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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Judge Richard Dollinger Brings Common Sense to Parental Alienation Arguments

In a document posted at, the Rochester, New York judge Richard Dollinger brought some common sense to the issue of parental alienation (PA).

 PA advocates generally claim that when children of a divorced family are reluctant to have contact with one of the parents, their behavior is evidence that the preferred parent has “brainwashed” them to dislike the nonpreferred parent, that this treatment has caused or will cause mental illness in the children, that the preferred parent is thus guilty of child abuse, and that a complete custody change plus special PA treatment should be ordered. In a number of cases, judges have accepted this argument—often when no expert had testified about the serious problems of the PA concept and the lack of evidence for safety and effectiveness of the proposed treatments.
In the case about which Judge Dollinger opined, the experts testifying that PA was present and custody change was required were three well-known PA advocates, Amy Baker, Linda Gottlieb, and Robert Evans. As commonly occurs in these cases, they had not interviewed the three daughters of the divorced family, but based their arguments largely on their discussions with the father, who was claiming PA and asking that the girls be ordered to live with him and his girlfriend (the girls’ former nanny).

Judge Dollinger described various actions of the parents as foolish, intemperate, immature, boorish, and charged with a “win at all costs” spirit. However, he did not find these behaviors, or the attitudes of the girls, unusual among divorcing families. In addition, he did not find any evidence that the girls had been influenced to avoid their father, that they have actually avoided their father or that their father’s authority has been lessened. He noted that according to the father, the girls “ are often sullen when they come to his home, and that they do not immediately warm up to him when they arrive for visitation; although they eventually overcome their cooler .disposition and then warmly embrace him after time with him. Like many teenagers, they are not always in accord with the father's direction. He claims that the once close relationship between the nanny and the daughters has been altered since she became his girlfriend. Unsurprisingly, [Judge Dollinger continued] in the father's testimony he never suggests that the change might have something to do with his own conduct and the change of the nanny's role (from nanny to his girlfriend).” In addition, the judge noted, the  ”characterization that the children's undisputed consistent access to their father was nonetheless evidence of being "somewhat alienated" strongly suggests that this expert had no actual proof that the children are alienated from their father”. Consequently, Judge Dollinger did not order a custody change, PA treatment for the girls, or financial obligations of mother to father.

 Advocates of  PA appear to have overgeneralized from a rare although genuine family problem to common, even healthy, reactions of parents and children to changes in family structure. They have assumed that negative views of a former spouse, expressed for good legal or therapeutic reasons and not in the presence of children, should be accepted as evidence that the children are being manipulated by the preferred parent. Notably, they claim that PA is present even in cases where children do not resist or refuse visitation with a parent, and appear to base this claim largely on ordinary adolescent behaviors or preferences which would not be seen as “symptoms” in any intact family.

It will be a step in the right direction if other judges follow Judge Dollinger’s lead in demanding real evidence for claims of PA rather than accepting the unsubstantiated statements of PA advocates.

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