Posts tagged ‘child custody disputes’

Investigating Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

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About ten years ago I received a call from a well known attorney representing a father in a paternity case. The attorney asked me to conduct surveillance at Mc Donald’s during a custody exchange. The father was picking up his children for weekend visitation. He told me he wanted me to observe any interaction the parents had with the children and to make special note of the children’s body language and expressions.

I arrived at the Mc Donald’s early and found a good seat that would enable me to observe all the parties involved. Shortly after the scheduled time, the mother arrived with the children. She pulled in the parking lot, parked, got out, and retrieved the two boys ages seven and nine from the backseat. My first observation was made as the mother and boys began to approach the restaurant. The mother appeared to be using her hands and body to shield the boys as if they were approaching a dangerous situation. When they entered the Mc Donald’s the children were trying to see their father. They were obviously much shorter than their mother but couldn’t seem to get past her. The father was waving from across the restaurant. The older son saw him, smiled, and began to wave back. As soon as he started to wave, the mother grabbed him by the back of his coat, pulled him towards her, and got down on one knee. She shook her finger in his face as if she were scolding him. He lowered his chin to his chest and became flush. Both boys then proceeded to meekly approach their father being careful to stay behind their mother. When the mother was approximately twenty feet from the father she began to yell at him. Several patrons in the area appeared to be uncomfortable and one of the cashiers stopped taking an order to see what the commotion was all about. The entire restaurant seemed to stop for a moment. The mother told the father that she had to force the children to come with her because they were afraid to see him. The boys continued to keep their heads down and continued to do so until the mother exited the restaurant. The mother made several comments about the father not loving the children, being a deadbeat, and not caring about them. The father, to his credit, remained calm and stoic. The mother not getting the response she desired from the father then addressed the children. Every time she would refer to the father she would say in a contemptuous tone, “your father”. She would say the word “father” as if it was a curse word. When the mother finally left the restaurant the children seemed to take on new identities. It was obvious to everyone watching that the children were in fact happy to see their father but were frightened of their mother. They were visibly happy, excited, comfortable, and relaxed around their father.

I immediately returned to my client’s office and reported on my somewhat alarming observations. The attorney was satisfied with my report and asked me to wait as he contacted a forensic psychiatrist. He put the doctor on speakerphone and asked me to repeat what I had just told him. After I finished explaining the events of the day, the forensic psychiatrist said, “Well, that confirms our fears”. After he hung up the phone the attorney explained to me that I had just witnessed first hand Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS. The attorney explained he did not want to tell me about PAS prior to the investigation because he wanted me to approach the situation without creating potential bias in my observations. At the time of the surveillance, I didn’t realize that what I was witnessing was PAS first hand. Today I use the videotape of this event to show investigators I train some of the signs of PAS.

I recently attended a symposium sponsored by the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood. One of the speakers at the symposium was a friend and colleague of mine Dr. Leon Intrater. Dr. Intrater discussed the issue of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Over the years I have worked on many cases where PAS was prevalent and been given the arduous task of proving PAS exists. While it is not the investigators role to make a psychiatric evaluation of any type, documenting the parent’s actions and interaction with the child can be valuable to a psychiatrist and the court.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was discovered by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner and has emerged as an expert in dealing with the issue.

Gardner defines PAS as:

“The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”

While PAS is manifested in several ways some of the more commonly cited examples are; bad mouthing the other parent in front of the children, withholding visits, and determining activities for the children while visiting with the other parent.

As the above investigation demonstrates, documenting the parents interaction with the children can provide evidence of PAS and ultimately may be used by a psychiatrist in the development of his/her opinion.

When a parent calls a child at a prearranged or court ordered time and is told on a regular basis that the child is not home, unavailable, or ill, an investigator may be able to determine if this is true or not. If the time of the call is documented and the child can be videotaped or otherwise proven to be not ill or in fact, playing in the front yard, at a neighbor’s house, or at baseball practice, this information can prove to be valuable. Additionally, when parenting time is canceled because, “an emergency came up”, the investigator can be called upon to document the truth. This may support the premise put forth or contradict it completely. The investigation will reveal the child’s true activities.

In many cases, a parent may be going to great extents to exclude the other from knowledge of and involvement in the child’s activities such as school sports, extracurricular activities, school activities and field trips. An investigator can obtain this evidence through the school, other parties, or surveillance. If this information is withheld from the parent being targeted this may be evidence of PAS.

Surveillance may also uncover medical, dental, or other important appointments which the other parent should have been notified of but was not. In some cases the targeted parent will find out about doctor appointments after the fact and unfortunately the only reason it is finally disclosed is for monetary purposes.

Claims made by one parent to the court that the other parent has strangers spending the night or leaves the child alone may also be either contradicted or supported through the use of surveillance.

While individually these events may not seem significant, a pattern of this type of alienation may be of interest to a Psychiatrist or Judge.

Investigating PAS may not be easy but an effective investigation can make a serious difference in the lives of parents and their children and prevent irreparable damage to their vital relationship.

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March 4, 2009 at 7:44 pm Leave a comment

Reforms: Seeds Sown For Change in Illinois Family Courts

By Josh Hoff
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Ideally, every child grows up in a home where the parents co-exist in harmony and provide fertile ground in which the children can thrive.  Often times, however, this is not the case.  When a marriage dissolves, children are frequently caught in the middle of an adversarial legal system.  Typically, these cases end up in family court, where children are subjected to the trauma inflicted by a prolonged trial.

In the state of Illinois, reforms have been established and are underway to mitigate the impact of trials on children.  The statewide reforms have three components:

In July 2006, all parents in custody and visitation cases will be required to undergo four hours of education involving how to lessen the impact of custody disputes on children.
Lawyers appointed to represent parents in custody cases will be required to attend continuing education programs.

Beginning January 1, 2007, all custody disputes must first go to mediation prior to a court hearing to attempt to resolve the dispute before it goes to court.

“The reforms are intended to focus the guardians and the court on the children,”
explains Madison County Associate Judge Barbara Crowder, who presides over the family court division for the Third Judicial Circuit in Illinois.

In past cases, disputes have sometimes taken up the majority of a child’s life.  As a result, the child becomes surrounded by chaos.  Sometimes, when children are interviewed by judges, they curl up in a fetal ball.  In some instances, they will cry about not wanting to see their mother or father.  In fact, judges observe an entire range of children, from the angry to the withdrawn.

Once the custody case reaches the actual courtroom, various members of the extended family are brought in, which frequently proves divisive and undermines the cohesiveness of a family unit.  The reforms are intended in part to lessen the trauma of such conflicts.

“Two attorneys might swear that two parties could never see eye to eye,” Judge Crowder elaborates, referring to the trial process.  “By the time that they go to mediation, they are able to get past some of the conflict.”

“People are more open to possibilities,” adds Judge Crowder. The seeds were sown for change when the Supreme Court of Illinois appointed a special committee and requested that members address matters relating to custody – more specifically, the court wanted to address the need for cases to be handled in an expeditious manner and in the best interest of children.

“We were asked to draft some rules for circuits that do not yet have mediation,” says Judge Elizabeth Robb, who serves on the Eleventh Circuit and is the chair of the conference of chief judges.

Ultimately, the primary objective of these reforms is to send a strong statement to parents, lawyers, and judges that Illinois’ courts put the needs and concerns of children first.  Otherwise, children are put underfoot in a messy legal proceeding.

“The overall effect of mandatory mediation, parent education, and continuing legal education will be to emphasize that everyone in this process must do everything possible to minimize the emotional damage to children that accompanies child custody disputes,” Judge Crowder said in a written statement.

March 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment


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