Parental Alienation: Impracticality & Impressions. Dr. Richard Warshak Answers Critics
This article is posted with permission from Dr. Richard Warshak
The many parents I have helped, women and men, express astonishment that some people demonize me, attempt to tarnish my reputation, and spread misleading and false information about my work and me. Although my supporters far outweigh my detractors, the people seeking to quiet my voice yell loudly and work hard to circulate their misinformation.
Until now I have allowed the personal attacks and gross misrepresentations to go without answer. I understand the mentality of a true believer and realize that clarification of reality and objective evidence will hit the brick wall of a closed mind. For various reasons, these people want to hold on to their beliefs. They cling to misguided ideas rather than acknowledge the widespread mistreatment of children described in Divorce Poison and my other works. In some respects, they resemble people from earlier generations who refused to acknowledge the evidence of their senses that children were being physically and sexually abused with alarming frequency. Just as the professionals who first pointed an accusing finger at a society that tolerated such abuse were attacked, I suppose it is my fate to be the target of similar attacks.
Defending myself against such attacks feels a bit undignified. It seems an unnecessary waste of time, and gives currency to a few fanatics who attempt to alienate my audience from me using the same tactics that some parents use to alienate their children from the other parent. Some of these extremists have lost custody of their children in a ruling that seeks to protect the children from severe doses of divorce poison. Rather than recognize the rationale for the court’s decision, these people believe that the judge either was biased or was foolishly taken in by the other parent’s allegations. Some of these people would have you believe that there is an epidemic of judges who take joy in placing children with parents who beat or sexually molest them. In fact, one website claims a conspiracy of Masonic judges who, in every family court across North America (I am not exaggerating), automatically give custody to pedophiliac fathers who in turn pimp their children to pedophiliac members of the Illuminati (the group profiled in Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons). I am not kidding. . . . Nor are they.
As I say in the Afterword to the revised edition of my book, when my wife reads these vicious and absurd accounts, she shakes her head in disbelief at the raw animosity that greets the work I do on behalf of suffering families. She asks, “Don’t they know that you’ve devoted your career to the welfare of children?” The many women I have helped through my writing, consultations, and courtroom testimony cannot understand what motivates the detractors, who claim to be advocates for women.
So why am I writing this article? It occurred to me that those who find value in my work might be confused by the drumbeat of misinformation. The downside of responding to critics is that it fuels their zeal and brings more attention to their smears. They live for the battle and are gratified when anyone takes them seriously. I would rather spend my time providing guidance on how to understand, prevent, and repair damaged parent-child relationships. But, for the sake of those who really want to know, here is some clarification.
One smear that has been making the rounds involves a case where I helped a mother whose children were irrationally alienated. Some important details I cannot divulge because they are not a matter of public record and I wish to protect the family’s privacy. Were these details known, domestic violence activists who criticize my involvement in this case would surely regret their words. They would think twice about circulating the innuendos and arguments raised by the father’s lawyer in his attempt to defeat the mother.
Several mental health professionals concluded that the children’s estrangement from their mother was unreasonable. Even the father’s own expert witness recommended that the one child under the age of 18 be removed from the father’s home (but, for reasons unclear, not placed with his mother).
The case was heard before an arbitrator. The arbitrator found that “the mother was the intentional victim of irrational alienation by her sons, designed and orchestrated by the father.” The decision awarded sole custody to the mother and gave her the authority to make decisions on behalf of her son including, at her discretion, enrolling him in my educational workshop. The Arbitrator’s decision was appealed to the Family Court. The Court did not dispute the findings of irrational alienation. But the judge did rule that the Arbitrator should have ordered another evaluation. In the decision the judge pointed out that I gave no recommendations because, as I made clear to the Arbitrator, I had not conducted a custody evaluation. The judge set aside the Arbitrator’s award and allowed the case to go to a new trial.
Here is where the smears begin. The purpose of my testimony was to educate the court about general issues and the state of knowledge regarding parent-child conflicts and children’s rejection of a parent, and to describe various interventions for families in which the court finds that the children’s rejection of a parent is unjustified, irrational, disproportionate to the child’s experience of the parent, and not in the children’s best interests. An expert witness who testifies in this capacity is obliged to explain the limitations of his work in the case. As is my duty, I clarified the purpose of my testimony and volunteered the information that I had not conducted an evaluation and was not there to make a specific recommendation for this family.
Rather than point out that I had testified in a professionally ethical and objective manner and properly apprised the court of the scope of my work in the case, including limitations, some bloggers imply that the Family Court Judge “discovered” the limitations and that I then had to “admit” that I had not seen the children. This is not what happened. I never testified before the Family Court Judge. The Judge simply noted what I had volunteered in my testimony in the Arbitration. My professional colleagues understand that what I did was precisely in accord with professional ethics.
Now it gets interesting, and this is the part critics conceal from their blogs. This was not the conclusion of the case. A new custody assessment was conducted. The assessment results strongly supported the mother’s position, recommended giving her the authority to enroll her son in Family Bridges, and concluded that the workshop was the best option for this family.
The case did go to trial. But, on the eve of the trial, the father’s lawyer, in what appeared to me to be a desperate last-ditch attempt to try his case in the media when it was clear that the evidence favored the mother, submitted an article to Canada’s Law Times that attacked my workshop as unscientific. Fortunately, the editor recognized distortions in the lawyer’s submission and asked me to submit commentary to set the record straight. My article was published. It effectively refutes the lawyer’s arguments. You do not learn about my article by reading the advocate’s blog posts. (See The Slanted Truth for the use of such tactics by alienating parents.) It is as if it did not exist. You can read my article by clicking here.
What you also never learn from reading the blogger’s accounts of this case is the ultimate outcome. Notwithstanding the father’s lawyer’s maneuvers, again, the mother prevailed on all counts. After hearing all the evidence, the judge concluded that “Mother should have sole legal and residential custody of [the child]. Mother shall have complete authority to make decisions regarding [the child’s] welfare. She is not required to consult with anyone before doing so; Mother is specifically authorized to obtain any treatment and/or intervention for [the child] as she, in her sole discretion, deems necessary and appropriate for [the child’s] best interests; Mother’s authority described above includes, but is not limited to ‘Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships,’ to enable and assist [the child] in adjusting to living with her.”
By selectively citing the earlier Family Court decision, and concealing the trial outcome, the bloggers leave the impression that the court was critical of Family Bridges and blocked the family from participating in the workshop. In the end, the truth is the exact opposite. (Selective attention is another tactic of alienating parents that critics adopt to try to alienate audiences from my work.)
Here is what the judge wrote in her opinion: “This leaves the Workshop, coupled with a change in custody, as the only potential remedy with any chance of success in this difficult case. . . . The court is faced with compelling evidence that a change in custody, coupled with the Workshop is best for [the child]. . . . The Workshop is a last resort. Obviously it would have been better had these problems been identified and corrected early on. . . . Unfortunately, they were not. This leaves the Workshop as [the child’s] best last hope.” [Emphasis added.]
I fully expect detractors to post other information attempting to cast doubt on the wisdom of the judge’s decision in this case (which was essentially identical to the arbitrator’s decision; that is, two different triers of fact, after hearing all the evidence, concluded that the mother should have custody and have the right to enroll her child in Family Bridges). I do not intend to respond to such posts.
As rebuttal to any future innuendoes and misrepresentations, I can state the following. The mother has authorized me to state that she is very pleased with the ultimate outcome of her case. Her formerly alienated son, estranged for six years, participated in, and greatly benefitted from, the four day Family Bridges workshop. He rapidly restored his loving relationship with his mother and they now live happily together.