Later they read my op-ed about the damage being done to children through allegations of parental alienation and asked if I would look into this case. "Family Court Devastation: Discredited 'Parental Alienation Syndrome'," (The Providence Journal, June 27, 2006) is online at http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/projo_20060627_ctgrant.184a360.html
During years spent researching custody cases at no charge, I developed a procedure to identify those parents who are genuinely protective. Before I agree to investigate a case, I request documents, photographs, school papers, police and medical records, whatever will help me understand the history of this family. Although agency staffers are forbidden to disclose their own information, any parent is free to share their documents with me. Psychological evaluations are not confidential when prepared for court.
This is a test. When litigation is underway, it becomes impossible to speak to both parents. Will I be given only those documents favorable to one of them? Or will I also get those that affirm the other parent? Will either one's demeanor suggest a motive of self-aggrandizement, revenge, or a desire to use children for retribution?
This mother passed the test. She immediately provided the full range of documents. She was eager to do anything to protect her children. I interviewed people who knew the family. We photographed their home. I felt confident from all the information that the mother is not just a good parent, but an outstanding one. She loves her work as a neuroscientist, but places her first priority on her children.
I organized these documents chronologically with others from the court file and tracked the mention of "parental alienation" and the build-up of a defense strategy. One trail led from the Zurich lawyer to his brother in Rhode Island, who hired a criminal defense attorney, who hired a private investigator, who reached out to an elderly home child care provider, whose biased opinions got seeded into the court record through an array of reports that included those of the private investigator, the DCYF hearing officer, the guardian ad litem, and the clinical psychologist.
Ethical standards should assure that there are no conflicts of interest, but adversarial litigation is fraught with conflicts due to the extensive use of privately hired contractors who, especially in a small state, have personal and professional relationships with each other. They may hesitate to challenge errors and ethical lapses that occurred earlier in the process.
In this case, as in many I have researched, credentialed "experts" not only overlooked mistakes in the record; some repeated and even amplified hearsay and misleading opinions as if they were true. The lack of objective information and evidentiary integrity in these documents would be ludicrous if it were not so devastating to vulnerable children.
LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST #1
For example, on September 15, 2004, a court-ordered licensed clinical psychologist speaks on the phone with the child care provider, who describes the girls' mother as "a very odd person" and says the mother was "at times jealous that [Molly] was closer to her father."
Three pages later in his January 2005 report, the psychologist repeats this from the report of the private investigator: "[Child care provider] says that [mother] was resentful and jealous of the fact that [Molly] was much closer to her father than to her mother."
The psychologist repeats it again on the next page, quoting the DCYF hearing officer's report, who appears to be quoting another report: "The child's daycare provider was interviewed and stated that [mother] was jealous of the loving and warm relationship between [father] and his children."
Later, similar words come from the father, himself, who tells the psychologist: "[My wife] was just jealous of me and resentful that [Molly] was close to me. She was also envious that I made more money than her and got to present workshops all over the world."
The psychologist does not seem to pick up the fact that the father's exact words, "jealous" and "resentful," are those used by the child care provider and repeated in other reports. He does not question whether the father is "coaching" the elderly woman.
Providence is a small city, and it was not hard for me to locate members of this woman's family who also knew Molly's family. Seeking an independent reality-check, I met with them separately and showed each the quotes attributed to their relative. Each one stated that the woman probably said those words, but that the quotes do not accurately describe Molly, Sara, or the girls' reactions to their parents.
Each relative told me that the girls relied emotionally on their mother and avoided their father. They credited the mother with these girls' extraordinary brightness and creativity. One of the relatives wept openly when I told him that Molly and Sara were in a state shelter.
"That's unbelievable!" he said repeatedly, affirming that the girls' mother is "unusual," but "she is a very good mother." The relatives each told me that the girls' father constantly visits this woman, whose unsubstantiated opinion became critical to the case. In the end, the father’s defense team may have realized her testimony could not hold up in court, for they never called her as a witness.
But the harm was done. The psychologist not only believed her, but placed her support for the father at the top of his list of reasons for concluding: "To a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, [the father] did not sexually or physically abuse" [Molly and Sara] and that [their mother] "coached the children to make negative and false statements against their father."
Amazingly, the psychologist assigns greater credibility to this simple phone conversation than to the detailed reports of trained therapists who met with the girls for dozens of sessions at Day One, the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center. He notes that these therapists "are firmly convinced that [Molly] was sexually assaulted by her father and that [Sara] was physically abused. They do not feel that [the mother] coached the children."
The psychologist stops these therapists from working with the girls during his evaluation, even though he admits a possibility that Molly’s paternal grandfather may have molested her. He reports that both girls told him disturbing things that he later discounts, as when "Molly," 4, says: "My dad bumped my head on the floor because he don't love me." Here are more quotes from his report:
When [Molly] was asked why her father does not live with her, she made the following statement: 'He made bad stuff to us like sausage game, and I did not like it at all'.
[Molly] was asked to draw a picture of the sausage game, and she drew a 4-inch long oval shape. In the middle of the oval, she drew scribbling lines. She described the oval as a sausage and the scribbling lines as the hand of her father, but refused to elaborate.
When [Molly] was asked if she had bad dreams, she replied, 'About the sausage game'.
The psychologist asks Molly to show the sausage game on an anatomically correct drawing of a male figure, and she marks the penis. When he asks her to show the sausage game on a female figure, she is "not responsive" and soon complains that he is asking her "too many questions."
In Molly's last session, the psychologist asks her again about the sausage game, and she says: "My dad does the sausage game and he touches." The psychologist continues: "As she made this statement, she touched her vagina and the vagina of a doll. She laughed and giggled and showed no sign of alarm, but refused to discuss the issue further."
The psychologist fails to recognize the giggle and laughter as a likely sign of embarrassment for a 4-year-old girl to say these things when she is alone with a grown man who may have a sausage of his own. Instead he discounts all her disclosures, because [Molly] "never seemed frightened or upset. She always smiled and was positive."
The clinician describes Sara the same way: "She told me she had never had a positive experience with her father, but said this with a smile on her face. She did not appear to be distressed, anxious, or concerned."
He does not seem to grasp what the girls, themselves, know. A year later, Sara tries to help her troubled little sister by pretending she is her teacher. She gives Molly an assignment from a workbook about feelings. She asks Molly to draw feelings that she sometimes hides under a mask.
Molly understands the assignment. She identifies the feelings she does not like to show: scared, mad, and worried. She sees herself replacing them with these masks: happy, normal, silly. Like a good teacher, her big sister affirms her work with an A+. It does not require a PhD in psychology to comprehend these things.
Yet, this clinical psychologist is a leading evaluator of sexual molestation cases for the Rhode Island Family Court.
DCYF HEARING OFFICER
A cauldron of misinformation was bubbling as the psychologist prepared his report during the same months that the DCYF hearing officer wrote her decision late in 2004. Explanations diverged from one report to the other.
For example, both reports mention the father and daughter bathing together as more significant than just parental concern for cleanliness. The psychologist reports that the father told him Molly had asked twice to join him in the bathtub before he let her. Meanwhile, the DCYF hearing officer reports that the father said he bathed with Molly "because he wanted to be close to his young daughter."
The hearing officer wrote that the father blamed the mother for "influences of what he termed Parental Alienation Syndrome." The hearing officer knew about the father's own father, who has a criminal record as a pedophile; about his brother's work as a lawyer specializing in cases like this; about the opinions of the elderly child care provider. She knew there was other evidence. She could have insisted on seeing it, but she did not.
DCYF gave her no exhibits, not even its original report indicating the father for sexual molestation. She heard from no other witnesses except the father and the child protective investigator, whom she chastised for failing to translate the mother's journals. She never met the mother, who did not realize this hearing was being held.
The hearing officer flipped the case from a finding of sexual molestation against the father to a charge of "parental alienation" against the mother, which is neither a crime, nor a provable allegation.
Without meeting the mother, the DCYF hearing officer labeled her "behavior and conduct … highly unorthodox and rather suspicious." She stated: "This maternal behavior casts a shadow over the reliability of the child’s statements . . . ."
Clinicians and court officers, including the guardian ad litem, repeated her assertions to the judge in their own reports, as if these were findings of fact.
DCYF had never considered the children in any danger with their mother. Molly and Sara stayed with her for sixteen more months while the father's legal team built his case to remove them.
The hearing officer's unusual name appeared online in April 2007, when she published an essay, apparently to attract fathers to her private law practice, and her bias against mothers became clearer than ever:
It is amazing in today's modern society that many women revert to touting their traditional roles of cooking, cleaning, laundry and being the tender hands of motherhood to elevate their argument to a pedestal of holy motherhood.
In a later article she mocked "the pedestal which still elicits a knee-jerk reaction to the hallowed image of mother and child."
LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
As the legal process subjected the children to constant interviews with clinicians, they began to express frustration and anger.
Children in this situation get asked the same questions by so many different adults that they begin to sound rehearsed, giving rise to allegations that the mother is quizzing and coaching them. They fret over their answers afterward, especially when they begin to hear their own words thrown back at them as evidence against their mothers.
The guardian ad litem contacted and worked closely with a licensed clinical social worker who used the silent treatment to enforce her authority. She would sit in silence with the girls and their mother, until the mother finally asked why they were there. The social worker remained silent, as if to taunt them: You are nothing. I cannot even hear you.
Sara distrusted her, and the clinician's report suggests the feeling was mutual.
DCYF contracted with this clinician to "reunite" the younger girl with her father. The social worker writes, "it does not seem possible . . . to make a determination of whether and/or how there was sexual abuse . . . ."
Nevertheless, she takes Molly, by then five years old, into a room alone with her father. The girl is horrified. She turns her back on him and screams "for 20 or 30 minutes." Exhausted, the child accepts a glass of water from the social worker, who soothes her feverish face with a wet cloth and begins talking quietly. She gets the child to enter a conversation about "small topics" with her father. Exactly the same procedure might be used to "groom" a child for molestation.
Molly's drawings show the effect this had on her. After one of her forced visits with her father, she portrays herself as handless, helpless, and bereft.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM (LAW GUARDIAN)
My earliest clue that this case might be a custody scam came from the guardian ad litem's 2005 report, a short and paltry document that failed to meet the most basic standards in the manual she helped to write and teach, Guardian ad Litem Practice in Rhode Island Family Court. It included no interviews of neighbors in the community where the girls had spent their entire lives; it strung together cheap beads of innuendo and hearsay as if they were facts.
At $200 an hour the guardian ad litem charged $1,000 for her home visit, including $400 for travel alone. She barely mentions the home, except for these strange remarks that make her report resemble petty gossip:
In [mother's] study/office, two things jumped out. The first was that this is the only room that there was adult-sized furniture. The second thing was that almost all of the books were in German or French. Two books that stood out written in English were entitled something to the effect of, 'How to win your divorce case' and 'How to win your child in a custody battle.'
She makes only one further reference to the home: "The children share a small bedroom. [Their father's] opinion is that it would have been impossible to enter their room without awakening both children."
Perhaps the guardian felt a need to comment on the bedroom, since the DCYF hearing officer's decision favoring the father noted his comment that the bedroom was too small for him to enter at night without waking the older girl.
But their bedroom is not small. Moreover, the question of entering it at night is pointless, since Molly protested "sausage games" during the day in several areas of the house, when her mother and sister were gone. This is the type of irrelevant information that occupied hundreds of costly hours by countless professionals.
The guardian ad litem never mentions the sunny handcraft room, the walls full of vibrant children's paintings, the shelves of art books and games, the piano, or the absence of a TV. (The mother kept one in her bedroom, but said that the girls had neither interest nor time for television.)
Contrary to her description, the furniture throughout the home is a family-friendly blend of adult and child-sizes--a futon low to the floor, full-sized rocking chair and piano.
Bookshelves hold hundreds of books in English, art books for an abundantly artistic family, and academic books of a scientist who speaks five languages.
The girls' creativity, zest and humor have left their mark everywhere.
"Hi Mommy!" says the window. "Switzerland is cool!"
But the guardian ad litem's bias seemed to infect even the state's Child Advocate, who knew little about this case when I inquired, but clearly had been told, and seemed to accept the view, that this mother had "coached" her daughter to lie. I could see that the Advocate faced more pressing concerns, for her budget had been slashed, she was being forced to move her office, and she had just initiated a major class action suit against DCYF for failure to protect 3,000 children in their care.
Having approached every imagineable official with no results, I began putting my research about the case online at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/ and urged legislators to examine it. The DCYF lawyer secured a strangely-worded court order to suppress the blog, though they knew and later admitted that Family Court has no authority over me.
The father's attorneys subpoenaed me to bring my documents to court. This gave me a unique opportunity to enter the closed courtroom and observe how the father's defense team huddled around him, including not only his civil and criminal lawyers, but also the DCYF attorney, and the guardian ad litem, who sat deep in his corner, as far from the mother as possible. By then, the father had paid the guardian about $12,000. She considered herself part of his team, and she threatened the mother with prison if the mother could not pay her thousands more.
The guardian was someone I had once respected as a champion of progressive causes. But she used her enormous influence with little regard for these children or for the truth. When I sought an attorney to argue my right to produce the blog, a prominent one agreed to help, until (as he apologetically explained) the guardian warned him not to get involved.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union refused my request for help. I knew the guardian volunteered with them, along with many of her friends. Ironically, the ACLU website reports that its Massachusetts affiliate's support for the pro-pedophile group, North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), was based on a "robust freedom of speech for everyone."
CHILD PROTECTION PROGRAM PHYSICIAN
The Child Protection Program at Hasbro Children's Hospital reports evidence of sexual assault on children, but too often, in our experience, misses the far greater prevalence of adults forcing children to participate in masturbation. Since this leaves no physical signs, it can only be detected through the child's words, behavior, and emotional preoccupation.
But it has become dangerous for mothers to report such evidence, for a range of gullible clinicians and court personnel may yield to persuasive attorneys and blame these mothers for "alienation." The mothers' increasingly frantic behavior appears bizarre and self-incriminating.
This happened in Molly's case, where the CPP doctor was an intern who stepped far beyond her medical role (which she summarized in less than a page of narration). She went on to devote nearly a dozen dense pages to something like the parlor game of "Telephone," piling up hearsay and opinions that other clinicians told her on the phone. The outcome is garbled, unintelligible and completely unscientific.
She repeatedly spells out concerns expressed to her by the guardian ad litem, the social worker, and psychologist #1, who is of the "opinion that there is 'parental alienation' by the mother and that the mother 'blatantly went out of her way to accuse this man of molesting her daughters.'"
The CPP intern draws a strong conclusion:
It is our opinion that BOTH . . . children need protection. Their current environment is quite likely not conducive to mental health, growth, and development.
. . . it appears that this mother is having a toxic effect on the children. She should be required to have a thorough psychiatric evaluation. Her actions are not benign or protective. Even if the children were originally abused by the father, it would be impossible to protect them because of the mother's erratic and bizarre behavior leading to the impression that she has fabricated these allegations and manipulated the children.
The CPP doctor sends her report directly to the guardian ad litem, on Wednesday, April 5, 2006, without it being reviewed by her CPP supervisor. On Thursday, the guardian takes the report to court to secure an emergency motion. On Friday, police go to their schools and take the girls into custody.
LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST #2
The guardian had removed clinicians from the case who strongly disagreed with her blame of the mother. After a long search (described in her itemized bill), she recruits more support from Boston, where a clinical psychologist writes that the guardian has suggested "parental alienation" to her. This clinician proceeds to list in her report the "eight primary symptoms" set forth by Richard Gardner. She clearly does not know that his theory has been discredited as junk science and is considered legally inadmissible under nationally recognized rules of evidence.
STRONG CLINICAL WARNINGS IGNORED
In spreading the virus of parental alienation, the guardian ad litem ignored strong warnings from three clinicians who disagreed with her and also from two who served her purposes overall. Their warnings are significant.
For example, even psychologist #1 (mentioned above) urges that the girls' father should "for the foreseeable future . . . not have unsupervised visits with his children for the protection of all concerned."
The licensed clinical social worker warns:
The emotional complexities of this situation are so overwhelming as to be crushing. Each person involved will be dramatically impaired if progress through this is not achieved. The youngest participant will be the most damaged. Every effort should be made to support her staying connected with her relationships in a way which will insure her own safety . . . .The guardian ad litem and DCYF ignore both of these warnings and use only those comments that support their plan to give the younger girl to her father.
Weaving their arguments together, these lawyers and clinicians adapt the logic of psychiatrist Richard Gardner, the creator of "Parental Alienation Syndrome," who committed suicide in 2003, the same year that the girls' father began to accuse their mother of "alienating" them from him.
But Richard Gardner listed numerous standards that would have validated this case as a "genuine" instance of child sex abuse, not one that had been fabricated. For example, Gardner wrote that children who actually experience sexual abuse have these characteristics, among others, as Molly does:
have a fairly clear visual image of the experience
will usually provide specific details, and they will be consistently the same on subsequent interviews.
will describe settings that are. . . likely and reasonable
provide a credible description of the ejaculate . . . .
fearful of the perpetrator. . . . This fear may result in the child's making every attempt to be away from home as much as possible, especially when alone with the offender
prefer more a fantasy world that is safe and free from the traumas of their real life.
Gardner's description of fathers of children who are actually abused also resembled Molly's father in these areas among others:
tendency to regress in stressful situations, especially heterosexual disappointment. They then regress to sexuality with a child—the less threatening sexual experience
Sexually abusing fathers are more likely to be social isolates.
rigid and controlling
Gardner depicts characteristics in the drawings of sexually abused children that closely resemble both Molly and Sara's drawings, such as
shading in or covering sexual parts
drawing attenuated hands and fingers that may relate to the manual fondling that these children have been exposed to
Compare Gardner's description to these drawings of their father by Molly:
and by Sara:
Gardner considered one sign to be a strong indicator of genuine sexual abuse, and this was true of Molly and Sara: their father and his siblings had all been molested by their own father, who was twice imprisoned for sexual abuse of other children. This fact was known and admitted by the hearing officer, the guardian ad litem, and clinicians, who nevertheless reported the father "did not present with the profile of a sexual offender." Was this because he sometimes fantasized himself as a woman? But that, too, was a red flag for Gardner.
I began to see how "parental alienation" custody scams use only those parts of Richard Gardner's analysis that blame mothers. Then they adopt Gardner's strategy, removing these children from their mothers and giving them to their fathers.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org