Home > Parents > “Scripted lines” in Goldman case instructive by Richard A. Warshak

“Scripted lines” in Goldman case instructive by Richard A. Warshak

Shame on Brazil’s judiciary for taking seriously the argument that “the will of the child must be determined” in the David Goldman case, thus postponing Sean’s return and extending his father’s agony.

But shame on us when our own Court of Appeals granted an injunction in 2000 to bar the removal of Elian Gonzales from the U.S. because the INS failed to ascertain Elian’s wishes.

Parents who abduct children to the U.S. often allege that their children hate or fear the left-behind parent and succeed in getting our courts to prevent the children’s return. Thousands of divorced parents engage in psychological abduction when they program their children to reject the former spouse. A mother may live down the street from the children she raised and loves but have no contact with them because the children allegedly no longer want a relationship.

Involving children in major decisions that affect their lives seems enlightened. Child advocates call this empowerment. Children crying out for protection from abuse must be heard. Children in custody battles, though, pay a price for the privilege of speaking to the judge. Their opinions become up for grabs by whichever parent has the most influence on — and the least compunction about — exploiting them. In our effort to protect children from physical and sexual abuse, we cannot ignore the hidden suffering of children who are manipulated to take sides in their parents’ disputes.

Three psychologists determined that Sean was a victim of attempts to poison his love for his father. When the court found in favor of the dad, the stepfather issued a videotape, eerily reminiscent of Elian’s taped performance in which he emphatically claimed that he did not want to return to his father.

Predictably, Sean played to his audience, declaring his wish to remain in Brazil with his stepfamily and have no contact with his father. The young boy delivered the lines scripted for him, claiming he felt “violated” by his father’s visits.

A child who denounces a loving parent, while under the influence of adults, resembles hostages who develop a bond with their abductors and prisoners of war who issue statements criticizing their country.

This ploy sometimes backfires in custody cases, as it should, because judges know that children are malleable and frown upon adults using children as pawns. But courts too often fail to take a firm stand against parents who teach children to hate or fear their other parent. Judges order a parent to facilitate the children’s contact with the other parent, but then impose no consequences when that parent flouts the orders.

Allowing a child’s programmed statements to rule the outcome of a custody case sends the wrong signal. It tells parents that the path to custody is to obstruct the children’s access to their other parent, poison their affections and use the legal system to make the damage permanent.

When these children grow up, they suffer a burden of guilt for having turned on a parent and they mourn the lost years of contact. They are angry that they were exploited to advance a vindictive parent’s agenda and perplexed that they were allowed to make a life-altering decision under extreme emotional duress and without the benefit of maturity.

We may think we are hearing a child’s voice when, in fact, we may be receiving a distorted broadcast laced with the static of a charged emotional atmosphere. Or, the voice may be delivering a script written by another. Or, it may reflect the desire to placate, take care of or pledge loyalty to a parent. Or it may be the trembling voice of a child cowering in the shadow of an emotionally abusive parent, who, no longer having a spouse to intimidate, control and beat, now uses the children to fulfill the same pathological aims. All the while the child may secretly hope that those entrusted with his or her welfare will see through the charade.

When we have good reason to suspect that children speak in a voice that is not their own or that does not advance their best interests, we must not allow a concern for “children’s rights” to keep us from rescuing children from being enlisted as agents in their own deprivation.

This ploy sometimes backfires in custody cases, as it should, because judges know that children are malleable and frown upon adults using children as pawns. But courts too often fail to take a firm stand against parents who teach children to hate or fear their other parent. Judges order a parent to facilitate the children’s contact with the other parent, but then impose no consequences when that parent flouts the orders.

Allowing a child’s programmed statements to rule the outcome of a custody case sends the wrong signal. It tells parents that the path to custody is to obstruct the children’s access to their other parent, poison their affections and use the legal system to make the damage permanent.

When these children grow up, they suffer a burden of guilt for having turned on a parent and they mourn the lost years of contact. They are angry that they were exploited to advance a vindictive parent’s agenda and perplexed that they were allowed to make a life-altering decision under extreme emotional duress and without the benefit of maturity.

We may think we are hearing a child’s voice when, in fact, we may be receiving a distorted broadcast laced with the static of a charged emotional atmosphere. Or, the voice may be delivering a script written by another. Or, it may reflect the desire to placate, take care of or pledge loyalty to a parent. Or it may be the trembling voice of a child cowering in the shadow of an emotionally abusive parent, who, no longer having a spouse to intimidate, control and beat, now uses the children to fulfill the same pathological aims. All the while the child may secretly hope that those entrusted with his or her welfare will see through the charade.

When we have good reason to suspect that children speak in a voice that is not their own or that does not advance their best interests, we must not allow a concern for “children’s rights” to keep us from rescuing children from being enlisted as agents in their own deprivation.

Richard A. Warshak, a Dallas psychologist, is author of “Divorce Poison: How To Protect Your Family From Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing.” He conducts a program that helps children reunite with estranged parents.

Categories: Parents
  1. January 21, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    Isn’t it ironic that the same parents who say their children should be “empowered” to make these life-altering decisions are the same parents who tell the same children when to go to bed? What? A child is capable of determining who or she should live with but not capable of deciding whether or not to watch a Seinfeld rerun at 11:00 p.m.?

    Of course, the child’s empowerment only exists as long as the child repeats the parent’s wishes. Kudos to the judges who don’t let parents get away with this in court. And kudos to Dr. Warshak and others for continuing to educate judges and other legal professionals about the adverse affects on children who are “empowered” in this way.

    Sincerely,

    mike jeffries
    Author, A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation
    http://www.afamilysheartbreak.com

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