One Expert Witness Attempting to Explain Families in Turmoil Leading to Parental Alienation
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The author in this section seeks to view parental alienation and the difficult decisions which have to be taken from the point of view of the Judiciary. Making the most appropriate decisions is in part based on the conclusions reached by the expert witness, but additionally other matters need to be taken into consideration. These other matters are outside the purview and expertise of the expert witness. Five areas are covered:
1) expert witnesses and their limitations;
2) the confessions of an expert witness;
3) good versus poor parents;
4) Parents in conflict;
5) contrasting the Judiciary and the expert witness..
One Expert Witness Attempting to Explain Families in Turmoil Leading to Parental Alienation
What follows will consist of five areas frequently encountered by expert witnesses and the Family Courts. The areas to be covered are: 1) expert witnesses and their limitations; 2) the confessions of an expert witness; 3) good versus poor parents; 4) parents in conflict; 5) contrasting the Judiciary and the expert witness.
1. Expert witnesses and their limitations
Most, if not all, Judges originate from the legal profession and are former Solicitors or Barristers. They know the laws and how to find answers concerned with the law. I do not know of any psychologist, or psychiatrist, or social worker who has become a Judge. Most members of the legal profession, and most especially Judges, are unlikely to view matters as do those of the medical profession. Judges guard their profession and integrity carefully, and when in doubt consider laws, rules of law, and precedent cases. These are for guidance in future cases they may encounter. Judges are therefore unlikely to see matters from the perspective of a psychologist or psychiatrist.
It is therefore not strange, but sensible, that Judges seek guidance from other professions to help them reach decisions at least partly based on psychological or psychiatric evidence. Judges are however, at liberty to accept or ignore evidence presented by psychological expert witnesses or any other experts. Judges have their own opinions. These are based on their knowledge of the laws and their interpretation of evidence from other professions.
Experts need to keep this in mind making certain that the conclusions they reach on a case do not stray into the area of Judicial decisions. Expert witnesses are involved to give advice based on their areas of expertise, knowledge and training. If their conclusions reached are not convincing, or are based on biases or lack of careful inspection, such conclusions will not influence the Judicial decisions.
2. Confessions of one expert witness
I walk with trepidation into future cases of families in turmoil. I might receive fairly complicated cases. I have studied, researched and written about various aspects of families in turmoil and have had my many actual cases referred to me by Solicitors, Barristers, parents and even the Judiciary. I have been involved in cases where tough actions have been indicated. This has led to the Judiciary having to take tough decisions also. Some of those decisions are, and some are not, what I would have decided based on my own evidence.
I am known by some of the Judiciary as taking an extreme, and even hard, views on the subject of parental alienation. For this reason I need to question my conscience as well as the wisdom with which I wrestle every so often, based on my experience, qualifications and research. While I am asked to assess the motivation and behaviour of clients, I am also asked following this to draw conclusions. These seem like decisions, but they are not. It is for the Judiciary to make the final decisions. These may be based on my own conclusions, or my conclusions reached can be ignored by the Judiciary.
Some Judges welcome my approach and in the way I investigate families in turmoil, by relying on reports, statements, interviews, and the use of psychological tests as well as my own intuitions. The Judiciary by now is fully aware that it is in the best interest of children that both natural parents play a role in the child’s life. This is providing love, care and guidance to the children. The exception must by when either parent is an abuser physically, sexually or emotionally or neglects the child/children.
Having reached a very old age, I have always tried to be reasonably just and fair to both parents and also to grandparents and the extended family when families are in turmoil. I attempt to see things from their point of view whenever possible, although I may not always agree with what their views are. I do not believe that the custodial parent has any more rights than the absent parent following divorce and separation to have good contact with children. Any prevention of parental responsibility in being allowed to be a good parent, must be considered an injustice and not in the best interest of the child/children.
3. Good versus poor parents
I have frequently emphasised that good parents must welcome the involvement of both parents in bringing up their child/children. Any parent who feels otherwise cannot be viewed as following a good parental example. If such a parent cannot be convinced, or treated, to avoid alienating a child against another parent, it must be accepted that that child will be suffering from emotional abuse. Such parents suffer from implacable hostility and sometimes even a mental aberration or illness that makes them ill-suited to be a good parent. Their influence on children is wholly undesirable. A child does not benefit from such a parent. Unless such parents have a real change in attitude and behaviour, their role must be considered injurious to the child and should not be allowed to continue.
Needless to say, the Judiciary has not always been in accord with my own views. Sometimes I have even been viewed as biased against the custodial parent and in favour of the absent parent. When this occurs it is for a good reason or reasons. Sometimes I propose removing a child from a parent with whom the child has a strong intimate relationship i. e. the mother/father to the exclusion of the other parent. Judges have not always followed my advice of removing the child from a custodial parent who is controlling and abusive considering my stance extreme and not therapeutic, and possibly in their opinion harmful to the child. However, they ignore the fact that the custodial parent is controlling, influencing the child and preventing good contact with the other parent. This is difficult to break without drastic action and the removal of that child from the controlling influences of the custodial parent.
4. Parents in conflict
Judges may agree with me that a parent who has alienated a child is evil or has a sick aspect to their personality. Many Judges consider it more harmful to break the bond the child has with that alienating custodial parent even if that parent can be proven to be an alienator. Many Judges consider it is too extreme and harmful to the child to remove such a child from a parent. They will consider that a child will be traumatized if it is separated from the strong bond he/she has, even if that parent is an alienator. Needless to say I disagree with such a stance for several reasons:
1. It is not in the best interest of the child to be made to believe that they have one very good parent while the other parent, with whom the child has had a good relationship, is bad and to be rejected.
2. Deep down the child realised he/she has been lied to but the child for fear of losing the second parent is forced, and actually believes the lie he/she has been told.
3. This results in the child rejecting the now absent parent and thereby losing an integral part of himself/herself, as well as that absent parent and the guidance, support and love that parent may give.
4. The child begins truly to believe the absent parent deserves to be treated with hostility and contempt as the child has increasingly identified with the alienating parent.
5. The child’s hatred for the now rejected parent reaches a point when the child openly states to others (to the pleasure of the custodial parent): “ I hate him/her…..I wish he/she would go away…..We don’t need him/her…….He/she causes nothing but trouble……We are better off without him/her.”
6. Sometimes when the mother or father has developed a new relationship the child will, with the alienator’s encouragement embrace the new person and accept him/her as the new parent while rejecting the natural parent. This is not in the best interest of the child or indeed the alienated parent.
It must be said that the alienating parent actually often believes that the hatred for the now absent parent is justified. They fail to see the damage they are doing to their vulnerable child.
5. Contrasting the Judiciary and the expert witness
The Judiciary may fail to see and close their minds to these issues. They therefore make decisions which do not disturb the ‘status quo’., Since they cannot alter the implacable hostility of the alienating parent, Judges will frequently develop views such as the following:
1. Nothing appears to be effective in resolving the animosity of the parents or of one parent towards the other. This includes the use of therapy. It is therefore in the view of the Judiciary least harmful if no further efforts are made to alter the child’s desire to reject the absent parent. Perhaps in time the child will realise the importance of such a parent and resume a relationship. (Unfortunately this rarely happens from the evidence in the research).
2. Perhaps, the now absent parent who has been rejected by the child and the custodial parent has actually done something in the past to warrant being rejected!?
3. I (the Judge) must make a decision, however difficult it seems which appears to me to be the least harmful to the child. Removing the child from the remaining parent is likely to be traumatic for the child. Placing the child with the now absent parent, or in a neutral environment will be a tremendous upheaval for the child. The older child may even run away and return to the custodial parent if forced away from the custodial parent.
4. A judgment, no matter how difficult, on the basis of what is likely to be least harmful and destructive to the child must be made. This may mean leaving the child with the alienating parent.
5. The Judiciary may be aware that the child has been manipulated into rejecting a parent but cannot see how this situation can be reversed without there being a traumatic reaction with a child via a change of residence.
6. The Judiciary is frequently aware that the process of alienation is an “addiction” which involves an essentially “sick alienator”.
(The basis of such an addiction is the hostility they feel for the now absent parent. They will perpetuate their alienation much as a alcoholic will continue drinking despite the pressure to stop. They will justify their behaviour because they are unable to accept that they are not only harming the victim of alienation i.e. the child, but they are eventually harming their own future by rejecting a former good parent. They are also harming themselves by excluding a potentially helpful and caring father/mother. A cooperative now absent parent can assist in many ways to make the life or the burden of bringing up a child easier.)
7. The Judiciary may feel that having tried all apparent options of giving advice, recommending therapy, and having therapy, that there is nothing further that can be done to deal with the continuing obstacle of the child refusing to have good contact with the absent parent.
Ideally matters should not continue as they are and the Judiciary considers it best to avoid extremes such as change of residence. In somewhat rare cases they have considered changes of residence for the child who has been seriously alienated against and absent parent and thereby has suffered from emotional abuse.