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Monday, April 1, 2019


In a recent hearing at the CT State Legislature, father's rights activists demanded that legislators and citizens define the problem with family court as one of parental alienation.  They are wrong, and I will tell you why. 

My introduction to the CT family court reform movement was around 2011 when Keith Harmon Snow, author of "The Worst Interests of the Child", contacted me to discuss the ways in which victims of domestic violence were losing custody to their abusers. Next, on or around 2013, father's rights advocates seized control of the family court reform movement and reframed its agenda.  

Instead of demonstrating concern regarding protective mothers, they insisted that the problem of family court could only be traced back to the celebrated [or debunked, depending upon your perspective,] theory of parental alienation (PA), or parental alienation syndrome (PAS).  This recently culminated in the raised House Bill 7393 [now withdrawn] which proposed either jail or fines for those whom the Court determines have committed it. 

The Bill also included two separate "friendly parent" provisions which would have guaranteed that anyone who reported domestic violence or child sexual abuse would promptly lose custody.  After all, it is most unfriendly to assert that you or your child are the victims of abuse.  [Ok, I know, not funny.  I'm just joking.]

To begin, for those who do not know, what is parental alienation, or parental alienation syndrome?  

For a definition, I'm taking the easy route, and I will simply quote wikipedia. Parental alienation syndrome is, "a term introduced by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985 to describe a distinctive suite of behaviors in children that includes showing extreme but unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent. Observed repeatedly in families involved in child custody litigation, these behaviors result from manipulation or undue influence, typically by the other parent who may be attempting to prevent an ongoing relationship between a child and other family members after family separation or divorce." 

The clincher in this discussion is the statement that comes next, "The syndrome has not been accepted by either the medical or legal communities and Gardner's theory has been criticized by legal and mental health scholars for lacking scientific validity and reliability."  

Yet despite the fact that this syndrome has no scientific validity, father's rights people insist upon embedding it in our laws here in CT and making it a central factor in all custody determinations.  

Again, in doing this, I believe that fathers' rights people have it all wrong.  


If you have a problem, then you need to look for solutions.  However, these solutions will not work as long as the problems haven't been defined properly.  When it comes to the broken family court system here in CT, I have been increasingly disgusted with the incapacity of many advocates -- father's rights advocates in particular, the Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children (2013 - 2014), members of the legislature and the CT Judicial Branch -- to define the problem in an intelligent manner.  

How can you begin to think of developing policies or crafting bills when you have no idea what is going on?  For me personally, as an advocate, I don't get that approach. 

For instance, blaming the victims. For too long now, starting with the "Report of the Governor's Commission on Divorce, Custody and Children" of December 2002, experts on family court, i.e. attorneys, judges, mental health professionals -- have placed the blame for the problems of family court on the litigants themselves. In the words of the Governor's report, which were again quoted in the report of the Task Force on the Care and Custody of Minor Children (2014), the problem arises from "a small minority of parents [which] engages in persistent conflict because of anger, characterological or mental health problems, or the force of personality."  

The theory that character flaw or mental illness repeats itself in fathers' rights advocates insistence that the problem can be understood almost solely within the context of parental alienation syndrome.  Also, that the solution should be strict punishments for PAS, i.e. jail and hefty financial fines, as well as forced shared parenting.  But is this true?

For a closer look at this phenomenon, take a look at the hearing which took place earlier this month on February 5, 2019. I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday reviewing the entire video which is a little over 9 hours long.  For at least the first three hours of this testimony, viewers were subjected to lengthy lectures on parental alienation theory.  First came Dr. William Bernat, a parental alienation expert, who broke down the theory to its 17 recognized behaviors and 8 symptoms.  After he had completed his testimony, we were forced to listen to Dr. Steve Miller, a frequent flyer at the CT Legislature, who talked about parental alienation syndrome as an epidemic plaguing our nation.  Once he was done, then we were bombarded with more lectures on parental alienation from Linda Gottlieb, who I've been informed is not a psychologist. She talked more about planting false memories and false allegations in the light of parental alienation. 

Then after that, we were required to hear the testimony of Ms. Joan Kloth-Zenard who runs the organization "PAS Intervention"--she apparently is qualified by an MFT, whatever that is, as opposed to an LMFT which is what we would ordinarily be looking for.  What is interesting about Joan's testimony is that, for an example, she described a case where the mother was stabbed in the abdomen and labia by the father, and yet the father still got custody.  To me, this looked to be a case of domestic violence.  However, this is the very interesting twist on the parental alienation movement in that father's rights people have couched this theory in the language of the domestic violence movement and so many people, including women, have come to believe that parental alienation theory is just another word for domestic violence.  That, in itself, is an entirely, different, but interesting story that I will hopefully touch upon in another blog.  

Let me get back to my point. This is the dilemma that arises when folks define the problem of family court as a mental health problem among litigants, whether you want to define it as parental alienation or some other ailment.  It simply isn't true.  

If you look at the Governor's Report of December 2002, there is one paragraph in that report on that nasty, chronic, minority of litigators who they said cause all the trouble.  After that, you get the 65 page detailed report regarding all the systems malfunctions within the family court system itself which actually cause the problems in family court.  

Likewise, once you plow through the insistent litany in regard to PA or PAS in the first 3 hours of the video of the February 5, 2019 day of testimony, which father's rights people provided as the ideological context for the later citizen testimony, you will find 6 additional hours of testimony from at least 30 victims of family court detailing the many systems breakdowns within the CT Family Court system itself.  In other words, the problem is not PA or PAS.  The problem is a broken family court system.  

One person spoke about the fact that there are no consequences for disobeying orders, a failure to obey the ADA, and judges would not listen to her testimony or look at her evidence. She lost everything, her job, her home, her income.  Here is another person who spoke of the collusion between court actors, the failure to obey the constitution, in chambers hearings where parents are not included, impacts including alcohol and drug addiction, homelessness, bankruptcy, trauma, and PTSD.  Another person spoke of the denial of due process, attorneys hiding exculpatory evidence, having to be in court so often it was like a full time job, his case discussed behind closed doors without the parties present, financial costs of up to $300,000 - $500,000 and even more.  

Again, corruption, collusion, racketeering, slander, perjury, lack of ethics, no checks and balances, absolute immunity for negligent and incompetent GALs and other vendors, failure to adhere to the rules of court or case law, financial and emotional blackmail, hired guns, perverted custody evaluations and psychological evaluations, no oversight, no accountability, false allegations, inexperienced and unqualified court personnel, unnecessary continuances, documents that disappear from the court files, transcripts that are tampered with, and on and on.  This is exactly the same testimony we heard during the daylong testimony on February 9, 2014 and the breakdown of family court here in CT.

Forced shared parenting, punishments for so-called alienation, and for not being "friendly", will not correct engrained and deliberately engineered systems failures which are kept in place for profit.  In fact, given the introduction of harsh punishments, settling disputes over whether one parent did or did not alienate the other, will invite additional corrupt vendors into the courtroom, and exacerbate already existing problems within the system.

These systems problems were originally detailed in the Governor's Commission report of 2002 and, for the better part, they have gotten worse, and not better.  

Parental Alienation theories are about the gender wars taking place in America.  Forced shared parenting is about the Men's Rights movement and the backlash against the Women's Rights movement of the 1970s. It is about ideology, and it is about indoctrination. If you talk to the people who promote PAS theory, you quickly get the idea that these are people who act as though they are in a cult reciting their treasured mantras.  

Ideology is like religion.  If you try to enshrine it in your statutes and laws, it will lead to endless confusion. Thinking we can solve the problem of family court by sprinkling holy water on it in the form of the ideology of parental alienation, I think is a recipe for disaster.  

Instead, if we are serious about resolving the problems of family court, we have to do the hard work of looking again at the system itself.  In other words, we have to investigate the machinery of the CT Family Court system which is operating on a daily basis. We have to examine what works, and what does not. It is a difficult and painstaking job, one which often does not have any easy answers, but it is at least a fairly concrete task from which we can garner measurable results. 

Every member of the former Governor's Commission of 2002 is currently notable for being at the center of the corruption and malfeasance in family court which we are looking at today.  The membership list is literally a who's who of legal and mental health professionals who later became famous for exploiting and taking advantage of family court victims.  It is paramount that we make sure nothing like that happens again.  When these kinds of criminal court actors take advantage of Moms and Dads, those parents are not mentally ill, they are victims of corrupt family court practices. 

This doesn't mean that the Commission didn't do a good job of laying the groundwork for future reform in its examination of the family court system. It's just that they immediately ignored the outcome of the report and used the network they estalished doing the work to exploit and harm family court victims.  I  simply believe we need to retrieve that work and use it to continue to make progress here and now.


  1. Great article. Thanks for all the time you devote to informing the public. I am always at the amount of propagandists who show to promote their cultism - that the abused have no right to dislike them for their behavior. PAS is just a vehicle for abusers to make the victim suddenly the more abusive person. They want to use jailing and fines to threaten and punish.

    You have clearly identified the problem - collusion - or racketeering of the insiders - all claiming to be trying to solve the problem of "disagreement" instead of addressing real harm.

    In this techno era we could easily document judicial outcomes and keep track of who favors abusers and awards custody meant to reduce support obligation. You are right - they act like they are solving a problem they are unwilling to identify because they are all making enormous profits - including DV shills masquerading as caring for women but obligated by law to foster dads access.

  2. Trafficking of children is a huge problem and may be more organized than we think. PAS facilitates that quite nicely by protecting abusive fathers and restricting mothers from protecting their children. I wouldn’t be surprised if certain judges, lawyers, GALs, and mental health “professionals” are part of an organized network. I wish it were just an outlandish conspiracy, but I’m realizing more and more it’s not. Lori Hanrahan’s case comes to mind, for example.

  3. I have been on this website weekly for the past 5 years. Catherine, I so admire all of the effort you have put into all of what's bad about the family courts. What is your position on the woman who tried to hire a hit man to have her ex killed and was arrested and tried for it? After she was arrested, she still got custody of her daughter while awaiting trial for attempted murder (she also had a documented drug problem as well). Father has not seen his daughter since, after she was aquitted.
    This is not a mans rights vs. mothers rights problem. It is a greed and money problem. And your constant attacks on Father's right groups is giving the divorce industry exactly what it wants. Infighting, instead of uniting. Usually the alienating parent that wins is the one with the most money, do you agree or disagree? You have spent so much time and energy on this website and it is chocked full of such valuable information. It helped me realize when I found your website that I was not alone. But someone logging onto this site for the first time, may pass over it and just dismiss it as a father bashing website. Great mothers out there, along with great fathers and unfortunately vice-versa. Would you ever consider stopping the man bashing?

    1. I actually personally met this guy at a meeting for family rights. This was not as black and white of a case as you would like it to be, and the father had many difficulties in terms of his own background which ultimately led him to lose custody even despite the criminal charge against the mother. Keep in mind mother was not found guilty ultimately and this was because it wasn't quite the story that you present here. Father's rights groups themselves are giving the divorce industry exactly what it wants by bringing up vague theories of PAS which are impossible to prove and are unscientific. This means all these corrupt vendors get called in to evaluate and on and on and on.I think what you have a problem with is that I have the nerve to speak the truth. Sorry about that.

  4. Ok Catherine,thank you for bringing that to my attention. Let's leave the whole attempted murder thing aside for now. You know the case better than me. Care to share with me the mothers documented substance abuse problems? Police reports don't lie. Neither do federal wire tapped phone calls. If you do not educate me or recognize that, just as one issue, keep up the hard fruitless work. Or better yet, listen and watch the entire 14 hour testimony when that hearing was taking place. Mothers AND fathers were being denied their parental rights under a toxic court system. It's making a bit more sense for the women who I do know who are involved in this fight, don't comment on your website. You're losing your credibility that all mothers are good and all fathers are bad. What a shame, all the work you put into this. No time for this anymore, gotta stay focused with the level headed people invlolved, who ironically, are all women themselves!

    1. I think that the numbers simply tell the story. When folks come up for testimony at the CT Legislature, the vast majority of victims are women. In fact, the last time that there was a day of testimony, the father's rights people who organized the event had to get fathers to come from out of state so there would be more of a male presence. I have an overwhelming number of comments from both Mothers and Fathers who generally agree with my assessment of what is going on in family court. Fathers are a significant part of my constituency by the way. You are simply wrong.

  5. Oh and just one last thing I'd like to add about the particular case we're talking about......OJ Simpson was also found not guilty of murder in a criminal court but I believe it took the jury all of about a couple of days to find him guilty in civil court, which as you very well know, the courts where divorce cases are tried.

    1. The media love a good story, I can tell you, and media were all over this murder for hire thing. The problem is that the father involved was so unsavory, they pretty much dropped it. There could have been a civil trial as in the OJ matter, but there wasn't so what does that tell you. I am not sure what you are saying, but divorce cases are handled in family court, but you would not have a jury for that, at least in CT. We have judges decide family court cases. A case that failed in criminal court would not go to the family court system, it would have gone to civil court at 95 Washington Street and could have been tried there. Those trials are often done by judge as well, may be by jury sometimes? I'm a bit fuzzy there. But again, the point is that it was not pursued which means there wasn't much to go on really. I haven't heard from the guy in a long time. But just to give you a sense of what he was like. We were exchanging emails and talked back and forth. He disagreed with me about an issue and then told me if I responded to him any further he'd call the police. I responded with something like "Are you kidding?" And he did actually call the police and I got a phone call from the police re our exchange of emails. I don't know, that just seemed on the immature side. If I called the police on everyone I disagreed with, the poor police would be really busy with a lot of nonsense. So just an anecdote on this guy. He wasn't anything special. Personally, from what I saw, I didn't see him as a victim. But I could have been wrong. There are other guys I know who really got a bad shake in family court. Not him, however.

  6. Catherine,

    Wow, thank you for providing me such valuable insight in regards to the details of this particular case and the personalities involved. If that's what transpired, and I have no reason at all not to believe you, that guy has got some serious issues and perhaps is an unfit father. We're on the same page there. And my vague reference to the OJ case....I'm fully aware that the difference between criminal, civil and family court, as you very intelligently described.

    I'm just going back to the main issue at hand. I appreciate you communicating with me in a very factual way. But just from where I'm sitting, as I mentioned, I have been logging onto your website a couple times a week religiously for the past 5 years, and Catherine, I hope you believe that I am a reasonable person, perhaps if you knew me better you would. It is just impossible for me to ignore that your postings have been become increasingly biased against fathers in family court and this article is proof of it. As I mentioned, this blog that you have tirelessly created has now, in my opinion, become an encyclopedia for the divorce industry in CT. You have done so much good with all the information on it, but my convictions are clear. Ask any layman who's gone through a divorce and a custody dispute and it's a given that the mother has an advantage right out of the gate because she's the mother. And maybe it should be that way. Mothers historically have always been the main caregivers for children. And on a personal note, it absolutely tears my heart apart watching and listening to testimony of a perfectly fit mother who has not been allowed to see her kids or has been only allowed limited access to them. I believe that is an actual form of pure torture. All I'm suggesting Catherine, is your blog losses its credibility with it's slant against fathers. Perhaps you will change that, perhaps you won't, I wish you would, for the sake of all the hard work you've done.

    1. I am sure I have said this before, but the majority of family court victims who have come to provide testimony are women. The family court system has a mandate to support fathers and has a memorandum of understanding in place to do so. This is just what I see in front of me. This is not to say that Dads don't have difficulties in family court as well, it is just from what I see it is the Moms in trouble most of the time.

  7. And Catherine, I promise this is my last post on your website. Just like to add one more thing. Call parental alienation what ever name you think it should be called. When one parent wants the other parent out of the children's lives, perhaps you can do something constructive and find a term that will stick and get recognized in the courts. Instead, I truly cannot believe that you are bashing Joan who took time out of her day who works tirelessly, advocating for family court reform, and here she is exposing a case about an abused MOTHER and you are trying to discredit HER in the same exact article that "father's rights advocates seized control of the family court reform movement and reframed its agenda"? You owe her an apology....actually don't even bother. Anyone with any common sense who is involved in the movement can see that there's something clearly wrong with your ability to absorb reason. Please do us all a favor and just at least stay away from Hartford. The battle is hard enough. You run the risk of blowing any hope that may be left for the rest of us. Signing off.

    1. Joan is exploiting women and turning them into robotic PAS cult members. As you could see from the Feb. 5 presentation of testimony, PAS was not the primary issue at all. So when some folks continually push for the PAS explanation for everything goes on in family court, that's just completely wrong and misleading. If PAS gets to be a primary criteria within custody decisions, this will create chaos for family court because it invites in all these mental health vendors each of whom will have a different opinion. What succeeds in family court, what leads to justice and equity, are the process in court which require the system to stick to the facts and the evidence. When you get insubstantial with mental health testimony, you'll end up spending millions and never get anywhere. I appreciate your views and thanks for writing.