This is the archive of the original tigtogblog

tigtog now posts at the new and improved Hoyden About Town. She also blogs at Larvatus Prodeo and Finally A Feminism 101 Blog. If the new Hoydenspace is down you should find updates below.

Posts begin below the Feed Modules from the blogs named above.

Hoyden About Town

Latest Posts from Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

2006-07-02

But a doctor wrote it! It must be true!

Ever heard of "Disenfranchised Father Syndrome"? No? How about "Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome"? Me neither, but to a lot of men, particularly in the USA, the conditions are believed to be real, including one I had heard of - Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Kevin T. Keith at Sufficient Scruples examines how fathers' rights organisations attract pseudoscientists making up mental illnesses that their harpy ex-wives must be suffering from that both explain why they're being difficult about visiting rights and why the courts should just take those kids away from the bitches:

Kevin describes it as:
"the right wing's penchant for dressing up their particular aversions in pseudo-medical language and imputing some sort of bogus pathology to people who have simply refused to behave as they were told."

Such pathologising has always been a pernicious problem for women with minds of their own though. Just think of the origins of the word hysteria. As Kevin notes at the end of his article:
"After all this, all that remains to be said is to note how pervasive the medicalization (specifically, the psychological pathologizing) of women's behavior is, predictably, in ways systematically tending to establish them to be unfit to live their own lives and raise their own children."

So, some women simply refuse to do what their ex-husbands want them to do in relation to child custody and access. That does not, however, make them mentally ill for jerking their exes around. It does not even necessarily make them arseholes out to "get" their exes. They may in fact have perfectly logical reasons to restrict access, no matter how much the ex-husband doesn't want to acknowledge that.

Do some women use their children as tokens in a punishment game with their ex-husbands? Yes, they do, and they are unethical to do so, even if their ex treated them appallingly during their marriage and the temptation to deliver retribution in the only way they can is overwhelming. It is still wrong to use the children in that way, and the older the children grow the more likely they are to resent it, so it's also counterproductive.

However, that doesn't, on its own, make them a bad custodial parent: just a difficult co-parent. Yes, that makes it hard for the non-custodial fathers, in many cases much harder than it should be. Acknowledge that she hates you and won't make life easy, resent it some, but deal. It's a cop out to say she's nuts, guys.

24 comments:

John Doe said...

Try "dealing" with such an ex-wife when she's got your kids and wants to hurt you, take from you, destroy you, not caring what effect it has on the kids, only that she gets her own way and you hurt. Just try it. In such a situation, your own children are the most direct route to causing you the maximum possible harm against which you cannot defend yourself and without your ex lifting a finger directly. It is uncommon, but it certainly happens and it is the absolute worst pain in the world. You cannot escape, you can only endure. Just try it.

John Doe said...

Oops, sorry, I now note that you're a woman. OK, fathers can be just the same way if they get custody. Would you tell such a target mother "just deal"?

tigtog said...

The "just deal" I mentioned is dealing with the fact that they hate you and want to make your life miserable WITHOUT ASSUMING THAT THEY ARE INSANE.

My problem with this "syndrome" is medicalising assholery, and particularly medicalising recalcitrant women. Some people just are assholes, or at least become assholes when relationships implode. It's not a medical problem, it's a personal conflict problem.

Both men and women can be vindictive jerks towards their ex-partners without being insane. Deal with them being vindictive jerks without wasting money trying to prove that they are insane in order to get custody. It's a waste of finances and energy, and it won't help your kids one little bit.

Also, note that some truly abusive men hang around fathers' rights groups whining about how they're hard done by when in fact they are brutal thugs and their kids are right to hate their guts. Associating with those guys doesn't do the genuinely persecuted non-custodial fathers any good at all.

John Doe said...

Where do you draw the line between "assholery" and illness? Where do you draw the line between anger and pathology? At what point do you wonder at someone's intent to hurt another person as a defect in their personality that warrants intervention, whether from the state or a psychologist?

Remember that there is a thrid party involved - the child or children. Don't just pay this lip service as so many do. The vast majority of non-custodial parents (NCPs) love their children, most custodial parents will be aware of this and that the children love that other parent, they will be able to empathize and rise above their drive to use this leverage to hurt the NCP.

But some custodial parents are blind to the damage they do to their children, or are arrogant enough to as to believe it doesn't matter, and use the leverage to hurt the other. What is an NCP to do? They quickly find that the courts will make them pay up with no quarter, but will do nothing to persuade the other parent to play ball. Too often, the courts & commentators view an NCP trying to defend their relationship with their children as trying to "revenge" themselves on the other parent. This is a double-bind - don't fight and lose your kids (and become a "loser" too), or do fight and be treated as abusive. The custodial parents know that all they have to do is keep stirring the pot until the NCP gets exhausted, discouraged, fed up, whatever and goes away. If they're lucky, the NCP will be financially, emotionally and professionaly destroyed by the time they've finished.

"Lucky"? Yes, there really are such people out there. And if they can't get a rise out of you, they will take it out on the kids. This is commonly known as child abuse, but rarely recognized as such. Such a parent has no reason to "deal".

As for "abusive" types hanging around fathers' rights groups, these men have often been rather severely abused themselves. They often don't care if you call them abusive any more because they have been called that no matter what they did.

Any activist group will also draw its share of cranks, that doesn't make their cause bad.

What would your advice be to "the genuinely persecuted non-custodial fathers". "Deal" does not cut it.

tigtog said...

John, you really seem to perceive an entirely different argument in my words from the one I thought I was making.

As you say, most custodial parents, despite any lingering resentments, can manage to cooperate with the NCP.

My point was that the relatively small proportion of utterly recalcitrant and/or vindictive custodial parents are not necessarily insane, and any activist group which claims this is full of shit (and almost always misogynist shit about crazy bitches). If there is some sort of guru claiming to have lots of tests that aren't APA-approved and charging lots of money to be an "expert witness" (who knows he won't be listened to because his theory's crap), then that activist group is also ripping off the non-custodial parents who go there for support and help.

For anyone genuinely caught in the trap of a vindictive ex using the kids as pawns to hurt them, and hurting the kids emotionally in the process, I have nothing but sympathy and thankfulness that I have never had to suffer the pain of a custody dispute myself.

I still say that you have to deal with the fact that your ex is not insane as you work for access/custody. My best advice would be to seek counsel from advisory groups which don't have a dogma that women who withhold access from their NCPs are self-evidently insane and damaging the kids.

John Doe said...

"Sanity" is often in the eyes of the beholder. I do understand what you are saying, but it suffers from the naivety of someone who has never looked down the barrel of the family courts. The non-custodial parent sits in a double-bind, a legal and social strait-jacket. If they don't do exactly what the custodial parent wants, they are viewed as at fault. I know it is hard to comprehend or even accept, but that is really true. The supporting theory is based in past-WWII neo-Freudian thinking which takes no account of a child's need for both parents if they are available and has long been discredited, but many court systems have not yet woken up.

Sympathy just does not hack it, and men don't even get that most of the time. "Counsel from advisory groups"? Come on. Pull the other one, it's got bells on it. MY SON IS BEING ABUSED AND YOU WANT ME TO GET COUNSELLING?! When you are an NCP in court, under full blown attack, you either roll over and lose or fight back and lose.

When someone is screwing with your kids, you fight with whatever you can get. In normal people, it is a near biological imperative. Those people wandering around claiming that parental alienation is junk science, that mothers aren't malicious and there's no such thing as a disenfranchised father are, from the victim parent's point of view, themselves functionally insane if not clinically so because they refuse to see what is in front of their faces. It is quite astonishing to behold, a form of mass delusion.

That "syndrome" might be an unfortunate word to use in many cases is pedantically splitting hairs. Just as you would control a compulsive thief, it should be possible to control the compulsively vindictive parent. But such efforts are de-railed by politically-motivated forces before they even get started, time and again, and arguments like this give them just the weapons they need.

Ever read 1984? Do you know what newspeak is, or doublethink? Make "in the best interests of the children" mean what it says and not synonymous with "what the custodial parent wants" and then we can talk about the definition of a "syndrome". In the meantime, positions like yours are simply irrelevant chatter - like B.Eds. arguing the latest trendy education theory while not actually entering a classroom. You probably think you're being very aloof and proper, but you're really just getting in the way and wasting a lot of people's time and lives.

Finally, it is interesting how your final sentence conflates two issues, using one to disingenuously discredit and the other the pass off a falsehood as self-evident fact. This happens a lot in your camp.

First the claim that fathers' rights people believe that witholding access means that a parent is self-evidently insane. Only a very few, fringe elements would argue that and you should not paint the entire movement with such an accusation. Moreover, "insane" is hyperbolic and over-dramatizes what is being said. Bipolar personality disorder is often mild, doesn't need pharmaceutical treatment and is clearly not "insanity", but it is still real, worthy of the name "disorder" and sufferers should be able to identify themselves and find help. A syndrome is not the same as insanity. It merely identifies a pathological pattern of behavior (and you'd be surpsied at how consistent that pattern is and how pathological it can be).

But more significantly, you also imply that witholding access doesn't damage the kids. I assure you. ma'am, that it most certainly does. It is a form of child abuse and the sooner the world wakes up to that, the better off our children will be.

The system does not work. What will YOU do about it?

tigtog said...

I take your point that a mental disorder does not mean one is insane, and I can't believe I wasn't careful enough to make that clear, knowing the difference very well in my offline life.

I still don't see that resentful/malicious behaviour of an ex-partner is necessarily a mental disorder, although I accept your point that withholding access purely from malice certainly will hurt the kids, and didn't mean to imply otherwise. I don't think every asshole I meet is mentally ill, and I don't see why assholery should somehow magically become a mental illness when it involves custodial mothers.

As to what I will do about the system, I live in a country where custodial parents are held to higher standards by our dedicated-purpose Family Court than in the States anyway in terms of access etc (not that that makes it perfect, but it does seem to be better balanced). How do YOU suggest reforming the US situation so that parents withholding access due to a genuine fear of the NCP's physically abusive propensities aren't flushed down the system?

What about when the custodial parent is in-principle cooperative, but the children are genuinely disgusted and repelled by the NCP's history of adultery/alcoholic irresponsibility/etc? How will you ensure that such children aren't forced to spend time with the NCP they despise for betraying the custodial parent and breaking up the family home? Some parents deserve to be alienated from their children, and their children like it just fine that way.

Even if the offending parents later reform and repent and yearn for those children, some screw-ups are just too painful to forgive, and there's no mental illness involved in that, either. How do you propose to allow those children to choose not to see that NCP they can't forgive, let alone respect or love?

John Doe said...

Where have I said a child should be forced to be with a known abusive parent? How do you know the betrayal isn't executed by the custodial parent? No-one "deserves" to be alienated from their children, although some should separated from them. Alienation is a process of undermining a child's positive feeling about their parent, and it can be carried out by that parent and by the other. One might suggest that the abusive parent somehow gets what they deserve, but the custodial parent who sets out to alienate a child from the non-custodial is getting the exact opposite of what they deserve. That is, the abusive parent gets the reward. Wonderful.

This discussion started out about the suitability of the ideas of disenfranchised father syndrome, malicious mother syndrome, and parental alienation syndrome. You have changed the subject to discussion of known abusers according to commonly accepted criteria (physical abuse, alcoholism). This is another common strategy of the anti-PAS crowd, to offer this up in an attempt to distract from the true topic under discussion. It is a non-sequiteur. The question at hand is not how to ensure that children are protected from stereotypical abusers, but how they are protected from the false representation of an innocent parent.

Children are trusting by nature, they believe what they're told, sometimes in the face of obvious facts to the contrary. A child who is kept away from a good parent by a bad one and then subjected to a systematic campaign of denigration of the other parent with reward for agreement and punishment (sometimes as simple as "the silent treatment") for disagreement will eventually cave in. This may come at the cost of immense damage to the psyche. You will note that I don't even have to use the word "brainwashing" nor refer to "Stockholm Syndrome" to make my point. But tell me, do you think "Stockholm Syndrome" is medical claptrap?

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a phrase used to describe a very well established cluster of behaviors and is alarmingly common in high conflict divorce. PAS derives from ideas of Malicious Mother Syndrome which was abandoned for the same reasons that PAS is now under attack, regardless of the reality or otherwise of the behavior.

Disenfranchised Father Syndrome is a relatively new concept describing a cluster of behaviors often exhibited by fathers who are unwillingly and undeservedly separated from the children that they love and who, previous to the occurence of the behaviors described by PAS, loved them. Throughout the western world, divorce triples the likelihood that a man will attempt suicide, it has no effect on the divorce rate in women. If you take the thing from him that matters most to a man, which defines a significant part of his identity, do you honestly think there will be no consequences? Do you not think that if you do that to enough men you will not identify a cluster of behaviors that many of them have in common? Is it not reasonable to call this cluster of behaviors a syndrome?

Eventually, I expect we might recognize an ACPAS - Adult Children of PAS. They already exist. They are often damaged people, they have behavior patterns strikingly similar to those emerging from "brainwashing" cults, they just haven't found their voice yet. But they will.

tigtog said...

Here's the nub of the problem: YOU may be discussing innocent NCPs believing genuinely in slickly presented pseudoscience, but I am discussing cynical pseudoscientists enabling malicious NCPs to punish their ex-partners with yet another lawsuit and the associated community innuendo. No wonder we're getting nowhere when we are discussing different people.

My whole post is about the usual ploy of pseudoscience preying on those with a grievance. It is the medicalisation of non-compliant women I object to: even when people's behaviour is petty and destructive it is not necessarily medically abnormal.

As to so-called "Disenfranchised Father Syndrome", I would call that cluster of behaviours seperation grief coupled with anger and frustration, and that's not a syndrome either, no matter how powerful an disturbing it may be. Grief and anger are normal human emotions, not mental illnesses.

John Doe said...

Grief and (repressed) anger are common components of depression too. Is depression not a medical condition? And Stockholm Syndrome is also a normal human reaction to certain abnormal events, it is no less a syndrome, no matter how understandable. That is the interesting thing of many human pathologies, they are usually quite comprehensible given a little understanding of the people and circumstances involved. Indeed, depression is so common that one wonders why since common behavior patterns often have an adaptive function, that is, until you learn that depressives are better at predicting outcomes of real world scenarios than are undepressed people. That is, they have a more realistic view of the world which is presumably, therefore, an advantage in less-than-optimum life circumstances.

(And I find it interesting that someone who is never likely to suffer disenfranchised father syndrome is so pleased to dismiss it out of hand.)

"Pseudoscience" is a useful word because no-one really knows what it means, they just know it's bad, and usually because of the tone in which it is employed. It is clearly an attempt to discredit the target and rarely does it carry any sort of reasoned backing but it provokes suspicion of the target because it employs the word "science". The soft sciences are particularly vulnerable to the accusation, sometimes deservingly, but that does not mean that the issue in question is not real and deserving of study. The grounds on which PAS is attacked as pseudoscience are particularly egregious because they effectively, but erroneously, disable reasoned discussion as we have seen by your squirming on the hook above. Nuclear weapons are a bad thing potentially used by bad people for bad ends, but nuclear physics is most certainly not bad science.

This idea of lawsuits-as-punishment for "non-compliant" NCPs is another very useful weapon for those who would argue against valid grounds for lawsuits. It is another double-bind as it can be used against anyone whose only recourse is the law and further lawsuits. Yes, there are divorces and custody battles that go on for years and no, this is not a good thing. The problem is often not even the litigants, but the system itself which is so prone to exacerbating problems that many wonder if it may be designed to do so (law practise is a lucrative profession).

I forgot to answer your question of what would I do: make it a crime to obstruct any parent/child relationship without grounds, with a high standard of proof, not just hearsay or the word of some trendy shrink, that the parent is a liability to the child. In particular, the word of the other parent should NOT be taken as anything more than an indication that some investigation may be warranted, especially in the absence of physical evidence. Should the children turn on a parent, the reason should be established, especially if it happens in the course of a divorce and real, serious efforts made towards facilitating a reconciliation, not some perfunctory and insulting idea of "supervised visitation" which is often just another, very effective way to humiliate the target.

These days, in many parts of the world, there is what is known as "the magic bullet" wherein the mother goes to the courts and claims she's been abused by her husband. The instant result is a restraining order and he is locked out of the house, away from his kids and usually stripped of whatever resources he might have to defend himself. He never even gets a word in. Parental alienation is the obvious next step for the suitably unscrupulous mother and if that mother has lied about the abuse in the first place, she's much more likely to be inclined to set the stage for PAS.

I nearly began this sentence "if this were a crime...", the problem is that it is a crime, but it goes unpunished even when detected. This generates a mechanism by which one side may get an immediate and unshakeable upper hand through subterfuge and without fear of repercussion even before the question of bias in assigning custody is opened. "You can tell which parent is going to get custody, it's the one wearing the skirt." And given what we have discussed above, custody is a vehicle for further removing a parent from a child's life.

We have a moronically low standard of proof of the liability of a parent to a child and under such circumstances, all sorts of distortions will take place. As it is, we have demonized one parent over the other in the name of protecting the children and merely exposed those children to a different sort of danger. This is folly.

kate said...

Surely the reason women usually get custody of children, even in the most harmonious of breakups, is that they do the bulk of the childcare before the breakup? I'm not suggesting this is necessarily the case in your particular family John, but it is in every single family I know but one (where the Dad is taking a turn at home, which makes it more half and half).

My local parliamentarian (Lindsay Tanner, ALP, Melbourne) was quoted as saying that he spends more time, and more of that is time when he is solely responsible, with his children now than he ever did when he was married to their mother. It's sad, but he didn't suggest it was their mother's fault, that he'd never taken on that responsibility before.

I'm not suggesting that father's shouldn't see their children (except in the relatively rare cases where they've abused the kid), only that there is a pretty simple reason why kids don't live with their Dad's as a matter of routine after separation.

If my parents had separated when I was child (they're still pretty happy together fortunately) my Dad (who I love to bits, and who has many admirable traits) would have been a rather disconcerting custodial parent. He didn't know what schools we went to, what we liked to eat, how the washing machine worked, where to purchase kids clothes (or his own for that matter) or many other things. Mum took care of it all.

Now Dad's not stupid, and if Mum had upped and left us for a pearl diver in Darwin, he'd have muddled through somehow. What I'm saying is that it would have been a total change of routine, as opposed to being left with just Mum. We would have missed Dad terribly, but our routine wouldn't have changed much at all. It's the maintainance of that everyday routine that comes into the 'best interests of the child' argument.

There's no perfect way to divide children's time between their parents, someone is always going to miss out on Christmases and birthdays and developmental milestones, but parents who find ways to get along with each other after divorce (in my experience) are those who shared the load of childcare when they were married.

John Doe said...

My concern is less about who gets custody of the children than with those cases where one parent is empowered to obstruct and dismantle the relationship between the children and the other parent. This is all too common, the empowerment is provided by many sources, including a society at large which all too readily stands in judgement of fathers. It is so ingrained, we often do not even notice it. Tigtog is a typical example of the position that if the NCP wants to destroy her children's relationship with their father, she should be allowed to, all her claims and behavior going unexamined in the name of her "choices".

tigtog said...

I call bullshit on that.

Custodial parents who are being obstructionist jerks should be called on it and their behaviour should be examined and where necessarily penalised. I have never said otherwise.

I just resent fake syndromes getting called into it which once again paint women as not just irrational but mentally ill just because they are angry. Medicalising obstructionist jerks as mentally ill helps no-one except the "experts" making the pseudoscience diagnosis lining their pockets at the expense of despairing NCPs.

People can be very nasty and unfair to each other without being mentally ill. Is that degree of anger and resentment irrational? Of course it is. Is all irrational human behaviour attributable to mental illness? Only if you want to classify all strong emotions, including love, as medical syndromes.

John Doe said...

I agree that it is something of a conundrum as to where one draws the line between unpleasant human behavior and a medicalized condition. The same question lies between what should be illegal and what should not.

The problem at hand is that you speak from the advantage point of theoretical knowledge and do not face the issue in court where you may be fighting for your rights as a parent and the children's rights to have both parents. Under such circumstances, one must use whatever means available to defend oneself and one's children or run the very real risk of being disenfranchised. It is all too common that western courts, faced with a serious conflict, default to depriving one parent of appropriate rights. The desire of the custodial parent to deprive the NCP of rights is often implicitly supported. That is, obstructive behavior is easy to express and is difficult to fight. This is a pathology, medical or not, and of both the courts and the custodial parent and innocents suffer.

"Malicious mother syndrome" and "parental alienation syndrome" are a shorthand, however you may disapprove, for real and destructive behavior. By arguing against the terminology, you distract from the problem and implicitly support the behavior. You may feel that you are somehow being objective, but the argument does nothing to resolve the real problem.

What is truly "in the best interests of the child" is to not live in an atmosphere of conflict and to have a healthy relationship with both parents. The superficial way to alleviate conflict is to remove one party from the picture. Thus a malicious custodial parent's goals are furthered by generating conflict. I.e. a court's prediliction for the easiest solution causes it to participate in the destruction of good family relations which is, presumably, not what it is meant to do. It has to be shown that this is what is happening and you cannot identify a problem without naming it. What name would you prefer to use?

tigtog said...

"Obstructing access" describes the behaviour perfectly.

"Turning the kids against me" is a phrase with a long history which also describes the behaviour perfectly.

If the NCP can show that there is no good reason to obstruct access, and that the child(ren)'s feelings towards the NCP are being distorted through falsehoods they have been told, then the NCP has a case against the custodial parent purely on the grounds of actions without speculating about any pathology behind the actions.

I don't see that adding convoluted labels with no scientific evidence behind them adds to the likelihood that the court will decide in favour of the NCP. Surely wasting their time with pseudoscience, showing an overly credulous and/or combative nature, will make the judiciary more likely to rule against the NCP?

Keep it simple: describe what obstructionist acts have been taken, show in detail and with character references how the NCP doesn't present a risk that would justify obstruction, and make the judge/jury sympathise with the NCP.

The strategy of pathologising obstructionist custodial behaviour rather than just exhaustively detailing examples of unfair obstruction is counterproductive, makes the NCP less sympathetic rather than more, and wastes their money on faux experts.

John Doe said...

tigtog, you really don't get it.

"If the NCP can show..." is the hole in your argument because often he (sometimes she) cannot show anything. No-one can, in fact, and hearsay rules the day. The courts supposedly don't listen to hearsay, but they are predisposed to give preference to the custodial parent via the "best interest of the child" argument discussed above because "best interest" is painfully simplistically defined.

These cases are sufficiently unusual that they require the presence of experts to identify and resolve. Let us not forget that, should the facts support it, there is nothing to prevent an expert coming to the conclusion that PAS is not an issue.

Let us consider a stereotypical case: mother comes into court claiming father abused the children (and often her, for good measure), father denies such abuse and there is no evidence, court comes down on side of caution and allows only very limited access until the "facts" are established. The courts are already busy, delay is the easiest thing in the world for a custodial parent. Mom uses the separation to work on the kids. The kids' visits with dad is already uncomfortable - it is short, probably supervised, and bracketted by the company of an irate mom. They leave her half hysterical because she "doesn't know what dad's going to do" and come back to her sulky and angry and guilt-tripping because she's been alone and "worried" for a couple of hours. Mom draws all this out by insisting that dad did this, dad did that, might do the other, and anyway she's scared of him. Court is confused, subject to various pressures including political (don't want to upset the feminists) and reacts again by falling on side of caution, abetting the mother by dragging it all out. Sooner or later, the kids begin to associate being with dad as a negative experience. Eventually, the kids are so traumatised they don't want anything more to do with dad because life, while still unhappy, is less bad without him than with. I haven't even mentioned the trauma that dad is suffering. This is now full-blown PAS, but all the court sees is an increasingly hysterical mother, increasingly uncompliant kids and a rattled and probably angry dad. If dad doesn't put up a fight, the court will cut access, if he does, by arguments similar to your own, the court will cut access.

There is nothing in any of this which is medically pathological, but there is plenty that is legally, socially and psychologically pathological. PAS is quite simply Stockholm Syndrome for kids at the hands of a malicious parent. It is real, it is undeniable, and we need experts to help fight it as long as the law and the courts provide the fertile ground in which it can grow.

You want that the NCP can show that there is no good reason to obstruct access in the face of kids who claim they don't want to be near him (or her)? How are you going to do that without an expert who can see through what is going on? You need an expert in mental programming, someone who can talk to kids and tease out the reality of what they have experienced despite what they've been told to say. Such experts are hard to come by, they need to be very smart and have a more-than-excellent rapport with kids they've never met before. The majority of the western world's glut of shrinks wouldn't know their nether regions from their elbows under these circumstances and often make the whole thing worse by taking everything at face value, which is exactly what the alienator wants.

"Describe what obstructionist acts have been taking" reduces the game to one of who can tell the best story. "Character references" don't help. You'd think they might, but the court doesn't know your friends from Adam and again, it's just more hearsay. So you need "psychiatric testing" for the target parent, which will take months, further aiding the custodial parent. Oh, and there is no jury, it's all decided by a judge. Even if the court does offer what it thinks is "generous" visitation this will boil down to every other weekend and Wednesday evenings. The remaining 85% of the time (yes, 85%) is plenty for the alienating parent to continue the campaign against the target. And even then, the court won't enforce visitation because it's not "in the best interest of the children" to sanction the custodial parent.

You don't want to call all this a syndrome? OK, fine, then don't, but remember that the first step to solving a problem is to identify it. That means labelling it. And if we're not allowed to label it, that's just one more bullet in the alienating parent's arsenal and one more obstacle for the target parent to negotiate. This, in fact, is a well known strategy to obstruct the acceptance of any phenomenon - refuse to allow it to be named. What if you weren't allowed to use the words "racism" or "sexism"? Both of these are, techinically speaking, "in-group/out-group" behaviors, and some such behaviors are necessary for the survival of the in-group, and you could use such arguments to defend such behavior on the implicit assumption that the in-group has a right to fight for its own survival. It's a short walk there to the acceptance of racism and sexism in actual fact while supposedly standing against them. Sneaky, huh?

tigtog said...

We're going around in circles here, John Doe, and not convincing each other. I still think "obstruction" is a sufficient label, or certainly should be.

Despite your claims of systemic bias against fathers, repeated studies have shown that when non-custodial fathers pursue physical custody in the courts, they end up succeeding between 70-80% of the time, which paints a very different picture to me.

You accuse me of wishing to excuse obstructionist mothers. Far from it. IMO, obstructing custody should be made a felony misdemeanour rather than a civil offense, with evidence required to meet criminal standards in a jury trial. The same felony standard should stand for any parent withholding child support payments.

I'll go further: there should also be a rebuttable presumption of joint custody as the standard custody award.

Low-conflict parents unwilling to share joint custody could negotiate a primary custody arrangement and register it with the court subject to renegotation as circumstances change (evidence that most very young children do better in a primary-custody arrangement than in strict joint-custody arrangements will affect how many separating couples opt to stick to the presumption of joint custody initially and change the arrangement as the children are older).

In high-conflict relationships, the standard to overturn the joint custody presumption would be proving the other parent unfit or be subject to the felony sanctions above. Parents convicted of domestic violence or child abuse would be banned from custody of any kind but still required to pay child support.

Parents not willing or showing themselves incapable of living up to their joint custody requirements would be required to accept a limited access arrangement and pay increased child support to the primary custodian.

As a side benefit for families generally, if men were presumed to have joint custody after divorce etc, then employers might finally get around to providing better family friendly workplaces for all their workers instead of implicitly relying on women at home to pick up the unpaid slack while requiring men to work unreasonable hours.

John Doe said...

tigtog, our circular arguments notwithstanding, and that I agree with many of your ideas of how to resolve a very real problem (but that I also believe it is so much wishful thinking in the face of reality), your "studies show" comment is completely false in the USA and, I suspect, in Australia too. I challenge you to provide those studies for Australia. Here is the rebuttal for the USA:

Culled from http://www.hisside.com/source_page.htm:

Men win custody in only 10% of contested custody cases
(Note: To avoid confusion: the sources below do not all indicate 10%--some indicate 15 or 20%, some indicate less than 5%. As a whole, the average is around 10%).

Source: Eleanor E. Maccoby and Robert H. Mnookin, Dividing the Child (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 104-105, 149-150.

Source: Stephen J. Bahr, J.D. Howe, M. Morrill Mann, "Trends in Custody Awards: Has the Removal of Maternal Preference Made a Difference?", Family Law Quarterly, Vol, pp. 247-267, Summer 1994.

Source: Wendy Reiboldt and Sharon Seiling, "Factors Related to Men's Award of Custody," Family Advocate, Winter 1993, pp. 42-44. Published by the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association.

Source: William T. K. Dolan, Esq., Empirical Study of Child Custody in Divorce Decrees in Arlington County, Virginia: July 1, 1989--December 30, 1990, © 1991.

Source: Rich Blake, "Father Says System is Unfair to Men in Custody Battles," Alexander (VA) Gazette Packet, October 22, 1992 .

Source: Robert Seidenberg, The Father's Emergency Guide to Divorce-Custody Battle, JES Books, 1997, pp. 11-15, 60-61.

John P. McCahey, J.D., LL.M, et al., Child Custody and Visitation Law and Practice. Matthew Bender, New York. Volume 3, 1983, Section 13.01.



The commonly cited factoid that “men win custody half of the time or more when they contest it” is a myth.

Source: "Do fathers have the edge in divorce?," Cathy Young, Detroit News, December 10, 1996. See: http://www.vix.com/menmag/youngdet.htm.

Source: Robert Seidenberg, The Father's Emergency Guide to Divorce-Custody Battle, JES Books, 1997, pp. 11-15, 60-61.

tigtog said...

Bugger - Blogger ate my comment replying to this. Ah well, it was too long anyway.

Thank you for posting Glenn Sacks' reference list. Have you actually read any of them? The Dolan report is actually a chapter in Seidenberg's book, and is not published (and certainly not peer-reviewed) anywhere else. Cathy Young is flat out wrong in her claims about the Massachusetts Gender Bias Study did not distinguish between mutual agreements and contested custody cases. I'm not confident that those other resources actually support his claims at all.

Some reading I've done recently also crystallised another problem with PAS claims - it means that the child is not listened to, that the child's testimony of fearing the NCP are tossed aside - the child is essentially branded a liar who is repeating the CP's allegedly malicious claims.

Why would any sane, loving, supportive father want to brand their child a liar in court?

John Doe said...

"Why would any sane, loving, supportive father want to brand their child a liar in court?"

Well, that's a low down and dirty argument, on the same scale as the kinds of thing that destroyed a large number of innocent families, child care workers and teachers in the "recovered memories" and "satanic rites" witch hunts of the 80s and 90s. Whatever a child says must be true and fighting it proves the guilt, doesn't it? Way to go, tigtog, stick it to 'em, eh? I bet you'd be first in line to put a torch to the pyre.

Of course no "sane, loving, supportive father" would want to do that, unless it was the outright truth as a result of abuse of a child by the mother or other suitably malicious party whereupon it would be in the child's best interest in order to prevent its slide into a dark world of lies and deceit instead of the light, honest world that it deserves.

Get real.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyway that I can get the email address of John Doe. I will send you my email address if necessary. I have never seen a guy argue our case so well. I remember when I first read the disenfranchised father's syndrome. I was literally getting treated for PTSD by a trauma specialist who treats returning soldiers. I took it to him and he kept it and started passing it around to his collegues. It fit perfectly with what I was experiencing. By the way, I came home one day to an empty house and my nine month old child was gone. She was removed to Canada within 17 days. This was three years ago. I see her when I can. I did find the right help eventually. One thing that you both missed on is that in many cases the custodial parents was ill prior ot the divorce. There is a certain personality type that does this and many of them have suffered from childhood trauma and tend to overreact to conflict. Maybe you should do some research on PTSD and reconsider you comments. Thanks for not cutting him off.

tigtog said...

Goodness. I see John Doe snuck back months later after I started a new blog and posted this Dec 01 comment without me seeing it (Blogger stopped sending me notifications for some reason). Now that I've engaged moderation and someone else has commented I find Doe's response. I have been nothing but reasonable, pointing out that there are two sides to every story, while John Doe has been vitriolic in the extreme.

I have never excused the behaviour of vindictively obstructionist CPs, I just refuse to assume that all non-compliant CPs in high-conflict divorces are either unreasonably obstructionist or necessarily mentally ill. I also think children should be listened to: that doesn't mean that they get the final word.

When the children's testimony is disputed, then of course the children should be evaluated by competent psychologists, but John Doe argues that only psychologists accepting that PAS exists are competent, which is simply a circular argument.

"Obstruction of access" is a term that clearly describes behaviour and needs no further definition, it just needs evidence that access has been systematically denied.

Ascribing the obstruction of access to vindictiveness is also a clear description of alleged motivation without going into gobbledygook. Everybody can understand "vindictive" - why obfuscate?

There already exists an established legal term "alienation of affection" which describes the emotional manipulation which results in formerly affectionate relationships being distorted by the influence of another person. Why on earth not stick to that?

If an NCP has a genuine case against the CP, they truly will get further with sticking to clear concepts and particularly to established legal principles. Inventing whole new terms that require hours and hours of expert testimony only lines the pockets of the "experts", paupers the NCP and bores the judge rigid making him less sympathetic to the NCP.

tigtog said...

Anonymous, if you click on John Doe's name above it will take you to his Blogger profile and that will take you to his blog. You might be able to find his email address on there, or leave him a comment so that he can contact you.

Anonymous, I am sure that PTSD and other illnesses can and do affect NCPs and distort the perceptions of CPs as well. I am also certain that in some cases such disorders do influence parenting ability to the detriment of the children.

However, these disorders are already well known and precedent regarding them exists in court. Evidence pertaining to how such disorders influence the opposing parent should be couched in terms of these disorders, not a new and speculative syndrome.

Obstruction can be proven (ie tested) in court. The custody arrangement is a matter of record - has the mandated access been granted or not?

Malicious vindictiveness as motivation can be tested in court as well.

If a mental illness of some sort is driving the vindictiveness, evidence can be presented using established medical terms in court.

Anyone wanting to move away from those 3 simple principles above is not acting in the best interests of genuinely oppressed NCPs. They are either misguided or out to line their own pockets at the expense of oppressed NCPs. Don't fall for it.

Tami said...

One thing I'd like to point out is that we are taking something that is a relationship and parenting issue and jack hammering it into a gender issue. It's not. It's STILL a relationship and parenting issue. And do you know why that is? It's because "mothers" are not malicious - PEOPLE are malicious. That's right, moms and dads both.

It's also not about NPC vs. CP. Both are capable of engaging in this kind of behavior.

Something else that concerns me when I listen to some arguments for/against the existence/definition of parental alienation is the assertion that courts do not / should not have authority and the insinuation that certain people aren't going to respect the courts decisions. The problem is that parents who do attempt to actively alienate their children from the other parent often take this belief. They believe (or protest) that their children are in danger of "fill in the blank" and they must do anything and everything to "protect" them - which pretty much includes doing more damage to the kids. This is not how one shows concern.

I do believe that parental alienation is an issue and a problem. I don't think it's a mental illness. There is a difference between knowing your ex is "crazy" and your ex truly being insane.

Whether or not parental alienation is classified as a mental illness should not be reason for excluding blatant evidence of alienation.

I have personally seen my ex (that would be the husband) actively attempt to alienate our child from me for years. I think the biggest problem I had with it was that I didn't recognize it for what it was until it was almost too late to do anything about it. And yes, I do think there is such a thing as "too late" with alienation. This is, in effect, brainwashing. As much as my ex's behavior has personally hurt me, that is nothing compared to what it's done to my child. And unfortunately, this is where I see the debate going way off course. Too often it's about what the non-offending parent experiences, feels, thinks. It's only about us in a periphery way.

I know what my family and my child has gone through because of this. I can look back and see what we lost in terms of family relationships. But I'm not going to be a victim. Not to my ex and not to anybody else. I don't need to further vilify my ex by labeling him with a mental illness. Sorry but he's just not that special. He's just your garden variety, self-important prick who, at some point, stopped thinking about his child and started thinking only about himself.

And trust me, ain't nothing new about that.