NOW Criticizes F & F over Our Campaign to Ask DSM to Include Parental Alienation in Upcoming Edition, Writes DSM Task Force, Urging Them Not to Include Alienation

A group of 70 mental health experts from 12 countries are part of an effort to add Parental Alienation Disorder to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of diagnoses. This scientific coalition is led by psychiatrist William Bernet, who explains that adding PAD to DSM “would spur insurance coverage, stimulate more systematic research, lend credence to a charge of parental alienation in court, and raise the odds that children would get timely treatment.”

Fathers & Families wants to ensure that the DSM-5 Task Force is aware of the scope and severity of Parental Alienation. To this end, in December we asked our supporters to write the Task Force to urge them to consider including Parental Alienation Disorder in DSM-5. As usual, the response was overwhelming. It also helped lead to progress–while as expected the newly-released draft version does not specifically include Parental Alienation Disorder, the DSM-5 Task Force has now listed Parental Alienation Disorder among the “Conditions Proposed by Outside Sources…that are still under consideration by the work groups.” Gaining inclusion isn”t easy–David J. Kupfer, M.D., the chair of the DSM-V Task Force, recently told the media that with any disorder proposed for inclusion, ‘The door to get in [the manual] is pretty hard.’

The DSM must consider whether Parental Alienation Disorder fits their scientific criteria for inclusion. Experts will say that they do not want this process politicized, and we agree. We are not seeking to influence the Task Force’s view of the scientific aspects of PAD, nor are we asking the Task Force to include Parental Alienation Disorder due to pressure politics or our campaign. Our purpose is simply to ensure that the DSM Task Force is aware that Parental Alienation is a common problem in divorce/child custody, and to take a serious look at whether PAD meets their scientific criteria. Our campaign page is here, those who would like to participate can do so by clicking here.

The National Organization for Women is very concerned about our efforts, condemning them in March and again in their recent media release NOW Foundation Opposes Phony Parental Alienation Disorder. In it, the NOW Foundation references Fathers & Families’ DSM Campaign and explains “The ‘disorder’ has been proposed…to be added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostics and Statistics Manual – V to give it more legitimacy than it currently has — or should have — in court.” The NOW Foundation has also written the DSM Task Force, urging them to reject PAD.

NOW repeatedly encourages us to believe that Parental Alienation is “discredited” by family law experts and professionals. This is absolutely not the case–those who believe, as NOW does, that Parental Alienation is a fiction are a decided minority within the field.

This was clearly evidenced last year in the political battle over AB 612 in California. AB 612 was a bill put forward by NOW’s ally the Center for Judicial Excellence (and supported by the California National Organization for Women) which would have banned Parental Alienation from being mentioned in any way, shape, or form in a California family court.

Those officially listed as opposed to the bill included the professional organizations of many family law professionals and experts, including: the Judicial Council; the California Judges Association; the Family Law Section of the State Bar; the California Psychological Association; the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists; the Association of Family Conciliation Courts; and numerous others.

The California Psychological Association backed up both the science and factual basis of Parental Alienation when they wrote that AB 612 ignores the “significant scientific and agreed-upon knowledge base of the last 30 years on children who are alienated’ and describes AB 612 as a “scientifically inaccurate measure [which] assumes the truth of any accusation of abuse.’

The Family Law Section of the State Bar of California believes Parental Alienation is real and legitimate, explaining that alienation tactics often include:

“[C]ancel[ing] the other parent”s visit without telling the child that the visit has been cancelled, creating a ‘let down” for the child when that parent does not ‘show up” for the visit. Threats could also be made against the child for wanting to have visitation with the other parent – ‘Fine, if you want to see [your other parent] tonight, then you are grounded for the rest of the week.” Guilt can also be used to influence a child to avoid visitation – ‘I”m not feeling well and I wish you would stay here with me, but if you have to see [your other parent] I will understand.” Rewards can also be used – ‘Sure, you can see [your other parent] today, but I thought we would go play laser tag with your friends today.”‘

At various times, including during our successful Campaign Against PBS’s Father-Bashing Breaking the Silence in 2005, misguided mothers’ family law advocates have claimed that Parental Alienation had been discredited and attacked by the American Psychological Association. In the documentary Joan Meier, a professor of clinical law at George Washington University and one of the film’s chief spokespersons, stated that Parental Alienation “has been thoroughly debunked by the American Psychological Association.” Connecticut Public Television, one of the film’s producers, put out a press release promoting the film which stated that Parental Alienation had been “discredited by the American Psychological Association.”

Rhea K. Farberman, Executive Director of Public and Member Communications of the American Psychological Association, publicly retorted that these claims are “incorrect” and “inaccurate,” and that the APA “does not have an official position on parental alienation syndrome–pro or con.”

Despite the enormous political pressure put on the APA by misguided women’s advocates who oppose recognizing Parental Alienation, the APA has put out mixed messages about Parental Alienation. According to shared parenting advocate Les Veskrna, MD, “The APA has, in fact, heretofore made a significant endorsement of the validity of Parental Alienation.” Veskrna details this here.

In addition to misrepresenting the views of family law professionals re: Parental Alienation, both of NOW’s recent statements contain numerous factual errors and erroneous assumptions. Below we discuss some of them.

NOW writes:

NOW refers to those contacting DSM re: Parental Alienation as “men’s custody activists.”

Fathers & Families responds:

This is false–Fathers & Families believes and has worked towards a legal presumption of shared custody, except in situations of parental unfitness. When appropriate, we’ve supported mothers’ rights to shared custody of their children, including the recent Vanessa Benson and Mullen-Hobbs cases and our amicus brief in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in A.H. v. M.P. Excluding cases of maternal unfitness, we invite NOW to cite one example where Fathers & Families has ever advocated for a presumption of sole custody for fathers.

NOW writes:

This accusation [of Parental Alienation] is made by abusive ex-husbands and is intended to cause the courts to disregard mothers’ claims of fathers’ physical or sexual abuse in an effort to gain the fathers’ full or joint custody. NOW Foundation is concerned that because of the alienation accusation known batterers and child abusers have been awarded custody…There have been numerous instances of documented batterers and child abusers being awarded custody by biased family court judges.

Fathers & Families responds:

If there are “numerous instances of documented batterers and child abusers being awarded custody by biased family court judges,” why have NOW, the CJE and their co-thinkers found it so difficult to find even a handful of credible, documented cases?

The most well-known of these cases put forward by women’s advocates are the Sadia Loeliger, Genia Shockome, Holly Collins, Joyce Murphy, and Sylvia Creek cases. The Murphy case is legitimate, the other four are being badly misrepresented by mothers’ advocates. To learn more, see our recent post Did Dr. Phil Unwittingly Promote False Accusations on His Recent ‘Crisis in Family Court” Show?

NOW writes:

[T]he numbers of cases involving dads in custody disputes abusing and murdering children is appalling.

Fathers & Families responds:

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, most parental murders of children are committed by mothers, not by fathers. Some of these are cases where mothers were awarded child custody after fathers had sought custody and/or tried to warn courts. It is misleading for NOW to focus on murdering fathers when there are, in fact, more mothers who kill their children than fathers.

NOW writes:

“[The] central premise [behind advocating for recognition of Parental Alienation Disorder] is that accusations of physical or sexual abuse of children that arise during divorce or custody disputes are always (or nearly always) false…”

Fathers & Families responds:

This is a straw man–neither Fathers & Families nor the Bernet scientific coalition has or ever will say anything like this. False accusations are common in custody disputes but this does not mean that there aren’t a significant number of valid claims, too. As we noted in Preventing courts from considering parental alienation will harm kids (Capitol Weekly, 2/25/10):

When fact-finding in custody cases, judges and custody evaluators must be able to properly consider all available evidence. When abuse is alleged, the accusation merits serious consideration. When Parental Alienation is alleged, the accusation merits serious consideration, too.

NOW writes:

“[Parental Alienation Disorder] does not properly take into account the realistic causes, including heightened emotional stress, that almost always occur during a divorce especially when there is significant animosity between the ex-spouses.”

Fathers & Families responds:

NOW has a point. Parental Alienation Disorder as delineated by the Bernet scientific coalition does properly account for this, but sometimes blame can be heaped unfairly on a custodial mother (or father). Fathers & Families has often acknowledged that there are times when a noncustodial parent’s relationship with his children deteriorates even though the custodial parent does not attempt to alienate the children from the noncustodial parent. In the Capitol Weekly we explained:

Sometimes, as research by Janet R. Johnston Ph.D. of San Jose State University confirms, Parental Alienation exists but is only one of several factors causing a deterioration of the parent-child bond. Sometimes parental alienators are unaware of their harmful actions.

We also noted that sometimes custodial mothers (or fathers) get a bad rap:

[T]here are fathers (and mothers) who have alienated their children through inept parenting, narcissism, drug or alcohol problems, or abuse, and who attempt to shift the blame to their exes by falsely claiming Parental Alienation.

NOW writes:

To be sure, one parent may say nasty things about the other during a trial in the presence of the child.

Fathers & Families responds:

This is a rare and small but nonetheless commendable admission by NOW that parents do badmouth each other in front of their children.

NOW writes:

[P]ublications by the American Bar Association…have concluded proposed “alienation disorder” is inadmissible in court and has been discredited by the scientific community…

Fathers & Families responds:

The American Bar Association hasn’t made a definitive statement about Parental Alienation and/or its admissibility. Some of the articles concerning Parental Alienation in the ABA’s publications have been critical of the concept of Parental Alienation, whereas others have been supportive.

NOW is perhaps referring to one article by Jennifer Hoult, J.D. in which she criticizes Parental Alienation. The credibility of Hoult and her article can be judged in part by the fact that she links those who assert the validity of Parental Alienation with the North American Man-Boy Love Association, referencing NAMBLA in the article 18 separate times.

While most of NOW’s recent claims aren’t credible, there are legitimate questions to be asked about Parental Alienation Disorder, as there are with all mental health issues. We address many of these in Frequently Asked Questions about Parental Alienation and also summarize the scientific perspective in the Case for Including Parental Alienation Disorder in DSM V. Veskrna, MD explains:

The DSM Committee must decide if the weight of empirical studies and peer review validates it. There is no fine line that determines when the weight of evidence is sufficient to exceed this threshold of validity. And, when (or if) this occurs, it will be by a consensus of opinion.

To say, in an effort to discredit PAD, that there is no science behind it (no studies or peer review) makes me wonder if NOW really understands what science is, what empiric studies are, and what constitutes peer review. There is science behind PAD.  We’re just not sure it has reached the threshold for the DSM Committee. NOW doesn’t have any information that PAD doesn’t exist — only their own biased and unscientific (i.e. cherry picked) collection of allegedly bad outcomes from court cases.

Attorneys say, “If you have the facts, pound on the facts. If you have the law, pound on the law. If you don’t have either, pound on the table.”

NOW is pounding on the table.

In the end, our efforts to promote recognition of Parental Alienation Disorder aren’t about fathers or mothers, they’re about protecting children from harm. In Charlotte Hardwick”s Dear Judge–Kids” Letters to the Judge, a letter from preteen Bailey A. said:

Dear Judge, Whichever parent I am with wants me to be loyal. I can only prove my loyalty by saying I don”t want to be with the other parent…It”s like sixth grade when two of my girlfriends made me crazy trying to force me to pick one of them to be my best friend. I remember when I was sad sometimes. Now I have trouble remembering when I wasn”t sad.

Together with you in the love of our children,

Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families

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