The 20/20 Special on Parental Alienation (Part II)

Los Angeles, CA–ABC’s 20/20 did a feature on Parental Alienation centering around Alec Baldwin last week–to learn more, see my recent blog post The 20/20 Special on Parental Alienation (Part I). I worked with several of the ABC producers on the show, providing background information, etc.

One of the first questions the producers asked me was “Does Parental Alienation exist?” I’m often asked this question by reporters and producers who have first talked to feminist groups about the issue, and it’s generally all I can do not to laugh out loud. But this is generally the feminist party line on this–Parental Alienation doesn’t exist.

During 20/20, Dr. Paul Fink called Parental Alienation “junk science at its worst.” Joan Meier, a law professor at George Washington University, says “Parental alienation is being misused and distorted simply to defeat abuse claims.”

Of the two quotes, Meier’s is at least defensible–it’s wrong, but it’s defensible. You can argue that there are fathers who make false claims of PA against mothers. In my co-authored column Protect Children from Alienation (Providence Journal, 7/8/06):

Certainly there are fathers who have alienated their own children through their abuse or personality defects, and who attempt to shift the blame to their children”s mothers by falsely claiming PA. Yet parental alienation is a common, well-documented phenomenon. For example, a longitudinal study published by the American Bar Association in 2003 followed 700 “high conflict” divorce cases over a 12 year period and found that elements of PA were present in the vast majority of the cases studied.

In family law cases, false accusations of any and all types of maltreatment, including PA, are used to gain advantage. Since false accusations of domestic violence and child sexual abuse are common, should we then conclude that battering and molestation don’t exist?

I occasionally get letters from custodial mothers who claim that their ex-husbands have falsely accused them of Parental Alienation, and some of them are probably correct. Given how difficult it is to get courts to act on Parental Alienation and move to protect fathers’ loving bonds with their children, I doubt the phenomenon Meier cites is very common.

This controversy over Parental Alienation is largely political, and is being led by misguided feminist groups who unwittingly advocate on behalf of alienating mothers. Children are vulnerable and impressionable, and parents in emotionally-charged divorces are quite capable of using them as tools of their anger. It is true that family courts must weed out false claims of PA made by abusive or manipulative parents. It is also true that courts must act decisively to protect children from the emotional abuse inflicted by alienating ones.

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