UK: New Parental Alienation Case Seeks Quick Action by Trial Courts

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July 10, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Karen Woodall is a British psychotherapist who blogs extensively about parental alienation.  She’s one of the clearest, strongest voices in the fight to make family courts more equitable for parents and healthier for children.  Her views deserve respect. 

That makes her opinion about the recent case, Re S, cause for some celebration.  Woodall calls the case in the UK Court of Appeal, “highly significant” and “exceptionally clear commentary on the Court’s view of the problem of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after divorce or separation.”  Finally, it may be that British courts have had enough of parents who alienate their children.

In the past, one of the most important problems encountered by alienated parents has been the scandalous amount of time and money it cost to litigate issues of parental alienation.  The Re S judges cite a few cases to illustrate.

Unhappily, reported decisions in this area tend to take the form of a post mortem examination of a lost parental relationship.  Re A (above): 12 years of proceedings, 82 court orders, 7 judges, 10 CAFCASS officers, no contact.  Re D (Intractable Contact Dispute: Publicity) [2004] EWHC 727 (Fam)[2004] 1 FLR 1226 (Munby J): 5 years of proceedings, 43 hearings, 16 judges, no contact.  Re A (Children) (Parental Alienation) [2019] EWFC B56 (HHJ Wildblood QC): 8 years of proceedings, 36 hearings, 10 professionals, no contact despite an attempted change of residence. In some cases (e.g. Re A) a formal finding of a breach of the state’s procedural obligation under Article 8 was made. Another recent example is Pisica v Moldova (Application No 23641/17) 29 October 2019, where a mother was deprived of contact despite five years of proceedings during which she had obtained orders for the children to live with her.

Needless to say, those cases are outrageous.  They not only deny justice to alienated parents, they deny healthy parental relationships to alienated children.  Plus, they’re proof positive of a dysfunctional family court system, a system that routinely fails to enforce the orders it makes.  It is almost beyond belief that any court would endure, in a single case, “12 years of proceedings, 82 court orders, 7 judges, 10 CAFCASS officers.”  Why not haul the parents and the kids into court, transfer custody from the alienating parent to the targeted one and effectuate the order then and there?  Courts have great power.  Why not use it?

And, more or less, that’s the main point made by the justices in Re S.  They’re telling lower courts to take action, decisively and quickly, to not allow alienation to get out of hand, to treat cases of PA with “exceptional diligence.”

In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the child and parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate action is taken.

That’s good advice that lower courts need to take and act on.


Aussie MP Seeks Diminished Role for Fathers

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July 9, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Bad facts make bad law, at least Australian Labor MP Graham Perrett hopes they do.

Perrett has seized on a single horrible incident that took place in February of this year to attempt to (a) change Australian family law to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children even more than they already are and (b) short circuit the inquiry into family law now in progress.

On February 19th, Rowan Baxter poured gasoline on his three children and their mother, Hannah Clarke, and set it alight, killing all four.  He then stabbed himself to death.  Baxter and Clarke had been embroiled in a child custody case prior to their deaths.

A family tragedy doesn’t get much more shocking and appalling than that and Perrett was johnny on the spot, ready to make whatever legislative hay he could from the deaths.  Strangely, he’s put forward a bill that would do away with the presumption of parental responsibility that’s the last vestige of fathers’ rights in Australian family law.  “Parental responsibility” is what we in the U.S. call “legal custody,” i.e. the right to have a say in children’s schooling, medical care, etc.  How removing that presumption would have changed the Baxter/Clarke tragedy, I can’t understand and Perrett hasn’t explained.  It seems that, in the Land Down Under, it’s always open season on dads and their access to their kids.

Now, regular readers of this page know that there’s yet another inquiry into Australian family law underway.  The Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System 2020, charged with conducting same, has finished collecting comments and will produce its report sometime in October.  That of course places Perrett’s effort in an unflattering context.  It’s as if he doesn’t trust the Committee to do its job the way he wants and is trying to make statutory changes ahead of its report, the better to neuter its recommendations.  Whatever the case, his timing is suspicious to say the least.  After all, family violence is not unusual, so why didn’t he seize on a previous case to make his bid?

That question may be answered by the fact that, in Australia as elsewhere, mothers commit more child abuse and neglect than do fathers and some of that is lethal to the kids.  So yes, Perrett could have raised the issue earlier, but doing so might have required him to choose an incident involving Mom as the perpetrator to use as his stalking horse.  But that wouldn’t have suited Perrett’s narrative that is the same as that of the Australian domestic violence establishment and divers feminist organizations.  For many years now they’ve been intent on marginalizing fathers in children’s lives and what could better fit their purpose than something dreadful like the slaying of Clarke and her children?

Indeed, back in 2006, the Australian Parliament reformed family law to provide a presumption of shared parenting.  The ink was barely dry on the new law when radical feminist organizations and their comrades in arms, the DV industry, went to work.  In short order, they had the presumption of shared parenting provision scuttled along with the “friendly parent” part of the law that requires each parent to promote the child’s relationship with the other parent.  Those were replaced with a requirement that judges “consider” shared parenting that, much to the delight of those organizations, resulted in a drop in shared parenting orders of a whopping 42%.  Plus, the new law elevated in importance child safety above the child’s relationship with both parents.

Unsurprisingly, following those changes, Australia saw claims of domestic violence increase sharply.  According to barristers practicing family law, it is now accepted practice for mothers to assert claims that fathers have committed DV.  It is also now accepted that the overwhelming majority of those claims are false and made solely to gain an advantage in the custody litigation.  At least one judge has said so in so many words in open court.

And why not?  Doing so works like a charm.  As the redoubtable Sue Price of Australia’s Men’s Rights Agency has recounted to the Committee, mothers can make an endless string of DV allegations, all of which can be proven to be false and have no fear of any form of punishment.  One judge, Price recalled, when confronted by a father with the fact that his ex had levelled 11 false claims of abuse against him, announced that she didn’t care if Mom brought in 90 such complaints; each would be considered as if the others never existed.  Meanwhile of course, temporary orders keep the children from seeing their father until whatever current allegation is litigated.  Needless to say, this can take months or years and cost astonishing sums of money for Dad to defend, which is the point of the exercise.  Mom doesn’t have to be right or even honest to effortlessly turn Dad out of his children’s lives.  In vain do fathers’ lawyers point out that years of delay damage, sometimes irreparably, the father-child bond.

And, again as we’ve heard from Australian lawyers before, the term domestic violence can mean just about anything.  What we know it means, because it’s written in the statute in black and white, is that denying the “financial autonomy” of a family member constitutes DV as does preventing a family member from associating with their friends.  So does committing any act that causes a family member to be afraid.

Needless to say, that law casts an astonishingly wide net.  If Dad tries to trim Mom’s spending on shoes, he’s committed domestic violence.  Does he urge her to stop seeing her heroin-addicted friends?  He’s a violent abuser.  For that matter, if he dives into a lake to save a drowning child and his wife fears for his safety, he’s caused her to be afraid, so he’s committed DV.

Nowhere does the statute require Mom’s fear to be a reasonable response to the circumstances.  If she says she was afraid, Dad’s an abuser, and – whoosh! – there go the kids.

Australian family law is deeply in need of reform.  It needs to include a presumption of equal parenting for fit parents.  It needs to take seriously actual domestic violence and child abuse, while punishing false swearing.  Until parents learn that family court is not a free-for-all in which anything goes, including perjury for the sake of marginalizing a parent in the lives of his children, the best interests of those kids cannot and will not be served.  They are not being served now.

The current family law inquiry came so soon after the last one that I dare to believe that the result may improve on the status quo.  The last inquiry recommended against shared parenting and used some very dodgy tactics to do so.  Most importantly, those included utterly misrepresenting the science on shared parenting.  That there came yet another inquiry so hard on the heels of that one, to me, bodes well.  It’s as if the powers that be realized their mistake and are trying to improve matters.

Such, at any rate, is my hope.  In October, we’ll know.  Until then, Graham Perrett will do his best to ignore both facts and common sense to push his bill into the statute books.  I doubt he’ll succeed, but in this climate of fear and loathing of fathers, who can be sure?

A million thanks to Sue Price and the Men’s Rights Agency for the excellent work they do every day.


The Age of Innocence: Parenting a Teen Through Divorce

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July 9, 2020 by Indiana Lee

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. No parent wants their child to have to face the separation of her parents. But not even a divorce can change the fact that you, your former spouse, and the children you made together are, and always, will be a family, 

If parental separation is handled well, a child of divorce doesn’t come from a “broken home”. She has two fixed homes. Together, you and your former spouse can shepherd your child through this transition. No, it won’t always be easy. No, you won’t always have all the answers and you may sometimes feel as if you simply don’t know what you’re doing. And yes, you will make mistakes.

But that’s okay. Because you’re human and humans make mistakes. And when your child sees you and your former spouse facing adversity together as a whole family, even in the face of divorce, then they’re going to learn resilience.

You’re going to show your child how to build a happy, peaceful, and productive life, how to overcome challenges and rise above conflict and pain.

A United Front

A divorce doesn’t just happen. There’s always history behind it. It doesn’t matter whether the precipitating event was some painful trauma, such as an extramarital affair, or just unhappiness on one or both sides.

When there is a painful past history, the temptation is for parents to lash out against each other. You might not even be conscious of the fact that you’re holding onto resentments or that, without even realizing it, you’re using your child to hurt the other parent.

But helping your child through a divorce means taking care to maintain a positive attitude regarding the other parent. Encourage your child to grow her relationship with your former spouse.

This will mean taking particular note of the things you might say or do regarding the other parent in front of your child. Being mindful in this way will help ensure you’re not consciously or unconsciously doing anything that might compromise your child’s relationship with the other parent.

Take care not only to avoid speaking negatively about your former spouse in front of your child but even to compliment or praise the other parent in front of them. Likewise, being proactive in planning special activities for your child and the other parent, or for all of you together, will show them that it’s okay for them to look forward to time spent with the other parent.

Encourage your child to talk about the fun times they have with the other parent will reassure them that loving and bonding with the other parent is not being disloyal to you. Showing them that you are happy when they are happy with the other parent will be incredibly freeing for your child, who may worry that they need to “pick a side” in the divorce.

On the other hand, bad-mouthing the other parent in front of your child or limiting your child’s access to the other parent is depriving them of an essential emotional bond. It is a form of alienation that can have severe and long-term mental health consequences for your child.

On the other hand, supporting and facilitating your child’s relationship with the other parent teaches them to embrace all of who they are because your child is a perfect combination of the two of you. Cultivating a strong relationship with both mom and dad means helping your child cultivate her own strong sense of self-worth and self-acceptance.

A Safe Space

When you’re learning to co-parent your teen after a divorce, one of the most important things you can do is to stick as close to the normal routine as possible. Have a clearly defined custody schedule and honor it.

And when your child is with you, make sure that your child understands that your home is, and always will be, their home as well. One of the best ways to do this is to trick out your child’s bedroom. Fill the space with things they love, things that make them feel happy and comforted.

When your child begins to see your home as a safe and welcoming space, a place where they belong, then they’re going to feel more confident, secure, and certain. They will have the stable home life they need, even if that means two homes for the price of one!

Teen Talk

Because your child is a teenager, you might feel like you’re getting off relatively easy. It can be tempting to think that older children adapt more easily to parental divorce than younger ones do.

But that’s simply not the case. Adolescence is a turbulent time in and of itself. Add to that the experience of parental divorce and your teen might become overwhelmed, angry, and depressed.

No matter how committed you and your ex may be to ensuring that the divorce is as positive and healthy as it can possibly be for your family, and especially for your child, you still must expect a period of adjustment.

Your teen may be just as upset as a younger child would be — perhaps even more so because they have a clearer understanding of the changes that are occurring. They just may be better at hiding their emotions.

That’s why the importance of communication truly can’t be overestimated. Unfortunately, though, communication isn’t exactly something at which most teens excel, even in the best of circumstances.

So you’re probably going to need to get creative. Autism researchers have found that alternative forms of communication, such as using images or electronic communication devices, can be incredibly helpful for children who have difficulty with traditional verbal expression.

The same principle can apply for children without autism as well: when one form of communication isn’t working, look for another. As in the example above, if your child has trouble speaking about his feelings, encourage him to use images — from painting to photography. If your child needs a diversion before she can open up, plan a fishing trip or a nature hike, something to get her talking while her mind is focused elsewhere.

The Takeaway

Divorce is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be devastating. In fact, it can be a period of positive, constructive change for your family, as you and your former spouse model for your child resiliency, overcoming, and the enduring strength of family, the reality that a divorce does not mean the dissolution of the bonds you, your ex, and your children share.  What it requires, though, is selflessness and strategy. To see your child through, you’re going to need a strong, clear, and thoughtful co-parenting, and the will and integrity to honor it.

Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and healthy lifestyles. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana enjoys mountain bicycling and hiking on her off time and has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to contact her at or follow her on twitter @indianalee3  


The Guardian Says a Good Word About Fathers

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July 8, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Amazing but true, The Guardian has a positive article about fathers, and a reasonably accurate one too (The Guardian, 6/30/20).  Of course the article is well behind the research it deals with and barely scratches the surface, but, within those limitations, it gives its readers valuable information.

It seems there’s some recent research out of Cambridge University on fathers playing with their children and how that influences children’s behavior, both immediately and in the years to come.

Research carried out by Cambridge University’s faculty of education and the LEGO Foundation looked at how mothers and fathers play with children aged 0 to 3 years and how it affects child development.

While there are many similarities, it found that fathers tend to engage in more physical play like tickling, chasing, and piggy-back rides, which researchers claim appears to help children to learn to control their feelings.

The research is based on a review of data from 78 studies, carried out mainly in Europe or the US between 1977 and 2017, which found a consistent correlation between father-child play and a child’s ability later to control their feelings.

Researchers found that on average most fathers play with their child every day, but even with the youngest children play tends to be more physical, with fathers enjoying boisterous rough-and-tumble play with toddlers.

Those children who benefited from “high-quality” playtime with their fathers were, according to the study, less likely to display hyperactivity, emotional or behavioural difficulties. They also appeared to be able to control their aggression, and were less likely to lash out at other children during disagreements at school.

To those of us who follow the science on parenting, this is not news.  A year ago I wrote here about Dr. Anna Machin’s book The Life of Dad that is far more detailed, complete and informative than either The Guardian’s article or the survey of studies it reports on.  The fact is that children who grow up with their father and are exposed to the type of play referred to aren’t simply able to control the expression of their emotions.  Far from it. 

Play between fathers and children produces what Machin calls bio-behavioral synchronicity.  That is, play behavior stimulates certain bonding chemicals in Dad’s brain that are then mirrored in the child’s.  So play produces in the father beta-endorphins, that Machin calls the “king of the bonding chemicals.”  His playmate’s body produces the same in turn.  Likewise, play produces a spike in Dad’s oxytocin level that’s again mirrored by the child.  Oxytocin is associated with feelings of love and the ability to empathize.

In short, father-child play is the primary way in which the two form the bond that’s indispensable to child well-being throughout childhood and well into the adult years.  It also contributes to fathers’ role in preparing children to deal with the world outside their immediate (mostly familial) environment.

Moreover, while mothers’ parenting mostly occurs as a result of activity in the limbic system, including the amygdala, fathers’ stems from activity in the neo-cortex.  That means mothers’ parenting behavior tends to be more emotional, nurturing and attuned to risk, while fathers’ is more a matter of social cognition, handling complex thoughts and making plans.  As such, Machin calls fathers’ parenting behavior more flexible than mothers’.  In fact, a study of gay male fathers, conducted at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv has demonstrated that fathers’ brains can adapt to the lack of a mother by building neural pathways between the amygdala and the neo-cortex in ways mothers’ brains do not.  In our evolutionary past, fathers have been biologically primed to step in when mothers can’t or won’t do the job of parenting and that’s reflected in their brain activity.

The Guardian knows none of this.  Indeed, its author says,

Children who only live with their mother need not be at a disadvantage, the authors point out.  

Yes, we won’t find The Guardian criticizing single mothers any time soon.  But what the study’s authors are saying is that, if a single mother plays with their children the way fathers do, then the child will get the same benefit.  The unspoken problem is that few mothers do.  That’s not what evolution has primed them to do; their biochemistry urges protection and nurturance, while Dad’s recognizes that the child won’t live protected by his/her mother forever and must learn to successfully inhabit the outside world.

Still it’s refreshing to see The Guardian informing its readers about the value of fathers’ play with their children.  With any luck, mothers and child protective agencies will cease to see “rough and tumble” play as dangerous to kids or of no value.  It is, after all, necessary to children’s well-being, and emotional stability and competence throughout their lives.


Shared Parenting in Greece?

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July 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Is Greece poised to make a great leap forward toward parental equality in family courts?  This article says it may be; I’m less confident (Open Democracy, 6/29/20).

It seems the current government has put forward a bill that would significantly overhaul current law relating to child custody, child support and parenting time.  That may be a good thing.  The linked-to article’s writer, Vassillis K. Fouskas, is a professor of international politics and economics at the University of East London.  He identifies three major defects in current Greek family law.

“First, middle and lower-middle class fathers who dared to enter litigation demanding shared parenting/joint custody risked losing their child(ren) at the same time that they were asked to pay enormous amounts of money in child maintenance.”

As I understand it, Greece has no clear system for ordering child support, such as the guidelines that govern in most parts of this country, so each judge simply makes it up as he/she sees fit.  That can mean lower-earning fathers can end up with ruinous support orders.

The second observable flaw of the current family law system is the social practice of residential/non-residential parenthood and its detrimental side-effects on children and fathers.

Apparently, some 98% of custodial parents are mothers.  Non-resident fathers have almost no time with their kids.  Why?

“[A] “judges code” was created assigning custody to mothers only and visitation rights to fathers – usually once or twice a week for 3-4 hours and only during the day. Overnight stay with the father once a week was and remains exceptional.”

Plus, high levels of child support urge mothers to “weaponize” children against fathers.  In what will be familiar to fathers everywhere, Greek law supplies stringent enforcement mechanisms for child support obligations and none whatever for access orders.  Even the meager time accorded fathers isn’t backed up by any enforcement power, leaving mothers free to ignore those orders as they choose.

Finally, move-away orders seem to be handed out by judges like candy on Halloween.  Mothers who wish to vacate the jurisdiction in which the father lives are seldom prevented from doing so.  That’s true despite the fact that many mothers aren’t Greeks.  They’ve travelled there from foreign countries, married Greek men, had children, divorced and then decided they need to return to their former country.  And of course take the kids with them.

Family lawyers love problem Number 3 because the proceedings in those cases are long and drawn out and therefore generate hefty legal fees.

This is one of the most costly and protracted legal processes that induce couples to litigate endlessly over the custody of the children, in addition to the allocation of assets, child maintenance and so on. It can last for many months and even years.

But however much money Dad spends on trying to keep his children near enough so that he can see them regularly, he seldom prevails.

The residential parent usually wins, and the winner gets it all, whereas the non-residential parent becomes a “skype parent”, entitled to some obscure visitation rights…  [T]he Court Order assumes that the father, after this protracted battle, has funds to spend on visiting his children during Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays: to pay hotels and other costs, and to entertain the children.

In short, the status quo in Greece is only somewhat different from that in every English-speaking country.  It’s a difference of degree, not of kind. 

Fouskas likes the government’s new bill, but tells precious little about it.

The new family law bill that the Greek right is poised to institute this coming autumn will eradicate all three major pathologies analysed above, benefiting, first and foremost, children. In particular, it has the potential to fight the commodification of family relations and extravagances of the legal profession, especially if welfare support in poor families strengthens.

It relieves both parents financially from very large (and onerous) legal fees and avoids a practice that tends to alienate children further, especially from the non-residential parent.

I’m glad he’s optimistic, but I wonder if it’s warranted.  After all, a law is just a law and, as we’ve seen before, laws often fail to alter judges’ behavior.  And given the well-established pro-mother bias of family court judges, why should we expect a new law in Greece to fare any better than they do elsewhere.  Indeed, Fouskas points out that much the same thing occurred previously in Greece.

[Panhellenic Socialist Movement’s] courageous reform of 1982-83, established gender equality and threw into the dustbin of history women’s discrimination at all levels. However, with the passage of time, problems cropped up with the implementation of the law, as judges, influenced by the dominant sexist culture – according to which fathers were seen as unfit to look after their children – were overwhelmingly assigning custody to mothers only. For a mother to lose custody in Greek Courts meant that she had either to be proved to be a “sex worker” or a “drug addict”.

Fouskas may or may not be aware of it, but the above quotation describes exactly the concern I have.  Greek law changed in 1982-83 and “established gender equality.”  But biased judges ignored gender equality in parenting to give primary custody to mothers 98% of the time.

It happened then, it can happen now.  I suppose we’ll see.


Nebraska Courts Punishing Parents Who Alienate/Gatekeep

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July 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Psychologist Jennifer Harman and Nebraska attorney Nancy Shannon have an excellent op-ed here (Omaha World Herald, 6/27/20).  It’s nominally about maternal gatekeeping, but spills over into parental alienation as well.  Now, maternal gatekeeping and parental alienation are two different things, but the former can be the latter and gatekeeping behavior could easily become a precursor to alienation.

That said, Harman and Shannon pull no punches.

“Extensive research shows the importance of fathers to their children’s well-being. These studies show children in father-limited environments are almost four times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and twice as likely to commit suicide. They also have significantly lower educational attainment, are more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency, have higher risk of being victimized by crime, have higher risk of physical and mental health issues, and have lower life expectancies.”

Given that, we should of course bend heaven and earth to keep fathers involved in their children’s lives.  But gatekeeping and alienation by mothers often interfere with our attempts to do so.  Indeed, Harman and Shannon alert their readers to a 2015 report by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families on maternal gatekeeping.  Its findings are remarkable.

“According to this report, “more than half of nonresident fathers offered accounts of gatekeeping behavior, ranging from refusing to grant physical access to making frequent last-minute schedule changes. Gatekeeping also came in more indirect forms, such as refusal to communicate in person or by phone, withholding information from the father about the child or berating the father.” 

In short, more than half of fathers, at least in some groups, have to battle either their wives or exes just to be able to take a full role in their children’s lives.  By any measure, that’s astonishing.  It’s a fact that needs to be remembered every time we read one of the ubiquitous articles condemning fathers for not doing more childcare.  To the extent that’s an actual phenomenon, it’s brought about at least in part by mothers.

And, according to Harman and Shannon, Nebraska family courts have become none too pleased with gatekeeping/alienating parents.  They cite five recent cases in which judges showed little or no tolerance for mothers who behaved as if the child was theirs to do with what they liked.

“Nebraska judges are increasingly losing patience with gatekeeping behavior. Our Court of Appeals recently affirmed an equal parenting time schedule that required a mother to return an infant to Nebraska after she secretly moved away and stopped communicating with the father.”

Other cases involved mothers who withheld parenting time (one did so on the advice of her lawyer!), moved outside the state, engaged in alienating behavior and ignored the father’s sole legal custody.  Orders punishing those mothers by courts included changing custody, finding the mother in contempt of court and awards of attorney’s fees to the father of $15,000 and $25,000 in the same case.

The two authors rightly point out that gatekeeping and alienation constitute child abuse.

“Everyone needs to understand that parents who engage in these behaviors, regardless of their gender, are harming their children…

What they’re doing isn’t appropriate or justifiable. It’s child abuse. It’s also domestic violence. According to a recent Nebraska ruling in district court, “Domestic intimate partner abuse includes using a child to establish or maintain power and control over any current or past intimate partner.” The Nebraska State Patrol, in a policy statement, also recognizes that domestic violence occurs when an intimate partner tries to control the other partner by “damaging [that partner’s] relationship with his or her children.”

Harman and Shannon’s message is crystal clear.  No one who reads their piece can be confused.  Gatekeeping and alienation harm children, should not be engaged in by anyone and courts are on the lookout for those behaviors and stand ready to punish parents who engage them. 


Texas Supreme Court: Fit Father’s Parental Rights Trump Grandparent’s, Mom’s Boyfriend’s

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July 2, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

In a much anticipated and long-awaited ruling, the Texas Supreme Court has done the right thing, albeit the obvious thing as well.  The case is entitled In re C.J.C., Relator

C.J.C. had a six-year relationship with an unnamed mother.  They had a daughter, Abigail in 2014.  In 2016, C.J.C. and Abigail’s mother split up and he went to court to request custody.  The trial court ordered a roughly equal temporary parenting time schedule, but, before the case could be concluded, the mother was killed in an auto accident.

Abigail’s maternal grandparents and the mother’s boyfriend, Jason, petitioned the court for custody of the little girl.  C.J.C. resisted, but, in the end, the trial court awarded Jason some limited visitation that increased with time.

C.J.C. complained to the Court of Appeals and then to the state Supreme Court.  The lower courts based their rulings on two Texas statutes, one that, in proceedings to modify custody orders, grants standing (i.e. the legal power to bring suit) to non-parents and the other regarding proceedings to modify existing orders (as opposed to establish those orders originally).  Texas statute law has long made clear that, like the U.S. Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, there exists a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.  But in the two statutes mentioned above, that presumption is not expressly stated.  Therefore, said the lower court, the presumption didn’t apply in C.J.C.’s case and Jason is entitled to some form of court-ordered custody, parenting time and other parental rights.

Such a contention of course directly contradicts Troxel and other U.S. Supreme Court authority.  The Texas court briefly summarized that jurisprudence thus:

The United States Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution “protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” This recognition stems from “a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children.” The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence rejects “any notion that a child is ‘the mere creature of the State,’” but instead holds “that parents generally ‘have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare [their children] for additional obligations.’”  Accordingly, “the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder.”

A majority of the Troxel Court found protection for this fundamental right—“perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court”—within the Fourteenth Amendment.

In short, if a parent is fit to care for his/her child, the state has no interest in how a child is raised.  It may not intervene in the family’s life just because a judge or other official believes parents could do a better job of caring for the child.  A parent’s fitness is the key to Troxel and no one in In re C.J.C. contended that Abigail’s father was anything but fit.

Now, from my perspective, that should have been the end of it.  Troxel prevented the lower court from intervening in Abigail’s upbringing in the absence of a showing of unfitness on C.J.C.’s part.  But the lower court did so anyway when it assigned rights to Jason.  Therefore, the lower court ruled wrongly and its order should be overturned.  Period.

And that’s what the Supreme Court did.  But it did more too.  It went into the issue of the two statutes mentioned previously.  But as I see it, the Court didn’t need to address them apart from two simple references.  As to standing, the issue has no bearing on the case.  Whether Jason does or does not have standing to move the lower court for an order needn’t have been discussed.  He appears to have standing under the statute, so he can sue, but he just can’t win.  His chances of doing so are obviated by C.J.C.’s parental fitness and Troxel.

As to the second statute that has no express “fit parent presumption,” it’s either unconstitutional under Troxel or, more likely, is to be interpreted as constitutional and therefore read in the light of Troxel which mandates a fit parent presumption and prior Texas cases and statutes that evidence a legislative intention to include the fit parent presumption.  In either case, the Texas statutes in no way allow Jason any form of parental rights.  They’re governed by U.S. constitutional precedent.

All’s well that ends well.  Troxel is a good case and the Texas Supreme Court decided this case on the basis of it and previous parental rights cases.  The case should never have taken so long nor reached the highest court in the state.  The trial court should have read Troxel and known that it more than covered the facts of In re C.J.C., Relator.


Improving Father-Daughter Relationships by Linda Nielsen Available Now

Linda Nielsen book 2020

Professor Linda Nielsen’s newest book is out now! Improving Father-Daughter Relationships: A Guide for Women and Their Dads is essential reading for daughters and their fathers, as well as for their families and for therapists. This friendly, no-nonsense book by father-daughter relationships expert, Dr. Linda Nielsen, offers women and their dads a step-by-step guide to improve their relationships and to understand the impact this will have on their well-being.

Nielsen encourages us to get to the root of problems, instead of dealing with fallout, and helps us resolve the conflicts that commonly strain relationships from late adolescence throughout a daughter’s adult years. Showing how we can strengthen bonds by settling issues that divide us, her book explores a range of difficult issues from conflicts over money, to the daughter’s lifestyle or sexual orientation, to her parents’ divorce and dad’s remarriage.

With quizzes and real-life examples to encourage us to examine beliefs that are limiting or complicating the connection between fathers and daughters, this guide helps us feel less isolated and enables us to create more joyful, honest, enriching relationships.

You can buy the book here


Sydney Morning Herald Lauds Three Moms Who Left their Kids

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June 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

I suppose the first thing that comes to mind about this article is the obvious – that if the sexes were reversed, the article never would have been written and, if it were, the fathers would be raked over the coals (Sydney Morning Herald, 3/17/18).  It’s about three Australian mothers who left their husbands and children, something the article calls a “tough decision.”

That’s right in the headline and it sets the tone for the rest of the piece.  That tone is one of understanding and sympathy for the mothers, not a hint of rebuke or faultfinding, and barely a word about how their leaving might have adversely impacted their kids.  Needless to say, words like “deadbeat” never appear.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the women were criticized for leaving their children, to my mind, an understandable response.  Somehow it seems to assume that, if a father did the same, he’d be clapped on the back and stood a pint by the lads at the nearest pub.  But, when mothers leave their kids, they’re the victims in need of our care and concern.

“[Psychologist Kirsty Levin] believes mothers who leave their children should be supported by their community.”

Maybe I’ve just forgotten, but I can’t recall anyone saying that about fathers who leave their kids.  Indeed, even fathers who would give everything they own just to get a glimpse of their kids often get the “deadbeat dad” treatment from the press, politicians and sundry commentators.

But the obvious gender bias of the article is just one of its flaws. 

The body of the piece is a sketch of each of three different mothers.  They tell why they came to leave their children and their lives since.  Now, only one of them actually seems to have left for good.  The other two continued to see their children every other weekend just like countless fathers do.

But what’s interesting is what the article and the mothers don’t say, like the fact that they didn’t pay child support.  None of the three had anything like equal time with the children, so clearly they should have paid their share of the support bill, but they seem not to have.  If they think living apart from their children was tough, it would have been made all the tougher if they’d had to dig deep every month.  Apparently their exes didn’t ask them to do that, much less take them to court.

What’s also not said is why none of the mothers asked a court for more time with their children.  Two of the women lived fairly close to them and yet never seem to have considered asking for 50% of the parenting time.  The other one was living in Canada in a bad relationship with her husband and moved to Australia, so she able to see the kids only rarely.  Why didn’t she move 30 miles away so that she could see them often?  She doesn’t say.

And, speaking of children, the article doesn’t, at least not much.  And when it does, the outcome isn’t good.  Here’s one of the mothers, Kate Munn:

I never felt guilty, just very sad. But I could sleep at night with the knowledge that I did the right thing by the kids. I was a stay-at-home mother for seven years, the president of the parents’ committee. I made everything from scratch and never felt the need for a separate career or identity. I loved every day of those seven years, even the mundane, boring stuff.

So Munn went from stay-at-home mother for seven years to every other weekend visitor.  That’s her idea of doing “the right thing by the kids,” but curiously, the kids disagreed.

It was tough because there was a 23-month period where my eldest child did not speak to me and I didn’t know why. 

Oh, come on Ms. Munn, you didn’t know why?  Really?  Of course you knew why.  The child felt abandoned by his mother and rightly so, that’s why.  I know it interferes with your narrative of your own victimization, but the truth is the truth. 

And just look; there’s that word again – tough.  For whom was the situation “tough” according to Munn?  For her.  Her son didn’t speak to her for almost two years and she didn’t know why!  Does it occur to her that having been left by his mother might have been tough on him?  It seems not.

The article’s final indignity is its claim of gender bias in favor of fathers.

She says women who are upfront about leaving their children to live with their father can face vitriol due to outdated notions of gender roles. “We still view motherhood as mandatory and fatherhood as voluntary,” says Levin.

But in its zeal to acquit these mothers of the charge of maternal negligence, the article ignores the most important fact about parent-child relationships – that kids need both parents, that neither parent is free to up and leave and expect no criticism for doing so.  The simple fact is that these three women did far less than they should have to get distance from their husbands while maintaining real relationships with their children.  That’s not something to laud or justify.  It’s something to criticize, irrespective of which parent does it. 


Study: Sit-coms Still Denigrating Dads

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June 25, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

As I said in my last piece, the tide of denigration of fathers on Father’s Day seems to have ebbed substantially this year.  That’s good news of course, but what’s less so is the latest study of the depiction of fathers in TV sit-coms.  Whatever may be true on dads’ one day per year, is emphatically not so the other 364.

The study, by UMass Amherst professor of Communications Erica Scharrer and six colleagues, is entitled “Disparaged Dads: A Content Analysis of Depictions of Fathers in U.S. Sit-Coms Over Time,” and was published in May by the journal Psychology of Popular Media. 

Now, given all that we’ve learned over the years about the value of fathers to children and how fathers are doing far more hands-on parenting than ever before, you might think they’d get a break from pop culture.  After all, surely their depictions therein would have improved over time, right? 

But if you thought that, you’re sorely mistaken.  Far from improving, dads’ portrayals in sit-coms have gotten worse, deviating ever further from the reality of fathers.

Scharrer, et al studied 32 different sit-coms that aired from 1980 – 2017.  They examined 4,711 episodes in which there was at least one father and one child.  Those episodes included 578 scenes in which a father was shown interacting with his child.  The results are striking.

For example, the proportion of scenes in which Dad is disparaged by being the “butt of the joke” increased almost 60% from 1984 to 2017.  The mean number of scenes per episode in which a father is shown in healthy interaction with his child, while never high, decreased from 1984 to 2017 when it stood at precisely zero.  As of 2017, none of the sit-coms viewed had a single scene of positive father-child interaction.

Up slightly over the same time is the mean number of scenes per episode depicting fathers behaving incompetently or foolishly when engaged in parenting behavior.  Fortunately, those scenes are still somewhat rare, but the trend is in the wrong direction.  The summary of those last two findings is this: in sit-coms, fathers do little parenting at all and when they do, they do it badly.

Finally – and this is the “good news” – the mean overall “foolishness” of fathers depicted in sit-coms is the same as it was in 1984.  That measure spiked in 1998-99 and has come down since, but sit-coms treat fathers as the same incompetent bozos they were portrayed as almost four decades ago.

Scharrer, et al rightly point out the change in fathers’ behavior over the decades.  They mention that fathers now spend almost three times the hands-on parenting time as they did in 1965 and that men and women are now equally likely to say that being a parent is an extremely important aspect of their identities.

But pop culture – at least the sit-com part thereof – is having none of it.  And of course, from time to time we see other parts of TV culture taking a swipe at dads.  Last year’s Gillette ad, that showed men generally and fathers particularly as careless and likely dangerous to their children being one memorable example.  That drew a pretty heated response and a move to boycott Gillette products, which I personally do to this day.

But there’s no such outcry about sit-coms.  There should be, but there’s not, which raises the question “why not?”  Scharrer, et al don’t answer that question per se, but do offer some pithy information.

“Past research has found that appreciation of disparagement humor is associated with greater endorsement of social power and lesser endorsement of equality and helpfulness…”

That is, people who consume a lot of that type of humor tend to value power in social relationships and be less interested in equality and helping others.  As the authors point out, TV is one of our culture’s primary purveyors of narrative and narrative has the power to shape and reinforce social attitudes and behavior.

In a nutshell then, sit-com depictions of fathers have the ability to discourage fathers from childcare because they see their efforts in the light of TV representations.  Every parent, particularly new parents, sometimes feels less than knowledgeable, less than competent in caring for little Andy or Jenny.  TV portrayals of fathers tend to normalize that feeling in fathers.  And who wants to be incompetent, particularly in dealing with one’s own child?

In the same way, dad-disparaging sit-coms may encourage mothers to take up more of the load of parenting.

So the effect of sit-coms may well be to entrench Mom as primary caregiver and Dad as, at best, her helper.

“They could potentially strengthen traditional beliefs about the gendered division of labor through audience identification with sitcom fathers (Bandura, 2001) or through the absorption of gender role messages in sitcom narratives (Morgan, 2009).”

That of course may help us answer the question “why?”  Why would this aspect of pop culture that’s consumed by tens of millions of Americans virtually every night be so bent on keeping Mom the primary caregiver and Dad sidelined in his children’s lives? 

Over some 47 years, we must accept the notion that, if these depictions of fathers weren’t popular, they’d long since have ceased to exist.  My only explanation is one I’ve given many times before: our experiment with stepping out of traditional gender roles isn’t nearly as popular with the great run of people as it is with elites who appoint themselves the arbiters of what is good, right and necessary for the rest of us.

Whatever the case, and whatever the power of television, these shows have denigrated dads for a long, long time.  And yet fathers daily increase both their care of children and their desire to do so.  As usual, dads are tacking into the wind, but they’re still making headway.