Trial Court Finds Parental Alienation; Appellate Court Agrees

November 7th, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
It’s good to see courts recognizing PAS when they see it.  Here’s a case out of Arkansas in which a trial court agreed with two doctors that a mother had alienated her two children from their father (Leagle, 11/2/11).  Apparently the court found that the doctors’ testimony passed the most stringent test for the admissibility of scientific evidence, otherwise known as the Daubert test.

I’ve written before about Dr. Amy Baker’s testimony regarding parental alienation being admitted into evidence under the Daubert standard by a court in Massachusetts. 
Things like that should put to rest for all time the notion that evidence of parental alienation should be kept out of family courts.  The fact is, passing Daubert scrutiny, will soon spell the end of arguments that PAS is a “discredited” scientific notion.  Whether PAS should be included in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual will continue to be debated.  Whether courts should ignore alienating behavior by parents won’t be.

And so it was in Grove v. Grove.  It’s a sadly familiar story.

Jeffrey and Kristi Grove had two children.  They divorced in 2004 with Kristi getting primary custody and Jeffrey getting visitation.  Less than two years later, Jeffrey was back in court complaining that Kristi was thwarting his access to the children.

In January 2007, the trial court ordered a family psychological evaluation by Dr. Paul Deyoub. In a May 8, 2007 report, Dr. Deyoub concluded that Kristi and her parents were poisoning the children against their father with unsubstantiated abuse allegations in an effort to alienate them from him.

Still, apparently Jeffrey didn’t think that was enough for the court to change custody, so in November of 2007, he and Kristi made a deal.

…Kristi and Jeffrey shared joint custody of the children with Kristi having primary physical custody and Jeffrey having visitation. The order included detailed information concerning Jeffrey’s visitation rights and provisions that Kristi give Jeffrey all school, medical, and caregiver information; both parties participate in family counseling; both parties not criticize or allow others to criticize the other party in the presence of the children; and Kristi participate in a “Children in the Middle” program.

Fifteen months later, Kristi was back in court saying that Jeffrey was abusing the children and demanding sole custody.  Jeffrey said she and her parents were alienating the children and that Kristi was refusing visitation.  The court asked Dr. Deyoub to look into the matter.

Dr. Deyoub authored a second report dated September 25, 2009. In his twenty-four-page report, Dr. Deyoub concluded, as he did in 2007, that Kristi and her parents had continued to coach the children to make false allegations of abuse against Jeffrey in an effort to alienate them from him. He opined that Kristi should not have sole custody. Instead, Dr. Deyoub concluded that Jeffrey should have primary custody of the children with Kristi having visitation rights.

Kristi was indignant and asked the court if she could get an opinion from the expert of her choice.  The court agreed.

The trial court granted the request, and Dr. Warren Seiler Jr. was selected. In his December 11, 2009 twenty-six-page report, Dr. Seiler also concluded that the children had been “regularly pressured and brainwashed [by Kristi and her parents] into becoming convinced that their father is a villain and a man to be feared.” Dr. Seiler stated that he was concerned about the future well-being of the children in Kristi’s primary custody. He concluded that full custody of the children should be given to Jeffrey and that Kristi be given supervised visitation.

And the judge agreed with that too.  He found that,

1. A significant and material change of circumstances has occurred so that it is in the best interest of the children that legal and physical custody of the minor children. . . should be placed with the Plaintiff, Jeffrey Grove.
2. Such significant change of circumstances includes, but is not limited to, the following:
a) Defendant has failed to comply with the parties’ Joint Custody Agreement;
b) Defendant has failed to follow the visitation schedule and initially interfered with visitation with the Plaintiff;
c) Defendant has failed and refused to cooperate in counseling as ordered by the Court;
d) Defendant has alienated the minor children from a meaningful relationship with their father;
e) Defendant has embarked on a course of conduct designed to end or substantially limit the contact of the children with the Plaintiff; and
f) Defendant has intentionally perpetrated or acquiesced in false accusations against the Plaintiff and has allowed such statements to be made in the presence of the minor children.

Kristi appealed, but the appellate court upheld the trial court’s findings.  Indeed, those findings are a litany of classic alienation.

Both doctors testified that Kristi and her parents had engaged in a course of conduct to alienate Jeffrey from the children by trying to convince or pressure them into thinking that Jeffrey is an evil father/person. According to the evidence, this was accomplished by Kristi and her parents either coaching or pressuring the children to lie about their father for fear of loss of affection by their mother and grandparents. In this case, there were many false allegations of abuse made by the children.  The doctors testified that there was no evidence to support any of the children’s allegations. Both doctors testified that their counseling sessions with the family revealed that the children have serious issues with lying and that they lied about the allegations against Jeffrey. Dr. Seiler stated that the children lied with impunity, “They lie when faced with an absolute fact that it could not be correct.” While Kristi testified at trial that she did not believe the various allegations of abuse made by the children, she reported them to Drs. Deyoub and Seiler as truth. Dr. Deyoub characterized Kristi’s behavior as “sick” and opined that it was psychologically damaging to the children. The effect on the children did not go unnoticed. Jeffrey testified that the children acted differently and distant toward him. Kristi acknowledged that AG suffered from significant anxiety and that he worried often. Kristi’s boyfriend, Mr. Bishop, testified that there was fear and anxiousness during visitation exchanges.

The public debate about Parental Alienation Syndrome goes on.  Whether it will or won’t ultimately become part of the DSM is not for me to say.  But what will continue to happen is that evidence of parental alienation will continue to be accepted as relevant in cases of child custody.  That will happen despite the cries of the anti-dad crowd that claims against all the evidence that PA, PAS and PAD are inventions by abusive fathers to wrest custody from innocent mothers.  It’s not true; it’s never been true, and more and more, courts are coming to realize it.

Thanks to Adam, a longtime supporter of Fathers and Families, for the heads-up.

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