Tabachnick: Ignoring the Science on Parental Alienation

June 28, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

One remarkable aspect of Cara Tabachnick’s frankly dishonest piece on parental alienation and the reunification program Family Bridges is the number of people who refused to be interviewed by her (Washington Post, 5/11/17). By my count, she quoted 13 people in her article, but another 11 refused to be interviewed or interact with her at all. And one of the ones who did, i.e. one of her trusted sources, Arianna Riley, won renown by threatening to bomb a TSA facility at the Los Angeles International Airport.

There are a number of reasons why a person or entity might refuse to be interviewed, but, when I spoke with Dr. Deirdre Rand of Family Bridges, she told me she saw Tabachnick as untrustworthy and promoting a dishonest agenda. Rand told me she Googled Tabachnick and found articles she’d written that dissuaded her from cooperating in the article. As but one example, this article would be enough to convince anyone who believes in fairness and balance to avoid Tabachnick like the plague (Daily Beast, 5/5/10).

In it, she channels the patently false claims of the “protective parent” movement to the effect that judges routinely remove children from the care of “protective” mothers in order to turn them over to abusive fathers. One of the more absurd claims by that movement is that, in a given year, custody of 58,000 children is given to abusive fathers. Of course, the only way the movement can come up with such an outlandish claim is to accept as true every single claim of abuse by mothers against fathers. That the overwhelming majority of abuse claims made in family courts are either entirely fabricated or unfounded is, of course, ignored. Needless to say, they also fail to mention that mothers commit far more abuse and neglect of children than do fathers.

In short, Dr. Rand was correct; Cara Tabachnick indeed has an agenda and neither fairness nor a desire to accurately inform her readers is on it.

That brings me to yet another aspect of the Washington Post piece that doesn’t bear the least scrutiny.

“There is just no empirical scientific evidence or way to determine if children are estranged because they were maltreated or if a favored parent turned them against the other parent,” said Joan Meier, a clinical professor at George Washington University Law School and founder of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, which provides appellate representation in domestic violence cases.

Hmm. With that statement, we’re left to guess at what Meier may mean by “empirical scientific evidence.” Have there been studies conducted that accurately identify which children are telling the truth about abuse and which ones aren’t? Not to my knowledge. But of course one of the main problems with any such effort would be figuring out whether something happened (e.g. maltreatment) that typically occurs behind closed doors. After all, most domestic violence and child abuse occurs in private; it’s not seen by third parties and there are no recordings on which to rely.

So anyone trying to figure out if child abuse occurred is faced with trying to sort out the answer by looking at what is known or can be clearly established and comparing it with the allegations of abuse. In that way, judging whether abuse has occurred is much like judging whether a crime has taken place, except with abuse, there’s often far less objective evidence on which to rely. If A alleges that B stole his car, one important piece of evidence for the proposition is the car in the possession of B.

But, absent injury to a child that’s clearly attributable to abuse or the testimony of eye witnesses, how do we know if a child has been abused or not? One way is if the child is mature enough to provide the information. Another way is if a parent does.

With parental alienation, however, the crux of the matter is whether the child’s report and that of the parent are true or not. If the child has become allied with the parent in a campaign to remove the other parent from the child’s life without good cause, it would be a mistake to rely on the child’s word or that of the alienating parent.

So, how do we determine if child abuse occurred at all or if the allegations stem from alienation? That’s the nut of Meier’s statement, but the answer is perfectly obvious. We do so by the usual methods of determining whether a person is telling the truth by comparing what he/she says to known facts. If the claim is that “Daddy hit me yesterday,” but Daddy was in another city on business yesterday, then we know the child is in error.

But with parental alienation, there is an entire set of ways to separate fact from fantasy. Those are the eight symptoms by which mental health professionals identify parental alienation.

One of the chief ones is that, unlike essentially all other children, alienated kids are absolute in their condemnation of the targeted parent and equally absolute in their praise of the alienator. That is, they lack what is virtually universal in all human relationships – ambivalence. Few people love their friends or relatives utterly. Every relationship has a “yes, but” quality about it.

So when little Andy or Jenny portrays Dad as the spawn of Satan, with no redeeming qualities, the question of alienation arises. It’s a red flag for any sensible person attempting to decide whether the targeted parent truly merits his/her rejection by the child or not. Indeed, Professor Emeritus William Bernet has studied children who are known to have been abused by a parent and found that even they demonstrate the ambivalence that’s characteristic of almost all human relationships. Unlike the alienated child, they refuse to entirely condemn the parent.

That marker of parental alienation exists independent of other objective facts or claims. It can be observed irrespective of everything else about actual or alleged parental behavior. It therefore constitutes evidence of parental alienation that’s not hidden behind closed doors.

The same holds true for the other symptoms of parental alienation that include a relentless campaign of denigration against the targeted parent, weak, frivolous or absurd rationalizations for the campaign and others. All can be seen by mental health professionals and indeed laypersons. What happens in private may remain private, but scrupulous examination of a child suspected of having been alienated relies on none of that.

And of course let’s not forget that much that’s relied on by courts of law also falls as neatly in to Meier’s “no empirical scientific evidence” category as do allegations of PA. Where, after all, is the “empirical scientific evidence” that a judge or jury can accurately distinguish between lying and veracity based on the demeanor of a witness? What if, in my example above, B says “yes, I have A’s car, but he loaned it to me?” The jury will have to decide whether A or B is telling the truth. Where is the science that proves they get it right? There is none, and yet we allow them to make that determination.

And again, with parental alienation, there’s far more to go on than a jury’s “gut feeling.” There are eight symptoms that speak loudly for themselves.

But no attempted hatchet job on the idea of parental alienation and the programs that attempt to address it would be complete without a swipe at the science on the matter. By now it should come as no surprise that Tabachnick almost entirely failed to take seriously the known science on PA. It’s part of her agenda, after all, the same agenda that convinced Dr. Rand (and so many others) to refuse to contribute to Tabachnick’s article.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#parentalalienation, #science, #childabuse, #childneglect

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *