expertise of an attorney to actualize. I’m sorry. I wish it was different. I’m working to make it different. But that is seemingly the current state of affairs.
The current Gardnerian model of PAS is a failed paradigm. There is no pragmatic and practical solution available under the current paradigm. Under the Gardnerian paradigm you must prove “parental alienation” in Court. In the vast majority of cases, this is not a practical solution that can be actualized.
However, the moment an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is accepted by establishment mental health (and there are no barriers to this acceptance, see Nothing New – No Excuses post) then the solution becomes available immediately.
The solution to parental alienation” is to be found in the mental health system, not the legal system. Any effort at a solution that requires the litigation of “parental alienation” in the legal system will be unsuccessful. Litigation in the legal system is far too expensive, takes far too long, and almost invariably produces inadequate results.
I wish I had a different answer. I don’t know what you can provide to the Court to persuade them. If you have an attorney and your attorney thinks my expert testimony may be helpful, then I am available to provide my insight to the Court .
Note: Not every post-divorce parent-child conflict is the result of “parental alienation.” In any analysis of clinical data, I will follow wherever the clinical data leads. If other potential factors besides “parental alienation” are evident in the clinical data, I will say so. I have no personal investment in finding “parental alienation,” and I am clear in my writings that I define what has traditionally been called “parental alienation” as “pathogenic parenting” evident in a specific set of child symptoms. I am a clinical psychologist, and my expertise is in child and family therapy, child development, and parent-child conflict, not in “parental alienation.”
The ultimate solution to parental alienation, however, is to be found in the mental health system, not the legal system, and the solution is not to be found on a case-by-case basis. The fate of targeted parents will rise or fall together. It will be solved for everyone, or will be solved for no one.
Once mental health speaks with a single voice, then the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve the family tragedy of “parental alienation.”
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
6 thoughts on “What Can I Tell the Court?”
Hi Craig. . . . thank you for your article.
I would like to ask that you discuss (unless you have elsewhere) the difference between “pathogenic parenting” .. and a protective parent where child sexual assault has been disclosed?
… and whether or not your steps to reveal a “pathogenic parent” via a child’s behaviours, would ‘safely’ reveal the steps a “concerned protective parent” would take when they are faced with the shocking disclosures of such a thing (knowing as we do that a miniscule amount of these disclosures ever result in protection or prosecution)
…. and if you can, perhaps discuss the questionable steps taken within family law court rooms when deciding, completely ill-equipped, to dealing with these “criminal behaviours” in this arena??
Thank you for this important comment. I will make sure to address this issue in an upcoming blog post. The issues you raise are extraordinarily important.
Let me reply briefly at this time, and let me be clear on this… Whenever there is an allegation of sexual abuse of a child, this allegation needs to be taken extremely seriously and investigated fully. The presence or absence of any other family factors should NOT be a consideration in the investigation. Hopefully, I am entirely clear on this. We should never, ever, ever, summarily discount a child’s allegation of sexual abuse without a full and complete independent investigation. Never. Under any circumstances.
Now, as to the issue of sexual abuse allegations and pathogenic parenting, of note is that the third diagnostic indicator of pathogenic parenting associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is that the child has a delusional belief in the (abusive) inadequacy of targeted parent. If there has been sexual abuse of the child by the targeted-rejected parent, then the child’s belief system is NOT delusional, it is accurate. The parenting of the targeted-rejected parent ACTUALLY is abusive. So the child will NOT meet diagnostic criteria 3 for pathogenic parenting associated with “parental alienation.”
Also of note regarding the diagnostic criteria of pathogenic parenting associated with attachment-based “parental alienation” is that it is highly unlikely and extraordinarily unusual for sexually abused children to show prominent narcissistic personality disorder traits toward the incestuous/sexually abusive parent, particularly a haughty and arrogant attitude and a sense of entitled grandiosity relative to the sexually abusive parent. So criterion 2 would also not be fully met.
However, when an allegation of sexual abuse/incest is made by a child against a parent (not by a parent against a parent, but by the child against the parent), this means that it is critical and essential to make a determination of either sexual abuse victimization by the targeted-rejected parent (i.e., authentic sexual abuse) or psychologically abusive pathogenic parenting of the child by the allied and supposedly “favored” parent (i.e., an induced and knowledgeably made false allegation by the child against a parent). One way or the other, the child is being abused, either sexually by one parent or psychologically by the other.
Under these circumstances, the most certain way to ensure with 100% certainty the child’s continued abuse is to continue joint custody by both parents, since it is 100% certain that the child is EITHER being sexually abused by the targeted-rejected parent OR is being psychologically abused by the allied and supposedly “favored” parent (when the knowingly false sexual abuse allegation is made by the child against the parent).
When the sexual abuse allegation is made by one parent against the other parent, i.e., when the child does NOT make such an allegation, then questions emerge as to why one parent would suspect sexual abuse of the child when the child is not actually reporting being abused? This then becomes a separate issue, when a parent is reporting a suspicion of sexual abuse by the other parent when the child isn’t making such an allegation.
But let me be very clear: sexual abuse allegations of incest need to be taken extremely seriously under ALL circumstances and should be fully investigated. The presence or absence of any other family factors should NOT be a consideration in the investigation.
With regard to criterion 1 of the child’s attachment system display, there is a complicating factor that I will elaborate on more fully in my future blog post on this issue. Based on the clinical features of the “source code” contained in the child’s attachment system associated with “parental alienation,” I strongly suspect that the emergence of attachment-based “parental alienation” within the current family represents the trans-generational iteration of sexual abuse (likely incest) that entered the family system a generation or two prior to the current manifestation of the “parental alienation” in this current generation. And let me be clear on this, I am not saying the current child in “parental alienation” is being sexually abused, what I am saying is that the “source code” in the child’s attachment system display have characteristic features consistent with sexual abuse victimization that I suspect are being trans-generationally transmitted across several generations from the original origin of the sexual abuse several generations before.
So when there is an allegation of sexual abuse made against the targeted-rejected parent, it then becomes extremely difficult for a skilled clinical psychologist to differentiate between authentic sexual abuse/incest and pathogenic parenting associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” because in BOTH cases the child’s attachment system will evidence the same characteristic “incest source code”; one because of authentic incest and the other from the trans-generational transmission of incest “source code” from several generations prior. (I’ll describe this “source code” in my future blog post).
So, from my perspective as a clinical psychologist I cannot differentiate authentic sexual abuse from pathogenic parenting based on the display of the child’s attachment system. The attachment system of the child will look identical in both cases.
Once a thorough and independent investigation of the sexual abuse allegations is made, we may still not have complete certainty. However, we may nevertheless need to make our best clinical estimate of probabilities based on the complete clinical data from the investigation as to the likelihood of authenticity for the allegations, since when an allegation of incest is made then the only option that will, with 100% certainty, result in the child’s continued abuse is to leave the child in the care of BOTH parents, since either one or the other parent is, with certainty, abusing the child; either sexual abuse/incest by the targeted-rejected parent, or psychological abuse by the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.
At that point, issues of “preponderance of evidence” and “reasonable doubt” may become relevant factors in making a child protection decision.
Thank you again, for raising this critically important issue, and I will address this further in a future blog post.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
“What people need to know is that, according to the literature on the subject, if a child discloses abuse, about 96 percent of the time some sort of abuse did occur. That’s the figure—around 96 percent.”
Michael Stinson, MSPH, CHES Director of Prevention Services
In most jurisdictions in western countries, children in legal proceedings have to be seen as competent witnesses, and their testimony must be treated as reliable and credible. See Evidence Acts.
So why are their disclosures/ complaints of sexual abuse so often treated as false in Family Court proceedings.?.
Many Family Court cases involve allegations of intimate partner violence and many children suffer a range of mental health problems emanating from enduring such violence, including Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder towards the violent parent, Clinical Depression, Suicidal Ideations, etc etc. It appears that a number of Court Consultant Psychologists are failing to explore such possibilities as part of a differential diagnosis, before making conjectures and assumptions of parental alienation.
I don’t want to go too far afield into the domain of child sexual abuse allegations. I’d be happy to look at the source studies referenced by Mr. Stinson.
I teach both research methodology and assessment psychometrics at the graduate level. The interpretation of statistics is complicated, particularly when applying general statistical data to any individual case. Among a variety of interpretive issues, there are issues of a “low base-rate phenomenon” and the probabilities of making Type I and Type II errors (false positive and false negative attributions) based on the application of general population data to a specific instance. The application of general population statistical data to any specific instance is complicated and should be approached with a high degree of professional acumen and caution.
Ultimately, each situation is individual and our approach to each situation should be individual.
As a clinical psychologist, I am well aware of the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse. Prior to entering private practice I served as the Clinical Director for a Children’s Assessment and Treatment Center whose primary client population were children from ages 0-5 in the foster care system. I have worked with a variety of severely physically abused, sexually abused, and neglected children. I am fully aware of the devastating effects of child abuse on children. I’ve seen it up close and personal.
All allegations of incest need to be taken very seriously and thoroughly investigated. In some unusual and rare cases, false allegations are sometimes made. I would note that in the cited quotation, Mr. Stinson estimates that false allegations of “abuse” occur in 4% of the cases of alleged abuse. In any research there is a + or – margin of error (called the “confidence interval”, so I would guess that there is likely a 95% chance that the figure is somewhere in the range of 2% to 7% from the cited research (and the error range may even take it up to 9%). I would also note that in the cited quote, that Mr. Stinson refers to “abuse” as a general term, not specifically sexual abuse, and not specifically to incest as a particular form of sexual abuse.
I am more than happy to look at the source research Mr. Stinson is citing if you care to email it to me, and I’ll do a search myself to see what I find, to evaluate if the research Mr. Stinson cites addressed all forms of alleged child abuse or only incest, the extent of the population sampled for the research, how truth and falseness of allegations was determined, and whether this research addressed context issues such as differentiating non-familial sexual abuse from within-familial incest that occurs in intact families, step-families, and divorcing family structures to see if these types of family structures alter the rates of false allegations.
The interpretation of research and statistics is complicated and should be approached with proper professional acumen and caution. Also, the devastating effects of incest need to be taken extremely seriously and should always receive thorough and professional individualized investigation.
I’ve worked with children in the foster care system. I’ve seen the devastating effects of child sexual abuse up close and personal. It is prevalent, and it is a serious issue.
I don’t want the discussion of attachment-based “parental alienation” involving a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/borderline parent to become side-tracked into the topic area of false allegations of sexual abuse. Let’s first settle on the issue of defining what “parental alienation” is from a framework of established psychological principles and constructs, and then we can address the issue of understanding potential false allegations of abuse.
I will blog about sexual abuse allegations in the future and we can continue this dialogue at that point.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
Addendum on Physical Child Abuse Versus Parental Alienation.
In physical child abuse or exposure to domestic violence, the child’s symptoms will NOT display the three characteristic diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation.”
Of particular note, is that abused children will NOT evidence a sense of grandiose entitlement relative to the abusive-violent parent, and will NOT evidence a haughty and arrogant attitude toward the abusive-violent parent. Instead, they will tend to evidence either a submissive-timid attitude or they will evidence a broadly displayed aggressive-hostile attitude at school, with peers, etc.
In addition, there will be a clear history of physically abusive or violent parental behavior so that the child’s beliefs concerning the “abusive” inadequacy of the targeted-rejected parent are not delusional.
Of note, also, is how we define “abusive.” Taking the child’s iphone away as punishment for a disrespectful attitude is called discipline, not “abuse.” Making the child stop playing video games in order to attend a family event is not “abusive.” Asking the child to tidy his or her room, or empty the dishwasher, or show an appropriate attitude of respect and kindness does not represent “abusive” parenting.
I would suggest that any research on these allegations of “abusive parenting” made by children in the context of a cross-generational parent-child coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (i.e., “parental alienation) would find that 100% of these allegations of abuse are false, because these parenting practices are entirely normal range. These types of allegations of “abusive parenting” that are made in the context of a cross-generational parent-child coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (i.e., an attachment-based model of “parental alienation”) reflect narcissistic entitlement emanating from the distorted attitudes of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that are being transferred to the child through their enmeshed coalition, in which any restrictions on desires is perceived as “abusive.”
We should neither summarily dismiss allegations of parental “abuse” made by the child, nor should we uncritically accept any allegation of “abuse” made by the child as sufficient to warrant the child’s symptom display.
Aaron Beck notes these qualities about the narcissistic personality,
“The patient with NPD often has a low tolerance for frustration and expects not only to have wishes easily gratified but also to remain in a steady state of positive reinforcement. Conditional assumptions may include the notions, “If I want something, it is extremely important that I get it,” and “I should feel happy and comfortable at all times,” and “If I’m not happy, no one can be happy,” and “I need to feel special to feel happy.” (Beck, et al., 2004)
“If others fail to satisfy the narcissist’s “needs,” including the need to look good, or be free from inconvenience, then others “deserve to be punished”… Even when punishing others out of intolerance or entitlement, the narcissist sees this as “a lesson they need, for their own good” (Beck et al., 2004).
Also, the attachment system display of the child is different in authentic physical abuse or domestic violence than it is in “parental alienation” (i.e., a cross-generational parent-child coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent). Because I am familiar with how the attachment system functions and dysfunctions and how it displays in various forms of dysfunctional parent-child relationships, I can tell the difference immediately, it is as clear as day (except in the case of sexual abuse allegations, in which the attachment system display is identical in both possible differential diagnoses).
That’s why, in my professional view, ALL mental health professionals who diagnose and treat this “special population” of children and families MUST possess an advanced level of professional expertise in both the attachment system and personality disorder dynamics. With this professional expertise, differentiating allegations of physical or emotional abuse from the effects of a cross-generational parent-child coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent is relatively straightforward and clearly evident in the features of the child’s symptom display.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
That’s it. British Columbia College of psychologists code of conduct