I have met and heard the tragic stories of many parents. PA is a function, by and large, of a custodial ex-partner, although some alienation can start while the couple is still together.

This blog is a story of experiences and observations of dysfunctional Family Law (FLAW), an arena pitting parent against parent, with children as the prize. Due to the gender bias in Family Law, that I have observed, this Blog has evolved from a focus solely on PA to one of the broader Family/Children's Rights area and the impact of Feminist mythology on Canadian Jurisprudence and the Divorce Industry.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Parental alienation syndrome leaves bruises deep inside

Mar 31, 2009 04:30 AM Susan Pigg Living reporter

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

The Winnipeg Free Press ~ When men are victims

THERE is small, but undeniable evidence that men trying to escape abusive relationships are poorly served in Manitoba. Given the level of services avail­able to assist men suffering violence in the home, it is not surprising that few ask for help.

The few men who overcome the social stigma to reach out must, in Winnipeg, do so during regular working hours of the work week, or stumble through with the best efforts of stand-in aid organizations that answer the call when other resources have closed for the day. The problem, advocates say, frequently a man running from violence gets short-term help through emergency shelters established to help women -- there is no full-time shelter open to men -- they are typically put into a hotel room for a night. They then disappear back into the community. Those men then miss a critical part to breaking the cycle of abuse -- counselling. That counselling is widely available to female victims of domestic violence, who have full-time shelters at their disposal and a cadre of practitioners plugged in to the centres where women frequently seek help.

The extent of the problem of abuse against men is poorly defined. Statistics Canada has historically charted alarming levels of domestic violence against men and women, far outstripping the number of charges Winnipeg police lay in such incidents. Stats Can records six per cent of men surveyed in domestic relationships experienced violence in the last five years. In Winnipeg, those numbers would involve more than 8,000 men. Winnipeg police statistics record 14 per cent of domestic violence cases, or 304 charges, involved men as victims in 2008. Those numbers, however, rarely break into the light of day.

It took decades of activism to change societal perceptions, including those of the police and courts, of domestic violence from a private affair that happened behind closed door, between married people, to a complex social scourge that requires social solutions.

Domestic violence, in fact, is a pernicious crime that threatens lives and indelibly marks the development of children, setting in motion a tenacious cycle of abuse that visits upon future generations. That activism is only beginning to address perceptions about men as victims of domestic violence, whether in same-sex or heterosexual relationships.

Defining the size of the problem is a critical first step. To that end, the Men's Resource Centre is working with Osborne House, a shelter for women, to begin tracking the number and nature of calls they receive from men who ask for help. Changing attitudes to dispel the stigma men battle will take time, probably decades. The first step is admitting there is a problem -- something that would come as a surprise to many people who cling to antiquated views of roles in relationships. That discussion must start in the public forum, with the kind of advertising campaign that helped put wife abuse in the public consciousness.

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6 Commentscomment icon

Gerdy, Gerdy, Gerdy your attitude is the same as most gender feminists who by and large just do not like men. Intimate Partner Violence is pretty much equal between genders but men are socialized to "suck it up" rather than report it. Only about 10% of men report the abuse to the police. Judges, many police services, the DV Industry, welfare amongst others all line up to provide assistance to the female even if the allegations are false, which happens frequently to get a "leg up" in custody. In Ontario $208,000,000.00 per year is allotted specifically for women's issues - not one cent for men's issues. This blatant gender discrimination has to stop. Over 3,000 men in Canada commit suicide per year. If a conservative estimate of 400 is given to Family Law (FLAW) cases that is an epidemic greater than SARS back in 2003 but one which gets no attention and is ongoing. Things have to change.

All victims (including men) deserve sympathy and support. Research shows with absolute consistency that women are at least as abusive as men in relationships. And, even though research also shows that children are just as harmed when mom assaults dad as when dad assaults mom, Gerdy sums up the attitude of most police, judges, etc. (If you are an abused man, "I suggest you leave the province.") Leaving one's children behind (especially since abusive women are likely to be abusive moms) is just one of many reasons why Gerdy's philosophy is pathetically insufficient.

Gerdy's comments show just how ignorant and out of touch some women can be in such relationships. Just where are these battered men supposed to go. Whats stopping the abusive wife from hunting them down and abusing these men again. These women dont respect restraining orders and the police. Society should protect these men.....Society should allow mens only clubs so battered men can share their stories of suffering with their fellow men. Teasers strip club would be a perfect meeting centre where abused men could gather without fear of abusive wives entering.

I have to say that I agree with article. I know of at least two men who actually called the police only to be threatened with being charged with assault because the police didn't seem to believe that they could be being abused by a woman.

Still no phone # for these men to call?????? There are many forms of abuse against men, by there spouses. A lot of cases, the man is hit big time with unreasonable maintenance payments. As a result, his life is ruined. When once he lived in a fairly nice home and ate steak once in a while, he is now in a grubby rooming house, living on hot dogs. "He" even had to give up his car. His job is starting to mean nothing to him, because "she" gets most of his hard earned money. "She" is living the high life, not only by herself, but with her "new love", who is probably supporting her as well, and/or enjoying the benefits she receives from her ex. It costs a lot of money to prove his rights and "allegations" in court. Furthermore, there are far too many Good men (fathers) that have committed suicide because of the unreasonable demands of the ex and the courts. I also think it is totally unfair that "he" cannot claim support payments on his income tax. This has to change!! In one case that I know of, some "women's support groups" totally misled "her". As a result, "she" was taking him to court over the least little thing,and more lies, costing both of them thousands of dollars and lasting 3 years. Long story, but thank God, the judge saw right through her "scam", and now, she's eating the hot dogs!!, and he's eating the steak!! Because he served as his own counsel and she paid the lawyers!!

Does anybody take this issue seriously? I noticed that the staff writer didn't even want to be associated with the topic. Who is the lobby behind this movement? This is the second such op-ed calling for a men's shelter and more govt. moneys allocated to this supposed need. Most assault charges of female domestic violence are countercharges made by men who also have been charged with assault, thanks to our zero tolerance policy. As for those few men who are being physically or psychologically abused and need someplace to hide, I suggest you leave the province.