Psychiatric experts assess parental alienation

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Goldberg runs a consulting service for lawyers and parents litigating issues related to parental alienation. In his online biography, he says he “fought one of the most brutal case of parental alienation in Palm Beach County history” during a child-custody dispute with his ex-wife in Florida that extended from 2003 to 2006.

“This touches lives of more people than anyone imagines,” Goldberg said by telephone from Canada. “It’s not just about a child turned against a parent, through hatred. This affects grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends _ all of them thrown out when a child rejects a parent.”

Some of Goldberg’s allies doubt the psychiatric association is ready to include parental alienation in its manual. New York-based psychologist Amy Baker, who has written a book about parental alienation, suggested the association might “play it safe” and decline to recognize it for fear of provoking feminist groups.

However, Goldberg is hopeful.

“There’s a long way to go over the next few years before they make a final decision,” he said. “There will be enormous pressure. …I think it will be difficult for the APA not to include it.”

Parental alienation surged onto the pop-culture radar screen a few years ago as a consequence of the bitter divorce and child custody battle involving actors Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Baldwin was harshly criticized by some feminist groups for citing parental alienation syndrome as a source of his estrangement with his daughter.

The concept is a source of confusion and division in the legal profession, as some lawyers try to evoke parental alienation and others challenge that tactic.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lerhmann, chair of the American Bar Association’s family law section, said the issue of possible alienation can be raised in child custody proceedings whether or not any such phenomenon is classified as a disorder by health professionals.

“Anyone who’s in this business knows there are situations where that in fact is happening _ and sometimes it’s alleged but is not happening,” she said. “Even if it’s not in the manual, relevant evidence can still be brought in.”

Meier, the George Washington law professor, has urged judges to be cautious in how they allow the topic to be raised in cases where one estranged parent is accused by the other of abuse.

“You’ve got to assess the abuse first, without poisoning it with a claim of alienation,” Meier said. “Only after abuse is ruled out do you then move on to the question of alienation.”

Elizabeth Kates, a Pompano Beach, Fla., lawyer who deals often with child custody cases, is skeptical of the role parental alienation can play in such disputes: “It’s a very easy claim to make … but the problem arises when it’s used in court to obscure the investigation of whether there’s been abuse.”

She said the initial impetus for recognition of parental alienation syndrome came in large part from the fathers’ rights movement, but suggested much of the momentum now comes from psychologists, consultants and others who could profit if the concept had a more formal status in family court disputes.

“It’s monetary,” Kates said. “These psychologists and therapists make huge money doing the evaluations and therapies.”

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