By Robert L. Mues   |   February 7th, 2009

pas_can1.jpgAn Ontario, Canada, Superior Court Judge issued a thorough well-reasoned but very unusual decision on January 16, 2009, changing custody of three (3) girls, ages 15, 11 and 9, from their primary caregiving mother to the father based upon evidence of a long pattern of parental alienation.  In fact, Mother had denied Father, a vascular surgeon, any contact with the girls for about two (2) years before these proceedings.

Judge Faye McWatt not only changed custody to the father, but denied Mother any contact with the girls for at least 90 days.  The Court concluded that Mother had conducted a “consistent and overwhelming campaign for more than a decade to alienate the children from their father”.

The Court was impressed with the testimony from Dr. Barbara Fidler, an expert in the field of parental alienation.  The Court, in its decision, stated:

Dr. Fidler testified that children are more susceptible to alienation in certain age ranges. She explained that from 5 to 8 years of age, children can have shifting allegiances to parents. Once a child’s brain develops to a point where the child can hold both positive and negative information about a parent, though, children can become confused. They begin to question whether a parent is telling the truth about things in general or the other parent in particular. When the child reaches the ages of 10 or 11 years old, it can become very difficult for them to hold the different views they may have come to about their parents and, as a result, may choose to side with one parent over the other in order to free themselves from emotional conflict and the stress it causes. This becomes extreme in alienated children of 12 years old and older. These children, Dr. Fidler testified, can internalize the effects of alienation to the point where even the alienating parent could not get the children to visit the alienated parent. The child creates its own reasons to dislike or hate the alienated parent – ones which are not real.

There is a broad range of effects of this severe sort of alienation on a child. Some of them are low self-esteem to self-hatred, guilt, feelings of abandonment, feelings of being unloved and unworthy. Children may feel self-doubt and doubt about their ability to perceive reality. They may have simplistic or rigid information processing. They can have inflated self-esteem. They may have poor differentiation of self. They may be aggressive and have poor impulse control. Where there are court orders and children become aware that the orders are not being obeyed by the alienating parent, these children can learn that it is acceptable not to obey court orders. Alienated children can lack compassion and remorse and can also develop an ability not to feel guilt.

Dr. Fidler testified that long-term research by Amy Baker on adults who were alienated from a parent as a child suffered depression in 70% of the individuals studied. Two-thirds of the same population became divorced themselves – a quarter of that group more than once. The adults talked to researchers about interpersonal problems, dysfunctional managing of their lives, and difficulties trusting other people. One-third were reported to have substance abuse problems. Fifty percent of this group in this study became alienated from their own children.

Courts are unlikely to take the drastic step Judge McWatt ordered absent overwhelming evidence of a long-standing pattern of parental alienation and powerful testimony from an expert witness on parental alienation. Here, the Court also concluded that the Mother had failed for 14 years to act in the best interests of her children and that she is incapable of supporting the three children in a relationship with their father!

To read the 29 page decision, click here.

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Robert L. MuesAbout The Author: 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.

Mom Loses Custody For Alienating Children From Their Father For Over A Decade

2 thoughts on “Mom Loses Custody For Alienating Children From Their Father For Over A Decade

  • February 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Judges are more often listening to well prepared cases which spell out these patterns of behavior. All of the studies conducted regarding alienated children arrive at the same conclusion that the only way to break the pattern is by the award of sole custody to the target parent. Too often in these cases there will only be a contempt action filed for the interference with visitation without a motion to modify based on the pattern of behavior. The Court will rule on the contempt, but will go no further unless the modification is on the table at the same time. In almost all cases, the alienating parent will begin making claims that the child doesn’t want to go to visit the other parent and will continue to make this claim until the child actually fights visitation.

    Part of the argument to the court must be that the alienating parent seems incapable of parenting the child and uses the child’s “wishes” as reason to violate the court orders thus “absolving” themselves of any blame. I have heard children say that they have to be careful what they say to the alienating parent about the target parent because they are met with anger and tears if they report they had a good visit or love the target parent. After a while these children simply find the entire dynamic too stressful and will begin to simply agree with mom to keep the peace. Over the years I have heard children say things like “But if I say I want to go to Dad’s house Mom says she’ll kill herself!”, “I told mom that I love Dad and she told me to just pack my bags and go live with him, but when I said OK she just screamed at me!”, “Mom said that Dad doesn’t really want me but the Court forced him to visit me.” The list is endless, but in reality clearly shows the manipulation being done by the alienating parent.

    Too often there is too much faith put on a child’s statements made during an in camera or to an evaluator and unless the dynamics of the reasons behind a child being reluctant to disclose their true feelings or to tell the truth about the alienating parent’s instructions are explained the court is left without a valid counter-argument. What many evaluators and, indeed, the Court, fail to grasp is that when a child does disclose the truth too often the custody remains the same except that now the child is sent back to an angrier alienator. There must be a point where the child’s best interests are put first or the pattern of behavior cannot be broken and the target parent will eventually lose any connection the the child.

    While I have testified in many cases, I have also found a powerful tool in the preparation of a strong supporting memorandum prepared by an expert for the target parent’s attorney. This puts a concise case specific argument before the court. I find that a growing number of judges nationally are listening to these arguments and understanding the dynamics so I no longer feel that the case at point is so drastic. However, taking that extra step toward a finding of perjury and using the criminal process to be, while drastic because we rarely see it, refreshing. It is this step which should be more the norm since it possibly could be a powerful detriment to other parents interfering so egreiously with the target parent’s relationship with the child. I also admire the judge’s ruling that there needs to be a “cooling off” period where the alienating parent cannot interfere with the custody transition. I have seen rulings in Ohio where the court orders monitored visitation with the alienating parent when contact resumes, subject to review in 6, 9 or 12 months before any unsupervised visitation is granted.

    It must be strongly understood that during the initial weeks after the change in custody there is an extremely high risk of parental abduction and concealment of the child. The rather infamous case of Holly Collins which is currently in the news stresses this danger and while this case is recieving national coverage it is only one of hundreds actually taking place. The alienating parent feels they have nothing to lose once they have lost primary custody so they move on to becoming the “victim” and unfortunately they are able to convince people to assist them in “protecting” their poor children from the evil target parent. The only way to prevent this is by not allowing unfettered access to the child for a period of time and then only when any and all preventive measures have been addressed.

  • Pingback:Court changes custody of children after decade of parental alienation | NJ Family Law Blog

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