One of the most interesting and well written pieces that I have read in a long time is a keynote address presented by Dr. Frank S. Williams to the National Council for Children’s Rights in Washington D.C. on October 20, 1990. Dr. Williams is a noted child psychiatrist and the Director of Family and Child Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. While this presentation was almost 19 years ago, Dr. Williams’ sage advice is no less relevant now than it ever was!
During my 31-year law career, I have focused a large part of my efforts both professionally and as a member of various community organizations and non-profit Boards towards diverse child-welfare related causes. So with that stated background, I whole-heartedly encourage everyone to read Dr. Williams’ presentation in full, by clicking here.
I will attempt to capsulate some of the salient points as well as set forth the six (6) recommendations he made based on his extensive clinical experience to prevent parentectomies.
According to Dr. Williams, a ”parentectomy” is the removal, erasure, or severe diminution of a caring parent in a child’s life, following separation or divorce. A parentectomy is the most cruel infringement upon children’s rights to be carried out against human children by human adults. Parentectomies are psychologically lethal to children and parents.
The consequences for a child may be that he or she is actually abandoned by a parent who became burned out by years of court fights and battling a pervasive pattern of alienation known as parental alienation syndrome (PAS). According to Dr. Williams, that while kids hate to see battling parents, they misinterpret a parent giving up the fight as that parent not caring enough about them. “These children frequently become depressed – especially in later adolescence. At times their depression reaches suicidal proportions. In my own clinical work, as well as in school and emergency room consultation experience during the past 15 years, I have found a very high correlation between suicidality in adolescents and a divorce in their earlier years, which virtually results in one parent being erased from their lives.”
So what did Dr. Williams conclude or recommend you ask? He states that “the following recommendations on how to prevent parentectomies may, in part, appear drastic. These prevention measures, which are presented in the spirit of suggestions and based on clinical experience, include:
- Person contemplating marriage and children should consider a proposed mate’s tendency toward relying on the role of being a parent as his or her exclusive identity. Such persons may need to rely totally on full-time control over the children for identity following divorce.
- One should try to fall in love with and have children with a mate who has great empathy for children’s needs and feelings. A mother or father with empathy who loves his or her children will usually not subject the children to a parent removal.
- One should not separate from one’s mate without a scheduled, structured, legal custody arrangement in advance of parting the marital relationship.
- Once separated, a parent should never speak with and certainly should never see a mental health professional – other than a court appointed one – that he or she has not helped choose in advance; and should further avoid like the plague a friendly-sounding psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, who calls and says he or she wants to help the parents and children through the pain of divorce. This is especially so when that professional has already seen the children and the other parent.
- Parents should seek and hopefully find attorneys not biased by the conviction that all children need a primary home and a primary caretaker after divorce.
- The first moment it becomes clear that scheduled custodial time with one’s child is being consistently blocked, the parent so blocked should run (not walk) with his or her attorney to the nearest family court.”
As a teaser to encourage you to read the rest of his address, I have purposefully omitted some very candid observations about “hired-gun” child development experts, false allegations of sexual abuse, psychological “allergic” reactions to the other parent and how attempts at performing a “parentectomy” surgery create a psychological reign of terror!
Parenthetically, I must note that Dr. Williams also makes a very interesting point based upon his personal consultations with Dr. Richard A. Gardner, a renowned clinical professor of psychiatry, known for coining the term parental alienation (PAS) in 1985. Apparently, Dr. Gardner defined the term “joint custody” much more narrowly than most. When Gardner stated that “joint custody” requires a high degree of parental cooperation, he was using his particular definition of joint custody – one in which there is a free-flowing, flexible arrangement; one in which the children and the parents may frequently shift schedules, may often change the days and times the children are with each parent; and may alter parental responsibilities for the children’s school and social activities. Dr. Williams learned that Gardner believed “that when there are two highly bonded loving parents, a rigid structured schedule of even 50-50 shared residential overnights, as well as a pre-defined structure decision-making authority plan for each parent may be appropriate to best serve the children.” Unlike most people, Dr. Gardner would just not define such a 50-50, rigid structured arrangement as “joint-custody”. So when a psychologist or lawyer talks about Dr. Gardner’s conclusions about joint custody, it is worthwhile to appreciate how he defined that term.
I will be posting more in weeks to come based upon my recent personal conversations with Dr. Williams. He has many more interesting insights to share! Stay tuned…
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.