Note: the following references are provided for educational and informational purposes only. The views expressed in a specific article are those of the author or authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Leadership Council.
Articles are listed in alphebetical order by last name of the author
Anderson, Troy. (June 18, 2006). Mom termed 'parental alienator' wins rare vindication in courts. L.A. Daily News
Anonymous. (Apr 26, 2016). Many Abused Women and Children Are Being Failed By the Family Courts. Huffington Post.
Baker, Jennifer. (Dec. 17, 2015). The Strange Advocacy for “Parental Alienation Syndrome”: A Perfect Tool for Harming Children. Psychology Today,
Baker, Jennifer. (Nov. 13, 2015). The King Solomon Test Would Have Worked: When family court perpetuates abuse. Psychology Today,
Michigan Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca has banned three children from seeing their mother without any evidence that she has done anything wrong. The judge ordered three gifted and loving children to be separated in "jail" and to have no contact with each other or their family, with the exception of their father. (He denied them lawyers.) The father, who had requested the juvenile detention, did not visit and left the country. He is now seeking to have one of the children placed in foster care and another sent to a camp. He plans on keeping the third child.
Baker, Jennifer. (July 18, 2015). Three Siblings Jailed by Family Court Judge: Judge Lisa Gorcyca of Michigan's Sentence v. Children's Rights. Psychology Today,
Balso, R. (July 9, 2015). Michigan judge bullies children in open court for refusing to see their dad. Washington Post.
Baltimore Sun [editorial]. (April 3, 2008). A tragic end. Our view: In custody disputes, protect children first. Baltimore Sun.
The laws in Maryland could have better protected Amy Castillo's three small children. But the judges in this nasty custody dispute had the final say over her estranged husband's right to visit them, and they misjudged his potential to harm his daughter and two sons.
When Mark Castillo didn't return his children, ages 2, 4 and 6, to their Silver Spring home Saturday, their mother frantically tried to convince Montgomery County police that something was amiss. But he had already drowned them in a bathtub in a Baltimore hotel, police said.
No judge could have predicted Mr. Castillo's desperate act of defiance against his wife, but his diagnosed mental disorders and previous suicide attempts should have been a signal to proceed with utmost caution. Was supervised visitation, even for a limited period of time, even considered?
Mrs. Castillo, a pediatrician, had tried to end her husband's visitation rights in June 2007 and, earlier that year, sought a restraining order to keep her husband away from the kids. But in the latter case, the law required her to show "clear and convincing" evidence of abuse or harm to the children. Mr. Castillo's alleged threat to kill the children to punish her, as Mrs. Castillo recounted to a judge in 2007, wasn ' t enough. It was her word against his - as is often the case in these disputes.
Findings by two mental health professionals that Mr. Castillo posed no threat or little risk to his children also complicated the picture. But Circuit Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. found the Castillos ' relationship so disturbing that he told the couple he had "substantial difficulty" believing either spouse. That should have prompted him to order supervised visitation. It would have offered the children some protection.
Basu, Rekha. (May 26, 2012). Basu: 'Living hell' finally ends for Dubuque mother. The Des Moines Register
The girls alleged that their father had touched them improperly on multiple occasions. The appeals court canceled the rulings by a Dubuque County judge who granted the father joint, unrestricted custody of the girls, and had ordered restricted, supervised contact with their grandmother who brought the allegations to light.
"Each part of the system has an independent role to play in child protection, but they seem to have coalesced to leave vulnerable children at risk. If that happened here, how many other claims have been similarly dispensed with?"
Burke, Pamela. (October 22, 2002). Fit Calif. Moms Losing Custody to Abusive Dads. WEnews
New statistics indicate California fathers with a history of child abuse, domestic violence or criminal behavior often have been granted visitation and sole custody of their children in contested cases.
Carpenter, M., & Kopas, G. (1998). Causalities of a custody war (three-part series). Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 31-June 2. http://www.post-gazette.com/custody/default.asp
Describes the case of Nathan Grieco, a High School junior who killed himself after being forced to visit his father, who he claimed was physically and emotionally abusive. Nathan and his brothers were "diagnosed" with PAS because they did not want to visit their father who had battered their mother in front of them. They were subjected to "threat therapy" to cure PAS. This therapy involved the court telling the children that if they refused to visit their father, or did not obey and respect him, their mother would be arrested and incarcerated.
Carr, G. (October 14, 2002). Conflict delays family court's task force meeting. Elgin Courier News (Illinois).
Noting that a large number of parents have complaints about Kane County 's family court system, including one woman whose children were returned to her ex-husband after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigated a complaint of child abuse against him. The complaint, filed by a school official, was listed as "indicated," or legitimate.
Childress, Sarah. (Sept. 25, 2006). Fighting Over the Kids: Battered spouses take aim at a controversial custody strategy. Newsweek
Editorial Board of The Washington Post.(Nov. 26, 2012). Death of a toddler raises questions in Montgomery, Pr. William. Washington Post Online.
A 15 month old was taken off life support after being declared brain-dead Oct. 21 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. A day earlier, paramedics had found him unresponsive, cold and without a pulse at his father’s home in Manassas, where he had been on his fourth unsupervised visit permitted by Montgomery County Circuit Court amid a bitter custody battle. His mother had fiercely opposed unsupervised visits. “If anything happens to Prince, he can’t say anything. He’s not old enough to be talking,” Hera McLeod of Gaithersburg testified at a court hearing on July 12.
Farrant, Rick. (October, 2, 2005). Little Bird caught in parental tug of war. The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN) http://www.fortwayne.com/.
Fass, Mark. (August 12, 2010). Judge Transferred Over Alleged Actions in Visitation Case New York Law Journal.
Ferrier, Dennis. (Aug 27, 2012). Mother who became fugitive to protect son returns to court. WSMV News (Nashville, TN)
Then came new allegations this summer by the boy that led to an FBI investigation and federal search warrants. The FBI even accompanied Dunn to Robertson County earlier this month to again appear in front of Hicks to ask for an order of protection.
"They brought copies of warrants for search and seizure," Dunn said. "He said he wasn't granting it and that I would need to return my son to his father that day.
That's when Dunn walked out of the courtroom and became a fugitive from the law.
Sean Ford. (March 28, 2012). Mothers labeled as delusional by courts. The Advocate (Tasmania, Australia) http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/80600/mothers-labelled-as-delusional-by-courts/
Courts are giving alleged sex abuser fathers custody of their children in Tasmania, a child protection expert says. Mothers alleging such abuse are being declared mentally ill or delusional and to be the "dangerous parent", according to Professor Freda Briggs, a former Scotland Yard child protection offipagetemplate-1cer.
Friedman, Emily. (April 9, 2010). Teen sues county for placing her in custody of sex offender grandfather. ABC News.
[Excerpt] A Washington state teen is suing for millions of dollars in damages after she said a family court investigator "ruined her life" by knowingly sending her to live with her grandfather, a convicted sex offender who proceeded to abuse her nearly every day for a decade.
In court documents filed late last month, the unidentified teen claimed that she was just six years old when Cowlitz County Family Court Services investigator Mark Workingor took her from her mother and placed her in a home with her father and grandparents.
The teen said in the court documents that it happened in spite of her own father warning Workingor that his father, Vernil Jones, had been convicted of sodomizing a 10-year-old girl .
Rev. Anne Grant. (June 27, 2006). The discredited 'Parental Alienation Syndrome. The Providence Rhode Island Journal
Goodwin, Jan. (November 2006). "Please Daddy, No", O, The Oprah Magazine.
Grand Rapids Press [editorial]. (October 20, 2007). Child custody caution. Grand Rapids Press (Michigan), p. A12.
A probe by the Michigan Department of Human Services and its Office of Family Advocate must answer troubling questions surrounding the death of a 9-year-old Montcalm County boy, who was left in the care of an admitted child abuser.
Although, his mother was seeking to regain custody of him, 9-year-old Nicholas Braman was left in the care of his father who recently admitted abusing his two older sons and was facing jail time for that crime. Oliver Braman pled guilty in September to using an electric cattle prod to discipline his teenage sons. The two boys, ages 14 and 15, fled the home and went to live with their mother. An assistant Montcalm County prosecutor had urged protective services workers to remove Nicholas from his father's home. An e-mail from a child welfare worker less than two hours before Nicholas' body was found reiterated that the boy was not at risk and that the father was attending parenting classes. Nicholas was not removed from the home because the abuse allegations did not specifically involve him. The boy's body was discovered along with his father's and step mother's in what police are calling a murder/suicide.
Handrahan, Lori. (June 01, 2009). American courts have never been kind to women, kids. Bangor Daily News.
[Excerpt] " Maine family courts, like family courts elsewhere, are placing children, infants, little girls and boys, into the unsupervised custody of parents, usually fathers, who until the separation were abusing, often severely, the children and the other parent, often the mother.
Family courts are calling mothers liars. Judges are calling mentally healthy women with no prior mental health issues, mentally unstable, because they dare to tell the truth of domestic abuse. Because they think they have the right to protect their children from further abuse.
Judges are telling mothers that they “have a problem with reality.” That they are “not credible.” Judges are rendering invisible entire days of testimony, firsthand witnesses, police records — judges are simply saying the mother had “no corroborating evidence” for abuse."
Jamison, Peter. (Mar. 2, 2011) California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody SF Weekly
This well researched article focuses on a number of California custody cases where allegations of domestic violence or child molestation by mothers were rejected by the courts and resulted in children being abused. The abuse was later proved by criminal convictions — and, in one case, the child was murdered.
[Excerpt] "Looking out for the children who find themselves in the middle of bitter divorces is the most important function of the state's family courts, and arguably one of the most significant duties of the judiciary as a whole. Yet evidence has mounted in recent years that it is a responsibility in which family court officials are sometimes failing dramatically.
Interviews with dozens of parents, activists, lawyers, judges, children, and former family court employees, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of family and criminal court documents, indicate that the system's methods for assessing whether child sexual abuse or spousal battery has taken place — findings that are critical to deciding whether a parent should retain custody of or visitation rights with a child — fall short of the standards accepted by domestic-violence experts and the criminal-justice community.
The results can be tragic."
Jenkins, Alex. (Nov 30, 2016). The Legal Industry for Kidnapping Teens. VICE.
Keating, G. (April 23, 2000). Disputed Theory Used in Custody Cases: Children Often Victims in Parental Alienation Syndrome Strategy. Pasadena Star-News ,
Keating, G. (February 11, 2001). Group seeks reform for family court Bias against women alleged. San Gabriel Valley News (Pasadena, CA)
Although many medical associations say parental alienation syndrome is a myth, it is commonly used to help gain custody of a child, even when evaluators say the parent is abusing the child. It's such a powerful legal tool that lawyers attend seminars on how best to use it.
King, Tim. (May 12, 2007). Abuse Under the Watch of Oregon 's Justice System. Salem News.
Koch, Tony. (April 7, 2008). Ruling debunks custody diagnosis. The Australian.
Kramer, Jill. (October 24-30, 2001). Custody Switch. Pacific Sun.
Jill Kramer, an investigative journalist, interviews a number of professionals and protective parents. This article describes the impact that PAS is having in custody cases across the country.
Cites a number of cases in which family courts have failed to protect children who have alleged abused and separated them from their protective mothers. Notes that there's a high degree of skepticism in the family court about any allegation of bad acts made by one parent against the other, which filters down to how the child protection case is handled. Even when CPS does substantiate an allegation of abuse, it's usually not prosecuted, as it usually involves the word of a child against that of an adult. In the rare instance of a prosecution and conviction, the judge may still decide it's irrelevant to the custody dispute.
Krause, Alanna. (July 17, 2000). Letting children speak for themselves. San Francisco Daily Journal. [see Girl, Interrupted for more on this case]
Alanna's parents separated when she was 5-years-old, sparking a custody battle that lasted nine years. In this article, Alanna tells her story in her own words. She calls living with her father ``a mental and physical hell," yet the family court refused to listen when she spoke out about the abuse. Her father, a well-connected lawyer, convinced the court that Alanna suffered from "Parental Alienation Syndrome."
Krishnamurthy, Kiran. (November 12, 2006). Theory issue in custody dispute The merits of parental alienation syndrome are disputed among groups. Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Krishnamurthy, Kiran. (January 19, 2007). Judge Grants Sole Custody of 9-year-old Girl To Father. Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Lay, Rebecca. (2009). The Alienating Courtroom: PAS in Child Custody Battles.
Lay, Rebecca. (2009). Parental Alienation Syndrome: Child Abuse or Child Abuser Scapegoat? (Recognition of PAS leaves some grateful and others up in arms.)
Leavenworth, Jesse. (June 14, 2007). When Animosity Poisons Custody Deals; 'Parental Alienation Syndrome': Is It Legitimate Or Junk Science? Hartford Courant.
In the sad world of child-custody fights, parents sometimes charge former spouses with poisoning filial bonds already withered by long separation.
Actor Alec Baldwin said such a campaign of lies and restricted access by estranged wife Kim Basinger drove him recently to call his 11-year-old daughter "a rude, thoughtless little pig" in a telephone voice message. Baldwin later apologized to his daughter, Ireland, blaming "parental alienation" for the ill-considered rant.
The term, used frequently in family courts throughout the nation, is controversial - particularly when the word "syndrome" is added. Those who dismiss "parental alienation syndrome," or PAS, say the label lends scientific credence to charges often clouded by retribution and bitterness on both sides. Even worse, say opponents of the term, some parents who charge former partners with PAS are trying to obscure their own records of child and spousal abuse.
"PAS is junk science at its worst," Paul Fink, former president of the American Psychiatric Association, wrote last year in a press release.
Fink, president of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, was responding to news that an organization of family court judges and the American Bar Association had discredited parental alienation syndrome.
"Science tells us that the most likely reason that a child becomes estranged from a parent is that parent's own behavior," Fink was quoted as saying in the release.
Although the "syndrome" is not widely accepted, some parents' rights groups, lawyers and mental health experts say parental alienation is a fact in certain child-custody cases. Alienation can be moderate to severe and include restricting visits from the non-custodial parent; not delivering gifts, birthday cards and messages from the non-custodial parent; withholding affection if the child says anything positive about the target parent; and repeating destructive lies about the target parent.
"Sadly, children are responsive to the custodial parent who has access to them," Stephen J. Ceci, professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University, wrote in an e-mail. "If this individual launches a campaign against the other parent, many (certainly not all - it depends on the dynamics and other factors) children will be susceptible."
"By this," Ceci wrote, "I mean they will not only parrot the custodial parent's vindictive statements, but if the campaign persists long enough, some children will come to internalize the false statements and believe them."Ceci also wrote that he doesn't buy parental alienation as a "syndrome," a term coined in 1985 by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner.
Gardner defined PAS as 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."
But PAS has not been widely accepted by the professional mental health community. The American Psychological Association has "noted the lack of data" to support PAS but has no official position on the purported syndrome, according to the organization's website.
Connecticut's appellate courts "have not expressly recognized `parental alienation syndrome' as a basis for awarding or changing custody, although the concept of parental alienation (not the `syndrome') appears relatively frequently in reported family cases," Greenwich attorney Hilary Miller, whose firm handles divorce and custody cases, wrote in an e-mail.
"The 'syndrome' (as opposed to recognition of alienating conduct) lacks general scientific recognition, which is an obstacle to expert testimony regarding it," Miller wrote.
The courts' paramount concern is supposed to be the best interest of the child, and a variety of factors go into a final decision on awarding custody. The issue of parental alienation most often arises, Miller wrote, as part of the "friendly parent" concept.
"The theory is that children fare better when they are both permitted and encouraged to maintain a close relationship with both parents," he wrote. "Thus, if one of the parents would clearly foster a relationship with the other parent, but the reverse might not be the case, this factor would militate in favor of an award of custody to the `friendly' parent. Courts very frequently consider this factor and appear to attach great weight to it.
"A variant on this theme is an evaluation of the parents' ability and willingness to cooperate with each other in raising their child," Miller continued. "Again, because it is generally understood as being in the child's interest to have the love and succor of two parents, the fact that one parent would seek to involve the other parent in child rearing, but not vice versa, would suggest that this factor favors the `cooperative' parent."
Lehmann, C. (September 1, 2000). Controversial Syndrome Arises in Child-Custody Battles, Psychiatric News, http://www.psych.org/pnews/00-09-01/controversial.html
Amy M. Levine. (May 13, 2011). Possible Recognition of Parental Alienation Syndrome Controversial. U.S. Politics Today.
[Excerpt] "An APA representative who is involved in drafting the next edition of the DSM told CBS News that the APA has received more mail on the issue of including PAS in the DSM-5 -- both in support and in opposition -- than for any other issue." Article summarizes the arguments for and against it's inclusion.
Dahlia Lithwick. (May 17, 2011). Mommy Hates Daddy, and You Should Too: The extraordinary fight over "parental alienation syndrome" and what it means for divorce cases. Slate.
[Excerpt] "The American Psychiatric Association is contemplating adding something called "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS) to the new edition of the DSM, scheduled to be published in May 2013, and the question has launched a national lobbying and letter-writing campaign on both sides. That angry letters and editorials might play any part in a debate about mental health and custody disputes probably tells you most of what you need to know about the validity of PAS."
Lombardi, Kristen. (January, 2003). Custodians of Abuse. Boston Phoenix.
Lombardi, Kristen. (April 11, 2006). Her Right to Be Obnoxious: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Mother Scorned. The Village Voice.
Loudon, Hope, & Loudon, Elizabeth. (Aug 17, 2015). Juvenile detention centers are not for abused kids. The Huffington Post.
Marech, Rona. (April 1, 2008). Experts question family legal system. Children's deaths raise issue of adequate protection in custody disputes. Baltimore Sun.
Leigh Goodmark, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, noted that the legal standard in custody or visitation cases is the best interest of the children. But it can be difficult to persuade a judge that violence against a parent poses a danger to the children, even though there is evidence to suggest that. Goodmark's research has shown that though it's often assumed that women are making up allegations of abuse for their own advantage, despite the fact that the social science doesn't support this view.
Martin, Susan Taylor. (May 23, 2010). Controversial disorder at center of bitter custody cases. St. Petersburg Times.
This article provides an in depth look at the Rachel House, run by Pamela and Bob Hoch.They run a nonprofit that seeks to help reunify children labeled with PAS. The goal of their organization is to reunify children with a parent, often a father the child claims has abused them. The Hochs note that they don't investigate any charges of abuse prior to reunification efforts but leave that to the courts. Dozens of kids from all over the nation have been brought here for days, even weeks with the goal of making them like a parent they fear or despise. The facility is not licensed and there is no outside oversight. A number of the mental health professionals associated with the program have been disciplined for ethical lapses. Silberg of the Leadership Council says, "and nothing I've seen from the Rachel House follows any known standards about the delivery of mental health care.''
Martin-Morris, D. (March, 1995). The worst that could happen. McCall's, p. 70.
Beliefs about sick, vindictive mothers who turn the children against their innocent fathers has led to a legal backlash against mothers. Sherry Quirk, an attorney and president of the American Coalition for Abuse Awareness (ACAA), notes that judges tend to believe court-appointed experts who testify that the mother invented allegations of child sexual abuse and then "brainwashed" the child into believing it as part of a vindictive plot to get back at her former husband. If the mother continues to insist that the story is true, she is viewed as obsessive and unstable. The judge may respond by giving the father custody.
Meier, Joan (April 13, 2008). Why This Mother Was Not Heard. The Washington Post, p. B8.
The Castillo family's tragedy ["Deaths of 3 Children Test Md. Legal System," front page, April 6] highlights family courts' failures to protect children in the context of custody litigation. The question permeating media coverage is why the courts allowed Mark Castillo unsupervised access to his children, despite their mother's pleas that they needed protection. Mark Castillo's specific threat -- to kill the children and leave Amy Castillo with "nothing" -- was ignored by both the courts and the psychological evaluators, as was his history of suicidal actions. Had the request for protection come from the state, instead of the mother, the court would have listened.
Moore, Stacy. (April 14, 2010). Grieving mom aims to change system. Hi Desert Star.
Articles highlights a mother's efforts to reform the family courts after her ex-husband gained unsupervised joint custody of their infant son and then murdered him.
Neff, Elizabeth. (July 3, 2006). Abuse, or a ploy for custody? Salt Lake Tribune.
Okeson,Sarah.(Jan. 14, 2012). Many abusers use custody battles as way to seek control. News-Leader
Domestic violence advocates say batterers sometimes use child custody proceedings as a way to continue to exert control.
O'Meara, K. P. (April 26, 1999). Has Psychiatry Gone Psycho? Insight on the News.
Cites several prominent cases in which child custody has been awarded to a person alleged (backed with solid evidence) to have sexually molested the child. The mothers who sought to protect their children are allowed only supervised visitation. These outcomes are the result of court acceptance of an unscientific psychological fad - parental alienation syndrome.
Pepple, Steven. (July 1, 2016). Judge Lisa Gorcyca guilty of misconduct in child custody case. Detroit Free Press.
Phelps, Giselle. (June 8, 2007). Ithacans protest family court system. news10now (New York).
Some Ithacans are calling for change in the family court system. The Tompkins County Family Court Reform Group says that judges, law guardians and court psychologists are failing to uphold professional standards. They say children involved in divorce cases suffer because documented cases of domestic violence are often ignored. "There are several cases and several women who are part our group have lost custody to abusers, somewhere there's documented evidence of the men's history of abuse," said Irene Weiser.
Port, Bob. (October 16, 2005). Custody fight: Documentary sheds light on system that lets children suffer at the hands of abusive fathers. Times Union (Albany, NY) (full-text)
Preidt, R. (August 11, 2005). Custody Rulings Often Ignore History of Domestic Violence. Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (news release).
Even though most U.S. states require courts to consider any history of domestic violence when deliberating child custody cases, this type of abuse is often unknown to courts making these important custody decisions, a new study finds.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center in Seattle. They believe evidence of domestic violence is important in making custody decisions because children who have been exposed to their mothers' abuse by an intimate partner are also more likely to be victims of abuse themselves. These children are also more likely to suffer psychological problems, the researchers added.
Reporting in the August 2005 issue of the journal Violence Against Women, the Seattle team analyzed documentation on more than 800 local couples with young children who filed for divorce in 1998 and 1999. These included 324 cases with a history of domestic violence and 532 cases without such a history.
Mothers in general were more likely than fathers to be awarded custody of children, but mothers who were victims of domestic abuse were no more likely than other mothers to receive custody, the study found. In addition, fathers with a history of committing domestic violence were no more likely than other fathers to be required by the court to have a third party supervise child visitations, the researchers report.
Just 17% of fathers with a known history of domestic violence were denied child visitation. In 47.6% of divorce cases in which husbands displayed a history of partner abuse, no mention of this abuse was found in the divorce case files. The researchers estimate that at least 11.4% of Seattle divorce cases involving couples with dependent children involve a substantiated history of male-perpetrated domestic violence.
Raftery, M. (January 15, 2002). Desperate moms taking abused children underground. Womens Enews.
In custody disputes involving sexual abuse claims, closed-door family courts too often award custody to the alleged abuser, saying the mother is lying. Some mothers take children underground; others flee the country.
Reisman, J. (April 20, 1999). Child Custody for Sex Offenders. Worldnet Daily.
Russell, Kathleen. (Oct. 14, 2009). Child Abuse: When Family Courts Get it Wrong. States must reform a system that too often awards custody to the abusive parent. Christian Science Monitor.
[excerpt] When a parent harms his or her own child, family courts are supposed to step in and safeguard the victim.
Sheaffer-VanOrman, Suzanne. (January 4, 2007). Family Court trend doesn't favor mothers. The Ithaca Journal - Ithaca, NY.
Seckler, J. (April 2003). Family Law and Disorder. Pasadena Weekly.
Mothers who have lost custody of their children to allegedly abusive husbands call for family court reforms. The family court system fails to protect women and children, who live at substantial risk of violence and abuse.
Silberg, Joyanna. ( April 12, 2008). Letter to the Editor: Judge overlooked epidemic of abuse. Baltimore Sun.
As Baltimore reels with shock and horror over the deaths of Anthony, Austin and Athena Castillo, the media often repeat the phrase "bitter custody battle," as if that is the explanation for their deaths ("Service honors young victims," April 6).
But imagine for a moment that a mugging in a dark alley at night was called a "bitter wallet dispute." Wouldn't that distort the reality of who the real victim is in that situation?
Newspapers use equalizing language such as "bitter custody battle" and call disputes over children's safety "he said-she said" debates, and public concern evaporates in a fog of indifference.
"Oh well, that's how divorcing couples are," people think.
But the phenomenon of violent abusers co-opting children for vengeance against a spouse who rejected him has become a growing epidemic in our country.
At the Web site my organization runs, a new case of a child trapped into unsupervised contact with a violent offender comes to our attention several times a week from every state of the country.
Yet when a Maryland judge heard Amy Castillo repeat the threats of death that her ex-husband had made against her and the children, the judge apparently did not recognize this pattern so familiar to the child abuse and domestic violence community.
Let's hope that the next time a Maryland judge hears a protective parent pleading with the court for the health and safety of a child, he or she will remember the Castillo children, look beyond "he said-she said" and think: "Is this a case of ' he said-she dead'?" Or, even more tragically, "he said-three beautiful children dead'?"
The writer is a child psychologist and vice president of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence.
Silva, Gina, & Sax, Robin. (Sept. 10, 2012). Damon's Story: Lost in the System. Fox 11 News (Los Angeles).
Stelloh, Tim. (Jan. 24, 2014). Do courts use a controversial theory to punish mothers who allege abuse? ‘Parental alienation’ is sometimes used in family court to wrest custody from a parent who alleges abuse. Al Jazeera America http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/24/does-a-controversialdiagnosishelpfathersdodgeabusecharges.html
Details how allegations of alienation are frequently used by fathers to counter claims of child abuse. Often, these are cases in which a mother reported a classic symptom of abuse — the child acting in a sexually inappropriate manner, for instance, or having overly sexualized knowledge. However, these cases are not considered to be credible because the mother was considered to be alienating or because she was thought to have a mental-health issue. Attorney Gregory Jacob, a former solicitor in George W. Bush’s Department of Labor, stated, “I see parent after parent after parent punished for raising good-faith allegations in court in order to get the authorities looking at the same evidence they’ve seen.”
Tabachnick, Cara. (Sept. 13, 2010) The Unspoken Crime. The Crime Reporter.
It is hard to find a more serious crime than the rape of a child; yet when a family member is the perpetrator, justice is sometimes hard to achieve. Child welfare advocates say that the safeguards in place to protect the child usually fail. Research suggests they are right....
While the two agencies, Child Protective Services and law enforcement, working to protect incest victims and punish their abusers have made strides since the 1990s by forming multidisciplinary teams, closing some legislative loopholes and working with children advocacy centers, a Crime Report investigation suggests that the system still remains woefully inadequate to protect their fragile charges. Scant information, a hodgepodge of laws and statutes, poor communication, and prosecutorial discretion, along with underfunded, poorly trained and overburdened CPS investigators, all continue to leave children at the greatest risk."
Talan, Jamie. (July 1, 2003). Parental Alienation -- A Controversial Theory
The sins of the fathers. (May 8, 2006). The Guardian (UK).
Interviews three women and details their cases in family court. Concludes: "The little-known but astonishing truth about the family justice system is that it routinely grants contact orders to men who have been violent towards their partner and children."
Turner, M. (April 9, 2000). Know the legal system, speaker advises parents. Davis Enterprise.
In his keynote address at a conference titled Child Sexual Abuse and Professional Ethics held at the Veteran's Memorial Center in Davis on April 8th, John E. B. Myers said the level of skepticism in family courts when it comes to claims of child sexual abuse has "gone through the roof." Myers noted that in too many cases "good faith allegations are either ignored or interpreted as false" and the accuser "stands a good chance of losing custody of her child to the alleged abuser."
Udesky, Laurie. (Dec. 1, 2016). Custody in Crisis: How Family Courts Nationwide Put Children in Danger. 100Reporters.
Vincent, L. (Feb. 8, 2003). Little girls lost? WORLD magazine. (Volume 18; Number 5)
Embraced in family courts across the country, a controversial "syndrome" may be placing abused children at risk.
Vincent, L. (Feb. 8, 2003). PAS: The truth hurts. WORLD magazine . (Volume 18; Number 5) http://www.worldmag.com/displayarticle.cfm?id=6827
Waller, G. (September 5, 2001). Biased Family Court System Hurts Mothers. Women's Enews, http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/641
Behind closed doors of the family court system, thousands of women each year lose child custody to violent men who beat and abuse mothers and children. The writer says family courts are not family-friendly and betray the best interests of the child. One primary reason for what many consider a disastrous outcome, is that junk science such as PAS, is apparently more persuasive to judges than the testimony of battered women and victimized children.
Waller, G. (2001). Small Justice: Little Justice in America's Family Courts. (Documentary film). http://www.smalljustice.com/thedoc.html
In this documentary film, Garland Waller, Professor at Boston University in the College of Communication, explores the American family court system which routinely takes children away from the protective parent and puts them in the care of the person the children have named as their abuser. She documents three cases in which protective mothers have lost custody to the man that her children have alleged has sexually abused them.
Watson, Beth. (July 30, 2008). Battered woman becomes American refugee in Amsterdam. CityPages (Minnesota news).
In 1997, Holly Collins was granted refugee status based on the European Treaty on Human Rights." In the US, she is a wanted fugitive who kidnapped her children. She fled after a Minnesota judge reversed custody of the children, then ages seven and nine. Even though the court did find that Holly had been abused by her ex-husband, neither Child Protective Services nor family court was able to substantiate the children's claims of abuse. "[T]he court finds the record contains sufficient evidence that domestic abuse occurred between the parties," the judgment noted, but "[Holly] suffers from a personality disorder. The personality disorder respondent suffers from includes, but is not limited to, Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Whatever the label, the type or types, of emotional difficulty [Holly] suffers from is extremely resistant to treatment and requires years of long-term psychotherapy.... [T]he court finds that the minor children are at great physical and emotional risk if they remain in custody of [Holly]."
Despite the fact that multiple doctors involved with Holly could find no evidence to back the diagnosis, the court refused to change its ruling. Even Holly's court-ordered psychologist expressed skepticism.
"[M]y understanding of this case is that I am to treat Holly Ann as if she suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy although no one has specifically diagnosed Holly Ann as having this disorder," Julia Davis wrote. "Nowhere in the materials I have read, including Family Court Service documents, does anyone clearly diagnose this disorder, nor is any one diagnosis specifically endorsed. This is a serious omission that needs clarification...I assume then that this is my prerogative and responsibility."
The next month Davis, a licensed psychologist and Ph.D., wrote the court with her findings. She was not convinced Munchausen was the correct diagnosis. Holly's problems were "the result of marital abuse or battering. Additionally, she has described a history of childhood abuse by her mother that has been substantiated, at least in part, by court actions in the state of Massachusetts ....
Washington Post [editorial]. (April 3, 2008). JUSTICE SYSTEM ERRORS - Father Kills Three Children; Court Refused to Protect Them, Despite Repeated Warnings that They Were in Danger. Washington Post, p. A16
AMY CASTILLO went to court again and again to warn of the danger her estranged husband posed to their three small children. Once, she even defied the court's order allowing visits. Tragically, those efforts weren't enough for Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 3. Their deaths -- allegedly at the hands of the father feared by Ms. Castillo -- demand that Maryland officials figure out why layers of legal and health safeguards failed so terribly.
Mark Castillo, 41, of Rockville, was charged with murder after he allegedly drowned the children in a Baltimore hotel bathroom. Records in the Montgomery County Circuit Court case attest to the ugliness of the Castillos' custody dispute; of the father's mental problems and of the mother's worries. "He told me what would be worse is if he killed all of us. Then he said actually worse than that would be if he killed the children and not me so that I would have to live without them," Ms. Castillo told Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. in an unsuccessful bid for an order of protection.
It's simplistic to blame the judge. During a two-hour hearing, Judge Dugan wrestled with conflicting "he said, she said" accounts. A court-ordered psychological evaluation had concluded that the "risk of harm Mr. Castillo poses to his children is low," while noting that he loved and cared for his children. The judge took the unusual steps of requiring Mr. Castillo to provide proof that he was in psychological counseling and appointing a lawyer to oversee the best interests of the children. Nonetheless, he was constrained by the strict standard of proof that Maryland has set for a protective order to be granted. For the past 20 years, there have been efforts to change the current standard of "clear and convincing evidence" to that used in many other states, "a preponderance of the evidence." The reform, a priority for those who work with victims of domestic abuse, has repeatedly fallen victim to the defense attorneys who control key legislative committees.
We are under no illusion that this one remedy would have averted the tragedy of the Castillo case. It is for that reason that this case should be reviewed by the General Assembly and the Maryland judiciary to see whether laws and procedures need changing. It is striking, for instance, how many judges cycled through this case over its nearly two-year course. Would there have been a different outcome if one judge had dealt with all aspects of the case and had the benefit of continuity? Similarly, does it make sense to rotate judges in and out of family court? A series of tragedies involving children in the District prompted the assignment of judges specifically trained to handle the complexities and nuances of family law. New programs are being developed to assess the risk of violence; some question whether the traditional adversarial system of justice is best suited to deal with emotional family matters.All these issues are worth studying. And just as the legal system should examine its practices, so should mental health professionals do their own soul-searching. Expert after paid expert was called in to study the Castillo family. But none recognized the signs that Amy Castillo so clearly saw.
White, Carroll V. (May 15, 2006). Moms Losing Custody of Children. Chicago News Sun.
Yeung, Bernice. (December 18, 2002). Girl, Interrupted. San Francisco Weekly.
Zorn, Eric. (April 18, 2002). Pop psychology has brutal role in family court. Chicago Tribune.
Parental Alienation Syndrome figured into a long and ugly custody battle that concluded April 17 in DuPage County . (The column by Zorn can be found here - scroll down until you see it - http://ericzorn.com/columns/2002/april/ )
Comments by Mr. Zorn - http://ericzorn.com/mailbag/pas/
As far as the individual case is concerned--the 10-year-old girl who is now and indefinitely in the exclusive care of her 59-year-old father--I think it would be irresponsible of me to substitute my judgment for the ruling of the court given the number of allegations I have not investigated and the volume of testimony, none of which I heard. I sat in on the closing arguments in the case. Simply based on those, it seemed to me that the judge could have and should have chosen some lesser option than giving the father 100 percent of what he asked for and refusing to let the mother see the girl at all until further notice. It strikes me as naive of the judge to believe that---amid all these claims and counterclaims and fingerpointings about matters that took place behind closed doors in many cases or were conjectured at by psychologists---the father was all in the right and the mother was all in the wrong. A more deft and perhaps more complicated and even difficult to execute resolution seemed to be in order. Accelerated counseling sessions, home observations, etc., that would spare the girl the new trauma of now not being able to see her mother. The judge took the full PAS solution, however, and I don't believe from my readings that the majority of the psychological or psychiatric community would side with him on that. Yet the mother, at a financial disadvantage in terms of her ability to pay for expert witnesses, could not and did not make that case. I say again, though, that this is my impression based not upon hearing any witnesses, but upon hearing the lawyers argue from what they said the witnesses said. Maybe when this girl is older--even an adult--she'll have opinions on this that people will listen to. Right now, she is presumed brainwashed and utterly unreliable, a frighteningly vulnerable position for any child to be in if in fact the contempt she reportedly has for her father is grounded in his contemptible behavior. Our higher courts need to take a look at this kind of situation, if not this particular situation.