Court Punishes Dad for Mom’s Alienation of Child

A court used parental alienation syndrome to cut off the alienated father’s access to his child.   Read the case here (Leagle, 8/2/11).

Richard and Marlene Balaska married in 1994 and had two children, a son, C, who was born in 1994 and a daughter, A, born in 1997.  Marlene filed for divorce in 2006 which was finalized in 2007.  Remarkably, Richard was granted far less parenting time with his children than is typical. 

During the school year, the defendant had visitation with the children once a week after school until 7:30 p.m., and one additional midweek evening per month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. During the summer, he had visitation twice a week from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. In addition, the defendant had visitation on alternating weekend days and holidays. The agreement did not provide the defendant with any overnight parental access.

It didn’t take long for Richard to want more, so he duly went to court requesting a modification of the original order.  That took place during a time in which the appellate court says the two “engaged in classic, high conflict postdissolution litigation regarding family matters.”

After a 14-day hearing on various matters raised by Richard and Marlene, the trial court expanded Richard’s visitation time with his son to that which is commonly ordered in custody cases for the non-custodial parent, i.e. every other weekend plus Wednesday nights. 

This act of noblesse oblige was in response to the report of the court-appointed guardian ad litem Michael Perzin.

Perzin testified that when he visited with C at the defendant’s home, C seemed to be “very happy, relaxed . . . [and] having a really good time.” Following that visit, Perzin indicated in his notes that there was “no apparent reason why [C] shouldn’t have expanded [visitation] time [with the defendant].. . .”

So based on that positive report, the court gave Richard the type of parenting time I’ve repeatedly argued is insufficient to sustain an adequate parent-child relationship.  My argument is supported by social science showing that the usual visitation order tends to result in a gradual lessening of contact and a diminution of parental authority.

For Richard Balaska, that was the good news.

The bad news was that the court ordered that he have no contact whatsoever with his daughter.  Why?  What outrage had he committed to be removed entirely from A’s life?  Apparently none at all.  Indeed, the bad actor in the drama was Marlene whom the trial court judged to have so poisoned the girl’s relationship with her father as to amount to hatred of him.

The court also indicated that it had performed “significant research” on the topic of parental alienation syndrome, particularly by reviewing several treatises and articles devoted to alienation. After summarizing that research, the court noted that this case presented facts consistent with alienation. In this connection, the court stated that the plaintiff’s (mother’s) “disdain, dislike [and] hatred of [the defendant] (father) was obvious to the court during her testimony,” and that her “virtually radioactive” hatred toward the defendant had “poisoned” A. Moreover, the court found that, consistent with parental alienation, the plaintiff’s feelings of hatred for the defendant had been transmitted to A.

In so doing, the court relied on this definition of “parental alienation syndrome.”

Parental alienation syndrome “occurs when one parent campaigns successfully to manipulate his or her children to despise the other parent despite the absence of legitimate reasons for the children to harbor such animosity.”

Therefore, the trial court found that there was no “legitimate reason for A to harbor such animosity” toward her father and that Marlene’s “virtually radioactive hatred” toward Richard had caused A’s animosity.

The court’s solution?  Reward Marlene’s alienating behavior by cutting off all contact between Richard and his daughter.  After all, that’s the ultimate goal of parental alienation – to get the other parent out of the child’s life so the alienator can have the child all to him/herself.  So the court accurately observed alienating behavior, read up on PAS and promptly rewarded Marelene for having alienated her daughter from the child’s father.

Parental alienation is child abuse.  It’s the intentional attempt to come between a child and its other parent, without justification for doing so.  That malicious effort to deny a child the love, affection, support and counsel of a fit parent is plainly abusive.  It can result in lifelong psychological problems. 

The trial court studied parental alienation and PAS, but didn’t get the message that both are harmful to children.  That in itself is amazing enough, but seems to fit nicely with the court’s previous willingness to deny to Richard Balaska even the meager child access so many fathers have and that has been shown to be insufficient at sustaining healthy parent-child relationships.

The silver lining to this case is the fact that the trial court saw PAS and, without being goaded by the lawyers, read up on the matter.  Better still, the appellate court found no error in its having done so.  Did anyone argue that PAS is a “discredited theory?”  If they did, it’s nowhere stated in the court’s opinion.  In fact, both courts seem to take the validity of PAS as a given.

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