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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Judge Considers Childress's Parental Alienation Treatment Drastic and Potentially Damaging

In a recent decision in a California custody case (Sahar vs Sahar, Yolo County), Judge Daniel Maguire rejected the opinions of Craig Childress, an advocate of the parental alienation (PA) treatment High Roads. Childress had been hired by the father in this case to make recommendations about treatment of two teenagers who were resisting or refusing visitation with their father following the parents’ divorce.

Childress argued that the mother in the case was  manipulating the children’s attitudes and causing them to be alienated from their father. Childress had no direct evidence that this was the case, nor had he evaluated the mother, but he opined that the mother was acting to alienate the children because she was suffering from a personality disorder caused by her childhood disorganized attachment status. An independent evaluator did not find that the mother had a personality disorder, and personality disorders are not thought to result from childhood attachment status by well-known attachment researchers. (N.B. I also testified as an expert in this case, commenting on Childress’s purported attachment explanation and the lack of evidence for his various claims.)

Childress proposed that the court reverse past custody decisions and place the resistant teenagers entirely in their father’s custody. He also recommended an untested form of treatment called High Roads, practiced by his colleague, the life coach Dorcy Pruter. When cross-examined by the minors’ counsel, Childress declined to answer some questions on the grounds that his professional license would be affected.

Judge Maguire’s decision in this case was that the teenagers should remain in their mother’s physical custody, but should have three meals a month with their father, each child having one meal alone with the father. They are not prohibited from talking about past circumstances but advised to do this in a constructive way rather than “relitigating” matters. This is seen as a step toward better relationships and a minimum rather than a maximum contact time. The mother is asked to encourage this but not required to force the children physically to attend meals with their father.

Judge Maguire commented on Childress’s testimony. The minors’ counsel had challenged Childress’s appearance on Kelly/Frye grounds, as Childress’s views are not generally accepted in the professional community. However, Judge Maguire stated that under California law Childress was giving an opinion, not employing a “new technique or method” or “novel method of proof”.. The decision should not then be taken to mean that the judge believed that Childress’s views were in fact shared by the professional community (my comment, not part of the decision—JM) or were found persuasive by the court.

Judge Maguire noted that Childress’s diagnosis was presented ipse dixit, as proof by assertion and without evidence. In addition, the judge stated that the proposed treatment appeared “drastic and potentially damaging”. In a footnote, Judge Maguire stated that “The court makes no finding as to whether or not Dr. Childress violated the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, the court does not rely on his testimony”.

This decision should be noted by other courts, by parents of whom parental alienation has been alleged, and by the lawyers representing those parents,

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