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(Canada) Parental alienation syndrome leaves bruises deep inside

Judges are now starting to tackle PAS head-on, with an increasing willingness to switch custody to the alienated parent and order the children into treatment.

The Toronto Star (Canada)
31 March 2009

Parental alienation syndrome leaves bruises deep inside
By Susan Pigg

In the end, it was one tiny voice that silenced anyone who still had doubts that parental alienation is real and one of the most insidious forms of child abuse.

The voice wasn't real - Dashiell Hart opened his arms wide and threw himself off a Vancouver bridge eight years ago at the age of 16.

But his voice was brought to life at a Toronto conference by his devastated mother, Pamela Richardson, who endured a 12-year court battle with her ex-husband to try to win back the heart and mind of her son.

Dash was just one tiny soldier in the growing army of children who are becoming collateral damage in bitter battles between ex-spouses that are overwhelming Canada's divorce courts, the first Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) heard recently in Toronto.

"Over 12 years I had four different sets of lawyers trying to convince the courts my son, who lived less than 10 minutes' drive from me, needed to see the mother who loved and raised him," Richardson told the conference.

"Maybe it's still believed that no parent would wound their child for their own selfish gain. Maybe people still believe that the loss of a parent is not that big a deal - parents get sick, have car accidents, get cancer, they die. But alienated parents aren't dead - and the children know it."

According to Richardson, it was her ex-husband, Peter Hart, a criminal lawyer, who began a concerted campaign to win sole custody of their then 6-year-old son and cut off all contact with his mother, physically and psychologically, shortly after the couple separated in 1989.

"With PAS children there are generally no outward or tangible signs of maltreatment," said Richardson, who later wrote a book called A Kidnapped Mind: A Mother's Heartbreaking Story of Parental Alienation Syndrome. "Instead of bruises, the wounds of PAS children are buried deep in their heart."

Hart was granted interim custody of Dash - Richardson blames that on his strong connections in the court system - while the couple sorted out their divorce.

Richardson had visitation rights, but increasingly Hart would claim that Dash was too busy with soccer, sleepovers or homework to see her. She was even asked to stop helping out at Dash's school.

To show her love, she would leave freshly baked cookies on Dash's front doorstep.

The year that Dash was 11, Richardson saw her son for just 24 hours. Every time she asked a judge to enforce her access time, Hart would accuse her of being obsessive and "trying to break up their happy home."

"There are transfers of time followed by transfers of power and children know enough to keep themselves safe," said Richardson.

"A shift takes place in the child's mind. This is the heartbreak of PAS: children are forced to choose between their parents because, in their mind, they've already lost one parent (to the divorce), and they're terrified of losing the other."

Dash went from being a happy, healthy 7-year-old to threatening to jump out the second-storey window of his school at the age of 9. At almost 12, he showed up at court in his father's clothes.

Judges are now starting to tackle PAS head-on, with an increasing willingness to switch custody to the alienated parent and order the children into treatment.

But back in the 1990s, most wouldn't even acknowledge it as a real issue, said Richardson.

After years of being told she was "idiotic," "uncaring" and even "dangerous," Dash grew into a teenager who lashed out constantly at his mother, who by now had remarried and had two young sons.

PAS "has everything to do with who has custody," she said. "It's a crime of calculation and opportunity. Arguing about whether or not PAS is a syndrome or a mental health disorder or abuse just ties everyone up in knots while real children and real families suffer this harm. A child's fundamental right to be loved by both his or her parents is destroyed by PAS."

And the effects are long-lasting, as parental alienation expert and researcher Amy Baker told the conference.

Her study of 40 adults who were alienated as children revealed lifelong battles with low self-esteem, alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as high divorce and suicide rates.

Parental alienation used to be known as "malicious mother syndrome." But it's become a more equal-opportunity form of emotional abuse of children over the last two decades, according to a new study of some 74 Canadian cases, which was released at the conference.

In 24 of the 74 high-conflict divorce cases examined by veteran Toronto family lawyer Gene Colman, men turned their kids against their mothers, while 50 of the cases involved women alienating the kids from their fathers.

Canada's family courts have tended to deal with contentious divorces by awarding sole custody to one parent, believing that joint custody is simply unworkable among ex-partners who are at war.

Many divorce experts, mental health professionals and child advocacy workers, some of whom spoke at the conference, have long argued that this approach encourages parental alienation by treating the children as prizes to be won or lost in bitter battle.

Colman said the study's results confirmed for him that Canada's divorce laws need to be amended to make "equal, shared parenting" the norm in all divorce cases, except when there are extenuating circumstances such as domestic violence, mental health or other issues that make one parent clearly unfit.

(Canada) Parental Alienation: Using kids as weapons (Barbara Kay)

The National Post (Canada)
1 April 2009

Using kids as weapons
By Barbara Kay

Last weekend, I attended the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), Canada's first international conference on a form of child abuse that can be as bad as, or even worse than, sexual and physical abuse.
 
For the "show, don't tell" version of what the presentations added up to, read A Kidnapped Mind (Dundurn Press, 2006), by former model and journalist Pamela Richardson, who spoke at the symposium. Richardson wrote the book after her 16-year-old son, Dash Hart, neither drunk nor drugged, threw himself off Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge on New Year's Day, 2001.
 
Although Richardson was unaware there was such a syndrome until well into a 12-year custody ordeal as a "target parent," her detailed chronicle of a remorseless campaign to "disappear" her from Dash's life by his narcissistic father is the human face behind the evils described in the PAS literature.
 
The late psychologist and researcher Richard Gardner said of PAS, the term he coined in 1985, "I have introduced this term to refer to a disturbance in which children are obsessed with deprecation and criticism of a parent - denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated."
 
PAS goes far beyond the moderate alienation that frequently accompanies high-conflict divorce. The denigration of the target parent in PAS is not sporadic, impulsive and reality-based ("Your mother is such a flake"), but a vicious, consciously sustained and materially baseless campaign.

For example, in his presentation, Montreal psychologist Dr. Abe Worenklein, a specialist in PAS (he has testified at 600 trials), cited the case of a brainwashed boy who, witnessing in court, could no longer recall a single activity he'd ever done with his mother, but "knew" she'd given every man on their street a blow job. To the alienator, the child is a weapon. Hatred of the ex always trumps the child's rights and mental well-being.
 
PAS-level alienators - whether male or female, the pattern of behaviour is identical - are typically so pathologically consumed with anger triggered by rejection, that they are beyond the reach of reason or moral suasion. More than just punishing, they wish literally to wipe out the target parent's existence.
 
To this end, alienators will cut the target parent's face out of family photos, banish all mention of his name or refuse to speak of him as "dad" (soon the child "de-parents" this way, too). Alienators exhibit an overwhelming sense of entitlement with no fear of courts. In Richardson's case, her ex blithely ignored all access orders. During one year when she was supposed to have "joint custody," she saw Dash for exactly 24 hours.
 
Alienators show the children court documents (a divorce no-no) and enmesh them in the legal process ("Should we ask for sole custody?"). They intercept messages and gifts from the other parent, then deny they were sent. They shun the target parent at school and sports events. They isolate the child from extended family and friends of the target parent, imputing fictional sins to all and sundry associated with her.
 
Critics of PAS fret that the syndrome is being exploited by abusive parents as a ploy to enforce visitation or custody of justifiably resistant children.
 
However, abused children present a notably different affect from the alienated. An abused child is reluctant to discuss what has been done to him and must be coaxed to reveal his secret. Even then, he doesn't express hatred of the abusing parent, as he longs for a healed relationship.

By contrast, a PAS child exhibits classic symptoms of brainwashing, acting in robotic alignment with the alienator.
(At 12, Dash wore his father's clothes to court.) He is eager to badmouth the target parent. But he uses locutions and accusations obviously uploaded into him by an adult. Dr. Worenklein recalled four alienated siblings who parroted the exact same words in their baseless denunciations of their target parent.
 
Removal of the child from the alienator for a period of time - even three months, ideally a year - can effectively begin reversal of the brainwashing effect and restore a relationship with the target parent. Nevertheless, time does not heal the wounds left by the theft of the lost years. From the victimized parent's point of view, a child's death is - in some sense - kinder than permanent alienation, for death is beyond parents' control and brings closure to hope.
 
PAS is a crime of calculation and opportunity, but alienators need enablers in the legal and social service systems. And they get them, as Dash's father managed to do, time after time. Yet legal consequences for access order violation could be the single most effective deterrent to marginalization of the target parent. Since alienators will never compromise, custody should revert to the parent most willing to co-operate with the other parent on time spent with the child.

Happily, Canadian case law is trending toward acknowledgement of the syndrome. PAS has been part of the decisions in 74 court cases since 1987, 53 in the last eight years. One PAS-responsive judge wisely noted: "Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught."
 
If teaching hatred of the other parent had been written into B. C. family law as grounds for a reversal of custodianship in 1987, Dash Hart would be alive today. His martyrdom should count for something. The sobering message I drew is that vigorous advocacy for alienators by legal and social service professionals in the divorce industry is complicity with child abuse. If the "best interests of the child" is not to remain an empty mantra in the family law system, it must stop.
 
For more information on PAS, visit: www.crckids.org
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