Position Paper Submission
The California Legislature
Brian O’ Sullivan
Parental Alienation Europe
SB-616 Child custody: abusive and estranged parents
June 15, 2022
Dear Committee Members,
I am contacting you to raise several concerns regarding aspects of the CA bill SB-616 Child custody: abusive and estranged parents.
I believe it is imperative the honourable committee be positioned to consider all of the information so it can make informed choices and decisions regarding the source of any data it may rely upon in this matter.
Here at parentalalienation.eu, we focus upon optimizing the psychological, emotional, and physical outcomes for children across their lifespan through awareness, education and training professionals working with children and families to deliver one key message. It is not ok to reject one normal range healthy parent to “please” the other parent in the context of separations and divorce.
One concern that has prompted me to make this submission to you relates to Section 2, specifically item 6 and 7 which seems to refer to Professor Joan Meier’s published study – https://ssrn.com/abstract=3448062
Let me say from the outset I have never met Professor Meier. I do not know Prof Meier. I mean no personal affront to Prof Meier.
She and colleagues published a paper in 2019 titled Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations https://ssrn.com/abstract=3448062 There have been several concerns relating to this paper for example
- The editors of the publication have confirmed the paper has never been peer – reviewed. It is normal practice that published studies would be peer – reviewed. It is viewed as a quality assurance process to bring confidence to a study and data therein. Papers that have not been peer reviewed are not afforded any weight as they are considered unreliable
- Harmon and Lorondos (2020) https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-96321-001.pdf have identified circa 30 conceptual and methodological problems with the design and the analysis of Meier’s study that make the results and conclusions drawn unreliable and invalid
- The sampling from which the data is drawn in Meier’s study is not clear or transparent as would be considered normal practice in such a study
- There were no details regarding the coding such as who the coders were, the code book used, or quality checks employed to ensure coders were blind to the study hypothesis
- The process of data analysis was not published with Meier’s paper. This creates concerns regarding the analysis of the data
- Given the sampling, coding and analytical challenges described by Lorondos and Harman. They conclude Meier’s findings are plagued by confirmation bias
I am suggesting a study that deviates from normal and routine academic best practice is not the data resource for the honorable committee to base important legislative decisions upon.
- I would respectfully draw the committee’s attention to the following Item 3033(a)(1) This does not seem to include psychological abuse. This may result in preventing the court from removing a child from a psychologically abusive parent. I would suggest informed practitioners will acknowledge psychological abuse of children is as harmful as physical and sexual abuse of children. It requires a judicial and social response as we would all other forms of child abuse.
- Item 3033(b) seems to allow only experts who work with victims of domestic violence and prevents all other types of experts such as researchers, systemic therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, especially those with expertise in personality disorder, child development, attachment style, suggestibility in children. I would suggest a Court must be able to draw upon a variety of expertise to enable it to make informed choices and decisions to privilege and optimise the outcomes for young people and children across their life span.
- Item 3033(c) seems to move the standard from “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty until proven innocent”. This seems to deviate from a core principle of natural justice. It may if fact encourage false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse as there would be no accountability and remedies for false allegations. I would suggest all allegations of abuse of children must be fully investigated to protect children however, informed practitioners will acknowledge the prevalence of false allegations in high conflict separations and divorces. We know men will typically allege emotional or psychological abuse while women will typically allege sexual abuse.
- Item 3033(d)(2) seems to attempt to fix a parent-child problem by directing blame and responsibility to one parent and ignoring the nature of a family system dynamics. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of family dynamics. If a child has been manipulated to reject one parent, it’s not possible to fix the relationship by expecting the rejected parent to fix it. This is akin “blaming the victim” or targeted parent. it’s the responsibility of both parents to act in the child’s best interests. The Court must be empowered to act when a parent cannot or will not act in a manner consistent with their parental role, duty and responsibilities
- Item 3033(e) seems to place a very narrow scope of training for judges, court officers, and expert witnesses. If they are trained only about domestic violence and not on many other aspects of child development, personality disorder, and family dynamics, then their judgment will not reflect the complexity and knowledge base available to conceptualize and create care plans from an informed position optimizing the outcomes for children and young people
- Item 3033(e)(3)(B) seems to dictate that the only people who can provide training to judges, court officers, and expert witnesses are those who work with victims of domestic violence. Those who work with victims of domestic violence bring one lens, but they do not have all the expertise such as child development, family dynamics, human psychology, forensic psychology or systemic theory and practice. Judges, court officers, and expert witnesses need well-rounded knowledge and up to date knowledge drawing upon a variety of empirical expertise to conceptualize the nuances of a particular case.
I would draw the committee’s attention to a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights in October 2019 where they placed an onus of “exceptional due diligence” on any Judge or Social Worker across Europe once an allegation of Parental Alienation is made, they are obliged to appoint a bona fide expert to provide an assessment.
Furthermore, they are obliged to implement the recommendations of said assessment. This Court has issued financial sanctions against European States who did not respond adequately in cases to privilege a child’s right to a relationship with both of its parents in given circumstances. See case analysis by Irish Barrister Mr. Brendan Guildea here: https://parentalalienation.eu/part-2-of-case-note-on-pisica-v-the-republic-of-moldova/
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I hope the honorable committee has found this submission to be of benefit to its deliberations in this matter.
Brian O’ Sullivan
Consultant Systemic Family Psychotherapist
MSc. Syst Psych, BPS Forensic Test User, Forensic Child Interviewer,
Co- Founder www.parentalalienation.eu
Co – Director Post Graduate Certificate Parental Alienation Studies
Guildea. B (2020) Case Analysis of the Moldova Decision, Oct 2019, European Court of Human Rights, https://parentalalienation.eu/part-2-of-case-note-on-pisica-v-the-republic-of-moldova/
Harmon. J, Lorandos. D, (2020), Allegations of Family Violence in Court: How Parental Alienation Affects Judicial Outcomes, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, American Psychological Association, 27 (2) 184 – 208 https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-96321-001.pdf
Meier et al (2019) Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations, George Washington Law School, Public Law and Legal Theory Paper No. 2019-56 https://ssrn.com/abstract=3448062