The Truth Behind one NBC Bay Area Case of Parental Alienation

November 9, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

In my post yesterday, I dealt with yet another strange and badly researched article that seeks to cast aspersions on the Family Bridges program.  Family Bridges is a four-day workshop that attempts to reverse the process of parental alienation, usually in kids with the most severe form of alienation.  It’s been around for 20 years and logged an astonishing record of success.  That success is both anecdotal, as I’ve reported before, and scientific.  Dr. Richard Warshak has conducted two studies of its efficacy and found the program highly successful at reintegrating children with their targeted parents.  No such program could hope to be 100% successful and Family Bridges doesn’t hit that mark, but, all things considered, it seems to work well.  That’s why countless judges, custody evaluators and others have referred/recommended alienated children and their targeted parents to the program over the years.

But that success doesn’t keep incurious, mendacious and virulently anti-dad “journalists” from attacking FB anyway.  Such a piece was the NBC Bay Area one I discussed yesterday.

Now, that article quoted three young adults who, when they were minors, had been referred to Family Bridges for help.  Two had been alienated by their fathers and one by her mother.  Each was referred to by their correct first name.

One of those is named Arianna who was found to have been persistently alienated by her father.  Arianna had nothing good to say about Family Bridges and apparently continues to reject a relationship with her mother.  Accordingly, she seems to have met the criteria for quotation by the article.

But interestingly, Arianna has a sister named Madeleine who’s three years her junior.  Madeleine too was deemed to have been alienated by her father from her mother and, like Arianna, was referred to Family Bridges.  Why would the five authors of the NBC piece interview and quote Arianna but not Madeleine?  Here are some pithy quotations from the Final Order of the Superior Court of King County, Washington, i.e. the trial court in Madeleine’s case:

The court finds [mother] and the GAL’s testimony both credible and persuasive that Madeleine is a child who has been detrimentally impacted both psychologically and emotionally by parental relationship distress caused by [father]. The court finds there was substantial evidence that even after the entry of the modified parenting plan in 2015, [father] made significant and repeated efforts to influence Madeleine to unjustifiably dislike, fear, and reject contact with [mother]…

The GAL determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that [father] has committed repeated “psychological abuse of the child” and the court agrees. [Father]’s alienating behavior was severe and his conduct constituted repeated psychological and emotional abuse of Madeleine. The testimony from [mother], the GAL, and [mother’s boyfriend], as well as the documentary evidence offered at trial, showed that while Madeleine was enmeshed within the parental conflict and influenced by her father’s perspectives of her mother, she had ongoing emotional and physical problems, including anxiety, nausea, sleep issues, and school attendance issues…

This court has already made findings that [father] improperly withheld access to Madeleine without good cause from October 31, 2015 to April 25, 2016. The court stands by its previous findings that [father] intentionally refused to comply with the parenting plan and return Madeleine to [mother] in bad faith, despite [mother]’s repeated efforts and the recommendations of the former Case Manager … Such withholding of access was found to have had an adverse effect on Madeleine’s best interest…

Based on a finding of abusive use of conflict by [father] that create the danger of serious damage to the children’s psychological development, the court granted primary custody and sole decision-making authority in many areas to [mother]…

[The case manager] concluded that the children had adopted highly polarized positions. She worried that “black and white thinking is a limiting and not useful trait for these girls as they go forward in the world.” She found that [father] supported the polarized positions that the girls adopted about their mother.’’

Madeline had been living with her father for four and a half months at that point. When reviewing the interview with Madeline, she appeared quite angry and obstinate. Madeline spoke disparagingly of her mother…  [The case manager] concluded that the girls’ views of their mother had become more excessively harsh, critical, unreasonable and disproportionate to the situations at hand.

In May 2015, at the end of the Modification Trial, the Court made findings relative to both parents but specific to the father regarding: “the abusive use of conflict by the parent that creates the danger of serious damage to the child’s psychological development.” Since then it appears that things have evolved from a challenging situation to a very serious disruption and change in the children’s attachment to their mother. The girls appear to be chronically angry at her, which shows up in rejecting, rude, aggressive and provocative comments towards their mother along with denying much in the past that was ever good with her and not being interested in any future visits or repair in their disrupted relationship with her. They express no sadness, guilt, loss or objectivity regarding a reasonable cause or view of what happened.

The court goes on in the same vein for some 16 pages.  Anyone remotely acquainted with parental alienation can see that the situation described is a classic case of a father alienating his two daughters from their mother.  He did so persistently and to great effect.  And the emotional and psychological impact on Madeleine was made abundantly clear by the judge and various mental health experts in court, including the excellent Demosthenes Lorandos.

Given the severity of the alienation, the judge ordered the children and their mother to take part in the Family Bridges program.  Unsurprisingly, that meant the father turned his ire on Family Bridges.

The court notes that [father] has voluntarily decided to neglect his parenting duties and instead he has focused on pursuing a campaign against Family Bridges and professionals involved in this case.

Part of the program was to include “aftercare,” i.e. a program to try to get the father to realize the error of his ways and become a better, more agreeable and more constructive parent.  He refused.

[Father] chose not to participate in aftercare and he was found in contempt multiple times by this court and restricted from having contact with Madeline until he engaged with the aftercare professional.

And what of the two girls?  Arianna, as we know from the NBC article, resisted all help and is to this day (as far as we know) alienated from her mother.  But Madeleine’s was a different story altogether.

In the most recent report dated March 22, 2017, [the GAL] found that “Madeline has transformed from a sad and depressed girl who rarely ventured out into the world, had few friends, and hid behind Goth makeup, to an engaged and active participant in her own life. She loves her school, has many friends, spends lots of time with her music classes and guitar lessons, is doing roller derby, has “a person” (a boyfriend), and is looking forward to the future.”

At trial, [the GAL] testified that Madeline’s transformation has been remarkable. She appears to be a different kid now; she loves school and reportedly attends even when she is sick. She is doing well both academically and socially. She concluded that Madeline has flourished in Portland and is doing better personally, socially and academically than she has in the last 4-5 years.

[The GAL] testified she could only attribute Madeline’s amazing progress to the intervention and not being subjected to the push and pull of the parents, [father]’s alienating behavior and the constant turmoil that had been occurring. The more normalization of the family structure and situation is a stabilizing factor that has really helped Madeline.

She also testified that it has been helpful to Madeline to be outside the sphere of her sister’s influence.

In short, Family Bridges and its requirements (a 90-day separation from the alienating parent) worked wonders for Madeleine.  She changed from hateful, combative and unreasonable into a normal and apparently positive young woman.

And note that her separation from her sister Arianna helped too.  Arianna, who embraces her own alienation from her mother looks very much like her father’s agent as regards Madeleine.  So which of the two sisters did NBC choose to interview and quote and which did it ignore altogether? 

In so doing of course, NBC’s, like all other articles of its ilk, ends up promoting child abuse.  It’s hard to read the court’s findings regarding Madeleine and her father’s alienation of her and not see what the court expressly found – persistent and unapologetic emotional/psychological abuse by her father.  By criticizing Family Bridges in such frankly biased, unbalanced and unfounded ways, NBC promotes the type of child abuse Family Bridges exists to try to correct.

For NBC, it’s a curious side of the debate about parental alienation on which to be, but there it is. 

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