The 4-year-old boy is jumping up
and down with joy.
Dad gets out of the car.
"Daddy's here! Daddy's here!"
The boy is behind a locked
screen door. He tries to open it.
"Daddy's here! Mommy, look,
Dad knows he shouldn't open the
door. He waits for his ex-wife to open the door. She doesn't do it.
"This is my visitation time,"
Dad says, waving a court document.
Mom still won't open the door.
The boy jumps up and down,
saying, "Daddy, Daddy." He yanks on the screen door handle but still can't get
Dad looks at his little boy. He
pauses, takes a deep breath, and walks back to his car.
The little boy doesn't
understand. Why won't Daddy come? Why is Daddy walking away from him?
The little boy disappears inside
Dad calls the police. When the
officers arrive he shows them his court documents. The officers go inside to
investigate. They come out a few minutes later.
"Your son says he doesn't want
to see you," the officer says. "There's nothing I can do. You'll have to deal
with it in the court. I can't make him go with you if he doesn't want to."
Dad finally gets to see his kids
three months later. The children spit on both him and their grandmother. Almost
in unison they repeat, "I don't want to be here. I want to go home with mommy."
After Jim L.'s wife divorced him
and moved his daughters out of state, she sent the two girls fake or altered
e-mails purporting to be Jim. Afterwards, Jim's daughters refused to see him,
explaining only: "You know what you've done; you know what you said; you know
what you wrote."
Once when Jim flew to see his
girls for his scheduled weekend visit, his ex-wife decided at the last minute to
block the visit. Jim flew home on Sunday without having seen his girls. When he
arrived at the airport back home he checked his messages and found a message
from his ex-wife. On the recording, his girls could be heard crying in the
background. His ex-wife said:
"Jim, the girls are here at the
restaurant waiting for you to come pick them up. You said you'd meet them here
for breakfast and spend the day with them, and you didn't show up. The girls are
very upset. Jim, where are you!?"
These cases are examples of
Parental Alienation Syndrome the phenomenon of a parent (generally the
mother/custodial parent) turning his or her children against the noncustodial
parent after divorce or separation. PAS is the focus of the controversial new
PBS documentary Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories which airs
tonight on Public Broadcasting Service stations in dozens of major cities.
In it the filmmakers label PAS
"junk science" and assert that it "has been used in countless cases by abusive
fathers to gain custody of their children" by falsely accusing the mothers of
Despite the film's claims,
research shows that parental alienation is a common facet of divorce or
separation. For example, a longitudinal study published by the American Bar
Association in 2003 followed 700 "high conflict" divorce cases over a 12-year
period and found that elements of PAS were present in the vast majority of them.
The most extreme examples of PAS
are the false allegations of sexual abuse, which are often used for advantage in
custody cases. Canadian Sen. Anne Cools, a prominent feminist who led Canada's
battered women's shelter movement during the 1970s, labels this tactic "the
heart of darkness." She says:
"I've studied this extensively,
and I've placed on the Canadian Senate record 52 cases where there was a finding
that the accusations were false, and there are countless more. Studies have
shown that under these circumstances false accusations far outnumber truthful
ones." According to a study published in Social Science and Modern Society, the
vast majority of accusations of child sexual abuse made during custody battles
are false, unfounded or unsubstantiated. Cools notes that in the 52 cases she
studied, "there were absolutely no consequences at all for the women who
knowingly made the false accusations."
In a strange reversal, the
filmmakers claim that the real problem is that many mothers are losing custody
for "revealing" that their husbands have molested their daughters. Yet in the
few cases where a mother has lost custody for making false allegations, the
courts usually had good reason for acting as they did. The two most famous cases
those involving model Bridget Marks and sociologist Amy Neustein are
illustrative of the point.
Despite widespread media
sympathy, all five judges in Marks' case concluded that Marks had coached her
girls to believe they had been sexually molested by their father. Earlier this
year, Neustein's now adult daughter, Sherry Orbach, publicly refuted her
Breaking the Silence is a
direct assault on American fathers and the minimal, hard-won gains they have
made in protecting their children's right to have their fathers in their lives.
Courts still reflexively side with mothers and often allow them to deny
visitation, make false allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse,
and drive fathers out of their children's lives.
As a society, we pretend that
broken families are all men's fault, pay lip service to the importance of
fathers and close our eyes while millions of children are separated from the
fathers they love and need. Because that's what mom wants. Because it's easier
to blame everything on dad than it is to confront mom on her destructive
behavior. Because trying to hold a divorcing mother accountable for her behavior
is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Because there's a high political cost
to be paid for crossing mothers and none to be paid for crossing fathers.
Throwing objectivity, fairness and reason to the wind, PBS and Breaking the
Silence don't merely ignore or minimize this problem, but instead turn it on
This column first
appeared in World Net Daily (10/20/05).
To read an expanded version of the column, click
Jeffery M. Leving
is one of America's most prominent family law attorneys.
He is the author of the book Fathers' Rights:
Hard-hitting and Fair Advice for Every Father Involved
in a Custody Dispute. His website is
Sacks' columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of America's
largest newspapers. Glenn can be reached via his website at
via email at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.