Forensic psychology gives parents and the courts only one legal argument option, and it seeks its particular goal by marshaling a particular set of evidence to present to the court in favor of that goal.
The goal of the legal argument package from forensic psychology is to obtain a court order for a reversal of custody away from the allied and “favored” parent, over to the targeted and rejected parent, and the evidence to support this desired reversal-of-custody court order is through proving, at trial, to a judge, that “parental alienation” is the cause of the child’s rejection of the targeted parent.
Up until recently, this forensic psychology legal argument approach has been the ONLY option available for parents and for the court.
Things have changed.
Parents and the court now have two separate legal argument packages, seeking different orders from the court, and there are now three separate approaches for marshaling evidence in support of the sought-for court orders.
The Forensic Psychology Legal Argument
This is the standard legal argument approach used for the past 40 years. It seeks to prove “parental alienation” at trial and it asks for the remedy of a change in custody. Since it seeks a change in custody, this legal argument package leads directly to a child custody evaluation.
The parents and children then present their “evidence” to the child custody evaluator who makes an arbitrary decision as to whether “parental alienation” is present based on vague criteria arbitrarily applied. Typically, the evaluator reports a mix of “parental alienation” and “estrangement” (both made up constructs without clear definition). Rarely (almost never) will the evaluator recommend a reversal of custody based on an opinion of “parental alienation.”
Occasionally, after years of fighting in court, a second or even third custody evaluation may find that the “alienation” is so severe that the evaluator is compelled to recommend a reversal of custody – but this is rare, and this point is typically reached only in the most severe cases.
The forensic psychology legal argument is built around proving “parental alienation” in court through an extended court trial. This is an exceedingly expensive and long process, usually requiring years of “high-conflict” litigation, with each parent trying to prove the other parent is unfit, creating even more spousal hostility and further entrenching “sides” in the family conflict. This process is NOT supportive of a successful family transition to a healthy post-divorce separated family of collaborative co-parenting.
This forensic psychology legal argument package is seeking to identify and prove complex family pathology to a legal professional, the judge, by rules of evidence in a court trial. The forensic psychology approach is seeking a court-solution to family pathology. This is the wrong system for solution. The diagnosis of pathology is not through trial in the legal system, the diagnosis of pathology is through the principles and practices of clinical psychology.
In the forensic option, the entire time the legal conflict drags on the child is either actively caught in the middle of the spousal conflict, or the child is in the sole custody and entirely under the influence of the pathogenic allied parent who is creating the severe psychopathology in the child, who is creating severe suffering and grief for the targeted parent (which is the purpose of weaponizing the child into the divorce), and who is irrevocably damaging the child’s emotional and psychological development – the lost years of childhood cannot be recovered. Childhood once gone is lost. Years of severe family conflict and lost parent-child love are extremely damaging to the child, yet that is the requirement imposed by the forensic psychology solution.
The goal of the forensic psychology legal argument package is a reversal of custody because of “parental alienation.”
Gardnerian Caused Confusion: The Gardnerian “experts” are seeking to sow confusion by co-opting the term “protective separation” from the AB-PA legal argument package and applying it to the “parental alienation” legal argument package as the supposed remedy – but it doesn’t apply when transferred across diagnostic models, they know it, and they are deceiving parents by using the term “protective separation” for the Gardnerian “parental alienation” legal argument package. They are doing this intentionally to sow confusion among parents and attorneys between the two legal argument approaches.
Explanation: The three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA, an attachment-based model for the family pathology, results in a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse. It is this confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse that represents the legal and mental health argument justification for a protective separation period (a protective separation from the abusive parent is the standard of practice response to a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse – to protect the child from child abuse – a protective separation).
The Gardnerian Lie: The identification of Gardnerian “parental alienation” does NOT lead to a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse. The Gardnerian PAS “experts” wish it would, but diagnostically, it doesn’t. They know this.
However, the Gardnerian “experts” are feeding on the vulnerability and lack of knowledge of targeted parents to sow confusion and prevent solution, because the moment parents start using a non “parental alienation” legal argument (an apporach other than proving “parental alienation” in court trial), then these “parental alienation” “experts” cease to be “experts” – because they are not actually real experts in any real forms of pathology, like attachment, or personality disorders, or complex trauma. So they make up a “new form of pathology” so they can pretend to be “experts” in something.
The protective separation construct does NOT apply to the construct of “parental alienation” – the “parental alienation” legal argument package seeks a reversal of custody; not a protective separation.
The Gardnerian “experts” know this, they are simply being obstructionists by sowing confusion – intentionally – to delay parents from recovering their children so that these “experts” can remain “experts” in their supposedly new form of pathology.
Thousands of children and families will be hurt, families will be destroyed, and parent-child bonds will be lost because of the confusion that is intentionally being sown by the Gardnerian “experts” regarding the protective separation construct – it doesn’t apply to the Gardnerian 8-symptom “parental alienation” diagnostic model – before we will be able to clarify for parents their multiple options.
But the Gardnerian “experts” (led by Bill Bernet, Karen Woodall, and several others) will continue to sow confusion and seek to obstruct any solution that does not make them an “expert.” So the confusion they are generating is simply a fact that we must overcome. That’s up to parents and attorneys. It’s your choice which legal argument package you pursue.
Forensic Package: Proving “parental alienation”
Since the forensic legal argument package of proving “parental alienation” is a court-driven solution, it requires targeted parents to collect and present the proof of “parental alienation” to the court (step one) to then ask for the remedy of a court-ordered reversal of custody (step 2).
The forensic psychology approach (the one used for the past 40 years without success and which continues to be the approach advocated by the Gardnerian PAS “experts”) requires convincing the court of three things (all three):
1) That “parental alienation” exists as a pathology;
2) That “parental alienation” is occurring in this family and is responsible for the child’s rejection of the targeted parent (as opposed to the bad parenting of the targeted parent);
3) Then – after proving the first two – the next level of proof required of the targeted parent will be to convince the judge that the remedy for the parent-child conflict is a reversal of custody in which the targeted parent is given sole custody while contact with the currently “favored” parent is blocked.
So there are multiple significant barriers of legal proof required – all for a normal parent simply to love the child.
So far, in the 40 years this legal argument package has been used, it is rarely successful. And it is the only option offered through the “parental alienation” forensic legal argument package.
Since the “parental alienation” legal argument package seeks a reversal of custody, it will lead directly to a child custody evaluation since ONLY a child custody evaluator is permitted to talk about child custody and visitation schedules (clinical psychologists will lose our license if we discuss custody and visitation; that’s a bad thing that needs to stop because it is silencing your advocates and it isolates you from clinical psychology and professional knowledge. Clinical psychology refuses to work with your children and families because our license is threatened by forensic psychology if we do; “I don’t work with high-conflict divorce” is the statement you will hear from clinical psychology).
Only forensic psychology is allowed to render an opinion about custody and visitation issues, and only after having conducted a six to nine-month set of procedures costing between $20,000 to $40,000. Can you see the financial conflict of interest in this? It’s pretty blatant. Forensic psychology is feeding off of vulnerable parents purely for financial gain, and they are preventing any sort of competition from clinical psychology or escape of parents to clinical psychology by threatening the license of clinical psychologists if we express an opinion about custody and visitation.
The Forensic Child Custody Evaluation
A child custody evaluation answers the referral question: What should the child’s custody and visitation schedule be?
The targeted parent using this approach is seeking to prove “parental alienation” as the justification for a reversal of custody. The targeted parent is hoping the custody evaluator will “see” the alienation and will make a recommendation for a reversal of custody over to the targeted parent. Meanwhile, the child and allied parent put on their display for the custody evaluator hoping the evaluator will side with them in seeing the targeted parent as a “bad parent” who “deserves” to be rejected for past parental failures.
The targeted parent is put on the defensive by this process and must prove a negative; that their parenting is NOT “abusive.” So the whole child custody evaluation becomes a procedure to evaluate if the targeted parent is “abusive” and “deserves” to be rejected – with minimal vague attention given to the “parental alienation” concerns of the targeted parent.
There is no inter-rater reliability to child custody evaluations, meaning that two different evaluators can reach entirely different conclusions and recommendations based on the exactly the same data – which means that the results and recommendations from a child custody evaluation are entirely arbitrary and completely dependent on the attitudes, beliefs, and biases of the evaluator – including any personal mommy-issues or daddy-issues, cultural biases, and gender biases the evaluator may bring to the evaluation process from the evaluator’s own family of origin.
No standard constructs and principles of professional psychology are applied to the data of a child custody evaluation. The conclusions and recommendations are entirely the sole arbitrary opinion of one person – the evaluator. And, in my review of child custody evaluations as an expert consultant in these legal cases, the conclusions and recommendations from child custody evaluations are almost always wrong.
The forensic custody evaluation industry is a corrupt exploitation of families. Forensic child custody evaluators are exploiting vulnerable families to financially feed off of these families… $20,000 to $40,000 per evaluation – with no oversight or review of their work for accuracy, knowing that child custody evaluations lack validity. An assessment procedure cannot be valid if it is not reliable; child custody evaluations have zero inter-rater reliability – the conclusions and recommendations of custody evaluations cannot possibly be valid – that is an established psychometric fact. The conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations are not valid, they are simply the opinions of one person.
The child custody evaluation industry is corrupt at its core, it exploits vulnerable families for obscene financial gouging, a trough to feed, and forensic child custody evaluations are in violation of the APA ethics code, Principle D: Justice.
The conclusions reached by a typical child custody evaluation will usually find a mix of some “alienating behaviors” by the allied parent and some “estrangement” caused by the targeted parent. Both of these terms are made-up constructs in forensic psychology with no actual grounding in any real forms of pathology.
The typical recommendations from child custody evaluations are to make the current de-facto sole custody of the allied parent (created by the child’s refusal to comply with court-ordered visitation) into the permanent custody arrangement, with “reunification therapy” recommended to fix the child’s relationship with the targeted parent.
A form of therapy called “reunification therapy” does not exist. The court and all clients should ask for a reference book citation to the type of therapy that is being used by the therapist. There is no book or article that has ever described a form a therapy called “reunification therapy.” It doesn’t exist. Like many things in forensic psychology, the forensic psychology mental health people are simply making stuff up.
Reunification therapy (it doesn’t exist) has no impact because the therapist is just making up what they are doing without any grounding in actual forms of psychotherapy. After a year to two years of failed therapy, a second “update” child custody evaluation will typically be ordered (if the targeted parent’s financial resources have not been entirely depleted). This second evaluation will take another six months to complete and cost another $10,000 to $20,000. This second evaluation may sometimes now assert that “parental alienation” is occurring (after approximately three years of the child refusing contact with the targeted parent and two years of failed “reunification therapy”) and may – may – recommend a change in custody.
However, some second (or third) “update” child custody evaluations will say that the child’s supposedly “bonded relationship” to the allied and “favored” parent is so extensive and is for so long (since the divorce), that it would be “traumatic” to the child to reverse custody now – even though severe parental alienation has been identified as the cause of the child’s rejection of the targeted parent. So even in cases of severe “parental alienation,” the recommendations (remedy) from the custody evaluation are not always assured. They simply make stuff up. I’ve read their reports.
The recommendations of the custody evaluator are at the sole discretion of this one person – the evaluator – who is not required to know or apply standard information from attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorder pathology, or complex trauma, nor even the DSM diagnostic system of the American Psychiatric Association. The forensic child custody evaluators believe that they are exempt from applying any of this knowledge to their evaluation – they just decide based on personal ideas and biases.
If the child custody evaluation does not result in the decision sought by the targeted parent, then overturning this child custody evaluation decision becomes an additional burden placed on the targeted parent.
Proving “parental alienation” using a child custody evaluation will usually require an attorney and a long trial. Trial and attorney’s fees will be exceedingly expensive, and the outcome of obtaining a reversal of custody is only seldom achieved, and only in the most severe and egregious cases of “parental alienation.”
This is the only option that has been available to parents and the courts for the past 40 years. This legal argument package and approach has been used extensively for 40 years with only occasional success in restoring the child’s bonded relationship with the targeted-rejected parent. This is the approach recommended by the Gardnerian “experts” who will be more than happy to take your money to testify at trial to prove “parental alienation” – because they’re “experts” – they say so, so it must be true, right?
There are now alternatives. Alternative legal arguments, alternative goals, and alternative paths to solution.
The Clinical Psychology Legal Argument Package
An alternative approach comes from clinical psychology and involves a treatment focused clinical psychology assessment of the family conflict, to identify the treatment needs of the family for solution.
A clinical psychology assessment answers the referral question:
Clinical Psychology Referral Question: Which parent is the source of pathogenic parenting creating the child’s attachment pathology (rejection of a parent), and what are the treatment implications?
A clinical psychology assessment and diagnosis of pathology can typically be accomplished in around six sessions for a cost of about $2,500. If desired, the more limited scope and focused nature of clinical psychology assessments of pathology allows for second opinions using the same symptom identification and documentation.
The goal of the clinical psychology legal argument package is to obtain a court order for an appropriate – trauma-informed – clinical psychology assessment of the family conflict, in order to answer the referral question of which parent is creating the child’s attachment pathology, and what are the treatment implications?
Makes sense, right? There is conflict in the family, each parent is claiming the other parent is responsible, the child is displaying attachment bonding pathology (rejecting a parent) – let’s get a clinical psychology assessment and workup, which parent is causing the child’s attachment pathology, and what are the treatment implications?
That is the legal argument. Obtaining a trauma-informed clinical psychology assessment of the family conflict is the goal of the clinical psychology legal argument package.
A clinical psychology assessment of pathology documents symptoms, and then applies the standard and established constructs from established domains of professional psychology – attachment pathology – family systems therapy – complex trauma – personality pathology – to the child and family symptoms in a structured, consistent, and standardized way to diagnose pathology.
A clinical psychology assessment of attachment-related family pathology (a child rejecting a parent) can reliably identify which parent is creating the child’s pathology and can identify the treatment implications using the standard and established knowledge of professional psychology (attachment, family systems therapy, personality pathology, complex trauma).
Child Abuse Diagnosis
If the pathogenic parenting of the allied parent is creating significant psychopathology in the child (such as severe developmental pathology, severe personality pathology in the child, or severe psychiatric pathology in the child), then the degree of pathogenic parenting may rise to the level of a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.
If this is the case, then the assessing mental health professional will make a DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse – consistent with this mental health professional’s duty to protect. The standard of practice in clinical psychology is to always provide a DSM-5 diagnosis in all cases, and this becomes an especially prominent professional responsibility surrounding the DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse.
If child abuse is present, the assessing mental health professional who is conducting a clinical psychology assessment will diagnose child abuse.
If a mental health professional makes a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, this diagnosis serves as the professional and legal justification for a protective separation period to 1) protect the child, and 2) allow treatment and recovery of the child from the psychological and emotional damage caused by the abuse.
Once the child’s healthy development is recovered and stabilized, the pathogenic parenting of the abusive parent can be reintroduced with sufficient safeguards to ensure that the psychological abuse of the child does not resume once contact with the abusive parent is restored.
It is a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis made by a mental health professional that provides the legal and mental health justification for a limited protective separation period.
It is important to be clear on the distinction of the two approaches. The protective separation is based on a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse. If there is a question about this diagnosis, a second opinion can be sought (six sessions; structured data collection and documentation).
This is how diagnosis works. Document the symptoms. Apply the diagnostic criteria. If there is dispute, seek a second opinion that documents the symptoms and applies the diagnostic criteria.
A clinical psychology assessment is NOT assessing for “parental alienation” – the construct of “parental alienation” does NOT exist in clinical psychology. In clinical psychology, the construct most people are calling “parental alienation” represents a combination of standard family systems constructs: a cross-generational coalition and an emotional cutoff (Bowen; Minuchin; Haley; Madanes).
Clinical Psychology Definition: The child is being triangulated into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition of the child with the allied parent against the targeted parent, that is resulting in an emotional cutoff in the child’s relationship with the targeted parent.
The goal of the Clinical Psychology legal argument package is to obtain a proper, trauma-informed, clinical psychology assessment of the family conflict – with its treatment implications. The goal is to identify the treatment needs of the family.
Different Legal Argument Goals
The forensic psychology legal argument package of “parental alienation” seeks an entirely different goal from the clinical psychology legal argument package.
The forensic psychology legal argument package seeks to prove “parental alienation” in court in order to obtain a court order for a reversal of custody – giving physical custody to the targeted parent and restricting contact with allied and “favored” parent – by proving “parental alienation” to a judge in trial, and then also proving to this judge that a reversal of custody is the only possible remedy.
The clinical psychology legal argument package of psychological child abuse (AB-PA) seeks a court order for a limited-scope trauma informed clinical psychology assessment of the family’s conflict. If a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse is made by the assessing mental health professional, then the issue becomes one of child protection.
The clinical psychology legal argument package moves the assessment and diagnosis of pathology out of the courtroom and returns the diagnosis of pathology to clinical psychology – and to the professional standards of practice in clinical psychology for symptom documentation and the application of scientifically grounded psychological constructs and principles to the symptom data – attachment – family systems therapy – personality pathology – complex trauma.
The goal of the clinical psychology legal argument package is NOT to prove anything in court trial. It is not to prove who is the better parent and which parent “deserves” the child. The goal of a clinical psychology assessment is to diagnose pathology in order to identify the treatment needs of the family. The goal is the resolution of pathology and the creation of healthy, affectionate, and bonded relationships across the family (parent-child, aunts, uncles, grandparents, on both sides of the family) – a healthy family… that’s the goal of clinical psychology.
The child refusing custody visitation with a parent following divorce is not a legal-custody issue, it is a psychopathology-treatment issue. The first step to a solution is to diagnose the source of the child’s symptom display. This is accomplished through a proper trauma-informed assessment of the family relationships.
Custody Resolution Method
The Custody Resolution Method from Dorcy Pruter is a method for compiling data from emails, texts, written reports, declarations, and documents based on structured categories of symptom features. This data compilation of large data sets produces a summary data profile of frequencies for the categories of interest.
The Custody Resolution Method (CRM) simply compiles and organizes large amounts of documented data into easily recognized categories, revealing the patterns in the data.
These compiled CRM data profiles are then further tagged by an independent psychologist consultant to CRM for issues of psychological concern evidenced in the data profile and data set, and a consultant’s report on the compiled data is provided to CRM. The compiled data profiles and data analysis is then provided by CRM to the attorney-client and parent-client, who can then provide this data summary to the court in support of the legal argument package being sought.
These compiled data profiles from the mountains of emails, OFW, texts, letters, documents, declarations, mental health reports, etc. can be used by the client-attorney and client-parent of CRM to support the clinical psychology argument package being presented to the court by the attorney and parent; that a treatment focused clinical psychology assessment is warranted and needed.
The CRM compiled data profiles and consultant psychologist’s report on the compiled data can also be used to support the DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse made by a mental health professional, or can be used to challenge the absence of a Child Psychological Abuse diagnosis that was NOT made by a mental health professional.
Data is data, and data speaks. CRM is simply what the data says, it is simply a procedure (data tagging of “archival data”) for compiling large data sets into organized categories for ease in understanding and interpretation.
Before data compilation into categories, the voice of data is masked in chaos. Compiling the data into frequencies for pre-specified and pre-defined categories brings clarity to the voice of data from out of the chaos. Data speaks. The scientifically based data compilation procedures of the Custody Resolution Method bring clarity to the data for all to see. It’s simply what the data says, and for court, it’s evidence.
Dr. Childress: Director of Psychological Services; CRM
Dr. Childress is the Director of Psychological Services for the Conscious Co-Parenting Institute; Custody Resolution Method. My role with the Custody Resolution Method is to provide leadership and professional protocols for a team of six to eight independent consultant psychologists for the Custody Resolution Method data profiles. I will be the psychology interface between these independent psychologist consultants and the client, Dorcy Pruter and the Custody Resolution Method.
My role is to develop the professional protocols for psychology tagging of the data and the structure for the professional consultant’s reports generated for the client, the Conscious Co-Parenting Institute; CRM. As the Director of Psychological Services for CRM, I will co-sign all consultant reports, so if there is testimony required about any aspect of CRM or the reports generated, as Director of Psychological Services for CRM Dr. Childress will be available to provide that testimony support.
If one of the consulting psychologists wants to gain experience in court testimony for their own professional development, they can ask to testify in support of their reports and I will provide whatever mentorship support they wish regarding the procedures of court testimony for a clinical psychologist. I will also be providing training seminars for the consulting team of psychologists in attachment pathology, family systems therapy, personality disorder pathology, and complex trauma.
The goal of CRM is not to “win” a court battle – it’s to make “winning” unnecessary because everyone has reached stipulated agreements for a clinical psychology solution to the family conflict. It’s about finding solutions that work.
The goal of clinical psychology and CRM is to reach collaborative agreements that keep the family OUT of court.
And also,… if court involvement is needed (which is often probable with parental narcissistic and borderline pathology), then the goal of CRM and clinical psychology is to provide the court with reliable, valid, and documented evidence that leads quickly out of the court system and returns the family to a defined (written) treatment plan from clinical psychology… treatment that solves the family conflict pathology for the child.
Options: Forensic or Clinical Psychology
There are now two main paths, and three options. The primary choice is which legal argument package the attorney and parent choose to present to the court:
1.) The Forensic Psychology legal argument package seeks to prove “parental alienation” at trial, with the ultimate goal of obtaining court orders for a reversal of custody to the targeted-rejected parent.
2.) The Clinical Psychology legal argument package seeks a court order for a limited-scope, trauma-informed assessment from clinical psychology to answer the referral question:
Referral Question: Which parent is the source of pathogenic parenting creating the child’s attachment pathology, and what are the treatment implications?
The Custody Resolution Method offers a third alternative that simply allows the data to speak for itself, a neutral compiling of all documented data for presentation. These CRM data profile reports will contain input on solutions from professional psychology, with the goal of supporting a healthy separated family of shared love and bonding following divorce.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
Director of Psychological Services
CCPI; Custody Resolution Method