High conflict custody litigations pose special challenges faced by no other form of litigation in the age of Richard Gardner M.D. guided junk concepts of “Parental Alienation”. (We refer the reader to Richard Gardner MD, True and False Accusations of Sex Abuse, 1992, NJ )
What makes the Gardner narrative a dangerous profile to follow is the prescription for the capacity for one parent to be demonized in order to cover the ill deeds of a parent who has subjected a child (children) to harm. The Foundation for the Child Victims of the Family Courts (FCVFC) has assisted with many situations in which a child has been subject to physical, emotional, sexual, psychological harm at the hands of a parent. The reasons behind such behavior involve extreme psycho-pathology and or character pathology on the part of the abusing parent.
Further, behaviors that would be engaged as a criminal activity if such behavior was engaged in by strangers are viewed with suspicion in the context of custody litigation. The court will often interpret abuse accusations as false statements geared to gain an advantage by one parent over another.
The Gardner theory of Parental Alienation evolved from his defense of multiple parents accused of abuse in the course of custody litigation. Gardner’s views of sexual abuse varied from the norm as to behavior that constitutes acceptable boundaries in parent-child sexual engagement,
Why is Gaslighting Important To Watch Out For?
Family Courts tend to fail to be able to engage the type of psychological sophistication and in-depth analysis and evaluation to understand interactions beyond the superficial. The good/bad scenario that involves denial of abuse often described as “he said, she said” defenses, by the stable continuum of evidence presented in abuse situations. The term “gaslighting” often applies as the defense of the abuser attempts to discredit the word of the victim and the protectors by saying that events and behaviors did not occur, or that the subject child has been induced to provide a false narrative by the accusing parent.
The demonization follows the platform of what the child, witnesses or experiences. The Protective Parent traditionally reports biased and tainted statement seeking to isolate the child from the accused perpetrator, (usually the mother).
The Willingness to cast out the dark-side genesis of Gardner’s theories can be explained by the efficiency the theory introduced into the custody litigation process.
Gardner’s theory of Parental Alienation is based on a misogynistic perspective of female jealousy of the male role prerogative in introducing children to sexual exploration. Gardner’s theory of genetics and male dominance and superiority as elaborated in his many writings between 1997 and his death by suicide in 2003 distort history and science.
Critique of Gardner’s writing and his presentation of his parental alienation concept have been critiqued by many within the legal and psychological profession ( Joan Meier Esq. PA & PAS, A Research Review, Sept. 2013 ), Even those theorists and practitioners that embrace the Gardner concept of alienation (Richard Warshak, Ph.D., “ Divorce Poison” 2001) agree to the caveat that where real abuse has taken place, a child has every right to reject the abuser, though, the argument remains that abuse alleged has not taken place. An apt comparison between the concepts of Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Reunification is related to “Conversion Therapy”, where the reality experienced is not the reality to be expressed or addressed within the litigation evaluation arena.
Gardner’s preference in attempting to explain or ”normalize,” promote a wide range of sexual practices that are rejected by social norms. His theory of Parental Alienation thus creates a simple good/bad standard by which custody decisions can be judged and rapidly implemented.
CONSEQUENCES TO PROTECTIVE PARENTS AND CHILDREN
With a weaponized theory, Gardner has created a cottage industry of evaluators, therapists, and attorneys who “diagnose” treat, investigate, and litigate. The ability to create a black and white, clear-cut scenario in which crimes against children are absolved by the explanation that one parent is creating a false narrative, covers up a crime, when the other parent is seeking to present evidence to protect a child, has turned family court and “Family Court Petitions” into a blood sport. One party departs the victor with the spoils and the other parent leaves childless, homeless and penniless.
Cover-ups of crimes, such as these, if perpetrated by a stranger would have been brought before a prosecutor is now being subject to “gaslight” explanations which inject challenges to reality testing. Crimes such as Domestic Violence which involve a battery, complex scenarios of self-defense, trauma experienced by children, sexual crimes committed by a parent, are argued as a “he said she said” event.
Traumatized children left dazed, their experiences evidenced by behavioral sequelae related to exposure to assault and abuse are argued to have occurred as a result of false accusations by a spouse. Children’s accounts of abuse and suffering are credited as false reports stemming from an alignment with a hostile parent in order to impune an innocent spouse. Spurious arguments confuse fact and fiction, victim and perpetrator.
COMBATTING FEAR OF FIGHTING THE FAMILY COURT
The fear and trembling that accompany confrontation with court appearances, wrangling with local court rules, local judicial rules, statutes, complaints, rules of evidence and so on, are fully reasonable, whether or not one has attorney representation. The responsibility of the Protective Parent to be fully informed about every aspect of their case is a critical element of which most litigants are unaware.
The thought that a litigant can pay and place their case in the hands of an attorney without the rigorous oversight of that attorney and all the moving pieces of that case are sadly mistaken. The inner workings of cases, the personal assumptions, opinions, shared history of court actors have an impact on the course of handling evidence, witnesses, examination and even the presentation of the case narrative. The litigant needs to be fully familiar with the case strategy from beginning to end and as the case moves from moment to moment.
The passivity or assertiveness of litigants in managing their cases from the inception of filing a cause of action to planning for damages filings upon winning the case makes all of the difference in outcomes. The unwillingness to take no as the answer to many difficult, often accepted as impossible questions to issues such as judicial recusal, filing civil suits in the midst of a trial, and the most challenging issues related to immunity and qualified immunity make the difference in successful or unsuccessful outcomes.
WHEN CASE SETTLEMENT IS NOT AN OPTION
The FCVFC often hears from our clients that their case is impossible to win. In one such situation, a parent was told that the result of an evaluation that recommended that three young children be transferred from the hands of a demonstrably Protective Parent into the hands of a demonstrably severely impaired parent. The Protective Parent was being accused by the evaluator that the Protective Parent was the cause of all of the problems of the spouse who had been separated from the children over a period of years because of the parents’ addictions. The Protective Parent was also blamed for the children’s estrangement, trauma, and distress which occasioned their resistance to engagement with the parent from whom they felt rejected and abandoned.
A “pay to play” evaluator attempted to present a case for removal of children from the Protective Parent who was to be, perhaps, eventually, afforded supervised visitation. The client’s lawyer expressed that the judge would listen to the evaluator and there was no path to a different outcome
The staff of the FCVFC had a different view of the case. In collaboration with the client, our attorney and support experts, confrontation of the independent evaluator in place, resulted in the Judge’s removal of the court-appointed evaluator, based on bias and incompetence. The evaluator was removed by the judge as of mid-afternoon of the second day of trial, following cross-examination by an attorney who was well prepared to deal with the relevant content exposing the evaluator’s incompetence and bias. The case was placed on a ninety-day postponement which does not threaten the custody of the children nor status of the Protective Parent.
Ongoing vigilance in the Forensic Evaluation and management of high conflict custody litigation is critical from the moment the case begins through final orders granting custody and parenting plans. Attorney oversight, understanding of the entire court process, evaluating the evaluator and the evaluation process, client court demeanor and interaction with court actors must be under micromanagement until a safe outcome for all vulnerable parties is secured.