Protection Orders And Parental Alienation
By Stuart Birks
So a father has now been convicted for sending a Christmas present to his daughter.
Others have been charged with sending Christmas cards. This may seem pretty loopy to anyone who has seen their Court-ordered access and guardianship rights ignored by the Family Court.
The Chief Justice, the Principal Family Court Judge and the Office of the Commissioner for Children are all on record as calling for more public explanation of Court actions. If press reports on the Christmas present case are anything to go by, noone is listening.
There are some very puzzling aspects to this case as reported in the Dominion (January 26). What are we told?
The father had looked after his daughter for five years, then custody went to the mother and a protection order was made. Was there a custody dispute? Was the protection order a tactical move? Why was custody switched to the mother after so long when stability and continuity looms large in blocking fathers’ applications?
The report states: “Judge Henwood said the daughter had indicated to the court she wanted [her father] to keep away and she wanted him to have counselling, which she said he would not do.”
What is an eleven year old girl doing saying wanted her father to have counselling? Is this a normal sort of thing for an 11 year old to say about her father? Why would a girl who had been cared for by someone want him to stay away? Judge Henwood also stated that the MOTHER (not the daughter) was upset by the present.
Might this have affected the daughter’s attitude?
Extensive overseas literature on parental alienation describes children siding with one parent, holding unreasonably hostile views of the other parent, and stating opinions which are more in line with adult
thinking. From the report, we cannot dismiss this possibility here.
The New Zealand Family Court has shown a remarkable ignorance of and disregard for parental alienation, save for a piece by Judge Blaikie in the Family Law Journal in 1994, where it is described as emotional abuse of children.
Acting with a lack of awareness can be very harmful for children. To quote writers in two respected journals:
“A failure to appropriately identify and intervene in the early stages of these cases may result in the alienating parent being given professional support for his/her position, reinforcing the child’s need to maintain or expand complaints about the alienated parent.”
“This has the capacity to more firmly entrench the syndrome and to enhance the severity of the dynamics.”
“The influential role of other people in the child’s life, such as relatives and professionals aligned with the alienating parent, whose endorsement of the program advances the brainwashing process.”
Can the Court reassure us that this case is not one of parental alienation? Regardless, should the Court be intervening when a father sends presents to his daughter, even if it is unwanted? Perhaps the Principal Family Court Judge can explain in general terms what implications this decision has for those fathers who are still struggling to maintain contact with their children.
Next: She’s My Girl