Parental Alienation Story, Bill

Los Angeles, CA–Background: In April, I called your attention to a new, damaging Parental Alienation bill in the California legislature in my co-authored column AB 612 Will Make It Harder to Protect Children from Parental Alienation (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 4/2/07).

Fathers & Families’¬†legislative¬†representative Michael Robinson helped lead successful opposition to AB 612, and the bill died last summer.

In January, I was contacted by Dan Abendschein of the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group here in Los Angeles regarding parents who have been alienated from their children after a divorce or separation. In this blog post I asked readers who fit the description to email me so I could pass it on to Dan, and many of you responded with stories of your experiences.

Dan’s article on Parental Alienation came out a few days ago, and is linked and excerpted below.

To write a Letter to the Editor regarding the story, click here.

SGVN owns several papers in the greater Los Angeles area.

Bill addresses theory used in custody cases
By Dan Abendschein, Staff Writer
SGVN, 03/09/2008

A state bill that would set guidelines for child custody cases has highlighted a nearly 20-year-old dispute over a theory used by psychological evaluators.

The bill, AB 612, which failed to pass into law in 2007, targeted the controversial theory, called Parental Alienation Syndrome. The syndrome describes behavior where one parent turns a child against the other, convincing the child the parent has treated him or her badly, even when they have not.

Dr. Philip Stahl, a California evaluator and member of the state’s Association of Family & Conciliation Courts, says evaluators are split in their beliefs about whether children can be alienated.

“You have evaluators who really don’t understand alienation, and people who want to apply it in every case,” said Stahl.

Evaluators are not the only ones with differing views on the issue: there are stalwart advocates who believe that hundreds of people have suffered because of parental alienation, and those who believe just as many have suffered from false charges of the syndrome.

Women’s group advocates say the theory has been used by courts to place children with abusive fathers, and strip mothers of their custodial rights.

“It’s junk science used to target women and take their custody rights away,” said Karen Anderson, a spokesperson for the California Protective Parent’s Association. “It’s a problem in courts all over the country.”

Julia Cotton, a mother from Los Angeles County, said that a custody evaluation in her divorce case accused her of alienation and led to her young daughter being placed with her husband full time.

“Her recommendation led to me only getting my daughter for supervised visits,” said Cotton. “When I saw her she acted traumatized and seemed totally out of it.”
Cotton said she suspected that her ex-husband was abusing her daughter in some way, but didn’t know what to do about it.

“I knew that the more I tried to do something about it, the more I would be accused of alienation,” she said.

While woman’s groups tout Cotton’s story as a typical one throughout California, father’s rights groups have a polar-opposite view of custody courts and alienation.

“Ninety-eight percent of the time that you see abuse charges that have not been verified by police, those allegations are coached,” said J. Michael Kelly, a Los Angeles County lawyer, and member of the United Fathers of California law group.

One father from the San Gabriel Valley in the middle of a custody battle who asked to be called Norm said his two teenage daughters say they don’t want to have anything to do with him, and he can’t figure out why.

“They call me a violent man, they say I am aggravating,” said Norm. “I had a bad custody evaluator and now I barely see them.”

Norm said he believes his wife is genuinely convinced that he does not treat their kids well.

“I don’t think she is trying to be vindictive,” he said. “I just think in her mind, there is some deeper mental problem that is convincing her I’d be bad for the kids.”

The text of the 2007 version of AB 612 was drafted by the CPPA and explicitly banned the use of Parental Alienation Syndrome, or just the term alienation from use in evaluations. It also aimed to minimize the use of custody evaluations.

The family law section of the state bar and several psychologists groups banded together to oppose the bill.

The 2008 version of the bill is much vaguer than its predecessor, stating evaluators will be forced to conform to “standards generally accepted by the medical, psychiatric, legal, and psychological communities.” The bill does not specifically mention Parental Alienation Syndrome.

“The thinking was that if you mentioned specific syndromes or disorders, people who would use them in evaluations would just start calling them by a different name,” said Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, who introduced the bill.

But, Karen Anderson, who helped draft the original bill, said the new version, labeled AB 2587, is not strong enough.

Read the full article here.

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