California Assembly Representative Jim Beall is back with another attempt to shut down destructive use of child custody evaluations. This new Assembly Bill 2475 has grown out of his failure in 2009 to pass his Assembly Bill 612 that wrongly aimed to ban discussion of parental alienation in family law courts. This time around, AB 2475 is on more solid ground as it aims to strip quasi-judicial immunity from private family court appointed experts such as psychological and custody evaluators. This would provide a legal fallback for civil suits for egregious cases of misconduct by these professionals.
Failed AB 612 from 2009
Last year, Jim Beall wanted to outlaw the discussion of parental alienation in family law cases. We and many other organizations that support shared parenting and protecting children from abuse and neglect vehemently opposed the AB 612 legislation he introduced. AB 612 was nothing but whitewashing of emotional child abuse to enable abusers to get away with hurting children and in many cases rewarding them for doing so. That bill, AB 612, was gutted by legislators who understood that parental alienation is a real phenomenon. Beall later withdrew the bill.
Parental alienation is hurting many children, particularly those whose parents have engaged in a high-conflict divorce or parents who have personality disorders and are prone to badmouthing and access blocking against the other parent. While a certain level of animosity is not unusual in divorces, these alienating parents are typically so self-involved with their hatred and desire for vengeance or punishment of the other parent that they do not care about the damage being done to the children.
We’ve discussed parental alienation in many past articles. One that bears repeating is Parental Alienation Book For Middle School Kids: “I Don’t Want to Choose!”  and the research conducted by the book’s author, Dr. Amy Baker, which has found long-term damage in adults who experienced parental alienation as children:
Alienated children frequently are psychologically damaged in long-term ways. They often develop depression, substance abuse problems, eating disorders, and even manipulative behavior patterns similar to their alienating parents. Some compare growing up with an alienating parent as being kidnapped and brainwashed. Of her 40 research subjects covered in Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind , some notable statistics are:
- 70% suffered from depression
- 58% were divorced
- Half of the 28 who had children are estranged from their own children
- 35% developed problems with drugs and alcohol
The organizations that backed AB 612 largely consisted of groups that mistakenly believe that parental alienation is only brought up as an issue by abusive parents. This is clearly not substantiated by the experience of children and mental health professionals. Groups such as the National Organization of Women and others with seemingly neutral names like California Protective Parents Association backed the pro-child-abuse AB 612. They were doing a great disservice to California’s children. They also cast doubt on their true motives of protecting children from abuse when they advocate for ignoring a major class of emotional abuse that severely damages the long-term mental health of children even into adulthood.
Where AB 612 went far wrong is the blanket assumption that parental alienation never occurs and that there is not “scientific evidence” to support it. The agenda for AB 612 was to shut down custody and psychological evaluators and courts for discussing this abuse because some of them have mistakenly handled parental alienation claims that may have been cover-ups for actual abuse by the disliked parent. While this sometimes does occur, we strongly suspect that many of the parents who backed AB 612 are in fact parental alienators with personality disorders who cannot accept that they must stop involving their children in their conflict and have been severely restricted from seeing their children.
Nobody who is truly objective would claim parental alienation is not real or that it seldom occurs. This is at least part of the reason why so much of the family law system lined up to oppose AB 612. Sadly, I personally believe that greed and corruption may have been a larger reason they opposed it. Lawyers, judges, and custody evaluators make a lot of money on driving conflict and involving expensive experts. Still, even if many of them had poor reasons for opposing AB 612, that does not in itself invalidate the other criticisms of AB 612.
AB 2475 History
Beall’s latest family law bill was originally introduced on February 19, 2010, with provisions for the State of California to create a child welfare services function to assure that children will be free from child abuse and neglect. While that is a reasonable goal, it is vague and ambiguous, especially as it overlaps with existing functions. The bill was essentially meaningless. Frankly, having looked at two of Beall’s attempts to craft legislation (AB 612 and AB 2475), I am very skeptical of his ability to write legislation. However, what seems to happen with Beall’s bills is that more competent legislators become involved and they change drastically.
As revised on April 8, 2010,  the entire focus of the bill was changed to concentrate on the family law child custody determination process and removing quasi-judicial immunity from the experts used in this process.
The April 8 revision stripped quasi-judicial immunity from professionals hired under court orders including mediators, evaluators, mediators and others engaged in ADR (alternative dispute resolution).
Many of these people do not disclose anything about the negotiations other than their success or failure to reach an agreement. As such, they had a seemingly valid point that they are not responsible for misleading courts to take actions against parents because they never submit any report or input to the court aside from a simple non-judgmental statement of whether an agreement was reached or not. The mediators were able to convince legislature members to modify AB 2475 so that it will not apply to their work. The latest version, as of April 28,  limits its applicability to parties that issue reports or findings to be used by the court.
Unfortunately, in the process, liability for social workers was also removed. This is a mistake. Social workers in the employ of the state have a well-established track record of bias, perjury, violation of law, cover-up of child abuse, and spreading false allegations of child abuse. As stated by the San Diego County Grand Jury based upon repeated investigations of misconduct by San Diego CPS social workers, social workers should not have immunity as they clearly abuse their power and have done so for years. In 1992, the San Diego County Grand Jury advised legislators that it had observed a pattern of abuse of power, perjury, bias, coercive threats, lying to parents and about parents, and sacrificing the well-being of children because of their own personal agendas. The Grand Jury did not believe these problems could be corrected without stripping social workers of immunity. Please see our previous article San Diego County Grand Jury Letter Regarding CPS Abuses  for more information. Based upon the experiences we have heard and seen of San Diego CPS in more recent years, stripping social workers of immunity is still a necessary step.
Additionally, requirements for the state auditor to monitor family court compliance with the law are spelled out but the detail is insufficient to understand what is required. It is clear that the family courts are unable to police themselves and many of their judges are incompetent, biased, corrupt, and are harming families and severely hurting public confidence in the courts. As such, there does need to be a means to police the courts. Unfortunately, AB 2475 does not spell out enough details.
My suggestion is that the legislation be modified to spell out in more detail the intent of the auditing mechanism. A basic idea that seems to have merit is to create a feedback form for every family law litigant to rate the performance of the court employees, particularly the judges but also reporters, clerks, bailiffs, and others, as they experienced them in their cases. Collect the statistics and every six months publish a court employee performance list by categories (judge, clerk, reporter, bailiff, etc.) with the top rated names being those with highest satisfaction ratings and the bottom rated names the ones with the lowest satisfaction ratings. Further auditing effort should be focused on the bottom 10% of each employee category in the state and the bottom 10% of each category in each county. The state should determine the likely causes for the problems (poor local court rules, lack of training, misconduct, lack of funding, etc.) and move to correct problems via rule changes, disciplinary action, prosecution, budget reallocation, or legislation as needed. While getting rid of the bottom few percent of bad court employees each year won’t get drastic results overnight, it will be a major incentive for those who want to continue to work in the field to shape up or get out.
As it stands today, there is no real accountability for judges nor for most court employees. The vast majority of judges run for election without challengers. The public has no report card for judges. The result is the public continues to re-elect drunk drivers with repeated judicial disciplinary actions like Judge Lisa Schall of San Diego .
AB 2475 is flawed legislation in that is does not really address core issues such as default 50/50 parenting and provisions for mental health professionals involved in cases with alleged abuse, alienation, or mental illness to have adequate training and legislatively protected access to the information they need to do their jobs.
As flawed as AB 2475 is, it is still better than the status quo. Currently there is little remedy for parents and children who are harmed by incompetent, biased, dishonest, or greedy custody and psychological evaluators. Evaluators as a group will not suddenly become victims of mentally ill parents bent on revenge as the civil courts do function with a higher evidentiary standard and more rational behaviors than family law courts. But those evaluators who repeatedly engage in dishonest and harmful activities will probably find themselves sued out of practice. This is as it should be. Evaluators such as Stephen Doyne of San Diego  amply deserve that fate.
I’m not alone in my assessment that AB 2475 should pass. California Coalition for Families and Children and its members have written to Assembly Member Mike Feuer, Chair of the California State Assembly Judiciary Committee, in support of AB 2475 . I’d encourage you to read their letter as they come at the issue from a quite different angle than I do, yet still reach the conclusion that the legislation is worth their support.
While CCFC is certainly a very gender-neutral group, even gender-centric groups are supporting AB 2475. It is my understanding that even some of the mother-biased groups which I have heavily criticized for supporting AB 612 also support AB 2475. When you see parties from such divergent viewpoints backing the same legislation, it tends to add further legitimacy to their support.
AB 2475 Is Just A Start for Family Court Reform
The most serious problem with AB 2475 is that it doesn’t do anything to fix the most common problems in family courts, it just provides a fallback to go to civil court to deal with egregious violations of professional conduct standards. There is nothing wrong with having such a fallback. Although there is tremendous room for improvement in AB 2475, even if it doesn’t change a bit I do think it should be passed if only to provide some fallback handling for egregious misconduct.
However, I am deeply concerned that the legislature may be duped into thinking they have done something significant when in fact AB 2475 really deals only with extreme professional misconduct cases and does nothing at all to deal with the far more prevalent forms of family law abuse being inflicted upon California’s families.
Family law courts today put a huge financial drain on families. They turn parents with six-figure incomes and good credit histories into bankruptcy candidates. They turn intelligent and happy children into sad children who will do poorly in school and suffer mental health problems for decades. Yet despite these bad outcomes, the courts seem both unwilling and unable to do anything to correct the destruction they inflict.
Courts Abuse Children and Parents Via Extremism
As a common example of abuse inflicted by the courts, consider cases involving personality disordered parental alienators. These cases account for a large percentage of the high-conflict cases which rack up massive legal fees over many years as the family is blasted into financial and emotional oblivion. The courts often initially fail to act sufficiently and encourage conflict as one parent tries everything possible to get sole custody of the children. When the courts do finally “get it” that there is an alienator involved, then they often go to the other extreme and inflict even more damage as a result. When the courts finally get around to acting, generally far too late to prevent massive damage from being done, it is common to almost eliminate parental alienators from their children’s lives as a sort of retaliation. Yet stripping them of time with their children is a form of court-enacted parental alienation and is likely to hurt the children, too.
Our view is that the tool of psychology can be valuable in family conflicts, but that in today’s family law courts it is frequently misused by incompetent judges. These judges lack any real understanding of psychology, fail to do their jobs to understand the cases in front of them, and are lazy, vindictive, and tend to be incapable of implementing workable plans for keeping children in touch with both parents, preventing further arguments, and resolving existing conflicts over time.
Such judges tend to resort to extreme “solutions” to conflicts that create even more conflict. For instance, they often fail to put into place any means to ensure compliance with court orders and avert more conflict when there are already strong indications that a case is high-conflict due to abuse and domestic violence allegations, often ones that do not appear plausible. The result is that the aggressive and often alienating parent believes they must continue to assault the target and the target parent is terrified and trying to find ways to defend himself or herself, sometimes picking means that a judge who does not understand the case cannot understand at all because they have not been in the middle of the conflict with police and CPS coming after them over false abuse allegations.
At the other extreme, the court may retaliate against a conflict-prone parent by allowing that parent only a few hours per week of time with the kids and all of it under expensive and uncomfortable supervised visitation conditions. It’s important to note that they do this to safe and healthy parents, too, often at the request of alienating parents. Any parent treated like this is going to be furious, especially if they believe it is not warranted and their children and they are being harmed significantly. Alienators already tend to be experts at creating and perpetuating conflict, yet treating them like this simply increases their motivation to create even more conflict.
Many of these alienators are the victims of child abuse and mental health problems. They need help. Instead, they are being re-victimized by a whole new set of abusers, this time abusers wearing black robes and putting fancy initial such as Ph.D. after their names rather than the personality disordered, drug addicted, or criminal parents who abused them as kids.
Kids can be helped to deal with alienating parents and maintain relationships with both their parents when psychology is used appropriately and parenting plans are implemented to ensure the kids have both substantial access to both of their parents and competent allies to help them deal with the war between their parents. Target parents also need to have the support of neutral parties who understand how to gain compliance with the plan and to keep them out of the line of fire. The alienating parents need therapists who really are in touch with what is happening, hear it from multiple angles and not just from the alienating parent, and can help resolve disputes before they become major conflicts.
However, the courts usually fail to implement reasonable parenting plans and therapy orders that will ensure the kids do not miss out with one of their parents and the family is getting competent and informed therapy. They also tend to totally fail to put boundaries on the destructive behaviors of alienators and abusers. It is common for the courts to do absolutely nothing to punish for perjury and contempt of court. Some particularly incompetent judges even go so far as to help the perjurers continue to perjure by refusing to admit evidence that shows perjury, restricting activities such as photography and recording that have yielded evidence of the perjury, and berating the party who uncovered the perjury. This sends a very clear message to the perjurer that not only is perjury rewarded, but the court wants it to continue and will punish the party who is trying to expose it.
You might wonder why this craziness happens. I believe that it is because the family law courts are intellectually crippled by their inability to see family conflicts as anything other than an adversarial processes with winners and losers. Because of this, they insist on creating losers. It’s intrinsic to the very language used through the family court system — plaintiff vs. defendant, custodial parent vs. noncustodial parent, and even the use of “versus” in case names. Every time they create a loser, they make the children losers, too. Some would argue that even the “winning” parent becomes a loser, too, as all of this litigation is hugely expensive and emotionally draining and raising children all by one’s self is not an easy task. It would be far better to avoid the litigation and have a second parent involved in some fashion.
The court system was designed around warfare inside of families that will remain in contact with each other for lifetimes. It was built around adversaries who probably will avoid each other after coming into conflict. At the time the basic principles of government and law of the United States were formulated, the idea of divorce and that two parents would go to war with each other over children was likely not even remotely considered. The legal conflicts of the day had to do with criminal matters and business disputes, not with parents and children. Divorce was for all practical purposes nonexistent.
A lawsuit over a contract dispute, medical malpractice, employment discrimination, fraud, or a criminal case all involve parties that will in all likelihood do their utmost to avoid ever having anything to do with each other again unless they can voluntarily bury the hatchet and reach an out-of-court settlement. That last case is often what you see happen in business disputes, but it seldom happens in family law cases in which allegations of abuse and alienation are being brandished as weapons.
Family law judges as a group do not have the training, tools, experience, knowledge, or even the basic attitude necessary to deal with these difficult cases. So just like the carpenter with only a hammer who tries to hammer everything in sight, screws included, they try to smash and crush every dispute with their judicial hammers. In the process, they create even more animosity and harm. And they do it to parties that are going to have to deal with each other for lifetimes. They turn arguments that could have been contained into outright warfare that can even result in murder and suicide. If they really wanted to protect the “best interests of the children”, they would be working diligently to eliminate themselves and their adversarial system from the way divorces are handled.
Proper Use Of Psychology In Child Custody Conflicts
Family law judges are misusing psychology in their cases. Rather than psychology being used as a tool of understanding and learning to prevent harm and repair damage over the long-term, they are trying to use it as a means to pick winners or losers because they are so caught up in their adversarial mindset. While some of the psychologists who play into this destructive court process certainly deserve bad reputations, overall what is happening is that psychology is getting a bad reputation that is undeserved. Consequently, you see attempts to pass misguided legislation like AB 612 springing up in response.
Alienators tend to have personality disorders and are typically very persuasive in their campaigns to portray themselves and the children as victims of all sorts of abuse by the other parent, most of which never occurred or which is being highly distorted. Therapists of alienators, lacking input from therapists interacting with the children and the other parent, are easily snowed by many of these people and thereby become part of the problem. They may be recruited to report the target parent for child abuse and domestic violence and create even more conflict and harm for the children. Therapists who do not well understand personality disorders and parental alienation have no business in marriage and family therapy or therapy for kids or parents going through a divorce.
However, even when a therapist is qualified, the lack of information coming from multiple viewpoints combined with laws that impeded sharing of information necessary to effect treatment for the children and parents creates a potential disaster. The courts fail to address this problem and simply set up abusive and alienating parents like these with support systems in the form of therapists who are operating in the blind. Such therapists are often hearing only lies and distortions and thereby help an abusive parent to commit more abuse and alienation as that is what they know how to do and will continue to do until they are forced to confront reality and learn to stop their destructive behaviors. The therapists cannot force them to confront reality when the therapists do not even know what it is.
AB 2475 Should Pass, But Far More Changes Are Needed
The bottom line from the above discussion is that the mechanisms to deal with egregious court expert misconduct provided by AB 2475 are needed and the bill should pass for that reason. However, the family law courts are so seriously flawed that it will take far more legislation to fix the mess than AB 2475.
The legislature should not rest on its laurels. If reform is not pursued vigorously, there is a growing chance that the public’s confidence in the courts will fall so far that they will begin to deal with the worst of the judges and courts by means that may be far more troublesome than legislative reform.
Many of these parents have had their children taken away from them and their lives destroyed by the broken family law courts with the judges and their friends laughing all the way to the bank. This abomination cannot continue for long before there are more parents like San Diego father Derrick Miller committing suicide outside a family law court  or going after the parties they see as responsible for the damage they have endured. It would be very sad if it requires a trail of corpses, be it corpses of parents, children, judges, or others, to motivate the legislature to get on with fixing the disaster.