SF Weekly Launches Another Ill-Informed Attack on Credibility of Parental Alienation

We recently discussed Peter Jamison’s front page San Francisco Weekly story California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody (3/2/11)–a one-sided attack on the legitimacy of Parental Alienation that dismisses the widespread problem of false accusations in family court proceedings.

We asked you to write a Letters to the Editor of the SF Weekly and tell them your thoughts and experiences. Your response was overwhelming–the San Francisco Weekly was so bombarded with letters that they decided to “dedicat[e] a full page to readers’ response to the story.” All of the letters can be seen here.

To read Fathers and Families’ full critique of the San Francisco Weekly’s California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody, click here. The Weekly also published F & F Executive Director Glenn Sacks’ letter Fathers are often wrongly accused.

Now San Francisco Weekly writer Peter Jamison has penned another ill-informed attack on the credibility of Parental Alienation–‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ — Judge Isn’t Buying it (3/24/11)

The article is based on the opinions of only one family law authority–Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jerilyn Borack. Borack is the sister of longtime California politician Sheila Kuehl, who is known for being an ardent feminist and sole custody advocate. Borack is known to share many of her sister’s views.

Jamison opens his piece with a very misleading definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Jamison writes:

Invented by the late Richard Gardner — a psychiatrist who argued that society treated pedophiles too harshly before he stabbed himself to death with a steak knife in 2003 — the theory of PAS asserts that mothers brainwash children to believe that estranged fathers have sexually molested them.

There are numerous problems with this statement. They include:

1) PAS wasn’t “invented” by Gardner–it was a phenomenon long noted by mental health professionals, family law attorneys, and divorced parents who were targets of it. Gardner deserves considerable credit for delineating the cluster of symptoms that comprise PAS, but to portray this internationally known and widely accepted social phenomenon as one psychiatrist’s “invention” is highly misleading.

2) Attacking Richard Gardner personally has always been a very weak way to challenge the validity of Parental Alienation Syndrome but Jamison does it, so we’ll briefly deal with it. Jamison and many of Gardner’s critics continually use his suicide as a way to discredit him. However, at the time of Gardner’s death at age 72 he was suffering from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a painful neurological syndrome often associated with suicide. Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Research Foundation for RSD/CRPS, explains:

“As RSD progresses over time…the syndrome tends to become more unresponsive to treatment…At an advanced stage of the illness, all patients develop significant psychiatric problems and narcotic dependency, and are left completely incapacitated. Some commit suicide.”

How this sad, painful story has anything to do with the legitimacy of Parental Alienation Syndrome remains a mystery to thinking people.

3) To say “the theory of PAS asserts that mothers brainwash children to believe that estranged fathers have sexually molested them” is also misleading. PAS exists in a wide variety of scenarios, of which sexual molestation charges are only one.

Many of Jerilyn Borack’s statements in the article are also problematic. Jamison writes:

As for the underlying idea of PAS — that mothers frequently make false child-abuse allegations as a litigation tactic against fathers — Borack said she doesn’t buy it. Based on her experience as a family-law judge, she said, malicious false accusations simply don’t happen often…[Borack says] “I think it occurs incredibly seldom that someone actually designs a false allegation for an objective.”

Actually, family courts are rife with false accusations of all sorts, and false accusations of domestic violence are widespread. In an article in the Family Law News, the official publication of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of California, family law attorneys Lynette Berg Robe, C.F.L.S. and Melvyn Jay Ross, C.F.L.S. explain:

[Domestic violence] protective orders are increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side jockey for an advantage in child custody…[the orders are] almost routinely issued by the court in family law proceedings even when there is relatively meager evidence and usually without notice to the restrained person.

Jamison writes:

Borack said that inaccurate accusations of child abuse do occur in divorce proceedings, but are typically the result of a sincere belief by one parent that the child is being harmed.

I don’t know of any authoritative studies on how many abuse accusations are made in good faith and how many are simply custody maneuvers, but I do know that a substantial number of them are intentionally false. Still, it is important for litigants to realize that a false accusation isn’t necessarily malicious, and that some parents who make them are acting out of a sincere concern for their children’s welfare.

Jamison writes:

[Borack] says the key to improving court assessments of potential child abuse is devoting more resources in the form of money or personnel to the system. That could allow more time to look into abuse accusations when they arise…

Fathers and Families is certainly in agreement with this. We have always believed that family courts need to take accusations of domestic violence and child abuse seriously–what we’ve long opposed is the way spurious accusations are so often accepted and are used as basis to separate fit, loving parents from their children.

Borack is correct that one of the biggest problems in cases where there are allegations of abuse is simply that courts don’t have the proper time to examine and weigh the evidence. Unfortunately, given the budget problem most states and the federal government are facing, we doubt that more resources are going to be committed to the family courts any time soon.

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