Confessions of an Expert Witness in the case of PAS
(Dealing with difficult scenarios)
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Abstract & Summary
This article describes the difficulties an expert witness for the family courts has experienced when advocating the removal of an alienated child from the influence of the alienator.
It must be said advocating the removal of a child from an alienating custodial parent should only be countenanced when:
1) parental alienation had definitely taken place;
2) when the alienated parent fails to accept the court orders and states the child refuses good contact;
3) when efforts have been made to use therapy to change the position of the child of not wishing contact with the alienated parent.
The Judiciary will tend to make a decision with which the current expert may not agree and they fail to consider the effects of PA in later adult life.
Sometimes my conscience pricks me. This is especially the case when my certainty in the conclusions I reach, are both fair and well-founded but nevertheless tinged with some uncertainty and concern. I then ask myself, as I am certain other expert witnesses must do: “Have I indeed come to the right conclusion or decision reached?” These conclusions, of course, may or may not influence the Judiciary. The Judiciary makes the ultimate and final decisions in any case. Having reached the age of 85, I tell myself, I have hopefully gained enough wisdom and skill to be relatively certain that what I conclude in a particularly complex case is both right, just and to the best of my ability honest and true. It is my position that I consider first and foremost what is in the long and short term interest of the child/children.
Let me explain what I am getting at by exemplifying what I have already said via a complex and relatively rare case in which I have been involved with in the family court. As one who has worked in this field many, many years it is frequently the decision of courts and solicitors to select me as the expert witness due to my long period of experience.
Needless to say in presenting this case and the dilemma, rather than the doubts I experienced, the case will be suitably disguised in order not to be identified by anyone. This is only right to do, as the actual case is ongoing at the time of the writing of this article. It will be a confession by one expert witness, namely myself, who is attempting to do the very best he can to solve difficult demands by opposing factions. I am hoping that by putting pen to paper, matters will become clearer and the reader can share with me my concerns.
The decision I reach can also be judged by the reader, who may or may not agree ultimately with my conclusions and my decisions reached in an actual Family Court. My recollection after giving evidence was that the Judge seemed less than happy with my stance in this case and therefore might or might not follow my advice, unless, as already stated, other expert witnesses agree with me. The reader of this confession may or may not agree with what I myself decided right or wrong as being the correct course of action.
We enter the courtroom
I realise, that as I reached my decision that I too am only mortal and do not necessarily possess all the wisdoms of a Solomon! Now let us enter the courtroom together where the drama takes place. Before doing so, let me tell you of my decision reached and later the basis of my decision. It was my conclusion that a 10 year old boy should be removed from the custody of his mother and given to the custody of his father’s care.
The boy had been convinced by his mother that his father was “the devil incarnate”. The influence of the mother had been that the father should not have any contact with him, despite a court order having decided otherwise. Mother, due to her own implacable hostility towards her former partner wished totally to obliterate the father and to also obliterate the positive and happy memories which the boy had about his father, and which appeared to have existed in the boy’s mind before the parent’s relationship ended. On the whole the mother was successful in turning the boy against his father.
The success of this was borne out by the fact that despite, earlier court decisions that the father should have regular contact, the boy steadfastly refused to see his father. Now let us move into the courtroom itself. Here I gave evidence based on my own investigation of the father, the mother and the child.
My investigation and its results
It was on the basis of truly factual evidence that I wished to base my conclusions and opinions leading to recommendations to the court. My earlier report and recommendations to the court which was based on my earlier investigation of all the clients involved.
I will now share with you what took place in court. Incidentally, another expert witness of the same status as myself agreed with my own findings, that the child had been alienated against the father. This expert witness however, did not go so far as to recommend the removal of the child from the mother and placing that child with the father. The reader is being put in the position of being virtually a jury judging the rightness of wrongness of my own conclusions reached. It is quite possible that your views will differ from my own and I respect your own stance whatever it may be.
As someone who analyses the personality of people in great depth I use a number of approaches. These are: 1) I study the background history and views expressed by the protagonists, that is the father, the mother, and the child; 2) the views of other individuals involved such as Social Workers and other professionals; 3) members of both sides of the family involved in the case; 4) my own interview of the individuals in conflict, these being father, mother and the child; 5) psychological tests that are in the main objective measures of personality, but also projective techniques.
Needless to say, those approaches frequently do not show agreement. Parents and members of their family are likely to take sides. The sides taken are generally based on a biased view which favours one side or the other. Professionals can also differ in their opinion reached based on bias, prejudice etc. My own interviews are also open to the potential for wrong information being presented.
Those interviewed by myself can be expected to have a point of view which frequently is biased and sometimes blatantly dishonest. It must be said that another expert witness agreed with me, as already stated, that the mother had turned the child against the father by what is commonly termed “parental alienation”. It must be admitted that being a Psychologist rather than a Psychiatrist or any other professional, I rely mostly on psychological tests to help me find an appropriate view and solution. These tests are not necessarily foolproof but appear to me to be more valid and reliable than the other 4 approaches delineated. I personally have more faith in objective measures and to some degree projective techniques, especially when the tests have a ‘validity score’ or what is commonly termed a’ lie score’. A high lie score occurs when an individual is seeking to present him/herself in the most perfect social light which is unlikely to be valid. The high lie score also occurs when the individual presents him/herself with less negative traits than is generally found in the population of “normal” individuals.
What most of us have come to realise, is that we are imperfect creatures with, in some cases, many, but in most cases some, failings in our personality as reflected in our behaviour. We must accept that very few people are perfect, always just, or honest etc. and that most of us mortals posses both good and less desirable attributes.
Having deviated briefly from presenting my analysis of protagonists, in the family courts, (the mother, father and child) I now briefly describe the individuals concerned concentrating on their personality assessment based on psychological tests or inventories.
The personality of child, mother, and father as assessed by one expert witness
Let me start with the child. Let us call him John. John was adamant that he wanted nothing to do with his father. He entered the testing room committed to that phrase as if he had learned it by heart or it had been inculcated by someone in his mind. He described his mother in the most glowing or virtuous terms. Mother had been the only one in his life. She alone loved him and cared for him, and he had reciprocated this love and care. She was his main protector and it was his mother’s advice which he tended to follow, rather than that of his father.
When he described his father, the very opposite picture emerged. His father was described as violent and abusive verbally and physically, untrustworthy and someone who did not love him or care for him. The boy confessed that for many reasons, he did not want anything to do with his father. He did not even wish to have telephone conversations with him. He did not wish to meet his father even under supervised conditions where he would feel safe in his father’s presence. He described his father as someone towards whom he had never been close or towards whom he felt neither affection or love. He agreed with his mother totally that his father had nothing to offer him. John claimed that he had never enjoyed his father’s company before his father and mother parted and had even less desire to meet and be with his father now that father had left the home. He described the frequent verbal arguments between his parents as painful and he always sided with his mother. Father was always viewed as being wrong.
Mother had found another partner very soon after father had left and mother encouraged John to consider this new man as his father. It was therefore not surprising that when John was asked to draw a picture of himself and his family doing something that his natural father was totally absent in the picture drawn. Instead, he drew himself first and then his mother close beside him and “his new father” beside his mother.
On the Sentence Completion Test there was more evidence provided by John about the closeness to his mother and an abhorrence he felt towards his father, whom John described as “bad in every way”. He spoke about his ‘new father’ in the most positive of terms. He was described as kind, fun to be with, and caring. John appeared now to be happy with his family in every way especially if he was not forced to see his natural father who, as previously stated, he appeared to detest.
The assessment of the mother using psychological testing revealed that she was a strong-willed and forceful personality. She was totally in control of the home and had been for many years and of course very close to John and the new man in her life. This man she described in the most glowing of terms. He was everything her former husband was not. He was kind, agreeable, never aggressive verbally or otherwise, and they got on well together, as did John with his new father. John also appeared to like this new man, something he claimed he had never felt towards his natural father.
On the personality testing it was noted that she had a high lie score and appeared to be of a very forceful personality. She had a high psychoticism score compared with other women of her age. She had strong views of right versus wrong and was certain that her son was now better off with his new father and the avoidance of contact with his natural father. Although, the court in an earlier decision decided that the father should have regular contact with John, mother stated that she tried to follow the instructions of the court but could not get John to go to his father. She staunchly claimed that she “encouraged” John to meet with his natural father but John had refused on his own initiative to do so and she could not and would not force John to see his father, if he did not wish to do so.
Mother described the natural father as verbally aggressive but not physically aggressive toward her. He had slapped the boy on two occasions but mother would not elaborate why father did this. She described the slaps as “unnecessary” and ‘”over the top” behaviour and disagreed with this kind of admonishment. She described the natural father as unfeeling and only wishing to see John to try and turn the boy against herself. In this she claimed the natural father was totally unsuccessful when he did have contact in the past. Mother claimed that she felt John had nothing to gain by having any contact with his natural father and much to lose in being “with that man”.
The interview with the natural father demonstrated a totally different scenario. Father claimed that he had loved and would always love his son. This was despite John’s reluctance now to have any contact with him. Father claimed that his former wife had demonised him to John. Father claimed that he and his son had in the past a warm, loving, as well as fun loving relationship. Unfortunately father had to be away in the past on business from time to time and he was consequently not always home to interact with his son. When he was there he tried to make up for his time away by being closely involved with him. He and John both supported the same football team and had attended games together, often without the mother who did not like football. During holidays, he swam with his father and went out in a boat to go fishing and shared many mutually enjoyable activities.
Father described his former partner and wife as a devoted mother. It was a description in the very opposite terms in which he was described by his former wife. She was, however, also described as highly opinionated, controlling and intolerant. Father described her as wanting total control over John and himself and the home. It was for the latter reason and the frequent verbal arguments that ensued that he felt the need to leave the matrimonial home. He felt the verbal quarrels were bad for John to witness.
He admitted readily to having slapped his son twice for bad behaviour and once because of being disrespectful towards his mother! This reason, as will be remembered, mother failed to reveal. Father stated that mother never corrected John in whatever he did . The boy could do no wrong. Such a lack of chastisement created a child that was willful and sometimes insensitive towards other people. Mother totally doted on John and as far as she was concerned, John could do nothing which would require chastisement.
In other words mother and father differed totally in what they expected from John. Father stated that he was never violent or abusive towards his former wife but disliked her now but had never spoken badly about her to his son. His main reason for disliking her was that there was now no opportunity for him to have any contact or positive relationship with John, where previously John and his father had been close.
This was deeply hurtful to the father, who felt that he and his son had in the past been mutually close and deeply loved one another. Father suspected that the mother had over time totally turned John against his father and that this influence had impacted on John in his reluctance to have contact with him. Father could not believe that his son could not remember the good times they shared in the past and the love that was present between them.
On the personality testing the father had a low “lie score” indicating the fact that he was presenting himself as honestly as possible in the testing administered. He also had a relatively low forcefulness score. This indicated he was not an aggressive, authoritative or controlling personality. He suspected that his former partner spoke badly about him to their son and that over time John had been totally influenced, and even brainwashed, by this behaviour. This led to John rejecting and totally obliterating his father.
Father had never had the intention of removing or attempting to have total custody of John from his mother’s care but merely wanted to play some part in his life as the natural father. It saddened the father that John had adopted the views of the mother that the new man in mother’s life should now be regarded as the father figure in John’s life. The natural father felt this was both unfair and not in the short and long term interest of John.
The court room drama unfolds
As the expert witness in the case, I felt, based on the evidence, that father was entitled to good contact with his son and the rebuilding of their relationship to what it was in the past. I also felt that from all the evidence and most especially the personality testing that father was an innocent victim of the mother’s implacable antagonism and that she had alienated John totally against his own natural father. I felt that this had been motivated by the mother actively, yet also subtly, conspiring to create a child who loathed and rejected his own natural father. A second expert witness ( a psychologist) had come to the same conclusion.
In simple, but extreme words, mother had, and would continue to influence John against a good natural father until that father was totally rejected by a once loving son. I considered this to be a severe example of emotional and psychological abuse based on implacable hostility between the mother and her former husband. I felt that this was leveled at a vulnerable child to make that child believe that a once loving father had no value whatsoever in his life.
This brainwashing I felt was not in the best interest of John or any child. I also felt it was unjust and unfair that a good father should be deprived of interacting with a formerly loving child. In the meantime it had to be acknowledged, that despite the mother’s insidious behaviour, father yet spoke well of the mother. This was despite the fact that the mother had contrived to have the natural father replaced by another man. John was to regard the mother’s new choice of a partner as the new father.
A Barrister’s criticism of the expert witness
I was attacked vehemently in court by the Barrister representing the mother. This was a natural consequence of the judicial “adversarial” approach. Unlike expert witnesses, Barristers and Solicitors are not independent. They will side and act only on behalf of their client. The attack from the Barrister came as a result of my opinion given in my earlier conclusion, that the child needed to be removed from the mother and placed with the father. My earlier report to the court and my testimony in the court were the same. A change of residence was needed. I decided that mother should lose custody of John unless she immediately cooperated with the Court’s ruling that she ensured that John had good, positive, and regular contact with his father. Failure in good contact should result in father gaining immediate custody of John. The expert witness made it clear that the excuse given by mother was invalid. The boy’s refusal to see his father was due to her alienation. The fact that she would not force him to see his father was due totally to her hostility towards the natural father. The expert witness made it clear that there had been a good relationship between the father and the son in the past and that mother had gradually demolished this through the process of alienation. She needed to undo this, and she would only be successful in this if she truly and sincerely encouraged positive and good contact with the father, with no excuse being provided for the child not turning up in father’s company and responding appropriately.
The mother’s Barrister attacked the expert witness as an expert on the following issues: firstly I was asked in the court whether I was a “zealot” or a “fanatic” about my views. This is a normal ploy carried out by Barristers to make an expert witness look extreme and therefore as a hostile individual; secondly I was criticised for potentially harming a child by forcing that child to be removed from a loving mother and placed with a father who was detested by the child.
My response to these criticisms was as follows: 1) to the point of accusation made that I was a zealot, I stated
“ It depends what you mean by being a zealot. If you mean I am fanatical in believing that two good natural parents, and I mean “good”, should bring up a child and this is better than one doing so, yes I am as you say a zealot. I fully admit that it is an important principle of mine in which I believe that both parents have a right and responsibility to care for their child regardless of how they feel about one another. If that makes me a zealot, then indeed I am one. If you accept as I do that two natural parents should work together for responsibly brining up a child, rather than one who is attempting to turn the child against a former loving parent, yes then I am a zealot. I further believe that an alienating parent who speaks badly about the other parent is in fact an emotional abuser. If you agree with me on this point, then you too are a potential zealot! If you believe as I do, that two caring parents, whether together or apart, have a responsibility to be involved with a child and guide that child together then you are as much of a zealot as I am.
As you must know one can be a zealot which is to the benefit of others including a child. You can call an individual a zealot by doing what is in the best interest of that child rather than doing what is wrong and abusive toward that child. I believe that a parent turning a child against the other good parent is ”evil” and not in the best interest of the child. It should equally not be in the best interest of the alienator to continue to do such alienating. It is equally unfair and unjust to the alienated parent to be deprived of caring for a child with whom he had a good relationship in the past.
It is for this reason that I believe that drastic action needs to be taken in this case and that is to remove the chance of the harm that has already been done resulting in the child not wishing to have any contact with a loving father. Hence, if in the next month the alienating parent can make certain John has good contact with his father then there is no need for John to be taken or removed from the mother’s care, and place into the custody of the father.
If the mother however, fails to cooperate, then the removal of John is imperative and highly necessary. The mother will however claim that she cannot force John to be with his father. Such a claim or view must be discounted. The clinching argument is that if John was meant to have a dental appointment or the need to go into hospital, he would undoubtedly be forced to go because mother would insist on this for his own good. She could equally insist that John must see his father, since this was also for his own good. He must see his father not only for pure contact but to enjoy that relationship with his father while he is with him.
John’s relationship with his mother is such that John would do anything that she asked him to do. It is therefore up to her, who has caused the father to be alienated, to now reverse her policy. She needed now to speak well of the father, something she has failed to do in the past, and change John’s attitude and behaviour towards his father.
Father should be able to continue playing a part in John’s life. Otherwise there needs to be a change in residence and transferring of John into father’s care. This is not my preferred option, but it is the only option remaining which allows the father eventually to reengage with his son and put right the harm that has been done by the mother’s abusing of the father to the child. In this way the damage that has been done may ultimately be undone.”
I was surprised and pleased that the Judge allowed me to continue as long as I was able to do so to argue my case. I remembered that I was independent and this was vital in this situation but independent expert witness after gathering evidence are able to provide factual evidence and opinions based on such independence. The Barrister representing the mother, however, had not finished. His next argument was more difficult to refute. It was: “Are you not aware of the harm you are doing in advocating the removal of the child from the close relationship he has with his mother and placing him with the father? Are you not aware of the emotional distress you are causing the child by removing that child from the mother’s care and placing John with a father he hates? Isn’t such emotional damage irredeemable and should it not be avoided. Should it not be best for John to remain with his mother whatever occurs? Would it not be better to wait for John himself to seek out his father when he is older?” (It has been well established and it is important to deviate that children rarely, if ever, seek for their natural parent after many years of absence.)
My reply to this was that the Judge allowed me time to provide the following argument. My reply was as follows:
“I agree that the course of action I have advocated and deemed necessary has its immediate but only short term negative repercussions, if indeed it has even that. I nevertheless, believe that it will be of ultimate value in the long term for this boy to have a renewed relationship, which is positive, with his natural father which he enjoyed in the past. Initially, as you have said, such a change of custody is likely to cause distress to the child. The mother however, is responsible, and not the father, for this distress. She should have, but did not, encourage good contact between John and his father when she should have done this.
Failure to remove John from the continuing pathological influence of mother, is necessary so the harm that has been done by the mother can be reversed. This can only be reversed by John and his father reengaging and the mother being admonished by the court for alienating John against his natural father. Mother doing what she has done, has created the injustice to the child and to the father. Such injustice needs to be reversed. For the time being, while John is with the father the mother should have no contact whatsoever with the boy. When John has once more reengaged with his father and they have developed a good relationship, as was the case in the past, then there is a possibility that mother can play a part in John’s life once again.
Mother must however, give an assurance that should John be returned to her eventually she will desist from any further alienation, and that she will abide by the court’s decision on that point. Both parents need to abide by the court’s rulings without fail and no excuses will be accepted by the court. Furthermore, infringement by either party should result with the child being placed with that parent who has complied with the court’s decision and agreed that John should have good contact and a good relationship with both parents. Parents who readily abide by the court decision should be rewarded by having custody of the child, and the reverse is equally the case.”
The Barrister for the mother continued in the attack of the expert and his view that John needed to be separated from his mother for a time, or permanently, if she continues with her process of alienating John against the father – “What evidence do you have that the removal of John and being placed with the father does not produce serious, long term emotional distress for John?” My reply was as follows:
“Due to the fact that many Judges fail to alter a child’s residence research has not been done to verify that the long term effect of removing a child from the alienator to the alienated parent is not harmful. There is however, fairly conclusive evidence, that leaving a child with the alienator has very many negative immediate and even more long term affects on the child and later adult . This view is based on research which so far suggests that the long term affects of not changing custody of a child lead to the long term absence of that child having any contact with the alienated parent. It also leads to future psychological problems and even suicide in later life.
There is another factor to be considered. What is the long term view of the court if it is not to see that justice prevails. Putting right the injustices which have been done in keeping John from having a continued good relationship with a loving father is clearly wrong, if not criminal. Would one consider allowing a thief who has stolen objects from another person to avoid being punished for committing theft? Why therefore should it be beyond the law to ignore and fail to punish the alienator who has diminished and eliminated a good parent? The innocent parent does not deserve this. The innocent child deserves to have the love of both parents and that includes the absent alienated parent. Is this not also in the best interest of any child? The court must agree with this important point and be ready to act firmly and decisively in removing John from the abusive influence of a relentless and heartless alienator. It means placing him for an unspecified time with his father who has been a victim of alienation. Only in this way can the damage which has been done by the alienating parent be rectified.
For this to occur the court needs to take seriously the views expressed by the present expert witness and indeed another expert witness who independently arrived at the same diagnosis. Failure to do so is to accept the ‘status quo’ and leave John where he is with the repercussions which such a course of action would follow. It is, as always, for the Judiciary to decide what in their view is the desired, correct and just course of action.”
Before the final verdict
Before the final verdict was rendered by the Judge the Judge asked the expert witness some questions.
Judge: “Do you not agree that a period of therapy with John and perhaps also including his mother could alter the picture so that John was more willing to engage with his father.”
Expert Witness: “I do not believe such a therapy would be effective even though you may wish to try it. If therapy is available, and I believe there is some limitation here, I would suggest the following and my reasons for it:
1) Some form of therapy has already taken place but was unsuccessful with John shouting at the therapist and leaving the therapy room showing absolutely no respect for the therapist who was trying to get him to understand that good contact with his father was to his advantage.
2) My second reason is that we are dealing with a “folie a deux” situation. John is
entirely entwined with his mother psychologically and shows the same implacable hostility towards the father that mother does. Until this is changed, John will neither engage with the therapist or with his father.
As it turned out by the end of the court case no therapist was found.
As of the completion of this article no decision was reached by the Judge. The reader therefore should be the one making his/her own determination or decision. It was clear to the expert witness in the case that the Judge was unlikely to adopt the view of what the expert witness advocated. It was most likely that the Judge did not favour the extreme view expressed by the expert witness on how the case should be resolved. The reader however, is left to make his/her own decisions, in theory at least. That decision is determined by whether the status quo is to be accepted and John will remain with his mother and thereby create limited problems in relation to his own emotional state. Should the father have to accept that he will have no further contact with his beloved son? Should the view of the expert witness be accepted or discounted?
It is clear from what has been stated that Judicial decisions in the final analysis are decided on subjective factors and most importantly the Judges’ orientation and subjective thinking.
Injustice prevails – a postscript
The author of this article was obviously interested in obtaining information as to how the court case over John continued, and its conclusions reached. Sad as it may be, the father reported that he was unlikely to have contact with John as the Judge decided, after hearing the evidence from Social Services and others, that the child’s view should prevail, this being that he did not want to have any contact with his father despite the fact that the two expert witnesses indicated clearly and without doubt, that John had been alienated against his father by the implacable hostile mother in this case. The expert witness encouraged the father to seek an appeal about this decision.
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