“The time for parental alienation is over.” That’s what the attorney representing my wife’s ex-husband said in the letter to her lawyer. Hard to argue with that statement – except when it is a false claim.
One of the major impediments to solving parental alienation once-and-for-all is the existence of a significant camp of opposition, primarily composed of professionals addressing domestic violence issues, that makes essentially the following argument: “So-called ‘parental alienation’ doesn’t exist. It is an argument that is made by abusive men in order continue to inflict abuse on their former wife.” One prominent member of this camp is Joan Meier, a law professor at George Washington University Law School. She wrote:
"Moreover, the concept of "parental alienation" was actually invented to rebut mothers' claims of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse. Thus, despite the contrary assumptions of many courts that accept "parental alienation" claims, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this theory is only a thinly veiled instrument for denying paternal abuse and furthering a bias against mothers."
-- Symposium: Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and Child Protection: Understanding Judicial Resistance and Imagining the Solutions, 11 American Univ. Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 657, 679, 680 (2003).
Do you get that? According to Professor Meier, the gut-wrenching pain you wake up with everyday doesn’t exist.
There are a number of problems with Professor Meier’s reasoning. For starters, it assumes a clear gender divide. But what about the female victims of parental alienation? Are their claims of parental alienation also a “thinly veiled instrument for denying paternal abuse and furthering bias against mothers”? That’s just absurd. Given our increased understanding of the pathology of parental alienation – that it is cross-generational alliance arising from problems in the attachment system and exacerbated by certain specific personality disorders – we know that parental alienation is an equal opportunity pathogen. I wonder what Professor Meier would say to the thousands of women who turn to Simply Parent and other forms of support to help with the loss they have suffered.
However, we must be honest that false claims of parental alienation are indeed made in the court system, and such false claims make it more difficult to bring help to the abused children who suffer at the hands of an alienating parent. In my wife’s case, her ex-husband’s visitation had recently been restored after a suspension due to a positive drug test. During the restored visits, he exhibited increasingly out-of-control behavior that put the children at physical risk. After exhausting all possible remedies to no avail, she concluded that she could not have the children visit their father. Thus came the false claim of alienation, a smokescreen to cover-up the underlying abuse.
As members of the targeted parent community, we need to acknowledge that bad people will leverage a legitimate theory for their own malignant purposes. We should condemn the misuse of a claim of parental alienation when made without justification. No one should have to fight such a claim.
On the other hand, critics like Professor Meier should also recognize that parental alienation is a real problem and not solely an instrument wielded by abusive men, that it is a form of child abuse, and that men AND women are suffering from a real loss of their children. Dr. Harman forcefully argues that parental alienation is a form of domestic violence; therefore, these critics should in reality be joining us in common cause.
One of the missions of Simply Parent is to bridge the gap that exists between the targeted parent community and professionals who are skeptical of the reality of the problem. We believe that people of good faith can work together to solve the real problem of parental alienation while at the same time developing ways to combat false allegations. We owe it to the children.