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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

January 29, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Yes, parental alienation is now included, albeit not by that name, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Yes, the most recent book on the subject, edited by Dr. Robert Bernet, Professor Emeritus at Vanderbilt University, contains some 700 citations to contemporary science on parental alienation from over 40 countries. Yes, legal, medical and mental health experts see the phenomenon day after day, year after year in their various practices. And yes, parental alienation has been recognized in at least 500 law cases and numerous statutes.

But amazingly yes, we’re still seeing articles like this one (Al Jazeera, 1/24/14). I don’t know if the reporter, Tim Stelloh is a paid-up member of the National Organization for Women or not, but if he’s not, he should be. His article is every bit as mendacious and biased as NOW’s pronouncements on parental alienation that I reported on here. Put simply, his piece is a mostly fact-free bit of agitprop whose apparent purpose is to continue the removal of fathers from children’s lives by family courts.

Sigh. Where to begin?

Stelloh begins his piece with the story of a mother whom he names Anna Cooper. That’s a pseudonym used, he says “to protect [her and her family’s] privacy.” I suspect there are other reasons. One is that it’s essentially impossible to get sued for liable or defamation if no one can identify the people involved. Inasmuch as his article assumes, and all but states, that Cooper’s ex-husband sexually abused their son, my guess is that played at least as big a part in Stelloh’s decision as the family’s privacy did. The other is that, if we knew who he’s writing about, we could check the court’s records, interview the child’s father, the medical experts, etc. But since we don’t know these people’s identities, we can’t do that. Anonymity protects many things, Mr. Stelloh.

Stelloh weaves the story of Anna Cooper and her young son Ben throughout his attack on the concept that some parents might so hate their opposite number that they might actually try to turn the child against the other parent. And that story, along with most of the rest of the article makes for fascinating reading.

No, it’s not fascinating on its own facts which are sparsely told and at most amount to an off-the-shelf story of alienation of a father by a mother. What’s fascinating about Cooper’s story is that Stelloh used it. After all, his whole point is (straight out of the NOW playbook) that the concept of parental alienation is scientifically unsound and nothing but a stalking horse for abusive fathers who have no other recourse to get custody of their kids. Meanwhile, so the theory goes, there’s an epidemic of “protective mothers” whose children are being torn from their loving arms by heartless judges biased in favor of fathers.

Given that, according to the article, “what is happening in family courts across America” is just that, you’d think he might be able to find a case – one single case – that supports his theory. But amazingly, he didn’t. What he found was Anna Cooper who accused Ben’s father of sexually abusing the boy, a claim that was found to be unsubstantiated. The court appointed experts to inquire into the allegations and they found that it was Cooper, not her ex, who was the abuser.

Meanwhile, Cooper’s ex-husband denied ever touching his son inappropriately. Cooper, his lawyer claimed, was the one harming their child.

The court agreed with him. In the judge’s telling, Cooper was a far more destructive force than her ex-husband: Cooper had “taken it upon herself to become the documentarian of record (for what) she believes is a righteous and just cause,” the judge said. “The downside of that, sincere as her belief may be, is that her conduct towards the child itself is abusive. The taking of that picture was abusive.”

The judge awarded sole custody to Ben’s father. Cooper would be allowed to see her son only under supervision…

A child psychiatrist, Kenneth Robson, was appointed to evaluate the case. Robson was a well-known authority on alienation with an impressive resume — two decades at Tufts University School of Medicine, a decade as director of child and adolescent psychiatry at a Hartford, Conn., hospital, an appointment at Yale University School of Medicine.

Robson, who did not respond to interview requests, completed his evaluation in the summer of 2011. In the report, which was provided to Cooper, he described Ben as a “complex diagnostic picture” — a precocious boy who was “bonded” to a “sturdy” father. Cooper, meanwhile, was damaged and dangerous. In a passage that recalled Gardner’s ideas about “vicarious gratification,” Robson wrote that when she told Ben to stop his sexualized outbursts, she was not only unconvincing but wanted him to continue. This “orgiastic” obsession with Ben’s genitals had so overstimulated the boy that he could no longer “contain the passions thus aroused,” he wrote, adding that, like “Moby Dick,” this story would end in tragedy. The damage would be to “(Ben’s) soul.” Robson recommended that sole custody remain with Ben’s father.

And so it has until recently when Anna Cooper was allowed limited supervised visitation with the boy.

Is Ben being abused now? During the two years in which his father had sole custody of him, was he abused? Apparently not. At least if he had been, I suspect Stelloh would have mentioned the fact. But he didn’t and wouldn’t we expect him to have been if the dad were so inclined to abuse of his son? The unavoidable conclusion to the story that Stelloh chose to use as the centerpiece – the example that is meant to prove his point – of his article is that, in all probability, Ben’s dad has never abused him. He looks to be very much the man the mental health experts and the judge found him to be – a fit and loving father. Certainly Stelloh offers nothing to the contrary.

Again, for the umpteenth time, those who claim parental alienation to be a fiendish ruse by abusive fathers to wrest custody from “protective mothers” cannot come up with a single instance in which that actually occurred. Look behind their claims, and the cases they cite never bear them out. Never. Stelloh’s “example” turns out to be nothing more than a custody case with whose outcome he disagrees.

I’d love to look at the facts of the case. I’d love to read the experts’ reports and find out what the judge really had before him/her when the sole-custody decision was made. But of course I can’t do that. Tim Stelloh is far more comfortable spoon feeding his readers just the information he wants us to know, and even then his argument falls flat. He seems to think that simply asserting that (a) “this mother believes her ex abused their son,” and (b) “the judge gave Dad custody anyway” in some way means the father is abusive and the court overlooked the fact. No, Mr. Stelloh, you have to do better than that.

About Cooper’s first hearing the term “child alienation” from her ex’s lawyer Noah Eisenhandler, Stelloh writes, “Cooper didn’t know what Eisenhandler was talking about.” Neither does Stelloh. He’s just reading from a script written by NOW.

That’s part of the problem, but the other part is his reliance on gender ideologues Joan Meier and (incredibly) Joyanna Silberg to get his information. He talked to Amy Baker and Richard Warshak, but it’s clear that Stelloh’s mind was made up long beforehand. It’s too bad he didn’t ask Silberg how often she’s attempted to testify for a mother in court but had her proffered testimony rejected as too scientifically unsound to be admitted into evidence.

But apart from that and again channeling NOW, Stelloh recites the worn out and utterly false claim that parental alienation is “gendered,” i.e. a concept used by fathers against mothers. To that end, he refers briefly to several cases in which parental alienation has been raised in a custody case, all of them by fathers against mothers. And he quotes longtime gender ideologue Joan Meier thus: “When a mother alleges abuse or children allege abuse or fear or hostility to a parent who is alleged to have been abusive, it tends to be very quickly attributed to the mother’s vendetta.”

In typical Meier fashion, she’s asserting something for which she has absolutely not a shred of evidence. What “tends” to happen in family courts is that mothers are free to make any claims they want and not see the least adverse result. If anything like what she claims were actually happening, we’d see a lot more fathers with custody and a lot more mothers thinking twice before leveling specious charges. But all that goes on unabated and the anti-dad crowd isn’t happy that hundreds of mental health professionals around the world are taking note and resisting.

But more to the point is Stelloh’s pretense (and Meier’s, NOW’s, Silberg’s, etc., etc.) that parental alienation is “gendered,” i.e. something only mothers do to fathers. That’s just pure nonsense. Like so much of the anti-father rhetoric, it’s simply false. Had Stelloh taken five minutes out of his busy day to actually read something on the subject, he’d find out that fathers are every bit as capable of engaging in alienating behavior as are mothers. If reading’s too hard, he could have simply asked the question of Dr. Baker or Dr. Warshak. They’d have been happy to tell him that there’s nothing gendered about parental alienation.

But for all I know he did that reading and asked that question. Stelloh’s got an agenda and he’s stickin’ to it. He’s swallowed hook, line and sinker the gender feminist claim that parental alienation is just a nefarious plot by fathers against mothers. That’s the gist of his article.

But Stelloh, like all the others who misrepresent the phenomenon of parental alienation in pursuit of their sexist agenda might want to consider something. They think they’re supporting mothers, but they’re actually doing the opposite. After all, what if they succeeded in their mission to convince courts and the mental health community that parental alienation doesn’t happen? The obvious result in many cases would be mothers alienated by fathers coming into court to protest the fact only to be told “no, your gender feminist ‘sisters’ convinced the legislature that what your ex is doing doesn’t happen, so the court won’t admit evidence of alienation.”

Even if all you care about is mothers, even if you’re content to see fathers and children separated and miserable, how do you convince yourself that allowing an alienated mother no recourse against her alienator makes sense?

Gender ideology is a poor guide to sanity in custody decisions. Indeed, it’s a poor guide to just about everything. As is so often the case, courts will do well to look at the social science applicable to their cases. Parental alienation is part of that science and every year it’s a larger part. That’s something people like Stelloh, Silberg, Meier, et al are going to have to deal with. They’re fighting a losing battle. The fact is that every divorce lawyer alive has seen parental alienation. So has every judge and countless mental health professionals. The anti-dad ideologues can deny what’s in front of their faces, but the rest of us can’t and won’t. That’s a good thing. The welfare of children depends on it.

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#AlJazeera, #TimStelloh, #Dr.RobertBernet, #JoanMeier, #JoyannaSilberg, #parentalalienation, #childcustody, #childabuse

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