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Child Custody Evaluation Changes

A success story!  But for how much longer?

2009 Legislative Session Update:  Another year, another attempt to eliminate the use of parental alienation in child custody evaluations -- even if there is clear and convincing evidence that a parent used alienating tactics and behavior to sabotage a child's relationship with the other parent! This year it is AB 612, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Beall, Jr. (D - 24th District).  AB 612 is slightly reworded from last year's attempt, but its effect is the same:  to prohibit 730 evaluators and courts from considering intentional parental alienation in a child custody evaluation.

AB 612 was heard on April 28, 2009, before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. However, the bill was drastically amended in Committee; those amendments were not those of the authors. Prior to the Committee hearing, the bill's author, Assemblyman Beall, did submitted amendments on April 18, 2009. (You can read Assemblyman Beall's proposed proposed amendmentshere.) However, these were not the amendments that were passed by the Judiciary Committee.

After reading the Committee's analysis it is no wonder that AB 612 was drastically amended. The bill's author and sponsors were asking the Legislature to go way beyond reasonable policy to protect children from abuse. They wanted the Legislature to do something that has not been done in any state in the nation.

CAFC continues to support the use of parental alienation in cases where it is appropriate. The Committee markup of AB 612 does help children by reiterating the state's policy to protect children from abusive parents, but the bill still allows the court to consider all the evidence, including evidence that may show that a parent has engaged in deliberate acts to sabotage or alienate a child’s bond and relationship with their other parent. The bill also provides for increased training for mental health professionals on the issue, which CAFC strongly encourages as well.

CAFC does not disagree that in some parental alienations cases mistakes may have occurred and a parent may have been erroneously labeled an alienating parent. These cases may have allowed an abusive parent to gain custody over a child. However, parental alienation cases represent a small percentage of the overall number of child custody cases moving through our courts. No matter how hard we try we can not expect to produce a perfect policy that works 100 percent of the time. But this cannot keep us from creating sound policy that does the greatest good for the majority of cases.

Furthermore, CAFC understands that because one parent is making a parental alienation claim does not mean that the courts always rule that alienation has occurred. Many parental alienation claims cases are denied by the courts because the evidence showed otherwise. Even with our family law court calendars overloaded we believe the experts and courts get it right in these cases far more often than an occasional error.

On the other hand, the sponsors and author of AB 612 want us to believe that alienation is junk science because it has not yet been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV). Over the years there have been many syndromes or disorders that were recognized long before they were included in the DSM, such as Turrets Syndrome or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mental health experts recognized that those affected by Turrets or PTSD all had certain symptoms and displayed patterns of behavior that were consistent with the syndrome or disorder.

CAFC firmly believes that Parental Alienation and its harmful effects on children will also be recognized in the DSM in due course, perhaps even in the next release (DSM V). The recent longitudinal research and studies using the soundest scientific models for research are doing a great deal to shore up the science of parental alienation. The research shows that both mothers and fathers engage in alienating tactics and behavior, either intentionally or as a result of a personality disorder. One of the most recent exhaustive studies was undertaken by Janet R. Johnson Ph.D, San Jose State University, along with Marjorie G. Walters Ph.D. and Nancy W. Olesen Ph.D.: “Is it Alienating Parenting, Role Reversal, or Child Abuse? A Study of Childrens Rejection of a Parent in Child Custody Disputes” (published in Journal of Emotional Abuse, (2005) Vol 4, No 4, 191-218). CAFC strongly believes that children must be protected from the harmful effects of parental alienation, whether the offending parent is the mother or father, and the courts should have the discretion to examine all the evidence.

CAFC will continue to keep you informed about this bill. We also want to thank the Family Law Section of the State Bar, the California Psychologists Association, and others who have been working very hard to assure that any legislation passed on this issue is sound, and truly in the best interest of children. We also want to express our acknowledgment and thanks for the great display of courage that Assemblyman Mike Feuer, the committee chair, and his staff have shown. They have demonstrated that they will not be bullied with baseless political attacks, grandstanding or claims of not caring about children’s safety and welfare. What Assemblyman Feuer and his committee staff have shown is that they truly care about the safety, health and care of all children.

As always, we want to thank those of you who have donated to CAFC. Without your help we could not continue to be as effective as we are. Please spread the word about our work to others and encourage them to make a donation.

2008 Legislative Session: As predicted, a new bill regarding custody evaluators (AB 2587) was introduced to continue the ongoing attempt to eliminate the use of parental alienation. AB 2587 stalled and was not set for hearing.

2007 Legislative Session:  In a contested child custody or visitation proceeding, the family court may appoint a child custody evaluator to conduct a child custody evaluation (commonly known as a "730 Evaluation") if the court determines it is in the best interests of the child to do so.  A bill introduced in the California Assembly by Assemblymember Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City),California Assembly Bill 612, would have made a number of changes to when and how psychological testing of a parent intended to produce a diagnosis is conducted as part of a child custody evaluation.  AB 612 would have permitted a court to order psychological testing of a parent intended to produce a diagnosis only for "good cause" shown pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Section 2032.310. Furthermore, the original iteration of the bill's language would have specifically eliminated findings of parental alienation as "nonscientific."

This bill was strongly supported by women's organizations, who contended that it was necessary to prevent the "misuse" of psychological testing in child custody evaluations and to ensure that, when such testing is allowed, only diagnoses that are generally accepted by the medical or psychological communities are accepted by the family courts. This bill was opposed by CAFC and the Family Law Section of the State Bar, since the bill would have prevented evaluators from using psychological testing, which is a necessary part of their evaluation process.

The bill was amended on April 14, 2007, and it took a nasty turn for the worse.  CAFC's advocate, Michael Robinson, promptly met with Ruskin's Chief of Staff to provide information and details that  the bill's author had not known beforehand.  As a result of CAFC's efforts, Assemblymember Ruskin accepted a major amendment to his bill.  The analysis and the text of the amendments are available on the CAFC web site.  Finally, on June 25, 2007, the hearing scheduled for the next day to review AB 612 were cancelled at Assemblyman Ruskin's request, and the bill effectively died for this legislative session.

CAFC will continue to actively monitor this type of legislation.  Karen Anderson, the head of the California Protective Parents Association and putative the sponsor of AB 612 has already started her push to get another author for 2008.  So it is very clear that we will have to fight it again next year.  During testimony on AB 612, Anderson's group announced that they have been conducting a study on Parental Alienation and are close to publishing a book on the subject. We have no doubt how they will view Parental Alienation since their opinion is well known.

We believe that Parental Alienation does exist and can be used by one parent to turn a child against the other parent. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by the family law courts and its 730 evaluators. Ironically some children have had both parents engaging in alienating behavior and tactics. Regardless of whether one or both parents engage in alienation, it always produces very serious developmental and other problems for a child that last into adulthood. It is not "non-scientific" mumbo jumbo that is used to dupe the courts into granting custody to an unfit parent.

It is very clear that California Protective Parents Association and like-minded groups  intend to make California the battle ground against Parental Alienation.  Karen Anderson has NOW, The Commission on the Status of Women, Coalition of Family Equity (essentially the attorney’s for the mother in the LaMusga "move away" case), & a slew of others.  We've stopped their efforts so far, but we need your help to succeed this year, next year, and the year after.  If we don't continue to prevail in California, they will push this issue nationally.

With your funding and support, CAFC can continue its successful legislative efforts.  Moreover, we will commission a fair and accurate peer-reviewed study, using far more respected and credibile experts.  Please help by making a donation today.