through raising awareness.

In October of 2014, the Court of Appeals in Nashville, Tennessee handed down an important decision in a Parental Alienation case (Duke vs. Duke).  Basically the father had alienated the children from the mother.  In its decision, the Court described at length the phenomenon of Parental Alienation, including the findings of Dr. William Bernet, who performed the custody evaluation.  Here are some excerpts (emphasis added):

Dr. Bernet next addressed the phenomenon known as “parental alienation”

The phenomenon of parental alienation is not new; it has been described in the legal literature at least since the 1820s.  The children in this family clearly meet the following criteria for this serious mental condition:

  • The children have allied themselves strongly with Dr. Duke and have rejected a relationship with Ms. Duke without legitimate justification. In this case, the children’s rejection of Ms. Duke is far out of proportion to anything she has done.
  • A persistent rejection or denigration of a parent that reaches the level of a campaign. According to all my sources of information -- Dr. Duke, Ms. Duke, and Dr. Woodman -- the children persistently criticize their mother and oppose her parenting activities.
  • Weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the child’s persistent criticism of the rejected parent. According to Ms. Duke, the children criticize her behaviors, no matter what she does, e.g., whether she laughs, cries, or tries to help them.
  • Lack of ambivalence. The children have almost completely positive opinions about Dr. Duke and negative opinions about Ms. Duke.
  • Independent-thinker phenomenon. I have not heard this type of thinking from the children themselves, but Dr. Duke insists that it is the children who have perceived Ms. Duke’s faults, and he is simply validating their observations.
  • Reflexive support of one parent against the other. The children appear to agree with Dr. Duke in almost every situation, without considering the pros and cons.
  • Absence of guilt over exploitation of the rejected parent. The children, especially Wesley, do not seem to be bothered by their rude and negativistic behaviors toward Ms. Duke.
  • Presence of borrowed scenarios. This report relates to many instances in which the children simply restated Dr. Duke’s attitudes and opinions about Ms. Duke.
  • Spread of the animosity to the extended family member of the rejected parent. The children recently shunned their maternal grandmother, whose company they previously enjoyed.

This assessment is important because it helps us understand the children’s strong alliance with their father and their rejection of their mother, although previously they had an enjoyable, mutually satisfying relationship with her.

In reaching a recommendation for the parenting schedule, Dr. Bernet explained:

In the absence of parental alienation, I would give considerable attention to the children’s preferences. However, if the children’s strong opinions are simply the result of parental alienation -- driven by the father’s active indoctrination of the children against their mother -- I do not take the children’s preferences literally.

Many of the mental health professionals who have studied and written about this topic concluded that parental alienation is a form of psychological abuse of the child victims, which is why this pattern of behavior needs to be identified and addressed. If the children’s adamant statements to seek more time with their father are caused by his toxic influence on them, one would conclude that Dr. Duke’s time with the children should be reduced, not increased.

Dr. Bernet’s ultimate recommendations included the following:

1. If Dr. Duke makes a firm commitment to change his negative attitude toward Ms. Duke and his pattern of indoctrinating the children against her, I recommend a comprehensive treatment program with the goal of helping the children achieve healthy, mutually satisfying relationships with both parents.

2.    If Dr. Duke is unable or unwilling to make a firm commitment to change his negative attitude toward Ms. Duke and his pattern of indoctrinating the children against her, I recommend that the children’s parenting time with their father be very limited and supervised.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision finding the alienating parent in criminal contempt, and awarded the targeted parent attorney fees (approximately $700,000). 

So, while this case is encouraging, it also underscores a major problem, namely the enormous cost of litigating a Parental Alienation case.  $700,000?!   How many targeted parents can afford to risk even one tenth of that amount?

Tennessee Case Law