By Barry Goldstein
Perhaps we have been unfair to those who support Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). We keep citing research and information that discredits PAS, but they ignore scientific research and continue in their beliefs. And that is what we have missed. Their position is not based on facts or information, but because they are believers in PAS. What Gardner concocted has become a religion, sort of a PASology. If I remember correctly from Hebrew School, there is a letter that can sound like an "s" or like a "t." So more accurately their religion should be known as Pathology.
Perhaps PAS as a religion should have been understood earlier because the worshipers get so angry at any challenge to their beliefs and seem to find offensive any information that undermines the legitimacy of PAS. I came to realize the religious fervor of their beliefs after they published an article containing vicious personal attacks on many of the wonderful people, including professionals who spoke at the recent Battered Mothers Custody Conference. The professionals have chosen to accept a reduced income in order to continue to work on the side of abused women and their children. This contrasts with many court professionals like Gardner who realized they could make a substantial income by supporting abusers. Clearly the professionals at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference committed a serious sin by failing to worship at the altar of the almighty dollar.
I believe one reason it took so long to recognize the pathologists as a religion is that every other religion places a value on the truth. The adherents of PAS have taken a very different approach. We have seen them repeat the same lies over and over again so that over time it becomes their truth. Their God permits them to dismiss any inconvenient facts as if they never existed.
Included in the inconvenient facts is the current scientific research contained in DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. This includes over 700 pages and thousands of citations demonstrating exactly what the pathologists disbelieve. Even more impressive than the quantify of the material is the quality. The book contains chapters from the leading experts in the U.S. and Canada including judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, journalists and domestic violence advocates. The research establishes not only that the courts are getting a high percentage of cases wrong and favoring abusive fathers, but their standard practices are flawed and inevitably lead to results that harm children and support abusers. Of course none of this information appears in the Pathologist's holy books.
PAS is used to support the worst of the worst abusers and its supporters appear unconcerned with the harm they do to children. For the true believer, undermining the belief in PAS is far more serious than hurting a child. For many of us, Holly Collins is a hero who risked her personal comfort and safety in order to rescue her children from unspeakable abuse. The court did not deny the father abused the children. Indeed it would be hard to deny it after the father beat his son so badly as to fracture his skull. Instead the judge said the mother's reluctance to encourage the relationship with the abusive father was more serious than the father's physical abuse. The evidence is so overwhelming that Holly Collins became the first American to receive asylum from another country. It should be embarrassing to this country that it was unwilling or unable to protect its own children so that another nation had to step in to protect these children. Nevertheless the pathological supporters of PAS continue to support the abusive father and even attack the children whom he abused. At least one prominent Pathologist encouraged supporters to stalk the family and said the brave mother should be gang raped. No wonder it has taken so long to understand these extremists as part of a religion.
Garland Waller, who was herself personally attacked by the pathologists wrote an important chapter in our book about the failure of the media to expose the scandal in the custody court system. One of the exceptions was a Newsweek article written by Sarah Childress that appeared in the September 25, 2006 issue entitled Fighting Over the Kids: Battered Spouses Take Aim at a Controversial Custody Strategy. The reporter used the Shockome case to illustrate the growing problem of courts taking children from safe, protective mothers and placing them with dangerous abusers because of the use of a sexist theory that has no scientific basis. Ms. Childress took months to research the story speaking to both parties and attorneys on Shockome as well as leading national experts and representatives of "fathers' rights" groups. She also reviewed thousands of pages of evidence so that she could determine the validity of what each side was saying. In other words she did exactly what a reporter is supposed to do and what many media outlets are unwilling to use their resources for. I believe it is significant that Ms. Childress looked at actual evidence which is missing from the decisions in Shockome and Goldstein and in the repeated attacks on Shockome by the Pathologists.
Interestingly, shortly after the decision in the retaliation case against me, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor testified at her confirmation hearings. She said it is especially important for judges to describe and answer the arguments made by the side the court is ruling against. She certainly was not describing a new theory, but rather best practices for judges that has been the standard for hundreds if not thousands of years. Significantly, there is nothing in the trial judge's lengthy decision in Shockome or the Appellate Division decisions in Shockome or Goldstein that makes any attempt to discuss or answer the overwhelming evidence and legal arguments on the losing side. Accordingly, the Pathologists who claimed to have investigated the Shockome case claimed there is no evidence of the father's abuse. Unlike, Ms. Childress, they limited their investigation to what the abuser in Shockome told them and the court decisions that failed to respond to the evidence. So now after repeatedly claiming there is no evidence of abuse in Shockome, it is part of the sacred papers of Pathology and must be accepted by true believers of PAS.
One of the most important reasons custody courts keep making dangerous mistakes in domestic violence cases is that court professionals don't understand how to recognize domestic violence. Judge Mike Brigner in his chapter for our book gave several examples of normal behavior by battered women that courts routinely use to discredit allegations of domestic violence, but are not probative. This includes actions like returning to her abuser, failing to follow-up on a request for a protective order and not having police or medical reports. Of course if courts routinely discount allegations of abuse for reasons that are not probative, they will get a lot of cases wrong which is exactly what is happening.
Lois Schwaeber wrote an important chapter in the book about how to recognize domestic violence. Abusers engage in a variety of tactics designed to coerce, intimidate and control their partners. Most tactics are not physical or illegal, but too often inadequately trained court professionals look only for physical abuse. Genuine experts know to look for a pattern of controlling behaviors and to look for evidence of the alleged abuser's motivation. Most contested custody cases involve fathers who had little involvement with caring for the children during the relationship, but suddenly seek custody when his victim tries to leave him. They believe she had no right to leave and so they are entitled to use any tactic, including hurting the children in order to pressure her to return or punish her for leaving. Unqualified court professionals usually assume the father seeks custody out of love for the children and never look at evidence of his motivation. In most cases much of the evidence is subtle and you need to understand the motivation from context and comparison. For instance we often see a mother asking the court to limit the father's contact for safety reasons and the court treats this as if the mother is seeking to harm the relationship between the children and father and gives custody and control to the father. Once he has control he often unilaterally interferes with the mother's contact, asks the court to prevent contact and tells the children negative things about the mother, but the court does nothing to make sure the children have a relationship with their mother. The frustrating thing about the Shockome case was that the evidence of the father's abuse was very open and clear and could be seen by anyone who took a fair look. That is why the Newsweek reporter and various academics have used Shockome to illustrate the problem in the courts as the evidence is so easy to understand.
The evidence presented in the Shockome case is about as one-sided as possible. The protective mother presented eleven witnesses including five experts and neutral professionals including the school nurse, child's therapist and couple's counselor. The alleged abuser was the only witness for the father and the evaluator also testified. The evidence is even more one-sided than the number of witnesses as the father made numerous damaging admissions and the "neutral" evaluator testified she was influenced by her belief the judge and law guardian wanted the father to have custody. She also testified that she would violate her neutrality to find the father abused the mother as long as he continued to deny it. No wonder the abuser groups like her so much.
In his testimony, the alleged abuser admitted that he would call his victim as many as twenty times a day including as late as 1 AM when he knew the mother and children were sleeping. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
During his testimony he also admitted saying that he brought the mother here from Russia so she has no right to leave. He also acknowledged telling her she will never get away from him. While this is the typical motivation of abusers going after custody we don't often hear them admit this. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
Throughout the trial, the mother was accused of alienation because she told the children they should eat healthy foods, dress appropriately for the weather and avoid adult oriented programs. Now I understand this is what any good parent would tell their children, but it was considered alienation because the father did all these things although he denied them throughout the trial. Then during his rebuttal testimony when he learned there was a witness who observed his children, in as close to a Perry Mason type moment likely to be seen in real life, he admitted that he could not prevent the children from running around outside without their winter clothing. This was after they were observed running around a parking lot on the coldest day of the year without jackets. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
In the context of the father's motivation for seeking custody, although he claimed greater involvement with the children than was accurate, he never challenged the fact that the mother provided most of the child care and is the primary attachment figure. He also did not dispute the evidence that he said he could not change his daughter's diaper because he might get excited. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
Abusive fathers often seek custody as a tactic to gain access to his victim. This can be in order to seek to reestablish the relationship and/or to continue his harassment. The phone calls between the father and children was a contentious matter in which the father repeatedly sought to punish the mother by claiming she was preventing him from speaking with the children. The father submitted transcripts of his calls with the children. Revealingly, most of the conversation involved the father asking to speak with the mother or learning what the mother was doing. He certainly did not use the phone calls to bond with the children or work on their relationship. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
During my cross-examination of the evaluator, she testified the father probably abused the mother physically, verbally and emotionally throughout the marriage. She testified the children probably witnessed his abuse. She testified the father probably caused the mother's PTSD. That sounds like pretty strong evidence of the father's abuse especially coming from a witness biased in favor of the father and who recommended the father for custody. Incredibly she said she couldn't base her findings or recommendations on these probable conclusions because she could not determine the extent of the father's abuse TO A CERTAINTY. The correct legal standard is preponderance of the evidence which roughly means probability which is the standard she used for the father's claims. For anyone wondering the basis for my statements that she used the certainty standard for the mother and probability for the father, it is contained in black and white in her report and when I questioned her about it repeatedly during cross-examination she repeatedly acknowledged using certainty against the mother and probability for the father and seemed not to understand what the problem was. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
The same evaluator also testified the mother is a safe parent, was the primary parent and there was no alienation. Again it is hard to understand the rationale for taking the mother out of the children's lives and sending them to live with the probable abuser. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
The child sexual abuse allegations described particular actions engaged in by the father with the children. The behaviors would best be described as boundary violations rather than molestation, but according to the expert witnesses making the children more vulnerable to future abuse. The father admitted to the acts alleged by the mother and described by the children. Two neutral experts, the child's therapist and the couple's counselor testified these actions constituted child sexual abuse. When the couple's counselor told the father the harm these behaviors were causing, he promised to stop. CPS and the evaluator decided that because there was no molestation the behavior did not constitute sexual abuse and the judge decided that even though the factual allegations were accurate and the neutral professionals had advised the mother the behavior was harmful to the children and constituted sexual abuse, she must have made the allegations in order to harm the father's relationship with the children. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
I should note that the Pathologists claim the sexual abuse claim was bogus because the mother said she did the same thing to the children as the father was accused of. This is one of the ways we know that they never looked at the record, but relied on the biased judge's statement. In the decision he said the school nurse testified the mother did the same thing and relied strongly on this claim. In the actual transcript, however, the judge asked her if she remembered saying the mother did the same thing and she answered no. When we later obtained the transcript from the earlier testimony she never made the statement the judge claimed to have heard. I understand the transcript makes it look like the judge deliberately invented and used false evidence, but I believe he was so convinced that the mother was trying to interfere with the father's relationship that he honestly believed he heard the nurse agree even though the transcript shows she didn't. It is part of the bias against the mother he showed throughout the case.
The amazing thing about the actual evidence is that the Pathologists are claiming there was no evidence of the father's abuse and yet there actually was overwhelming evidence just in the testimony of witnesses hostile to the mother. The admissions by the abuser and the biased evaluator made the testimony of the mother's witnesses even stronger because it supported what they were saying.
One witness who testified at the earlier trial was a neighbor who was not a friend of either parent. She described an incident in which the father was banging on the mother's apartment door and yelling curses so loudly that the neighbor heard it all the way across the compound. This occurred on a day when the father was not scheduled to have visitation. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
Another neighbor described how the father drove through the parking area of the mother's complex, near the children at a frightening rate of speed. Other neighbors spoke about how rarely they saw the father interact with the children when they visited or in public play areas and how he made the daughter wait out in the rain. A family friend described how the daughter would inappropriately undress in the apartment in front of others and the school nurse testified about sexualized behaviors the son engaged in at school. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
The mother provided compelling testimony of the father's physical and other abuse. She described how he refused to provide basic necessities when they were living in Texas before she received her degree and could earn a living. She described his abuse while she was pregnant and refusal to help with the children. She testified he threatened to ruin her financially and take away the children if she dared to leave which was confirmed by his admissions and aggressive legal tactics. When she described her husband's sexual abuse of her, the pain and embarrassment she felt were unmistakable and could not possibly have been faked. She provided many other details of the father's abuse, but this was the one part of the evidence I could not support with a transcript because the court erased the tape of her testimony (the court said it was by mistake and provided a statement from a technician attempting to explain how it happened). Accordingly the appellate court attempted to review the case without a transcript of almost all of the mother's testimony. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
The school nurse testified about the sexualized and aggressive behavior of the son after visiting the father. She testified that only the mother was active in working with the school. The children were dressed appropriately when coming from the mother's home, but not the father's. Significantly, the children deteriorated significantly after they lost their mother and were placed with the abusive father. While living with the mother, the daughter was described as skipping around school, holding hands with another girl, laughing and giggling, but after she lost her mother she would walk around the school alone, head down and deeply depressed. She often came to the nurse complaining of stomach aches or other similar ailments. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
The mother called five expert witnesses including the couple's counselor and the child's therapist who were neutral professionals. Both experts found that the father's actions violated the children's boundaries and constituted sexual abuse. The child's therapist said the father tried to silence the son and undermine his therapy. She also mentioned calls from him that were threatening and intimidating. This was confirmed when the father submitted tapes of the calls. The couple's counselor, whose job was to work with both parents told the father his actions constituted sexual abuse and was causing harm to the children. He promised to stop these harmful behaviors, but nevertheless sought to use the mother's concerns as if they were motivated to harm his relationship with the children instead of protect the children. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
The mother's therapist testified that she and the mother's doctor had diagnosed the mother as having PTSD, the kind caused by a long history of traumatic events. Significantly, there was nothing else in the mother's life other than the father's abuse that could have caused the mother's PTSD. Another expert witness was Dr. Mo Therese Hannah who is one of the leading national experts on domestic violence and custody who confirmed there was nothing else in the mother's history that could have caused her PTSD. but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THE FATHER'S ABUSE. PRAISE PAS.
When I wrote my appeal brief, I submitted the transcript date and page for every one of these facts that supported our points. The law guardian who is a PAS supporter, the father's attorney and the judges all had a chance to respond. No one challenged the facts I have just laid out because they were completely documented. Similarly in the retaliation against me, the grievance committee had my brief and all the citations. If any of my factual claims could have been challenged surely they would have done so. The evidence supported everything I said so they responded by ignoring the inconvenient information. It was not that there was no evidence, but those in power were making their determinations despite the evidence.
Clearly the pathologists rely on irrational beliefs and constant repetition of lies as their claims are dispelled when confronted with the actual evidence. This is not surprising as PAS is based on the assumption that virtually all allegations of abuse made by women are false when the actual research demonstrates false allegations are extremely rare, being false only one or two percent of the time. The new Department of Justice study led by Dr. Daniel Saunders says that unqualified evaluators and other court professionals who believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations are responsible for recommendations that work poorly for children. In other words, those who support PAS will be wrong about 98% of the time which is pretty much what we have seen from the pathological statements and personal attacks by supporters of pathology.
Now we have had a lot of fun laughing at the absurdity of the pathologist's attacks. I took a college course in the philosophy of religion. I remember they said that religions tell stories and use rituals as a means to help its members act morally and as long as the religion encourages moral behavior it is good for humanity. Although PAS is based solely on beliefs and not facts it cannot really be considered a religion because it encourages its members to act in the most immoral manner and hurt battered women, children and so many others. In reality the pathologists are a small group of abusive men with a strong sense of entitlement, together with those they can manipulate and professionals who seek to profit from the unspeakable torture of children.
They take advantage of the rare exceptions when women make false allegations or children have a bad relationship with their father because of what the mother said or did. Children tend to love their parents even when they are seriously flawed. Most times if a parent bad mouths the other parent in ways that are false the result will be to undermine the relationship with the parent making the false charges. More commonly children dislike a parent because of child abuse, neglect or domestic violence. Relationships are often strained for normal child development reasons as anyone with a teen would know. It is easy for an abusive parent like Alec Baldwin to blame others for the results of his abusive behavior. It takes honesty and maturity for someone to accept responsibility for the harm they have caused. Obviously it is far easier to blame others and concoct a magic theory to support their lack of responsibility.
Mental health professionals who have sought to profit from PAS are instead starting to lose their licenses because they are in affect diagnosing something that does not exist and is not part of the DSM. I hope professional associations will work to improve their reputations by disciplining unqualified members who profit by using unscientific theories. The last thing these professions need are members who are pathological.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Barry can be reached by email at their web site www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com