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In the News

Monday, May 4, 2009

Update: AB 612 Beall, Custody and visitation: nonscientific theories.

This is the third year in a row now that CAFC has had to deal with this issue and bill. You can read more about our past involvement here.

AB 612 was heard on 4/28/09 before the Assembly Judiciary Committee and contrary to other reports regarding the outcome of the bill passing as amended here, the bill was drastically amended in committee.

The amendments that were passed were not those of the authors, but rather the recommendations of the committee. The current amendments have yet to be posted on the legislature’s website, but you can see the markup of the bill here. (Update: The committee amendments were posted on 5/5/09 and can bee seen here)

Prior to the committee hearing the author of the bill, Assemblyman Beall had submitted yet other amendments just prior to the hearing on 4/18/09 and was received by the committee on 4/18/09. You can read the authors proposed amendments here or on the states website here. Again, these were not the amendments that were passed. Those in the markup were.

After reading the committee analysis its no wonder this bill was drastically amended. The sponsors of the bill and the bill’s author were asking the legislature to go way beyond reasonable common sense policy to protect children from abuse. They wanted the legislature to do something that has not been done in any state in the nation. And in fact, contrary to other states policy that recognize parental alienation and its serious life long damaging effects that harm children.

CAFC believes the markup of the bill does help children by re-instating the states policy to protect children from abusive parents, but still allows the court to consider all the evidence, including evidence that may show that a parent 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 and we see this as a positive step as well.

CAFC does not disagree that in some parental alienations cases that mistakes may have occurred and a parent may have been erroneously labeled an alienating parent, and a child was given over to the custody of an abusive parent.

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.

It is important to note that parental alienation cases represent a small percentage of the overall number of child custody cases moving through our courts. Also just 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.

The sponsors and author of the bill want us all to believe that alienation is junk science and that it does not exist because it has not been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM IV.

Over the years there have been many syndromes or disorders that had existed long before they were recognized in the DSM, such as Turrets Syndrome or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Still 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 one day, perhaps even in the next release of the DSM V. The recent longitudinal research and studies that have been coming out using the soundest scientific models for doing research are doing more to shore up the science of parental alienation existing than it not.

The research clearly shows that both mothers and fathers engage in alienating tactics and behavior, either intentional 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's position is that children need to 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.

Ironically the sponsors and the author of the bill claim that they have creditable research to prove otherwise yet it has been withheld from the opposition or even given to the committee. What has been given over can hardly be considered creditable scientific research by even the lowest of standards.

Also over the last ten years or so many major network programs such as NBC DateLine and others have done documentaries on some high profile parental kidnapping cases where a child or children had been severely alienated and brainwashed into believing that the alienated parent did not love or care for them or that they were abusive. All of these cases had involved a high conflict custody battle. In some cases the kidnapping parent told the child[ren] that their other parent had died. The level of damage to these children in some cases took years to undo and only time will tell how it will impact their lives as adults when they get older.

Another relevant point that is rarely discussed or considered as a comparison to this issue it that of POW’s who have been brainwashed, and these are trained adult soldiers. Then think about how much more fragile the mind of a child is.

During 2001 we received a Canadian case review by Dr. Reena Sommer, Ph.D. You can read the case here. This case took many months to vet and over $50,000.00 in costs for investigation and therapy.

We will continue to keep you informed on this bill and we 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.

CAFC 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 honorably shown that they will not be bullied with baseless political attacks, grandstanding or smear tactic claims of not caring about children’s safety and welfare. What Assemblyman Feuer and his committee staff have shown by the committees actions is that they truly care about the safety, health and care of all children, and it is evidenced in the committee bill language that was passed.

In closing we want to thank those of you who have donated to CAFC and those who make ongoing donations. 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 making a donation.

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