Los Angeles, CA–“Rita Ann has been led [by her mother] to believe that there will be terrible consequences if she begins to enjoy spending time with her father.’[Note: Reader Garrett Luttrell, a paralegal and a young single father, is joining the blogging team at www.GlennSacks.com. Garrett’s previous posts can be seen here.–GS]
Com. ex rel. Ermel v. Ermel, 469 A.2d 682, (Pa.Super. 1983), is about one of those horrible cases that draws out over years and years, and – like most of those – centers around Parental Alienation. I have not been able to determine whether or not there is a happy ending yet (relatively speaking), but the Pa Superior Court [SC] decision may be an indication.
The SC said a couple things that you will just not hear much of today, and the case stands as an example of how an appellate court should try to handle a horribly complicated, painful, and extended PAS case – and this was before the term was even coined. The case is full of excellent and poignant quotes, but one sticks out for me. The SC, favorably quoting the lower court Judge while he was speaking to Mother, wrote:
“There is one great concern that I have. From looking at the record I infer that the child may have deep dislike or possibly hatred for her father. Hate doesn’t grow in children normally. It is usually taught to them.’
“You have the burden of straightening out the child to the fact that this is her father and that there will be visitation. As far as I’m concerned, you, as the person who has custody of the young child, are primarily responsible for her attitudes and her feelings. You are primarily responsible to correct those attitudes and feelings for the best interest of the child. Have I made it clear?’
The Court then criticized Mother for continuing to ignore the custody order, and cited her claims that she ‘didn”t remember” the lower court”s instructions for more reasons to find her in contempt. More quotes:
“In this case, Rita Ann’s “negative attitude” toward her father is a direct result of appellant’s conduct over the past years. Although the record indicates that the child resisted visitation, it is devoid of any effort on the part of the mother to encourage Rita Ann to spend time with her father, to tell her that he is a good and decent man or to cheerfully escort her to his car and tell her she has nothing to fear.’ […]
“[T]he record demonstrates that Rita Ann’s relationship with her father has been impeded by the child’s mother in every conceivable manner. Rita Ann has been led to believe that there will be terrible consequences if she begins to enjoy spending time with her father.’
“It is obvious that Mrs. Ermel has a great deal of influence over her daughter’s ideas and feelings and she is the only one who can undo the damage that has been done. Therefore, her argument that Rita Ann’s refusal to cooperate renders compliance impossible is specious, since appellant alone holds the key to removing that impossibility.’
“It is her affirmative duty to create an atmosphere of love and confidence that will convince Rita Ann that she has nothing to fear from her father who loves her and has proven his devotion by fighting for his right to share in the benefits and burdens of parenthood.’
My point is that, while there are horrible, callous, and biased judges out there – too many of them, by far, in fact – there are also mothers and fathers who earn a living as judges, and who do understand the pain that would accompany the loss of a child by death, by government, or by any other circumstance that would separate a parent from their child.
This decision was reached by a court of three, and has been ignored by dozens of SC justices over 25 years. I would like to remind everyone that verbally bashing appellate court justices is not a very efficient method of convincing them that they may be wrong. Please give credit where credit is due.