Judge: Mom Used Sleep Deprivation to Alienate Daughter, 5

The American Bar Association has found that parental alienation exists in 60% of custody cases.  That finding was from a 12-year study, and comes against a backdrop of increasing awareness of parental alienation by the public generally and the mental health community.  Occasionally we see a case in which a judge not only recognizes the alienation of a child by a parent, but does something about it.

This is one of those cases (Virginia Law Weekly, 9/23/11).

The parents are military people, which meant that she traveled overseas a lot.  How they came to be divorced goes unstated, but suffice it to say that Ms. Canedo had primary custody of the couple’s little girl, who is now five years old.  But primary custody appears not to have satisfied Mom who, according to the trial court judge’s 13-page description, went on a campaign of parental alienation of their daughter against her dad.

I’ve written plenty about parents who do the most outlandish and awful things to their children, all in the interest of coming between them and the other parent.  And Ms. Canedo took a back seat to none of them in her drive to separate her daughter from her father.

Kendrick found the mother used false allegations of sexual abuse by the father as an excuse to justify shutting the father out of the daughter”s life.

“Mother has isolated the child from anyone the mother does not approve of, and has established an unhealthy co-dependent relationship between herself and the child,’ Kendrick wrote in Canedo v. Canedo.

The custody battle played out in a military family, and the mother”s international travels did not help her cause. Kendrick found the child enjoyed “very little stability’ as the mother moved her from place to place every other year…

The mother”s case apparently was undone by her lack of credibility with the judge. “Mother has been dishonest with father, dishonest with [her daughter”s] regular caregivers, dishonest with professionals … and at length, dishonest with this Court,’ Kendrick wrote.

But Ms. Canedo wasn’t satisfied with off-the-shelf alienation.  False allegations of sexual abuse?  Lying to the court?  Lying to mental health professionals?  Hey, anyone can do those things.  In fact lots of people do them every day in custody matters. 

As I said, Ms. Canedo is in some branch of the armed services, and it seems she learned a thing or two there.

In a scorching opinion, Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick not only concluded the mother carried on an active campaign to alienate the girl from the father, he even suggested the mother used military counter-intelligence tactics such as sleep deprivation and food rewards to manipulate the preschooler…

Kendrick found the mother used tactics learned at military counter-intelligence schools “for the purpose of gaining actionable intelligence from terrorists.’

“Mother used punishment and reward tactics through sleep deprivation and food’ when she took her daughter to interviews with professionals, the judge said. “These methods are not to be used to manipulate defenseless children,’ Kendrick wrote.

That’s right.  Canedo used tactics that walk a thin line between legitimate (albeit rough) interrogation of suspects and torture.  If police did to an adult suspected of mass murder what Canedo did, the suspect would be freed in no time.  But she used them on her daughter who was younger than five at the time.  She did it to force the child to make false allegations of abuse against her father when mental health professionals interviewed her.  Simply amazing.

And Judge Kendrick was not amused.  He awarded Mr. Canedo full legal and primary physical custody of his daughter.  Canedo’s in the Marine Corps, but intends to retire in three years and settle permanently in Virginia.

Maybe it takes an outrageous case like this to open people’s eyes to what happens all too often in custody matters.  Certainly judge Kendrick’s eyes must be bugged out by now. 

As I said, the ABA found parental alienation in 60% of cases.  Now of course those are not all cases of extreme alienation and few could have been as bad as what Ms. Canedo did.  But beyond a few angry remarks about the other parent, parental alienation becomes child abuse.  What Ms. Canedo did is child abuse pure and simple.  And courts should view it as such and act accordingly as Kendrick did.

Every state I know about has statutory provisions limiting or denying custody to a parent who abuses his/her child.  Well, courts should begin applying the concept of child abuse to parents who alienate.  That means they should start limiting or denying custody to parents who attempt to alienate the child from the other parent.

Obviously, minor efforts at alienation should be treated more leniently than more egregious ones.  Not every case of alienation should result in a change of custody or even serious limitation on parenting time.

But parental alienation should be seen for what it is – the attempt to deny to a child the love, care, companionship, protection, advice and counsel of the other parent.  Children need both parents and the attempt to remove one from a child’s life is morally wrong and destructive of the child’s welfare.

Parental alienation comes in many forms as Ms. Canedo’s case makes clear, but false allegations of abuse are among the most common.  Because false allegations are intended to remove one parent (usually the father) from a child’s life, they should be seen as parental alienation and therefore as child abuse themselves.

Until courts start treating false allegations of abuse as just cause for limiting or denying custody, they’ll continue to be made.  And courts will continue to tolerate parental alienation of children.

Judge Kendrick didn’t fall into that trap.  May others follow in his footsteps.

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