News Report: Call for Fulton Family Court Investigation

What do Fulton County families and children need most?

If you ask parents caught in legal conflict, you’ll likely hear the word transparency.

Georgia news media, parents, advocates and legal professionals attended a press conference on April 24th that covered in detail the danger experienced by safe, loving parents and their children in family court cases.

The allegations are serious and a plea was made to Fulton County’s District Attorney Paul Howard to investigate the claims.

The press conference featured Georgia expert William Perry who is known for his news reports on ethics failures in government. Perry, who goes by Georgia Ethics Watchdog in his reports, learned just how dangerous the legal environment is for families, and decided to do something about it. Several tragic stories were shared and family law attorneys weighed in, agreeing that something needs to be done. Atlanta’s Fox5 News aired the story that evening, doing a remarkable job at laying out what is complicated and challenging to explain.

The news report explained that for these parents who are being victimized, nothing is more important to them than their children. Children are reportedly being taken from them without any regard for the law.

Perry addressed needed policy changes and spoke about his challenge to law enforcement and other authorities to investigate cases where good parents are wrongfully accused, torn from their children and set up to fail.

My Advocate Center’s term to describe the problem is profit over protection.

Outcomes make no sense given our laws and the facts in such cases.  The real needs of children are thrown by the wayside. Does it need to be this way?

The image here was taken by a news team at the Fulton County courthouse in recent years, when custody experts were paid to suppress evidence of child abuse that was substantiated by forensic evaluations and law enforcement. The litigation resulted in protection and proper medical treatment being withheld from the child.

Young adults are coming forward now to speak about their experiences such as what this child experienced when outcries for help were ignored and silenced. There is no need to wait in beginning investigations and working to remove danger by closing loopholes in state policies.

When families are exploited there is often a lack of transparency and due process in the management of the litigation, so Perry emphasized the need for parties to be allowed to record their own court proceedings.

Superior Court Rules on Recording Court Hearings

This issue was addressed by Georgia’s Supreme Court and Superior Court judges and includes recommendations from stakeholders in the press, My Advocate Center and other advocacy groups.

The new rule changes take effect in May of 2018, benefitting the public, professionals who are ethical and committed to protecting clients and children, and also benefitting the courts in creating more efficiency and positive outcomes.

Parents, grandparents, professionals and even children are speaking up about experiences and the need to take action. Contact My Advocate Center’s founder Deb Beacham here to report details to My Advocate Center or to ask for assistance.

Investigations and News Reports Matter

Learn more about what is happening across Georgia and how investigations can make all the difference in improving safety, family stability, and the ability for parents and children to recover from trauma.

Contact My Advocate Center to review case studies and data on these issues. Investigators will discover that the problems described here are wide-spread and found nationwide, but with Fulton County’s large population and high rates of domestic violence and child abuse, there is a special need for a concentrated review of cases in this area.

Background material for news reports and investigations can also be found in reports such as this story by an Augusta news station about glaring misconduct by a Guardian ad Litem who manipulated cases based upon whether vulnerable women would comply with his demands, or not.

Training Materials for Professionals on Harm Caused by Alienation of Children

This is a lot to read, but critical for professionals to get this that it is no small thing to enable this form of abuse to ruin the lives of children when you are in a position to make life better for them.

 

AAML_Alienation of Children and Parents_2015 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Do you know how to recognize harmful behavior in children who have been turned against a parent?

Excerpts found below are borrowed from the above document and may include occasional notes by My Advocate Center as this review is part of a larger study geared toward reducing childhood trauma and improving safety for parents and children.

Page 14:

Good grades in school, excellent performance in sports and performing arts, and polite, compliant behavior in settings apart from the rejected parent comprise only some aspects of healthy psychological functioning. Children who suspend critical thinking and judge parents as either all good or all bad are prone to transfer such cognitive practices to peer relationships, resulting in the rupture of friendships at the first sign of conflict.

Alienated children’s relationships with their favored parents may appear ideal because of the absence of conflict and frustration. In some cases, though, children pay for such harmony by neglecting their own needs.22 Often these children feel responsible for their favored parent’s emotional well-being. They comfort distressed parents, serve as confidantes, and assure parents of their allegiance. Alienated children often sacrifice age-appropriate independent functioning in order to gratify favored parents’ needs to keep the children close at hand and dependent.

Page 15:

The children believe that they have their favored parents’ approval to suspend the usual rules of morality when dealing with the targets of their enmity.

Apart from what may be covert or subtle corruption of character and respect for authority, alienated children suffer overt irrational anxiety or hatred of a parent and declare their wish to completely erase good parents from their lives.

Such irrational feelings represent significant psychological disturbances, regardless of how well these children function in other domains.24 At the very least, unreasonably rejecting a parent is as serious a problem as are other irrational aversions and anxieties, such as avoidance of school, peers, or open spaces. Their obsessive hatred of rejected parents is at least as worrisome as fixed negative stereotypes and irrational prejudice toward members of religious or ethnic minorities.

Severely alienated children suffer significant impairments in their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development.25 They maintain a highly distorted view of a parent. They are unable to give and receive love from a good parent.

What would be a normal response, if the parents were not separated?

If these children were living in an intact family, professionals would not doubt the wisdom of addressing rather than ignoring the problems.

It is not necessary to cite the long-term consequences of parental alienation to justify the importance of addressing the problem. The family’s dysfunction in the present is sufficient justification for intervention.26 In addition to alleviating the child’s obvious impairments, interventions are needed to improve the functioning of both parents. Some mental health professionals and lawyers too readily counsel rejected parents to accept the situation and wait passively for the child’s return. Those who make recommendations and decisions for these families should understand that the family is suffering and should be aware of the immense tragedy for a child to lose a parent and for a parent to lose a child.

It is easier to appreciate what is at stake when parental alienation is seen through the eyes of a parent who is the victim. One mother puts it this way:

It is like your child has died, but you can’t go through the normal grieving process. Instead you are stuck in this Twilight Zone-like nightmare with no end in sight. You know your child is being abused, and this is child abuse pure and simple, but no one will help you save their hijacked souls and you are forced to stand and watch, with your hands tied behind your back. She describes what mental health professionals term ambiguous loss or complicated loss, more difficult to resolve than grief over the death of a child because it defies closure.27 She also identifies the pain of standing by helplessly while her child’s character is corrupted.

Page 17:

In addition to the emotional impact on families, parental alienation is implicated in violence, suicides, and homicides. An example is a father who alienated his children and then conspired with them to kill their mother. Explicitly recognizing the power of the father’s influence, the district attorney charged the man with having “coerced, persuaded and enticed his children to commit this atrocious crime upon their mother.”28

Researchers have limited data on what happens over time.

Researchers can extrapolate long-term outcomes, though, from several well-developed lines of investigation. These include: the impact of exposure to poorly-managed parental conflict, the consequences of intrusive parenting, and the risks to future development associated with parental absence and unresolved conflicts with parents.30

The literature on parenting most relevant to understanding the consequences of parental alienating behavior are studies on parental psychological control, also called intrusive parenting. This is defined as parenting behavior that “constrains, invalidates, and manipulates children’s psychological and emotional experience and expression.”33 Examples of psychological control include: “If I have hurt her feelings, she stops talking to me until I please her again.” “Is less friendly to me if I don’t see things his way.” The concept of intrusive parenting was not created with alienated children in mind. But “manipulating children’s psychological and emotional experience and expression” is precisely how authorities on the psychology of alienated children describe the negative influence of the favored parent.34

This type of manipulative parenting is linked to subsequent higher levels of depression and antisocial behavior.35 Higher risk for depression is also one of the known longterm hazards of parental absence during childhood.36

Some of the dynamics of this elevated risk may not apply to situations where parental absence is caused by the child’s rejection, but most of the identified reasons for the negative impact of parental absence are relevant to the risks faced by an estranged child growing up apart from a parent and without that parent’s psychological contributions to development.

The greater the discrepancy between the amount of nurturing and involvement children received from each parent—and for severely alienated children it is the most extreme—the lower their subsequent self-esteem, life satisfaction, and quality and satisfaction with friendships, and the greater distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents these children experience when they are young adults.37

In addition, children who hold a parent in contempt risk feeling contempt for the aspects of their own personalities that reflect identifications with the rejected parents. The resulting diminished self-esteem may contribute to depression. Children cannot escape the knowledge that each parent is part of them. It is difficult to harbor great contempt for a parent without, at some level, feeling terribly impaired.

In subsequent years many of these children regret missing out on the relationship with the rejected parent. As they mature, many feel ashamed and guilty for having caused so much pain to a loving parent.

Why is it important to take action to prevent such abuse and harm?

Overcoming severe alienation usually involves extensive litigation, multiple failed attempts to modify the behaviors of the alienating parent and child, and sometimes an intensive intervention, all of which take a lot of money and time. The longer the process takes, the more the losses accumulate. The longer the absence of contact between parent and child, the more lost opportunities mount for the creation of family memories. School performances, music and dance recitals, scouting trips, science fair projects, sports events, proms, and graduation ceremonies all create memories marred in future years by the parent missing from the photographs.

Can educational programs help?

The programs teach about the impact of parental conflict on children and the importance of avoiding bad-mouthing and alienating behavior. They offer no guidance, though, on how to respond when the other parent engages in alienating behavior that places the children at risk for joining in a campaign of denigration and rejection. The programs exhort parents to refrain from behaviors that encourage alienation, but they make no suggestions to proactively protect children from succumbing to a parent’s alienating behavior or to stem the tide of alienation before it becomes severe. In short, parents receive no advice on how to respond effectively to the challenges posed by their children’s rejection and provocative, contemptuous behavior. As a result, alienated parents typically make mistakes that compound the problem.43

Therapy?

Page 25:

Counseling is not only ineffective in many cases of moderate and severe alienation. Often it makes things worse. Counselors who lack adequate understanding and competence in dealing with parental alienation may be too quick to accept at face value the favored parent and child’s representations of events.53 This can result in misdiagnosis and misguided treatment.

Detailed and Unambiguous Court Orders are Strongly Recommended

Parenting coordinators and therapists who work with high conflict cases emphasize the importance of the court issuing detailed and clear orders. A parent who is intent on obstructing the child’s contact with the other parent will exploit every loophole and ambiguity in the orders to accomplish this goal. For instance, the parent may claim that the child is coming down with a cold and can’t make the shift between homes. Or the parent will sabotage court-ordered treatment because the orders failed to specify which parent is responsible for getting the child to the therapist. Attorneys who represent rejected parents should anticipate every conceivable excuse to keep children from their clients and then ensure that the orders protect against these contingencies. If this is done at the stage of the initial temporary orders, it could help prevent alienation from taking root and becoming more severe. Attempts to corrupt a child’s view of a parent most effectively crowd out the child’s positive feelings and memories when the child has no reminders of the parent’s love and no time to enjoy that parent.55 The child becomes more dependent on the favored parent and more likely to see the absent parent through the distorting lens of the parent doing the bad-mouthing.

When their parents separate, children have no norms about what to expect. If they have regular contact with both parents from the outset, this becomes the status quo and the norm. If they lose contact with a parent, they come to regard this as normal. The longer children are apart from a parent, the stronger the negative attitudes, the more resistant to change, and the more difficult it is to reunite children with their rejected parent. The longer the children’s will dominates the behavior of adults, the more difficult it will be for the children to appreciate and accept that decisions about contact are not theirs to make.

Can courts do more to safeguard relationships between targeted parents and children?

One provision of many court orders, designed to safeguard children’s welfare, may have undesirable consequences. Parents are admonished to not speak negatively about each other to the children, not involve the children in parental conflicts, and not discuss the litigation with the children. The problem is that alienating parents, either intentionally or inadvertently, regularly violate this provision.

This places parents who are targets of badmouthing and smear campaigns in a bind. If they do not speak to their children and correct misinformation that persuades the children to see them in a bad light, they give their children no help to cope with the bad-mouthing, and may stand idly by as their relationship with their children gradually deteriorates.56 But if they do speak to their children, they risk being seen as criticizing the other parent, involving their children in the parents’ conflicts, or inappropriately exposing the children to litigation matters.

Lawyers and judges should recognize some limitations of court orders that attempt to regulate parent-child communications about the divorce. For example, parents should shield children from most adult-adult issues and not undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child—that is the true intent of such court orders. But a parent who is the target of bad-mouthing may need to defend his or her parent-child relationship by sensitively providing information to counter accusations the child hears from the other parent.

Even the most unambiguous and detailed orders will not help if they are not enforced. A parent who obstructs the children’s contact with the other parent may benefit from the status quo. In In re Miller and Todd, a New Hampshire court awarded custody to a mother who successfully interfered with the father child relationship.57 The court found that the mother alienated the children from their father, but reasoned that the children had spent the majority of their lives with her and that is where they felt most comfortable. This is typical for such cases. The absence of contact establishes a status quo that the court honors in order to spare the children drastic changes.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the award.58 It recognized that the father was denied contact with his children for more than two years, and that awarding custody to the mother because of the lack of father-child contacts rewards the mother for violating court orders.

The decision quoted the Vermont Supreme Court: Although obviously well intended, the court’s decision effectively condoned a parent’s willful alienation of a child from the other parent. Its ruling sends the unacceptable message that others might, with impunity, engage in similar misconduct.

Left undisturbed, the court’s decision would nullify the principle that the best interests of the child are furthered through a healthy and loving relationship with both parents.59 This reasoning gives voice to the most frequent complaint parents make regarding their custody litigation:

Repeated violations of orders go unpunished, with some parents making a mockery of the court’s authority.

Experts agree. Dr. Joan Kelly notes, “[A] significant number of these parents have come to believe . . . that noncompliance with court orders, whether for facilitating contact between the child and rejected parent or attending divorce education classes or therapy, brings no negative consequences.”60

Are some professionals encouraging misconduct and willfully causing psychological harm to children and safe parents?

In some cases a child runs away from the rejected parent’s home into the welcoming arms of a parent intent on driving a wedge between the child and the other parent. Law enforcement authorities can be effective in such situations by retrieving the children, giving them stern lectures, and returning them to the parent from whom they ran away. The police are more likely to do so if the court orders anticipate such an event and direct law enforcement personnel to enforce the parenting plan.

Unfortunately often the police dismiss such incidents as family matters that need to be settled in court and not by police intervention. A parent is less likely to harbor a runaway child if he or she expects swift sanction from the court for violating orders. Instead what often occurs is that the children remain out of touch with their rejected parent as the litigation slogs through a quicksand of legal maneuvering and failed psychotherapeutic attempts to remedy the problem.

Drawbacks of leaving children with the parent using alienating tactics:

Leaving the children with their favored (abusive parent who is manipulating the children and exploiting the court process) parent may be less stressful for some children in the short run, and may be a default option if the court determines that the rejected parent lacks the capacity to assume full-time care of the children. In terms of alleviating alienation, though, this option has significant drawbacks.

It is not recommended when the favored parent has a history of sabotaging treatment (e.g., repeatedly failing to bring children to appointments, or repeatedly terminating treatment until locating a therapist who supports the favored parent’s position in the litigation).

It is not recommended when the favored parent exposes the children to an emotionally toxic environment, such as intimidating the children into rejecting the other parent. The literature on domestic violence describes the manner in which efforts to turn children against a parent sometimes represent a continuation and extension of behaviors by the other parent intended to harass, control, and punish a former spouse or partner.66

Are many court professionals currently getting it wrong?

According to a consensus of studies, treatment of severely alienated children while they remain apart from the rejected parent and with the favored parent is more likely to fail than to succeed and it may make matters worse by further entrenching the child’s distorted perceptions of the rejected parent.67 This is true for all models of treatment of irrationally alienated children proposed in the literature. Extending unsuccessful treatment while the child remains with the favored parent carries the hazards of delaying, and in some cases preventing, the eventual delivery of effective help.

Custody evaluators and guardians ad litem often prefer this option because they believe it is less intrusive and requires less of an adjustment on the children’s part than removing the children from the primary care of the favored parent.

Typically, court orders for treatment under this option are open-ended with vague and non-specific treatment goals (e.g., to reunify the parent and child, or to improve the parent-child relationship).

This is the reality for most parents being pushed out of their children’s lives. Is this intentional?

If treatment fails (which is more likely than not with severely alienated children who have no contact with the rejected parent outside of therapy sessions), the rejected parent wants to return to court as soon as possible (assuming finances allow), while the favored parent delays the process as long as possible. When the case is back before the court, the judge is likely to order an updated evaluation by the original evaluator. The timing of the re-evaluation is subject to the evaluator’s schedule and is usually prolonged by the favored parent’s obstructive and delay tactics.

The longer the delay, the older the children, the more accustomed they become to living estranged from a parent, and the less likely the court will be to overturn the status quo.

Note: in going through this body of work, it seems that there is great incentive for an abusive parent to violate court orders and engage in mental cruelty by manipulating and coercing children as it is so easy to get away with causing harm this way.

To what degree will abusive parents manipulate and collude to avoid intervention?

Collusion to Discourage Interventions and Placement with the Rejected Parent:

When the favored parent worries that an evaluator, guardian ad litem, or the court are likely to hold the favored parent in large measure responsible for the children’s alienation, and may place the children primarily with the rejected parent, often the favored parent encourages the children to pretend that they have overcome their alienation. Cooperative and superficial polite behavior replaces the former avoidance and disrespect. After months and sometimes years of no contact and scornful rejection, the children begin to comply willingly with orders for contact.

In an attempt to obscure the fact that the children had ever been alienated, the favored parent and children rewrite history. In one case, after the court heard evidence about a child’s animosity toward his mother’s extended family, one boy falsely claimed that he had been having weekly phone contact with his maternal uncle. Through texts and emails requesting to meet, greeting cards signed with love, and surreptitious voice recordings, the children fulfill their assignment to create a record that the favored parent subsequently uses to argue in favor of maintaining the status quo. Toward the end of a trial, a teen contacted her mother after months of avoidance to ask to meet for dinner.

The mother was aware that the offer was a ruse. If she refused the invitation the father would claim that the mother was not doing her part toward reconciliation. If she accepted the invitation, the judge would hear that the mother-daughter relationship was on the mend and no additional intervention or custody modification was needed. After hearing the details of the children’s communications during the contact, I advised the mother to be aware that her daughter likely was recording the entire interaction. The mother replied, “Come to think of it, she left her cell phone in the center of the dining room table during the entire meal.”

It exposes the power that the favored parent has wielded all along to remedy the problem and underscores that parent’s role in fomenting, strengthening, and supporting the children’s suffering.

At the same time, it reveals a previously unseen malleability in the behavior of the favored parent and children when sufficiently motivated by the court’s authority.

The sham, intended to convince the court to take a hands-off approach, instead helps the evaluator and the court appreciate that the successful resolution of alienation requires the court’s firm expectations, oversight, and enforcement. When the children believe that, as far as the court is concerned, failure is not an option, they are more likely to engage meaningfully in efforts to repair the damaged relationship.

The fear of getting the favored parent in trouble with the court provides children with a face-saving excuse to “follow the rules” and return to a normal relationship with the other parent. The children then feel relieved to shed the burden of having to disrespect one parent for fear of disappointing the other.

Can the court or professionals expect the abusive parent to do right by the children and other parent after winning?

The parent with whom the children are aligned has carried on a lengthy campaign to support the status quo of no contact between the children and their other parent. It is unlikely that the aligned parent will be inclined to relinquish the campaign in the immediate aftermath of the court’s decision.

Tips for Lawyers Representing a Parent Who is Alienating the Children – page 67.

1. If your clients are aware that they are undermining their children’s relationships with their other parent, impress upon them the damage this is likely to cause the children in the near-term and in the future.

4. Ensure that your clients understand the possible legal consequences for interference with custodial contact and for violating court orders.

The Targeted Family Usually Does Not Recover, but Faith Remains

Despite weathering cruel treatment and untempered hatred that would drive most people away, many rejected parents maintain a steadfast commitment to their children’s welfare and invest considerable resources trying to restore positive relationships. Very often the tragedy extends to an entire half of the children’s family who remain astounded and deeply hurt at the formerly loving children’s complete estrangement.

Challenge to the Legal Community and to Healthcare Professionals

The outcome of cases with severely alienated children spells the difference between elated parents who recapture their identities as parents versus bereft parents who mourn the loss of their children and whose children grow up with parents who may be perpetrators of emotional abuse, who force them to make a child’s version of Sophie’s Choice, and fail to honor their right to love and be loved by two parents.

If they don’t find their way back to their rejected parents when these children grow up and have their own children, the next generation is deprived of a legacy.

Helping these families is challenging and a heavy responsibility.

It is not often that legal and mental health professionals get the chance to alter the course of generations.

Protected: Children Traded as Commodities

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The Right Bug Repellant

Years ago when I first started studying the conduct of professionals who assist families during times of conflict, I noticed something interesting. When someone who is intensely worried and frustrated believes they have the right counsel, they will dress as they are told, cut their hair and change various behaviors for the sake of achieving the objective of the day. These changes in behavior and style and speech seem to happen quickly, without study, due diligence or challenge.

Imagine if a man relying on counsel is heading into the woods instead of into a courtroom.

He’s mainly worried about mosquitoes.

He asks his highly recommended counsel to hand him bug repellant to save him from the buzzing mosquitoes. He’s assured that if he applies this spray liberally and forges ahead, he will come out fine on the other side of the woods.

As he heads into the woods, believing he is covered and really has only about 100 yards to go, the buzzing sound goes away but he notices something else. He pulls up his pant legs to find a handful of ticks – you get the picture.  Ticks dig in and they are hard to get out. Treating disease caused by ticks? Expensive, time-consuming, stressful, and not always possible.

The man is confused. He has no reason to believe that his counsel would not give him the right advice or that he wouldn’t receive the protection he’s paying for and expecting, so he starts looking around trying to figure out where all the ticks came from and why he wasn’t warned about them. The ticks are much more threatening and painful than the mosquito bites he was trying to avoid…so what to do?

He calls out to his counsel who offers to sell him another bottle of spray and some ointment. So the man pays for what he is handed, takes the bottles out of the bag and begins spraying and applying the ointment. While he’s busy with these bottles another problem hits him. He can’t see his feet…or his ankles any longer. While applying the ointment to the back of his legs and prying out ticks, he doesn’t see he’s been standing in quicksand. He panics – he’s never seen quicksand before and realizes it seems to be pulling his legs in an inch at a time!

Now angry and scared, he calls out loudly to his counsel. Then he pauses.

He sees his counsel and a couple of other suits approaching with shovels and barbed wire. Quickly he tries to rationalize how they are going to save him with barbed wire? Is the shovel enough to move the quicksand away as he is now in up to his hips?

Feeling stuck?

You know what to do now, right? Click here for the right tools.

 

Erasing Families Near You

This woman is an actress but on this video, in this horror story, she is not acting.

She speaks the truth for many thousands of parents and children across America and around the globe.

The act of erasing a loving, safe parent from the lives of his or her children is a profitable business, and a cruel one. This is the driving force behind much of our research and reporting into the conduct of lawyers and doctors acting as Guardian ad Litem or child custody evaluator, and it is the reality that led to the creation of this mild cartoon focused merely on the financial aspects of such cases.

But what can be done? Is there a way to help families avoid such loss?

First, watch this video, then contact me to learn more about solutions in motion.

Child Safety Must Come First by US Representatives

Great news for children and parents being denied protection from domestic abuse, who are often harmed during prolonged child custody litigation.

Please read, share and contact your state’s leaders to join in with their support of this House Resolution No. 72.

Georgia’s children and parents are especially vulnerable, as hundreds of cases across the state now prove. Television and print news media and several independent journalists have documented professional conduct in what is referred to as “sensitive” cases, including by filing Rule 22 Requests to Record judicial proceedings.

The big deal about the conduct being documented is this: the way many Georgia child custody cases are managed often puts children in harm’s way as they are given to the parent most likely to cause stress or injury.  It is hard to fathom if you can not see it firsthand, but sometimes court professionals, including child custody experts, go so far as to deny children and adult victims of domestic abuse protection and even necessary medical and psychological care.

If you live in Georgia, you can find your U.S. Representatives here. Please encourage your representatives to read and support this resolution. And, in Georgia, learn how you can encourage leadership to keep our courts and court records open and accessible.

As these cases are usually cloaked by a veil of secrecy, and speaking about what is happening to the family is frowned upon and outright discouraged, it is critical that journalists are not restricted in recording judicial proceedings or in obtaining case records.

Both of these issues, policy to improve child safety and rules governing the ability to record judicial proceedings, need your attention.

Thank you!

Child Safety and Child Custody in House Resolution 72 / Bipartisan Support by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Protect Children from Psychological Abuse: Policy

Common sense tells us that causing worry in children is unhealthy for them. When one parent causes their child to doubt, resent, avoid or fear the other parent, assuming no actual safety threat exists, this can have severe and lasting harm on the child’s mental and emotional well-being. Don’t take my word for it.

You can observe children being subjected to family / parenting conflict in every community if you are concerned about this form of psychological abuse and know even a little about what to look for. Use the Contact Us form at the top right of this page if you’d like more information.

It is also undisputed that when a parent is physically or emotionally abusive to the other parent, whether pre- or post-separation, including through the use of deception, manipulation, financial control or financial deprivation to destabilize or shame the other parent, the harm translates directly to a negative impact on the children. Children cannot possibly feel good about themselves when one parent is harming the other and working to destroy a parent-child bond and relationship. Whether the stress and troubling feelings are apparent or not, they are there – and are dangerous to the child.

This is a child safety and mental health issue we should all want addressed.  Our court officials are given instruction by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in this Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases, including specific detail on how to recognize and correct harmful tactics used by a parent against another such as coercive control. This form of abuse may not be seen at first glance or if an investigation disallows evidence of domestic abuse, which unfortunately is often the case. One key point in this Guide is that perpetrators of family violence, coercive control, economic abuse, mental cruelty, etc., position themselves forcefully and deceptively as victims; they can be good actors and enabled by professionals paid to suppress evidence of real abuse and victimization. As such, this is a tough area to resolve so it is important that more courts put the information in this Guide to good use.

Family violence / domestic abuse cases often include some form of child abuse, especially where the perpetrator is willing and able to use children to inflict pain on the targeted parent. It makes sense that if a parent is willing to harm his or her child’s other parent, the offending parent is indifferent to the harm caused to the child. Some parents are so lacking in empathy that they intentionally and willfully use their children as tools or weapons to cause distress, uncertainty about the child’s well-being or whereabouts, grief from having a child wrongfully removed, and some use children for their own financial gain, even if it means causing the loss of the child’s home and pets.

Perpetrators of abuse refuse to accept they can no longer access victims physically, so they use children as the means to gain proximity and to appear justified in sending disturbing messages in person or through digital means. There really is no limit to what an unhealthy person will do to another, so it is up to the Court to intervene.

This highlighted page embedded below was printed from Florida’s legislation updates page. I’ll get a clean copy uploaded soon for you to download or you can search for it online in the meantime. What matters is that leadership in Florida recognizes the damage to children and spells out the mental impact of psychological abuse, including when adults punitively or selfishly act to break bonds between children and safe, loving and available parents.

It is the intent to cause harm to the other parent, the indifference to the harm and deprivation of the child, and repeated, ongoing acts to shut out a good parent that causes me to share the proposed language of this bill. The term “alienation” is too often misused, so that word or description should not be substituted for plain language detailing acts of intentional abuse and family violence.

FL Bill to Include Psychological Abuse and Alienation of Children in Certification by Deb Beacham

Parents Rights in Georgia Law and Rule 22 Application

Rule 22 Governs Permission for Recording Court Proceedings

Parents in Georgia have rights that are often not applied in child custody cases, including when someone other than a natural parent is seeking custody of the children. But is anyone paying attention to this type of loss and trauma?

If you are paying attention or are interested in increasing this focus, contact me here.

Protecting the right to record and maintaining open access to courtrooms does improve protections for families and children.

The content to follow is a developing body of work revealing clear examples of the difference it makes to have cameras allowed in courtrooms and to avoid restricting our press.

While I have much more to do here I wanted you to have access now to documents and videos as I upload them and welcome your questions and feedback as this story unfolds. Your attention is needed to ensure we protect access to our judiciary and ensure our courtrooms remain open.

Two problems are ripe to be solved:

1. Missing clarification of Georgia’s laws on the rights of natural parents.

Georgia judges and domestic lawyers expressed interest in this case because it could help clarify what was previously an uncertain matter left to the court’s discretion. Let’s address this issue first.

In the case featured in this article, the lawyer for the maternal grandmother convinced the court that the children would be at risk if they were left in the care of their father. The father was able to receive help thanks to volunteer lawyers through the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and successfully appealed the trial court’s order giving custody to the grandmother.

With no evidence in support of the grandmother’s claims that the father was a violent man, the trial court gave custody for a second time to the grandmother. This time the Court of Appeals made sure the message was received, that the rights of natural parents should be taken seriously and that absent clear proof of ongoing or future danger to the children the natural parent’s rights are above those of a grandparent. Attached first is the June 24th ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals, the final ruling driving home the instructions to adhere to the law and facts of the case. Additional filings and orders follow in reverse order.

Rights of Parents Georgia COA Jun 24 2016 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

2. A lack of transparency or ability to review proceedings in child custody matters

You might say this is the problem in all types of judicial proceedings, hence the attention given to the proposed amendments to Georgia’s Rule 22 governing decisions to allow filming or other types of recordings in courtrooms. Changes were proposed by Georgia’s judiciary and only a few organizations and individuals are focused on the flaws which could further restrict public access to court proceedings and discourage open records.

The focus here on child custody is due to the high volume of cases wherein children are used for leverage and/or to punish the other parent by moving to restrict rights, to cause pain and suffering or to avoid paying child support, for example. This is a widespread problem with almost nothing being done to curtail damaging tactics which exploit children and vulnerable parents.

Given the question of law governing the rights of natural parents and the opportunity to observe and film three pro bono lawyers fighting for a wrongfully accused father, I filed a Rule 22 Request to record this Hart County hearing. I learned about the case because the Court of Appeals had twice reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case.

When I began my investigation into the case history and factors that caused the reversal, I recognized the pattern of abusive litigation that is causing so many of Georgia’s children to lose access to loving, available parents. When you’ve seen this pattern of foul play unfold nearly one hundred times, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that intervention and transparency are needed.

There are several videos to this story:

Initially the hearing was set for late summer in 2016, and the grandmother’s attorney argued vehemently against having the proceeding filmed. This video portion will be added shortly.

After listening to her argument, the judge allowed the recording to go forward.  The lawyer was not about to give up on her strategy for denying the father custody, so another tactic was put into play that would either prejudice the court against the father or cause another delay, or both. This clip will be added.

Rather than allow the grandmother’s surprise expert to testify without fair notice and a deposition, the father’s counsel objected and moved to continue the hearing to allow for their deposition of this child custody psychologist Dr. Barbara Oxley.

The argument made by Athens attorney Ed Tolley is one often missed in similar proceedings. His argument and commentary from our interview will be added here.

The continued hearing was reset for December, 2016, and again the court ruled in favor of my Rule 22 Request, saying afterwards, “These days you’re afraid not to grant these things.” Interesting perspective and statement, but I’ll take it.

I’ll be back to complete this story and share the outcome, which will definitely surprise you!  In the meantime, please let me know if you’d like to contribute to additional use of Rule 22 Requests and other forms of increasing both public safety and especially better protections for parents and children.

The rest of the footage of the trial above will be shared in the coming days, and admittedly it will have much more meaning to children taken from safe parents, and for parents stripped of their right to nurture children without cause.

In the meantime, here’s another sampling of images and news reports that have meaning and which support protecting the intent and integrity of Rule 22.