False Allegations in Parental Alienation

Children deserve to live a life free of abuse. This obvious point is spelled out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Children. When there conflicting claims of the form of psychological abuse often called parental alienation and claims of other forms of abuse, it is a zero sum game for diagnosis, because according to the APA, psychological abuse is as harmful as child sexual abuse.


The Problem

Statements are thrown around like "one conservative estimate suggests that courts place 58,000 children in the custody of abusers annually." This assumes that essentially all allegations of physical or sexual abuse or DV are all true. Then "supporting" statements are made that only 0.3% of all allegations during custody disputes are intentionally false. There are a lot of problems here that need to be unpacked.


Truth, Justice, and Personality Disorders

Severe alienation involves personality disorders. Truth is often distorted in these disorders.

  1. This is how Foundations page 102 describes some of the underlying personality disorder processes: "For the borderline personality, if truth and reality need to be sacrificed in order to regain an emotionally and psychologically re-regulated and organized state, then truth and reality will be distorted in whatever fashion is necessary to meeting the regulatory needs of the borderline personality. Within the confines of their psychological disorganization, truth, accuracy, and reality become secondary considerations to relieving the pain of emotional and psychological disorganization.  The distortion of truth and reality, however, can be extremely frustrating of the relationship partner of the borderline-style personality."
  2. As Dr. Childress further notes “For the narcissistic-borderline personality structure, truth and reality are fluid constructs that are subject to the ever changing emotional needs of the moment.”
  3. Dr. Millon notes that “Narcissists are neither disposed to stick to objective facts or to restrict their actions within the boundaries of social custom or cooperative living… Free to wander in their private world of fiction,narcissists may lose touch with reality, lose their sense of proportion, and begin to think along peculiar and deviant lines.”

 Do these allegations qualify as “intentionally fabricated?”

Wakefield and Underwager   In their 1990 paper entitled "Personality Characteristics of Parents Making False Accusations of Sexual abuse in Custody Disputes" they noted that "Such persons [false accusers] are likely to misperceive the behavior of others and to react to stressful situations in maladaptive ways. Depending upon the specific personality disorder, they are characterized by instability of mood, impulsivity, inappropriate emotional overreactions, a need for approval and attention, and difficulties handling anger and conflict." See also Blush, G. L. & Ross, K. L. (1990). Investigation and case management issues and strategies. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations (2) 3. Blush, G. L. & Ross, K. L. (1987). Sexual allegations in divorce: The SAID syndrome. Conciliation Courts Review, 25(1), and for a male perspective, see also this article.

Sue Whitcombe's Studies of False Allegation  In her doctoral dissertation, Sue Whitcombe studied the false allegations involved in parental alienation. Out of a pool of 54 erased parents:

"Thirty six participants reported that they had been subject to false allegations of domestic violence against their ex-partner and 44 reported false allegations of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect against their child. In private family law proceedings in England and Wales, a child’s welfare is paramount. Allegations of abuse or neglect usually result in the immediate cessation of direct contact while fact finding, safeguarding and assessments are undertaken. Unable to see their child, parents experience a presumption of guilt and a need to prove their innocence."



Problems with Other Studies of Intentional False Allegations

Every child deserves a life free of abuse, whether it be sexual, physical, or psychological.

The most recent study of false allegations is the 2005 paper “False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate,” by Trocme. The paper concluded in table 5 that 3% of all allegations were intentionally false in non-custodial cases, while only 12% of allegations are intentionally false when there is a custody concern. There are 6 problems here.

Problem 1: The first problem here is that the paper relies on a “child protection investigators” as truth determiners, to decide if an unsubstantiated report is “intentionally fabricated”. Although this limitation is listed in the paper, it is usually overlooked by those quoting the paper. It is also overlooked by the author who goes on to ignore the problem by saying that “deliberate falsification of abuse by custodial parents is low, alleviating concerns that there is a widespread problem,” despite other experts saying that “only 15% of allegations made in divorce cases where likely true.

 These investigators are unlikely to have expertise in personality disorders, that people with NPD/BPD can be quite persuasive, the truth is not meaningful to them, and that they have a tendency to decompensate into persecutory delusions under stress. This greatly muddies the waters in definition and determination of “intentionally fabricated,” creating a semantic cesspool, so that false allegations by an alienator probably don’t count in the study as “intentionally fabricated.”

The notion of “intentionally fabricated” is complex, and even former presidents would say that “it all depends on the meaning of the word is. As Dr. Childress notes “For the narcissistic-borderline personality structure, truth and reality are fluid constructs that are subject to the ever changing emotional needs of the moment.” Dr. Millon notes that “Narcissists are neither disposed to stick to objective facts or to restrict their actions within the boundaries of social custom or cooperative living… Free to wander in their private world of fiction, narcissists may lose touch with reality, lose their sense of proportion, and begin to think along peculiar and deviant lines.” Is that “intentionally fabricated?” For an extended treatment of this subject, see the April 2018 Flying Monkey Newsletter.

The perspective of the erased parent about whom the allegation is made is that they are obviously intentionally false, because they know they didn’t do it and they know the other parent knows it did not happen, at least before they decompensated into persecutory delusion. The erased parent is aware that the alienator is splitting and sees them as all bad, and there is almost nothing that the alienator can see of value in them and receive usually are false or exaggerated allegations from A to Z.

Problem 2: The authors leaves out reports that child protection workers or police dismiss without investigating. Presumably, the major reason is that they know them to be intentionally false, likely because this is allegation number 14 from the alienator, where the first 8 were determined to have no merit.

Problem 3: The third problem is author bias.  The authors incorrectly believe that parental alienation is a “discredited” concept, so it is not a surprising set up their study to find that only 12% of custody cases involve “intentionally fabricated” allegations.

Problem 4: The language of “12% intentionally fabricated” insidiously creeps and morphs into to become an ethic and false belief that all reports must be true, even if they fall into the “false allegation” or “unsubstantiated allegation” category.

They key is that the number of unsubstantiated cases is on the rise, according to Dean Tong:

 “NCANDS compiled data for all of the states and published Child Maltreatment 2005 (child abuse statistics are always two years behind) recently. Over 60% of all child abuse investigation dispositions in 2005 were unsubstantiated. According to Dr. David Finkelhor, head of the crimes against children laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire, in a 2006 study he authored that was published in The Journal of Social Issues, he found that sexual child abuse substantiations between 1990 and 2004 decreased by 49%. And between 1992 and 2004 physical child abuse substantiations decreased by 43%.”

A review of Dean Tong's excellent 202 book on "Elusive Innocence" is available in the 2006 American Journal of Family Therapy.

Problem 5: They authors gratuitously throw in mention at the beginning of the paper about one much older study that did not keep track of intentionally false allegations and that happened to note a 2% rate of allegations in custody cases, and the the authors throw in an estimate of false allegations of 15%, and come away with a number appearing at the top of the paper that 0.3% of custody cases involve intentionally false allegations. This irrelevant number ends up being referenced by some readers, for example this person who references this study.

Problem 6: They don’t count parental alienation as child psychological abuse, though it is widely deemed to be so, and although the APA notes that child psychological abuse is as harmful as child sexual abuse.

In summary, when this chain of chaos and fuzzy thinking all swims together, people incorrectly develop an ethic that all allegations are true and some toss out an irresponsible figure that  0.3% of custody cases involve intentionally false allegations of sexual abuse, reinforcing truly fuzzy thinking that alienators must be believed. It is in this complex vacuum that alienators abuse children, and harm them, with the assistance of mental health professionals.



Summary

When this chaos all swims together, people drift into irresponsibly quoting  0.3% of custody cases involve intentionally false allegations of sexual abuse, creating truly fuzzy thinking that alienators must be believed. It is in this complex vacuum that alienators abuse children and harm them, with the assistance of mental health professionals.


Epilogue - the personal side of false allegations:

The Horror of False Allegations

Other Articles:
A veteran court official noted: "I agree with the observation by the fathers’ rights charity Families Need Fathers that more allegations of domestic abuse are of course likely when the system says that parents can’t get legal aid unless there has been abuse. And abusing domestic violence protections is not a new phenomenon. Many years ago I was so annoyed by the domestic violence ‘opening gambit’ routinely employed by wives, using trivial allegations to obtain orders forcing husbands out of the marital home and thereby ‘pre-judging’ who would have the house (and therefore the children) after the divorce that I wrote a letter about the matter to the periodical Family Law, which they published (in the case that prompted me to write we eventually succeeded in getting the husband, my client, back in the house, which he ultimately kept)."

Here are some anecdotal accounts of false allegations during custody


Some thoughts on the temptations to allege domestic violence from a Harvard Law Professor Jeannie Suk

Some data on generalized false allegations might be available here.



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