There’s a dirty term among domestic violence survivors trying to regain custody of their children, “parental alienation syndrome.” [CALA editor’s note: The Conditions Proposed that are under consideration for DSM-5 contain several unsubstantiated and questionable disorder categories. For example, “Apathy Syndrome,” “Internet Addiction Disorder,” and “Parental Alienation Syndrome” have virtually no basis in the empirical literature. Futhermore, the fraud Richard Gardner, the man who fathered to term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” or PAS, killed himself in 2003 after testifying on more than 400 cases.]
At a conference for battered women on Saturday, hands went up throughout a large room when the question was asked about how many had heard that phrase used in cases against them in court. The controversial term describes when a child has been manipulated to side with one parent in a custody battle and denigrates the other parent. Women’s rights advocates say attorneys for fathers regularly cite the syndrome when arguing their clients have been falsely accused of abusing their children.
A number of the women had traveled to the Holiday Inn on Wolf Road from other states for the annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference to hear the stories of other victims and to meet with lawyers and activists for guidance. Speakers conducted workshops on court rulings, domestic violence in the military and the custody system.
“Be strong. If you don’t advocate for yourself and your children, no one will,” said Michelle Weiss, who traveled from New York City. She said she has battled unsuccessfully to regain custody of her children for years. She said she has not seen them since September 2010 because the courts are stacked against women who accuse a partner of abuse.
Conference organizer Mo Therese Hannah, a psychology professor at Siena College, said women have far more support than ever when they are ready to break from an abusive marriage. She said the public is also more aware of the difficulty battered women face than when the conference was launched nine years ago. Still, she said, advocates must keep pushing for more legislative changes so that battered women know they are not alone.
Holly Collins, a speaker at the conference, felt that way. She fled the United States in 1994 with her children to protect them after the courts granted custody to her ex-husband despite numerous documented instances of abuse. She was granted asylum in the Netherlands and remained in hiding for more than a decade until federal charges were eventually dismissed.
Collins, whose daughter Jennifer now advocates for abused children across the country, said it’s a myth that courts are hesitant to take children from their mothers, and that the courts ignore abuse.
“If the kids are being abused,” she said, “a man’s right to his children is not more important than the safety of his children.”
By: Scott Waldman, Staff writer, Times Union, NY