ArticlePDF Available

Relaxation of rules for science detrimental to children

Authors:
  • Adler & Kleinman

Abstract

This article examines the impact of the current role of evaluators in divorce and child custody cases where there are allegations of domestic violence and/or child abuse and what the courts permit as testimony by experts. The authors explore the courts’ permissive rules in family courts, and the influence evaluators have on the resulting decisions in those court cases as well as how personal beliefs, knowledge, experiences, and biases of the evaluators can affect evaluators’ recommendations to family court judges. The rules which permit less use of traditional normative tools, such as tests and assessments, in the specialized environment of a divorce proceeding or allegations of abuse are examined by the authors. This exploration takes place in the context of the scientific and professional associations that govern the psychology community. Finally, the article examines how a child’s report of abuse can negatively impact the court when in the hands of an evaluator who lacks sufficient training in domestic violence and child abuse and/or lacks the tools necessary to properly assess the issues before the court.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=wjcc20
Download by: [47.16.179.94] Date: 10 August 2016, At: 13:52
Journal of Child Custody
ISSN: 1537-9418 (Print) 1537-940X (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wjcc20
Relaxation of rules for science detrimental to
children
Toby G. Kleinman & Philip Kaplan
To cite this article: Toby G. Kleinman & Philip Kaplan (2016) Relaxation of rules
for science detrimental to children, Journal of Child Custody, 13:1, 72-87, DOI:
10.1080/15379418.2016.1130596
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15379418.2016.1130596
Published online: 23 Mar 2016.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 58
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Citing articles: 2 View citing articles
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY
2016, VOL. 13, NO. 1, 72–87
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15379418.2016.1130596
COMMENTARY
Relaxation of rules for science detrimental to children
Toby G. Kleinmana and Philip Kaplanb
aAdler & Kleinman, Highland Park, New Jersey, USA; bIndependent Practice, Columbus, Georgia, USA
ABSTRACT
This article examines the impact of the current role of
evaluators in divorce and child custody cases where there are
allegations of domestic violence and/or child abuse and what
the courts permit as testimony by experts. The authors explore
the courts’ permissive rules in family courts, and the influence
evaluators have on the resulting decisions in those court cases
as well as how personal beliefs, knowledge, experiences, and
biases of the evaluators can affect evaluators’ recommendations
to family court judges. The rules which permit less use of
traditional normative tools, such as tests and assessments, in
the specialized environment of a divorce proceeding or
allegations of abuse are examined by the authors. This
exploration takes place in the context of the scientific and
professional associations that govern the psychology commu-
nity. Finally, the article examines how a child’s report of abuse
can negatively impact the court when in the hands of an
evaluator who lacks sufficient training in domestic violence and
child abuse and/or lacks the tools necessary to properly assess
the issues before the court.
KEYWORDS
Child abuse; child custody;
domestic violence; experts
Family courts have the power to keep parents who harm their own children
from parenting those same children. In families in which child abuse or
domestic violence occurs, divorce and disputes over custody can follow.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports a high range
of the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child abuse. The family court
judge is supposed to weigh in favor of child protection, even over the rights of
the parents when managing disputes in families, where violence and abuse is
occurring or at risk of occurring to a child. A judge is required to act as parens
patriae, essentially making decisions as the child’s super parent. Judges, either
on their own initiative or at the behest of the litigants, may order that the
family be subjected to a custody evaluation by an expert who is presumed
to have the knowledge, training, and experience to offer expert opinion
regarding parenting, custody, and visitation. At the outset of cases in which
abuse and/or domestic violence is raised, the judge often is required to make
rulings regarding contact between the children and the parties based on
limited information while the case progresses.
CONTACT Philip Kaplan, Ph.D. pkaplanphd@gmail.com PO Box 1360, Highland Park, NJ 08904.
© 2016 Toby G. Kleinman and Philip Kaplan
Generally, when expert opinions are presented to a court, the rules of
court require that expert testimony be reliable and scientifically based.
How the court should determine what is acceptable expert opinion is
outlined in standards that have developed from the rulings in Frye v.
United States. 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir 1923) and Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The Frye and Daubert derived
standards are, however, are all too frequently not applied in family
court proceedings with the same rigor as in criminal and other civil court
proceedings as some courts are allowed to be flexible with the rules.
Particularly at the early stages of a case’s process through the system,
when the judge has to determine contact and visitation, this can become
problematic. Many family courts permit a relaxation of rules, theoretically
to provide the judge with as much information as possible to make an
early determination in the best interest of children. This relaxation of
the rules allows and may actually invite actions by the court based on
un-cross-examined expert reports and other opinions offered by friends,
family, and professionals that would not be entertained in any other civil
or criminal court proceeding absent adhering to evidentiary rules
that require testimony and cross examination and that may actually lead
to harming children. Lawyers would object to their inclusion in the
record in any other court as they lack sufficient basis and often present
hearsay. The relaxation of the rules permitting opinions the judge will hear
absent cross examination, especially on interim decisions, which may
become lasing decisions encourages unscientifically based opinions, ess-
entially speculation by experts rather than the presentation of opinions
based on science and accepted practice. (See, for example, New Jersey
Courts Rule 1:1-2.)
There is a schism. The relaxation of the rules is intended to provide as much
information as possible to the judge so that he can appropriately weigh all
available information and opinions and arrive at a decision providing the best
solution for the child(ren) in question. It is intended to allow the court to gather
information at the initial stages of the dispute. But while permitting this relax-
ation of the rules of evidence may seem inclusive, doing so provides the opport-
unity for unscientific information and opinion about child abuse and domestic
violence to be considered, contributing to decisions that can ultimately put chil-
dren and victims of domestic violence in harm’s way, rather than protecting
them. This is especially true where there is no ability to cross examine before
orders are entered and/or where the court is familiar with a particular expert
and trusts him even absent his having particularized training in domestic
violence and child abuse. Domestic violence and child abuse knowledge may
be counter-intuitive to the untrained judge so wrong decisions are easily made
which actually put children in harm’s way. Research deals with aggregate
numbers of cases. Judges deal with individual cases. Each case has its own
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 73
unique facts. When expert opinions are required to be predicated on science
and research literature, even where conflicting opinions may exist, the court
has a scientific basis to determine the validity of the science being offered
and whether or not it is relevant to the specific case. If science and research
are permitted to be ignored, judges can easily rely upon unqualified experts
to educate them. Lawyers are not required to promote science or have unscien-
tific testimony precluded. They may engage experts who are able to articulate
opinions that suit their cases regardless of the underlying non-scientific basis
of the opinion. Erroneous conclusions may then be offered and accepted as fact
by unknowing courts and mistakes most certainly are then made.
Expert opinions and beliefs
Domestic violence and child abuse are behaviors that usually occur in private.
The conclusion that violence or abuse has occurred, absent an admission,
often requires experts to provide opinions regarding the individuals involved.
Whether abuse or domestic violence has occurred is a finding of fact to be
made by the court. Absent expert opinions from properly qualified and
trained experts about the individuals involved, arguments based upon
unqualified experts can easily become disputes that are based upon non-
science and cast in the light of a dissolving marriage. Expert opinions must
be filtered through available data from the case and the science of abuse
and domestic violence. The dangers to a child of formulating expert opinion
without using known science can be devastating to the child and, indeed, has
resulted in the harm of too many children.
If the expert involved in a family court dispute that includes child abuse
and domestic violence allegations is properly trained and assesses the alle-
gation to be likely, the resulting opinions and recommendations that follow
would likely be different than if they were thought to be unfounded. The
importance of the custody evaluator’s beliefs and bias with regard to domestic
violence and related cases was illustrated in the work of Saunders, Faller and
Tolman (2011) (hereinafter referred to as Saunders et al). The scope of the
Saunders et al. inquiry was broad, and included judges, private attorneys, legal
aid attorneys, domestic violence workers, and over 450 custody evaluators
working in county court and private settings. Saunders et al.’s findings make
clear the critical necessity for the use of science in these cases and make it
even clearer that even with skilled and experienced professionals, personal
beliefs and experiences affect their opinions and can override the outcome
that opinions based on knowledge of the literature would suggest.
The findings of Saunders et al. (2011) indicated that custody evaluators
have a greater propensity to regard women’s allegations of domestic violence
with more skepticism than domestic violence workers and legal aid attorneys.
Furthermore, in the Saunders study, the custody evaluators were found to
74 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
only support the allegation of domestic violence in approximately 50%of the
cases they handled contrary to the literature’s findings of approximately 75%
(for example, see Jaffe & Austin, 1995, and Johnston, Lee, Olesen, & Walters,
2005). Saunders also reported that custody evaluators estimated that 25% to
33% of child abuse allegations were false in contrast to the literature that
reports very low incidence of intentional fabrications of abuse allegations
(e.g., Trocmé & Bala, 2005).
What is most remarkable is the degree to which custody evaluators
reported making recommendations about custody and visitation that dis-
counted the psychological consequences to children who had been abused
and/or exposed to domestic violence. The impact the children are likely to
experience when put in the control of the abusing parent was also not evident
in many of the not properly trained evaluators’ recommendations. Stunningly,
when asked about recommendations they would make in a situation where
one parent was clearly the perpetrator of domestic violence, in almost 25%
of the cases they report they would recommend unsupervised visitation and
40% of the evaluators said that they would recommend joint legal custody
and physical custody to the victim at least “half the time” to “always.” This
contradicts the known fact that children suffer when another parent is abused
(e.g., Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015). The impact of a court
imposing an unsupervised contact of days, weeks, months, or years on a child
to be with an abusive parent poses long term negative consequences for that
child’s mental health and development. In a study by Silberg, Dallam, and
Samson (2013), of 27 cases in which children were initially placed in the cus-
tody of an abusive parent it took, on average 3.2 years for the court to reverse
the ruling and place the children with the protective parent. The Silberg study,
which has limitations related to its sampling issues, does, however, shed light
on the consequences of a family court judge placing children with abusive
parents. Children who are abused or exposed to abuse and then placed in
the hands of the abusers are less likely to be able to access treatment to address
the consequences of the abuse and are less likely to complete adolescence with-
out developing negative coping skills that undermine their mental and physical
health. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Studies (Felitti et al., 1998) and
UNICEF’s Report on the Impact of Domestic Violence (2006), outline the del-
eterious effects on children’s problems with anxiety in those situations and their
problems with the acquisition of appropriate self-regulation skills and their
derailment from a healthy trajectory of development.
Additionally, having the contact imposed by the judicial system would
likely introduce a kind of institutional betrayal as initially outlined by Freyd,
(1991). Having a court impose a decision that denies the actual experiences of
the child presents at least two options to the child who has been exposed or
directly experienced abuse, to either accommodate and disconfirm their own
experiences or find alternative ways to manage the disconfirmation of their
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 75
actual experiences. These choices can result in a child denying their own
reality and expressing their distress through other means and/or losing trust
in the social and judicial system that contributed to their victimization.
In a time where the research in the consequences of the use of corporal
punishment (CP), which is legal in many states and may not be seen as severe
as abuse or domestic violence, has been demonstrated to have a strong associ-
ation with the development of serious problems in children), placing a child
in an abuse situation would likely have even greater negative impact on their
development than CP would. In reviewing the literature Straus and Douglas
(2008) observed:
Without exception, these 20 studies revealed that CP was associated with an
increased probability of mental health problems. Thirteen studies investigated
delinquent behavior. It is widely believed that CP “teaches the child a lesson”
and therefore reduces delinquency. Instead, in 12 of the 13 studies CP was found
to be associated with a higher probability of delinquent and anti-social behavior.
The same near unanimity (4 out of 5) was found for studies of the relation between
experiencing CP as a child and later adult criminal behavior. (p. 19)
The findings of Saunders et al. (2011), indicated a propensity to view
protective actions of the parents as not valid, and thereby those evaluators
tended to view efforts to protect the children as engaging in alienating the
children from the other parent. The evaluators in the Saunders et al. study
tended to favor the perpetrator of abuse in custody and visitation arrange-
ments based on flawed beliefs which are not supported by literature, that
domestic violence survivors work to alienate children from the perpetrating
parent, that allegations of domestic violence are likely false, that victims of
domestic violence hurt children by resisting co-parenting, that domestic viol-
ence is not connected to parenting, and that coercive-controlling violence
was not a relevant factor to explore during the evaluation. Beliefs related
to the gender of the untrained evaluator indicated male evaluators were
more likely to regard domestic violence allegations as false and that domestic
violence was not relevant to a custody decision while female evaluators
were more likely to believe perpetrators of domestic violence alienate their
children from their mothers.
The evaluators’ core beliefs, and beliefs about custody, as well as experience
together with current knowledge regarding domestic violence were found to
play an important role in opinions and recommendations. Current knowledge
of evaluators about post-separation violence, the consequences of children
witnessing domestic violence, and other factors regarding domestic violence,
correlated highly with making recommendations to award custody to mothers
and provide protection for children.
Court based evaluators are likely to have more experience with these cases
than private evaluators and were less likely to believe that allegations of dom-
estic violence were false. It is possible that the kinds of cases handled by court
76 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
based versus private evaluators differ and might contribute to this finding,
and further research into this area would be beneficial.
While false allegations of domestic violence can be made, one’s biases and
limited education in the area contributes to dismissing domestic violence
allegations without proper consideration. Evaluators who affirmed beliefs
that indicated women have achieved equality with men, that the world is a
just place, and that social hierarchies were good were more likely to view alle-
gations of domestic violence as false and bias judgments in favor of alleged
perpetrators of domestic violence.
Ethical practice standards and guidelines
The accrued knowledge from decades of research on child maltreatment, child
abuse, domestic violence, effects of divorce, and general practice have contrib-
uted to the scientific community’s development of the practice guidelines to
ensure the best possible results in family court investigations. The guidelines
promulgated by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
(APSAC), The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
(AACAP) as articulated by Kraus and Thomas (2011), and the American
Psychological Association (APA) are examples of such guidelines that are
relevant to the scientific basis upon which expert opinions should be based.
There is coherence throughout these guidelines that stipulate that experts
have the requisite training, experience, and current knowledge of relevant
research to ensure best practices. Indeed in New Jersey, complaints were filed
against a psychologist in a case that involved child sexual abuse and the
psychologist voluntarily gave up her license in the face of the evidence that
her practice was not guided by the requisite training, experience, and specific
knowledge [see In the Matter of the Suspension or Revocation of the License
of Susan Arbiter Psy.D. License No. 00164500 (June 6, 2006)].
These criteria are specifically evident in Principle 3 of the AACAP Practice
Parameter for Child and Adolescent Forensic Evaluations, in The Role of the
Evaluator Section of their Practice Parameters for Child Custody Evaluation,
Standard III of the APSAC Code of Ethics, Section VII of APSAC Practice
Guidelines of Psychosocial Evaluation of Suspected Psychological Maltreat-
ment in Children and Adolescents, General Guideline II, number 4 of APA’s
Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings
(CCEFLP), and General Guideline II, number 5 of the APA’s Guidelines for
Evaluations in Child Protection Matters (GECPM).
The APA Practice Guidelines for CCEFLP specifically assert in General
Guideline 4, that “general competence in performing psychological assess-
ments of children, adults, and families is necessary but insufficient” and “an
evolving and up-to-date understanding of the child and family development,
child and family psychopathology, the impact of relationship dissolution on
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 77
children, and the specialized child-custody literature is critical to sustaining
competent practice in this area” (p. 864).
Given the understandings gleaned from Saunders et al. (2011), experience
and belief about domestic violence affects the opinions of evaluators. The
standards should and do require that evaluators be properly trained, educated,
and experienced in the specific areas of domestic violence and child abuse in
which their opinions are offered. Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Pro-
ceedings (CCEFLP), guideline number 11 acknowledges that the child custody
context is one that may affect the perceptions and behavior of those being
examined that are severe enough to alter responses to psychological tests and
interviews, producing essentially unreliable data and decreased validity that
can contribute to erroneous conclusions and misleading recommendations.
Similarly, Standard 2.04 of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code
of Conduct (EPPCC) asserts “Psychologists’ work is based upon established
scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” and in Standard 2.01:
“Psychologists provide services … in areas only within the boundaries of their
competence.” Standard 9.02 advises psychologists to administer assessment
procedures, information and data collection “in light of the research on or
evidence of the usefulness and proper application of the techniques … use
instruments whose validity and reliability have been established for use with
the members of the population …” One might assume that this would be
sufficient to ensure that custody evaluators gather relevant data, administer
appropriate measures, and interpret all information from within the context
of the examination. Despite these imperatives, this is not always the case.
It is unscientific and wrong to use a measure as though it was normed
for a specific population and purpose when it was not. Moreover, it is an
error to interpret the results of that measure out of the context in which
the responses were collected. Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law
Proceedings (CCEFLP) asserts in Guideline 3 that “Comparatively little
weight is afforded to evaluations that offer a general personality assess-
ment without attempting to place the results in the appropriate context.”
The Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (EPPCC)
Standard 9.06 states:
When interpreting assessment results, including automated interpretations,
psychologists take into account the purpose of the assessment as well as the various
test factors, test-taking abilities, and other characteristics of the person being
assessed, such as situational, personal, linguistic, and cultural differences, that might
affect psychologists’ judgments or reduce the accuracy of their interpretations. They
indicate any significant limitations of their interpretations.
It would seem that experts who are properly trained and present infor-
mation tempered within the limitations of the context should be comfortable
with defending their opinions and the limits of their confidence in them and
family courts should demand nothing less. That is the essence of a scientific
78 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
approach that properly meets evidentiary standards that can and should be
accepted by courts.
The normative samples that contributed to the development of the most
commonly used psychological tests and personality inventories are not
thought to be representative of those involved with a heated custody dispute.
The overriding emotionality of such conflict is likely to skew the results.
Zervopoulos (2008), among others, outlined the problems of the misuse
and limitations of tests that are frequently used in custody evaluations. Fur-
thermore, even the use of well-established psychological measures is of limited
value because of their often limited relevance to the questions before the court
(Emery, Otto, & O’Donohue, 2005). It should be without argument that the
results of the various tests and personality inventories need to be interpreted
within the context in which they were administered and not interpreted as
though they are as reliable a measure as when used in the clinical situations
for which they were developed.
Vulnerability of children
Family courts are affected by what is commonly accepted in society. There is
an inherent disbelief in society as to children’s reliability as reporters. It seems
to be assumed that children overstate things that happen to them. This social
belief contradicts vast amount of research which says that children do not
generally lie about abuse and, if anything they tend to underreport (e.g.,
Sjöberg & Lindblad, 2002). Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Pro-
ceedings (CCEFLP), Guideline 1 directs that the purpose of the evaluation
is to assist in determining the best interests of the child, while Guideline 2
stresses that “The child’s welfare is paramount.” Additionally, Guideline 5
directs the psychologist to strive to function as an impartial evaluator. An
evaluation should address the children in these situations and adequately
explain the low frequency of children’s exaggerating regarding abuse and
reports of child maltreatment in general.
The report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012)
pertaining to the false and substantiated rates of child maltreatment by the
10 States tracking false reports indicated that only 1.07%of reports of child
maltreatment were deemed false. While this finding relates to the general
population and is not specific to children in custody disputes, it certainly
encourages caution about ignoring children’s disclosures of abuse. There is
therefore no basis for evaluators to disregard the disclosure of children and
protective adults regarding abuse and maltreatment, because the base rates
are so low for false reporting in general and there is a lack of specific data that
would suggest that children in custody disputes are more likely to report falsely.
While judges and others might automatically suspect the veracity of chil-
dren who report abuse and maltreatment, especially when the named
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 79
perpetrator is a parent, it follows that when a newly separated parent reports a
child’s disclosure of abuse and maltreatment, the focus of a family court
investigation would gravitate to an inquisition of the reporting parent’s
motives, reactions, and feelings rather than a child-focused protective
response. This is in itself unscientific as it is not based on any data other than
the denial and accusations of the alleged perpetrator.
Family versus criminal court treatment
When the issue of abuse and maltreatment goes to family court, the reports
of abuse can be minimized by the context of the conflict of the divorce action.
All too often, abuse and maltreatment take a back seat to the attack on the
person who brought it to a court’s attention. If a child was the victim of an
assault by an unrelated adult, the investigation of the crime would be much
different in a criminal court process than when a child is a reported victim
of abuse in a family court setting. Additionally, the criminal court process
would rely on the expert testimony that could contribute to guilt or innocence
and that expert opinion would be held to a critical review of the underlying
science. In family court, speculations and beliefs about the motivations of
protective parents are not held to the same critical eye.
When such a matter is first reported to a family court, we are in a circum-
stance where the reporter, most often a mother, cannot only be disbelieved by
a court, but she can become the focus of the investigation. The parent who
reports abuse their child disclosed would likely anticipate that the child will
be believed and protected. Instead, the parent finds themselves in the center
of attack. Rather than granting the child protection, the court does not accept
the parent’s report of the child’s words. Sometimes a forensic evaluator is
assigned to evaluate all of the parties in the divorce action, rather than appoint
a specially trained evaluator to assess only in regard to the issue of abuse.
Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings (CCEFLP), Guideline
8 indicates that psychologists strive to establish the scope of the evaluation in
a timely manner and consistent with the nature of the referral question. The
Ethicial Principles of Psychologists and Code if Conduct (EPPCC) Standards
2.01 and 9.02 direct that a psychologist not accept referral questions that are
inappropriate. It is the expert conducting the evaluation who should advise
the court as to the proper focus of the evaluation and not accept an imposed
role that will be unhelpful to the child(ren) and in violation of CCEFLP
Guideline 2 directing that the child’s welfare is paramount.
Consequences of the family court’s process
Family violence is a crime, and the family court’s process, although not
directed at convicting criminals, still has to manage the issues when there is
80 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
reason to believe that a crime may have occurred. Criminal prosecutions are
easily tainted by a family court depending upon how they are handled early in
the allegation phase of litigation. Problems with prosecution of an abuser
could be compromised if at the outset, the judge permits continued contact
between the named perpetrator and victim, either through continued shared
custody or visitation. If the child is, in fact, the victim of abuse, the continuing
contact might result in threats, bribes, confusion in the child’s mind regarding
the lack of protection once the abuse had been disclosed, and recantations,
that would muddy the waters of any prosecutorial effort. Any demand from
the perpetrating parent to be included in the evaluation of abuse could be
viewed as similar to that of perpetrator of violent crime to participate in
the interviews of the victim. The APSAC Guidelines regarding the Forensic
Interviewing in Cases of Suspected Child Abuse (FICSCA) indicates in
Section I, “The purpose of a forensic interview in a suspected abuse case
is to elicit as much reliable information as possible from the child to help
determine whether abuse happened.” There is no requirement in the APSAC
Guidelines that the parents be included in the evaluation or interviews. While
it may be helpful to interview the alleged perpetrator of abuse, involving them
in the process prematurely may provide the alleged abuser or other interested
family member the opportunity to exert influence. Specifically, in Section III
regarding Interview Context, number 3: “Parental notification may be
inadvisable when parents or other family members are suspects, and/or when
notification may result in attempts to influence the child’s report, prevent the
interview, or cause destruction of evidence.” It is at this stage that a court
should carefully protect the interests of a potential future prosecution.
When a custody evaluation is performed, rather than an abuse-specific
evaluation, the focus is on the parents rather than on the allegations made
by the child. In one typical scenario, the father denies abusing the child
and accuses the mother of being overly angry at him; he alleges that the
mother created a “story,” coached the child, and that she is seeking to inter-
fere with his relationship with the child. Problems can result if the court
orders the mother not to discuss the child’s allegations with the child. The
child, who trusted the mother enough to disclose, has the trusted parent
essentially removed as a confidante who can provide support and validation
of their genuine experience, which in itself, is confusing and likely harmful
to the child. Such a shift in position can contribute to the child’s seeking to
revise their responses in order to secure the previous position in their
relationship with the protective parent and thus muddying the data that
subsequent interviews may generate.
In the aforementioned scenario in which the child’s disclosures are not
accepted at face value, the father likely continues seeing the child. In that cir-
cumstance, there is a negative message to the reporter and to the child. The
mother who reported the disclosures of abuse feels unsupported, whereas
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 81
the father, the named abuser, can feel believed and empowered. The child,
who loves the father despite the abuse, may feel safer if a supervisor is present
and not disclose again. In this scenario, it is even more imperative that an
expert understand the scientific findings pertaining to disclosure and behavior
of an abused child. An abused child may have been threatened. An abused
child may fear a parent going to jail and feel responsible. Knowledge of the
research in this area is critical to arrive at valid opinions.
Another possible outcome of the family court’s intervention in which the
reported abuse is either disbelieved, minimized, or even accepted as fact,
involves a named perpetrator being admonished by the court not to abuse
again and nothing is done to intervene with regular visitation. When the
conflict between the parent’s rights versus the child’s rights for protection
are resolved in favor of the named perpetrating parent, the child is essen-
tially being told, through actions of the court, that their report is invalid
or unimportant. The physical or sexual abuse of a child by a parent in the
middle of divorce may be the only crime where we ask a potential criminal
if he committed the crime and rely upon his denial. It may also be the only
crime other than rape where we assume the victim is lying. Indeed, an abus-
ive parent actually lives in a circumstance where his behavior can be
repeated at will much like a career criminal who continues to “get away”
with it. Would a court consider telling a career criminal to “knock it off”
while an allegation is pending? But in child abuse cases, as in domestic
violence between spouses, courts tell abusers to stop abusing and actually
rely upon the court’s admonition not to abuse as if they really have that
power. Indeed, if anyone really believed a child was being violated, the
perpetrator would not be allowed access to the child. The assumption,
therefore, appears to be that the perpetrator is being truthful. The child’s
words are not at the forefront, get lost, and are reported as if they were
the protective parent’s. The perpetrator deflects and says things like,
“I would never abuse” or “I would never do such a thing and the reporting
parent has always had a problem with sex” (as if child rape and molestation
is the equivalent of adult sex); or “I don’t understand why the child (or
reporting parent) would say such a thing.” It is likely helpful to consider
how criminal court judges and juries would regard the denials of adults
charged with the abuse of someone else’s child as a contrast.
Anecdotal experience suggests that when the named perpetrator’s words
are examined carefully, the offending parent makes him or herself out to be
a victim of the protecting parent’s attacks as if they had a spurious motive.
Even the evaluation of the child risks becoming focused on undoing the dis-
closures of the child, rather than learning about the abuse itself, the evaluator
becomes preoccupied with trying to figure out why else they might be
accusing a parent of abuse. As evidenced by the findings of Saunders et al.
(2011), the beliefs of evaluators are best managed by requiring experts to have
82 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
science-specific knowledge as they would if this case was being criminally
prosecuted.
It is bad enough that children are the only class of citizens who can be
physically assaulted with impunity, i.e., corporal punishment, but in cases
where they are the victims of maltreatment in the context of a divorce dispute,
children too often are disbelieved even when it is they who are first-hand
reporters of things that have happened to them. Such children are not always
seen as victims; instead, their words are parsed. Clearly, the rights accorded
the child for protection from further assault is greater if a non-parent
is accused of harming a child than if their own parent was named as the
perpetrator, although it can be argued given the previously cited Adverse
Childhood Experience study the violation of a child by a parent is far more
damaging to the child than if by a stranger (Felitti et al., 1998).
The court should require an expert with specialized knowledge and training
be the one interviewing children suspected of abuse. An expert can explain the
scientific basis for why the child has reported in the way they did—how the
experience of abuse appeared through the eyes of the child. Without that
perspective, court becomes the “he said-she said” dispute, while the child’s
words are ignored. Thus, the results of a poorly constructed and focused
evaluation in family court may make it virtually inevitable that there will
not be a criminal prosecution even if abuse is found.
Persistence of non-science in family court
Why does this happen? In other areas of law, court rules require science in
court. Why in the area of family law is it permissible to ignore science and
the standards of practice? Ignorant lawyers, an unbalanced system of finances
between parents, and the protective parent being essentially charged as if they
were the “state”—the prosecution—to prove the case without the resources or
knowledge of how to do so are likely contributors to this circumstance.
Further contributing factors are untrained judges and having dockets too
large to give proper time to each case. The appeal of unscientifically based
constructions is that they can provide a ready and efficient explanation of
the surface pattern in front of the court and provide clear interventions.
We must demand actual science in family court.
The foremost example of non-science is found in the ongoing emotionally
laden but non-scientific controversy regarding Parental Alienation Syndrome/
Parental Alienation (PAS/PA) type explanations for children rejecting a
parent whom they assert is a source of danger. For a recent review of the lim-
itations and lack of scientific foundation of PAS/PA formulations, the reader
is referred to Meier (2013). That PAS/PA is being entertained as a basis for
expert opinions in family courts is illustrative of the limited standard to which
science is held. Despite the caution found in “A Judicial Guide to Child Safety
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 83
in Child Custody Cases” issued by the National Council of Juvenile and
Family Court Judges (2009), that “Under relevant evidentiary standards, the
court should not accept testimony regarding parental alienation syndrome
or ‘PAS.’” These constructions are frequently entertained by courts in efforts
made by named perpetrators to minimize and deny allegations of child abuse.
Although it is true that parents and children can become alienated from one
another for many reasons, there is scant peer reviewed research that would
suggest that children disclose abuse in accordance with the PAS/PA construc-
tion. Further, an evaluator who did not come into the scenario with the
presumptions that PAS/PA brings with it, would likely be able to identify
the unique elements of the relationships in a family in which a child refuses
contact with a parent and be able to report to the Court their explanation for
the alienation. The problem with PAS/SA is its use in defending against
allegations of abuse. It should not be permitted, as it is unscientific.
It is the illusion of science that promotes the false paradigm and sustains it
despite the limitations of the evidence. It is also the efficiency of the solutions
these constructions offer that make it even more appealing. A parent accused
of domestic violence and/or child abuse asserting their love and desire for
their children as well as asserting their rights to parent while explaining their
rejection of them as a consequence of the other parent poisoning their chil-
dren’s minds against them in order to get even with them is ludicrous if
one accepts the children’s disclosures of child abuse or domestic violence as
genuine. The idea that children can be coached to effectively present as vic-
tims of abuse by describing their experience in age appropriate terms and
appropriate affect along with manifesting symptoms of the consequence of
the abuse needs to be contrasted with parents’ usual effectiveness in coaching
when it comes to getting children to brush their teeth, do their homework, or
pick up their toys. When the assertion of PAS/PA is supported by someone
the court views as an expert, suddenly it takes on credence, despite the lack
of science behind it. Without the expert suggesting that the mother’s presen-
tation in court is the result of the desperation that victims of domestic viol-
ence can feel when confronting their perpetrator, all the judge is left with is
“he’s got a point.” The face validity of the situation can be so compelling that
the judge sees no choice but to agree with the named perpetrator, punish the
protecting parent, and deprive the children of protection. The illusion pre-
sented in court can be very compelling, but it is as much an illusion as the
one Copernicus faced when he suggested that the earth revolved around
the sun rather than the other way around; the scientific fact, was rejected
by the scientific community because they could not get over the illusion of
stepping outside and “seeing” the sun move across the sky.
That science gets it wrong at times is not new and as it progresses, it
self-corrects by collecting more and more data and refining its models, the-
ories, and hypotheses. The best current knowledge is essential to forming
84 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
expert opinions with validity. Prior to PAS/PA, there have been missteps
and misconstructions, albeit less malignantly designed, that imposed
erroneous conclusions based on the compelling appearance of surface
behavior and resulted in misguided and harmful intervention strategies.
The early literature on autism into the 1970s carried this kind of error
(e.g., Bettleheim, 1972). They initially attributed the development of what
is now referred to as autistic spectrum disorder to the “refrigerator mother”
so called because she seemed to be cold and unaffectionate to her autistic
child. As we progressed the understanding of autism as more neurological
in its basis, we understood that the “refrigerator mother” was just a caring
mother who learned to limit her contact with her autistic child so the child
could handle the interaction. What it looked like was not what it was.
Ethical and practical guidelines revisited
In the area of custody disputes that involve child abuse and domestic violence, we
need to progress based on the available science. The scientific literature has
demonstrated that a child of 5, 6, 7, or 8 reporting abuse does not have a
hidden agenda, and uses age-appropriate language to describe whatever he or
she does, feels and experiences and expresses it with developmentally appropriate
affect that is congruent with the contents being disclosed. In the vernacular,
children “tell it like it is.” We know perpetrators do not readily admit crimes
against children. We know perpetrators of child maltreatment and sexual abuse
often have multiple victims and they should never be alone with children (e.g.,
Shusterman, Yuan, & Fluke, 2005). The Association for the Treatment of Sexual
Abusers (2001) Professional Code of Ethics Section 9a, regarding confidentiality
requires the therapist to advise abusers they are treating that mandatory report-
ing laws would be an exception to confidentiality of treatment due to the under-
standing of the propensity to reoffend. We know it is the perpetrator of abuse of
a child who threatens to harm the child or someone he loves and may mock the
child, saying s/he won’t be believed. We know children are confused by their
abuse by a parent. Paine and Hansen (2002) present a coherent review of the stra-
tegies employed to influence a child to be complicit and secret about their experi-
ences of abuse. When a child makes a disclosure of abuse, the disclosure is made
more likely with reticence and minimization, and having to overcome the
strategies that have been utilized to silence them. The reticence to report and
the known rates of recantation, even in the cases of substantiated abuse, further
contributes, however, to the appeal of the non-scientific explanations that
minimize or dismiss the child’s disclosure as genuine.
Experts in family courts offering opinions should be held to the same stan-
dards to which experts in other courts are. Particularly guidelines related to
having specific and current competencies in the area of child custody, child
abuse, domestic violence, and related areas that pertain to family process,
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 85
divorce, and child development should be the rule. Unfortunately, the family
court process often makes demands for poorly considered opinions or even
carefully considered opinions on limited data sets. The current literature
should inform you of the process and content of your assessments, data
collection, and theoretical constructions. Opinions and recommendations
should be qualified given the limitations of knowledge. Beliefs and personal
values and biases need to be understood and neutralized in order to arrive
at scientifically based opinions and recommendations that will result in the
protection and support of children.
Enlightened self-interest of anyone accepting or assuming a role as an expert
would dictate careful compliance with standards of practice, codes of ethics,
laws, and informed moral judgments. Court orders do not protect professionals
from ethical issues should they violate their standards of practice or professional
codes of ethics. It is ethical practice to inform the court of orders that include
poorly construed questions, unethical relationships, and improper evaluations,
interventions, or procedures. Ethical practice is not just a good idea. It provides
everyone protection and supports the integrity of the process. Variance from it
can result in negative outcomes for the child(ren), licensure complaints,
malpractice litigation, and loss of prestige and income for the expert.
Ultimately, the family court, by holding experts to the same scientific
standards as the rules of court calls for, will improve the quality of the out-
come of its cases. It will also overcome any reliance on quick decisions when
it comes to child safety.
References
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. (1995). Psychosocial evaluation of
suspected psychological maltreatment in children and adolescents: Practice guidelines.
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. (1997). Code of ethics. Retrieved
from http://www.apsac.org/practice-guidelines
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. (2012). Practice guidelines for the forensic
interviewing of suspected child abuse. Retrieved from http://www.apsac.org/practice-guidelines
American Psychological Association. (2010a). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of
conduct. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
American Psychological Association. (2010b). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in family
law proceedings. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/childcustody.pdf
American Psychological Association. (2010c). Guidelines for evaluations in child protection
matters. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/child-custody.pdf
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. (2001). Professional code of ethics. Retrieved
from http://www.atsa.com/atsa-code-ethics
Bettelheim, B. The empty fortress: Infantile autism and the birth of the self. New York, NY: Free
Press.
Bowles, J., Christian, K., Drew, M., & Yetter, K. (2008). A judicial guide to child safety in cus-
tody cases, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Retrieved from https://
www.isc.idaho.gov/dv_courts/articles/judicialguide_childsafety.pdf
86 T. G. KLEINMAN AND P. KAPLAN
Child Information Gateway. Impact of domestic violence on children and youth. Retrieved from
https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/domviolence/impact/children-youth/
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).
Emery, R. E., Otto, R. K., & O’Donohue, W. T. (2005). A critical assessment of child custody
evaluations: Limited science and a flawed system. Psychological Science in the Public Interest,
6(1), 1–29. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2005.00020.x
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., & Marks,
J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the
leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) Study. American
Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258. doi:10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8
Freyd, J. J. (1991, August). Memory repression, dissociative states, and other cognitive control
processes involved in adult sequelae of childhood trauma. Second Annual Conference on
Psychodynamics-Cognitive Science Interface, University of California, San Francisco.
Frye v. United States. 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir 1923).
In the Matter of the Suspension or Revocation of the License of Susan Arbiter Psy.D. License
No. 00164500 (June 6, 2006).
Jaffe, P., & Austin, G. (1995). The impact of witnessing violence on children in custody and visi-
tation disputes. 4th International Family Violence Research Conference, Durham, NH.
Johnston, J. R., Lee, S., Olesen, N. W., & Walters, M. G. (2005). Allegations and substantiations
of abuse in custody‐disputing families1. Family Court Review, 43(2), 283–294. doi:10.1111/
j.1744-1617.2005.00029.x
Kraus, L. J., & Thomas, C. R. (2011). Practice parameter for child and adolescent forensic
evaluations. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(12),
1299–1312. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2011.09.020
Meier, J. (2013, September). Parental alienation syndrome and parental alienation. Harrisburg,
PA: VAWnet, A Project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
N. J. Court Rules. (1969). R. 1:1–3. Construction and relaxation; references to marriage, spouse
and related terms. Retrieved from https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/rules/r1-1.htm
Paine, M. L., Hansen, D. J. (2002). New Jersey court rule 1:1–2. Clinical Psychology Review, 22,
271–295. Retrieved from http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/rules/r1-1.htm
Saunders, D., Faller, K., & Tolman, R. (2011). Child custody evaluators’ beliefs about domestic
abuse allegations: Their relationship to evaluator demographics, background, domestic viol-
ence knowledge and custody-visitation recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.
ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/238891.pdf
Shusterman, G. R., Yuan, Y. Y. T., & Fluke, J. (2005). Male perpetrators of child maltreatment:
Findings from NCANDS. UD Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
Silberg, J., Dallam, S., & Samson, E. (in press). Crisis in family court: Lessons from turned
around cases.
Sjöberg, R. L., & Lindblad, F. (2002). Limited disclosure of sexual abuse in children
whose experiences were documented by videotape. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(2),
312–314. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.2.312
Straus, M., & Douglas, E. (2008). Research on spanking by parents: Implications for public
policy. The Family Psychologist: Bulletin of the Division of Family Psychology, 43(24), 18–20.
Trocmé, N., & Bala, N. (2005). False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate.
Child Abuse & Neglect, 29(12), 1333–1345. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2004.06.016
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Administration for children and families,
administration on children, youth and families, children’s bureau. Child Maltreatment, 685, 43.
Zervopoulos, J. A. (2008). Confronting mental health evidence: A practical guide to reliability
and experts in family law. Amer Bar Assn, pp. 60–73.
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 87
... The lack of empirical support for PAS theory has been repeatedly documented, as has the potential for harm when children are diagnosed and treated for this pseudoscientific condition. In addition, the confinement of children, who have no mental disorder and who have committed no wrong doing, away from parents and friends in unfamiliar surroundings in order to force them to adopt a new belief system would appear to violate these children's basic civil rights (Kleinman & Kaplan, 2016). As a result, in our view, diagnosing children with PAS (or following the same principles without using the label) and recommending coercive and untested treatments for child who refuse contact constitute a form of professional malpractice. ...
Article
Full-text available
The coercive and punitive “therapies” recommended for children diagnosed with parental alienation constitute an ethical minefield and are especially inappropriate when used on children who have already been traumatized. Forced reunification against a child’s will and without taking into consideration the child’s point of view and emotional well-being, can be expected to reinforce a sense of helplessness and powerlessness in an already vulnerable child. Such “treatment” can be expected to do more harm than good, and rather than helping their well-being, could cause lasting psychological harm, particularly when imposed upon children who claim the parent they are being forced to reunify with is abusive.
... Another example of this can be seen in the flawed commentary by Kleinman and Kaplan (2016), responded to by Erard (2016). Kleinman and Kaplan offer an overview of the use of expert evidence and court-ordered evaluations in family court, and argue, without support 14 , that "[m]any family courts permit a relaxation of rules, theoretically to provide the judge with as much information as possible to make an early determination in the best interest of children." ...
Article
Full-text available
Legal and mental health professionals face significant challenges when addressing situations in which children resist contact with a parent. There remains only limited empirical research on the differentiation of types and severity of contact problems, the resulting impacts on children and adolescents, and the outcomes of interventions. Often, family justice professionals encounter conflicting information that presents wildly diverging views on the scientific knowledge base used to guide understandings of human interaction. In cases involving resist‐refuse dynamics (“RRD”), the polarized claims, characterized by dichotomous thinking, often assert abuse by the rejected parent, on the one hand, or alienating behavior by the favored parent, on the other hand. When presented with conflicting social science research, understanding basic experimental design methodology is critical to resolving questions of the reliability and utility of the information presented. Equally important, is an understanding of cognitive bias and the human tendency to experience difficulty in modifying belief systems when presented with updated information; this understanding includes changing conceptual frameworks for decision making in family law cases. While polarized and often acrimonious debate in the field may be reflective of larger societal strife, recognizing strengths and weaknesses in the ideas presented in research literature allows for an integrative approach to bring more light, and less heat, to the larger conceptualization of human interactions we have to address in the family court setting.
Article
In family law proceedings, children’s views are increasingly sought and included in non-evaluative reports, such as Views of the Child Reports. This paper explores the controversial nature of including children’s voices in contested separation/divorce cases and examines the implications of interviewing children given the prevalence, hidden nature, and potential harm to children in cases of intimate partner violence. We contend that voices of children, and their potential exposure to intimate partner violence must be considered during Views of the Child Reports interviews. These factors inform our proposed practice strategies for professionals conducting these reports and our recommendations for future research.
Article
The socialization that parents and society exercise on children instills in them a set of values towards parents. Some of these values are not lying, feeling affection for the parents, and wanting to have contact with them. In this work, we attempt to determine whether these values change in the face of intrafamilial abuse. To that end, an incidental sample was used, consisting of 2730 minors aged between 6 to 18 years, who had never suffered abuse. They were asked to put themselves in the place of the main character of a story. The story varied depending on the conditions to be studied: observation and direct suffering or account of the abuse by another, type of abuse (physical or psychological), who perpetrated the abuse (custodian or non-custodial), and who received it (the other custodian or the minor). The results show that, as a rule, children lie to conceal both parents’ abusive behavior; they love their parents and want to have contact with them, even in the presence of abuse. Notwithstanding that in the presence of abuse by one of their parents, children still love them and want to have contact with both parents, a significant number of children, however, stop loving them or want to have contact with the abusive parent. These results undermine what is defended by theories like PAS with no scientific evidence, and underline the need to use scientific procedures to test the reliability of minors’ testimony based on the idea that children tell the truth.
Article
Despite widespread rejection of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), some custody evaluators use the presence of its components to invalidate abuse allegations and blame the preferred parent. Although PAS supporters claim that the elements of PAS are unique to Parental Alienation (PA) and can, therefore, be used to diagnose it, no scientific study has yet demonstrated this. Reanalysis of Gardner’s data, and our current knowledge of children, indicate that the elements of PAS are not unique to PA. Many PA/PAS advocates approach custody cases assuming that when children reject parents, it is probably the result of a denigration campaign by the preferred parent. Confirmation bias then leads the evaluator to spin, value, and vet information so that it support their expected conclusion. Children’s avoidance of significant visitation with a parent is often driven by a desire to remain with their primary attachment figure, rather than a rejection of the other parent. Forcing visitation and cutting the children’s time with the primary attachment figure leads to rejection of that parent, rather than solving it. The article suggests a method of scientifically assessing if a child’s rejection of a parent is due to PA, affinity, or justified rejection.
Article
Full-text available
Este trabajo pretende ofrecer al lector una crítica al denominado Síndrome de Alienación Parental (SAP). Se analiza en primer lugar el concepto, tal y como fue definido por su creador, Gardner, y se explica dicho significado dentro del contexto en que se desarrolló. Se señala cómo nunca se ha probado científicamente, y cómo ha sido rechazado por todas las organizaciones científicas (siendo una de ellas la American Psychological Association). Se expone cómo a pesar de ello, en muchos juzgados españoles su uso es habitual, lo que supone actuar fuera de un planteamiento científico, lo que a su vez implica también una desprotección de los menores, con graves consecuencias que también se ejemplifican. Por último, se efectúan recomendaciones para evitar esta situación, y especialmente se destaca la necesidad de que el sistema de Justicia conozca que las técnicas relacionadas con el SAP carecen de validez científica, y que la aplicación de teorías no científicas sobre las personas atenta contra el sentido del propio sistema de justicia.
Article
“Parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) is a phrase first coined by Dr. Richard Gardner. Since its inception several scholars have reviewed and criticized this construct, and it has never been accepted by the scientific community as a legitimate scientific construct, as a syndrome or as a mental disorder. Despite its general rejection as unscientific, the construct of PAS at times continues to be used in legal settings as if it has an adequate foundation within science, clinical, or forensic practice. This commentary briefly reviews past critiques of PAS and describes several additional problems that have occurred with the use of this construct.
Article
Allegations of child abuse and domestic violence present family courts with numerous dilemmas. Difficult decisions must be made about what did or may have happened with a minimal amount of information beyond the reports of the victims. The state’s parens patriae obligations to protect can clash with prevailing family court reforms designed to encourage joint parental decision-making and continuing frequent contact between the child and both parents. Advocates in family court frequently press for believing one side or the other and often proffer “science” serving their positions. Kleinman and Kaplan would have us believe the victims because, they claim, the victims are almost always telling the truth. But neither the law nor science can accept such a simple solution. We need to do our very best to find out what happened in order to better know what to do.
Technical Report
Full-text available
The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of what child custody evaluators and other professionals believe regarding allegations of domestic abuse made by parents going through a divorce. The study had several major goals: to investigate the extent to which child custody evaluators and other professionals who make court recommendations believe allegations of domestic violence are false; to explore the relationship between these beliefs and (a) knowledge of domestic violence and (b) recommendations about custody, supervised visitation, and mediation; to examine whether beliefs about false allegations of domestic violence are related to beliefs that false allegations of child abuse are common; abuse of parents should not be a criterion in custody and visitation decisions; and that parents often alienate their children from the other parent; to examine the relationships between beliefs about false allegations and beliefs about patriarchal norms, social dominance, and justice in the world. We also conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 24 domestic abuse survivors who experienced negative custody-visitation outcomes, such as losing custody of their children.
Article
Full-text available
This Parameter addresses the key concepts that differentiate the forensic evaluation of children and adolescents from a clinical assessment. There are ethical issues unique to the forensic evaluation, because the forensic evaluator's duty is to the person, court, or agency requesting the evaluation, rather than to the patient. The forensic evaluator clarifies the legal questions to be answered and structures the evaluation to address those issues. The forensic examination may include a review of collateral information, interviews and other assessments of the child or adolescent, and interviews with other relevant informants. The principles in this Parameter suggest the general approach to the forensic evaluation of children and adolescents and are relevant to delinquency, child custody, child maltreatment, personal injury, and other court-ordered and noncourt-ordered evaluations.
Article
Full-text available
The authors describe obstacles to children's disclosure of their sexual abuse experiences. Ten children's descriptions of 102 incidents of sexual abuse and the process of disclosing these incidents during police interviews were studied. Children's self-reports of the abuse were compared to videotapes of the incidents made by the lone perpetrator. There was a significant tendency among the children to deny or belittle their experiences. Some children simply did not want to disclose their experiences, some had difficulties remembering them, and one child lacked adequate concepts to understand and describe them. Failure by children to disclose their experiences of sexual abuse might have diverse explanations. Professionals will most likely never be able to identify all cases of sexual abuse on the basis of children's narratives.
Article
Most parents who live apart negotiate custody arrangements on their own or with the help of lawyers, mediators, or other professionals. However, psychologists and other mental health professionals increasingly have become involved in evaluating children and families in custody disputes, because of the large number of separated, divorced, and never-married parents and the substantial conflict that often accompanies the breakup of a family. Theoretically, the law guides and controls child custody evaluations, but the prevailing custody standard (the "best interests of the child" test) is a vague rule that directs judges to make decisions unique to individual cases according to what will be in children's future (and undefined) best interests. Furthermore, state statutes typically offer only vague guidelines as to how judges (and evaluators) are to assess parents and the merits of their cases, and how they should ultimately decide what custody arrangements will be in a child's best interests. In this vacuum, custody evaluators typically administer to parents and children an array of tests and assess them through less formal means including interviews and observation. Sadly, we find that (a) tests specifically developed to assess questions relevant to custody are completely inadequate on scientific grounds; (b) the claims of some anointed experts about their favorite constructs (e.g., "parent alienation syndrome ") are equally hollow when subjected to scientific scrutiny; (c) evaluators should question the use even of well-established psychological measures (e.g., measures of intelligence, personality, psychopathology, and academic achievement) because of their often limited relevance to the questions before the court; and (d) little empirical data exist regarding other important and controversial issues (e.g., whether evaluators should solicit children's wishes about custody; whether infants and toddlers are harmed or helped by overnight visits), suggesting a need, for further scientific investigation. We see the system for resolving custody disputes as deeply flawed, for reasons that go beyond the problem of limited science. The coupling of the vague "best interests of the child" test with the American adversary system of justice puts judges in the position of trying to perform an impossible task, and it exacerbates parental conflict and problems in parenting and coparenting, which psychological science clearly shows to be key factors predicting children's psychological difficulties in response to their parents' separation and divorce. Our analysis of the flawed system, together with our desire to sharply limit custody disputes and custody evaluations, leads us to propose three reforms. First, we urge continued efforts to encourage parents to reach custody agreements on their own-in divorce mediation, through collaborative law, in good faith attorney negotiations, in therapy, and in other forums. Some such efforts have been demonstrated to improve parent parent and parent-child relationships long after divorce, and they embrace the philosophical position that, in the absence of abuse or neglect, parents themselves should determine their children's best interests after separation, just as they do in marriage. Second, we urge state legislatures to move toward adopting more clear and determinative custody rules, a step that would greatly clarify the terms of the marriage contract, limit the need for custody evaluations, and sharply narrow the scope of the evaluation process. We find particular merit in the proposed "approximation rule" (recently embraced by the American Law Institute), in which postdivorce parenting arrangements would approximate parenting involvement in, marriage. Third anal finally, we recommend that custody evaluators follow the law and only offer opinions for which there is an adequate scientific basis. Related to this, we urge professional bodies to enact more specific standards of practice on this and related issues.
-Most parents who live apart negotiate custody arrangements on their own or with the help of lawyers, mediators, or other professionals. However, psychologists and other mental health professionals increasingly have become involved in evaluating children and families in custody disputes, because of the large number of separated, divorced, and never-married parents and the substantial conflict that often accompanies the breakup of a family. Theoretically, the law guides and controls child custody evaluations, but the prevailing custody standard (the "best interests of the child" test) is a vague rule that directs judges to make decisions unique to individual cases according to what will be in children's future (and undefined) best interests. Furthermore, state statutes typically offer only vague guidelines as to how judges (and evaluators) are to assess parents and the merits of their cases, and how they should ultimately decide what custody arrangements will be in a child's best interests. In this vacuum, custody evaluators typically administer to parents and children an array of tests and assess them through less formal means including interviews and observation. Sadly, we find that (a) tests specifically developed to assess questions relevant to custody are completely inadequate on scientific grounds; (b) the claims of some anointed experts about their favorite constructs (e.g., "parent alienation syndrome") are equally hollow when subjected to scientific scrutiny; (c) evaluators should question the use even of well-established psychological measures (e.g., measures of intelligence, personality, psychopathology, and academic achievement) because of their often limited relevance to the questions before the court; and (d) little empirical data exist regarding other important and controversial issues (e.g., whether evaluators should solicit children's wishes about custody; whether infants and toddlers are harmed or helped by overnight visits), suggesting a need for further scientific investigation. We see the system for resolving custody disputes as deeply flawed, for reasons that go beyond the problem of limited science. The coupling of the vague "best interests of the child" test with the American adversary system of justice puts judges in the position of trying to perform an impossible task, and it exacerbates parental conflict and problems in parenting and coparenting, which psychological science clearly shows to be key factors predicting children's psychological difficulties in response to their parents' separation and divorce. Our analysis of the flawed system, together with our desire to sharply limit custody disputes and custody evaluations, leads us to propose three reforms. First, we urge continued efforts to encourage parents to reach custody agreements on their own-in divorce mediation, through collaborative law, in good-faith attorney negotiations, in therapy, and in other forums. Some such efforts have been demonstrated to improve parent-parent and parent-child relationships long after divorce, and they embrace the philosophical position that, in the absence of abuse or neglect, parents themselves should determine their children's best interests after separation, just as they do in marriage. Second, we urge state legislatures to move toward adopting more clear and determinative custody rules, a step that would greatly clarify the terms of the marriage contract, limit the need for custody evaluations, and sharply narrow the scope of the evaluation process. We find particular merit in the proposed "approximation rule" (recently embraced by the American Law Institute), in which postdivorce parenting arrangements would approximate parenting involvement in marriage. Third and finally, we recommend that custody evaluators follow the law and only offer opinions for which there is an adequate scientific basis. Related to this, we urge professional bodies to enact more specific standards of practice on this and related issues. © 2005 Association for Psychological Science.
Article
A book on infantile autism, based on the experience of the staff at the Orthogenetic School. The author takes no explicit stand on the etiology of the disorder, but the treatment orientation, as shown in three case studies, is psychodynamic. Harvard Book List (edited) 1971 #540 (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Claims of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) and parental alienation have come to dominate custody litigation, especially where abuse is alleged. While much psychological and legal literature has critiqued PAS, and leading researchers as well as most professional institutions have renounced the syndrome concept, alienation as a parental behavior or child’s condition continues to be extensively investigated and credited in research and forensic contexts. This article reviews the history of PAS, both as posited by its inventor, Richard Gardner, and as used and applied in courts, suggesting that it not only lacks empirical basis or objective merit, but that it derives from its author’s troubling beliefs about adult and child sexual interaction. It then examines the more recent explorations of non-syndrome "alienation" as proffered by Janet Johnston and others, noting both its more balanced and grounded nature and its more modest remedial implications. However, the article concludes that PA is too closely tied to PAS to be an adequate improvement, because it too is used crudely in courts to defeat abuse allegations, it continues to rely on speculations about mothers’ purported unconscious desires and their effects on children, and, more subtly than PAS, minimizes abuse and its effects on mothers and children. At root, while even PA researchers have found it to be a real issue in only a small minority of contested custody cases, courts’ and evaluators’ extensive focus on it in response to mothers’ abuse allegations continues to privilege false or exaggerated alienation concerns over valid concerns about abuse.
Article
In this study of 120 divorced families referred for child custody evaluations and custody counseling, multiple allegations of child abuse, neglect, and family violence were raised in the majority of cases. About half of the alleged abuse was substantiated in some way with one fourth involving abuse perpetrated by both parents. Different kinds of allegations were raised against mothers compared with fathers. Implications of these findings for social policy, family court interventions, and the provision of coordinated services within the community are discussed.
Article
The relationship of health risk behavior and disease in adulthood to the breadth of exposure to childhood emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and household dysfunction during childhood has not previously been described. A questionnaire about adverse childhood experiences was mailed to 13,494 adults who had completed a standardized medical evaluation at a large HMO; 9,508 (70.5%) responded. Seven categories of adverse childhood experiences were studied: psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; violence against mother; or living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned. The number of categories of these adverse childhood experiences was then compared to measures of adult risk behavior, health status, and disease. Logistic regression was used to adjust for effects of demographic factors on the association between the cumulative number of categories of childhood exposures (range: 0-7) and risk factors for the leading causes of death in adult life. More than half of respondents reported at least one, and one-fourth reported > or = 2 categories of childhood exposures. We found a graded relationship between the number of categories of childhood exposure and each of the adult health risk behaviors and diseases that were studied (P < .001). Persons who had experienced four or more categories of childhood exposure, compared to those who had experienced none, had 4- to 12-fold increased health risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempt; a 2- to 4-fold increase in smoking, poor self-rated health, > or = 50 sexual intercourse partners, and sexually transmitted disease; and 1.4- to 1.6-fold increase in physical inactivity and severe obesity. The number of categories of adverse childhood exposures showed a graded relationship to the presence of adult diseases including ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease. The seven categories of adverse childhood experiences were strongly interrelated and persons with multiple categories of childhood exposure were likely to have multiple health risk factors later in life. We found a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.
Article
Self-disclosure by victims of child sexual abuse (CSA) is critical to initiate legal and therapeutic intervention. Unfortunately, research indicates that lengthy delays in disclosure and even nondisclosure are common. A comprehensive review of the clinical and research literature on CSA and an overview of related bodies of literature was conducted. Areas addressed include the context of sexual abuse as it relates to disclosure, the context and elements of children's disclosures, motivational factors inhibiting disclosure, and models of the disclosure process. Ancillary and analogue research on secrecy and disclosure are also reviewed. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.