Adult words – from the mouth of a child
Lawyer Vivienne Crawshaw wrote recently about a case of parental alienation. She suggests that the NZ Family Court is well aware of this process and is equipped to deal with it.
[Hamish’s] mother Justine, was embroiled in a custody dispute with his father. Brian, his father, was not applying for full custody; his application was merely to share in Hamish’s life in a more day-to-day way, ideally week and week about.
However, Justine was adamantly opposed to Hamish spending any more time away from her. He was her only child, was already starting to want to spend more time with his friends than with her, and she was damned if she was going to allow Brian to enjoy him while she was left on her own.
As the lawyer [counsel for child] asked Hamish to come into his office Justine stepped forward. “I’d rather you not talk with Hamish on his own,” she implored. “He’s quite shy and I am concerned that he won’t remember all the important things.”
Much to Justine’s annoyance the lawyer insisted on seeing Hamish on his own, in his office, politely suggesting that Justine might want to pop out for a coffee while she was waiting, a suggestion she flatly ignored.
Almost verbatim Hamish quoted sections from his mother’s affidavit, commenting quite coldly that his Dad did not love him and had tried to bribe him by buying him a PlayStation for Christmas, adding that he was not going to be bought.
When the lawyer lightly tried to talk about how things might be for Hamish if he were to spend more time with his Dad, Hamish became more strident, and spoke strongly about how much his mother had done for him, the sacrifices she made and how little child support his father paid.
The lawyer had come across cases such as Hamish’s before. After interviewing Brian, he reported to the court that he was concerned that Hamish’s views were heavily influenced by Justine and suggested that the court direct a psychologist’s report, which might consider Hamish’s relationship with his parents, including any influencing of his wishes.
The court gives less weight to the wishes of a child where it has evidence of pressure by one parent being brought to bear over a child’s views. Over-involvement of a child in court proceedings is often a sign that they are not being permitted to truly express their wishes.
In this situation, a psychologist’s report that showed Justine was unduly influencing Hamish would ensure the court did not allow his views to determine the outcome of the parental dispute.
Meanwhile, in the real world:
If the veil of secrecy which the court operates behind was as effective as she no doubt believes it to be, most Herald readers would no doubt be reassured by Crawshaw’s article. Fortunately, repeated leaks of documentary evidence show that court appologists present a very distorted picture of what actually happens.
In August 1998, MENZ Issues published the story of “Jeremy Collins”.
Quoting (with names changed) from the ‘confidential’ 2002 section 29 Psychologist Report on Jeremy’s family:
In the last report, the writer noted the impact of Mrs Collins’s attitude on Sarah’s decision making…
Mrs Collins did not appear to appreciate that there were legal implications with respect to some of her actions (e.g., reducing the access frequency from that which was stated in the court order), nore did she appear to appreciate that Mr Collins remains a guardian and as such can request to be involved in decision making (e.g., with respect to health matters).
At the bottom line this is Mrs Collins’s position, she does not want Mr Collins to feature in her life or her daughter’s life. She has also stopped all contact with Mr Collins’s family and does not appear to be in contact with her own family.
[Mrs Collins] believes the abuse occurred and cannot understand why there is any uncertainty about this…The writer simply wishes to state that Mrs Collins is acting in a manner consistent with her beliefs.
There can be little doubt that when a parent holds attitudes as strong as those held by Mrs Collins, then any child living with them will be aware of these attitudes. At the last assesment it was clear that Sarah was well aware of her mother’s opinions and this had affected her decisions.
The influence of her mother upon her decision making is less overt at this time than it has been at previous assessments. The writer is well aware that it could be debated that this is because Sarah has now totally internalised her mother’s beliefs and is “alienated”.
The psychologist presented the court with three options:
- Enforce access. “This approach has not worked in the past and the writer is unclear as to why it would work now”.
- Provide counselling for Sarah. “It is this writer’s opinion that it is unlikely such counselling could be effective”.
- Cease access.
Jeremy has not seen his daughter Sarah since.