Late in the summer of 2013 a court decision came out that slammed the use of the term Parental Alienation Syndrome. The preferred euphemism was complicated family dynamics. A syndrome has clinically recognizable features, and because parental alienation syndrome is not listed in the American Psychological Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders, (the DSM-5) it does not legally exist.
More on those dynamics later, but first, in the judge’s words, “I also found that the mother had emotionally abused the children and her conduct had placed all three in need of protection in accordance with the meaning of that term [emotionally abused] as set out in the family law act.”
So what was that protection? The ‘protection’ was for the kids to see a psychiatrist, and get visits from the Children’s Aid Society – yet they were to remain with the abusive parent, with a caution for the mother to – stop the psychological subversion tactics of distorting the children’s reality about their loving father. Alienating would be much a much simpler term to use. The mom was placed on 6 months probation. The father contributed to the costs for the psychiatrist.
The complicated family dynamics had continued for close to four years, and had been heard before the court 22 times in the nine months before the decision, which I’ll get to in a moment. The father had known that his daughters wanted a dog. How many times has that happened in divorce cases? He got a puppy. According to the court documents, “[The dog] quickly became a positive connection between [the new wife] and [the father] and the children. The children developed a love and attachment to [the dog],” said the Children’s Aid worker.
However, the complicated family dynamic continued, and the dog they had once loved and played with – had become a ‘tainted object’, according to the social worker, ”Something that was such a positive in their life with their father, was now very negative to the point of the children being abusive to the dog,” she told the court.
Indeed, the judge found it disturbing to such an extent that he was frightened at the behaviour. “I find that [the mother’s] emotional abuse of the children has caused this behaviour. The status quo is frightening and dangerous for the children, and it cannot continue.” The status quo was the continued psychologically subversive tactics of the mother on the children towards her ex, which had created the complicated family dynamic.
Any kind of fun the girls had with their father was quickly denied and hidden. For instance, according to the Superior Court Judgment, if there was a picture of happiness it was destroyed by the kids. Any verbal reports of a good time were denied, (they were 9, 10 and 11 years old). The judge found that the troubling complicated family dynamic extended to school when the oldest daughter had a biographical project – about who she was. Part of that project included, ““I am afraid of monsters and my Daddy.”” That note, along with all of the other children’s notes was hung on the hallway just outside the child’s class with a picture of the child. [The judge] “was shocked that the teacher who hung this on wall felt that there was nothing wrong in doing so. She did not see how hurtful that might be to the child’s father. She justified, curiously enough, with the similar refrain of the mother, that [the] child was just expressing her feelings.”
The complicated family dynamics extended to the mothers family members as well. The child psychologist was engaged “to help the children transition to a positive relationship with their father, and to help them cope with the impact of the emotional abuse their mother, with the assistance of the maternal extended family had caused the girls.” Yet the psychologist found no evidence that the mother was the reason behind the children’s behaviour…but the judge did, thanks in part to a recording made by the father during an abusive rant by the mom, which took place in front of the children.
It is entirely legal to record any conversation that you are party to without having to tell anyone that you are doing so, (in Canada). Using that recording in court however is a tricky proposition. In this instance, thankfully for the children, the judge allowed it, and he wrote that – “The behaviour demonstrated in the recordings reveals that the mother’s outward compliance with my June 27, 2011 order was merely a façade.”
The judge had been able to ascertain, where the psychiatrist couldn’t, that “From listening to the recording, it is apparent that as [the mother's] demeanor became more hostile and anxious, so did the children’s behaviour and demeanor: her feelings became the children’s feelings, her demands became the children’s demands. She riled her children into a state of frenzied and tearful exchanges with their father.”
The decision to allow the recordings was based on the fact that the father had asked her to leave, and not discuss the snacks in front of the kids. Yes, the hour long rant was about snacks. The main psychiatrist in the case believed that the recording should be discounted because the father knew the exchange was being recorded, but the mother of the girls didn’t know it. The judge said, “I fail to see the significance of this under the circumstances of this case. In this situation, the father was not attempting to get evidence in an entrapment type of scenario, but rather, was constantly trying to end the discussion despite what I find to be an extremely abusive exchange from [the mother]. I find that if [the father] was trying to entrap the mother and therefore skew the evidence in his favour, he would not have been desperately trying to end the conversation.
The judge wrote – “I find that the children can no longer be in the custody of the mother. She has not been able to remove the children from the harm and future risk of harm of emotional abuse. This case goes far beyond merely not being supportive of the children’s relationship with the other parent. I echo the assessments of [psychiatrist A] and [psychiatrist B], that this is the worst case of emotional abuse I have seen. As a result of their mother’s emotional manipulation, the children feel entitled to disrespect and be abusive to anyone who does not agree with them, which impedes their continued healthy development.”
“I must note, however, that I found in my June 27, 2011 judgement that he was obsessively pursuing the concept of parental alienation syndrome and must stop that pursuit. I made it clear that I thought chasing such labels polarizes the professionals and results in a limiting view of the solutions to a complex problem.”
The father had incurred over $500,000 in legal expenses. He had to endure two trials, watch his three children being psychologically abused for upwards of four years. The fact that the ‘experts’ had never seen such a case may be in part because most alienated parents don’t have the resources to see justice through to the bitter end.