BRIEF ON PARENTAL ALIENATION
Primary VAWA 2021 Bill Sponsors:
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Brief Produced by:
A consortium of experts representing a large network of international organizations
April 6, 2022
The work of Professor Joan Meier
a. In 2019, Professor Joan Meier and colleagues published a paper in a paper series at
her home institution (George Washington University, https://ssrn.com/abstract=3448062). The editors
of this paper series recently confirmed that the paper had never been reviewed. This “study” was therefore not peer-reviewed by anyone, least of all by any scientists.
b. This 2019 paper reported that when mothers make allegations of abuse in court, their
allegations of abuse are often “discredited” and not believed, and that mothers are
likely to lose custody to abusive fathers. The authors also reported that the mother’s claims are most likely to be rejected when abusive fathers claim to have been alienated from their children by the mother.
c. In the scientific journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law published by the
American Psychological Association, Harman & Lorandos (2021) (https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-96321-001.pdf) identified over 30 methodological and statistical flaws on the Meier et al. (2019) paper. Harman and Lorandos also identified several other issues with the work once more details about the study was made public. These flaws include very questionable research practices and biased methods, such as:
e. Meier was unable to publish a response to the Harman & Lorandos (2021) paper because it did not pass scientific peer review. After being provided multiple opportunities to revise her comments, she submitted her response to a non-scientific journal that is also known for publishing misinformation about parental alienation (see Bernet, 2021: https://doi.org/10.1080/01926187.2021.1972494). This action is an attempt to make it appear her “rebuttal” was a valid scientific response to the original critique, when it is not.
f. The Meier et al. (2019) paper is continuously cited in support of anti-parental alienation legislation, and the conclusions are directly reflected in the language of Kayden’s law. Biased and methodologically flawed studies such as this should never be used to support any change of legislation because their conclusions are not trustworthy.
The work of Barrister Nola Webb
a. In 2020, Barrister Nola Webb and colleagues published a paper reporting on
Australian court cases where child sexual abuse was alleged. In cases where child
custody was changed, the authors reported that the court had determined that the
allegations of abuse made by the “protective” parent (typically a mother) were
“deliberately misleading.” In their discussion, the authors reported that the courts
were not believing mothers, and they cited original work by Meier et al. (see above).
b. One scientist (Dr. Jennifer Harman) directly contacted the authors to ask how they
concluded that courts were discounting the allegations and not believing mothers.
There was no description in the methods about how the authors came to that
conclusion. One of the authors responded by providing a weblink to their dataset and
told the scientist that they would respond at a time when they were less busy. Two
months later, another author wrote back to describe why they used the work of Joan
Meier to explain their results. The scientist then repeated the original question, and asked
where, in the dataset provided, the authors coded for whether the claim of abuse was
accurate. The scientist pointed out that the judges (and juries) had more information about
the facts of the case than the researchers—so how could they draw their conclusion?
c. The authors did not respond to the scientist’s question. Conclusions that cannot be
supported by empirical evidence should not be cited by others as fact. In this case, it
is not possible to conclude from this study that mother’s claims of abuse are not being
believed by the court. In fact, there is other data reported in the same study that
indicates the opposite conclusion. Yet, this study’s faulty conclusions are being used
by advocates critical of parental alienation to support laws such as Kayden’s law.
3.5 These two studies illustrate that the “research” used to support the claim that court decisions
are rejecting mothers' allegations of abuse, particularly when there are counterclaims of parental
alienation be a father, are ipso facto wrong. This biased, gendered agenda also acts against women who
are alienated parents, and those who are related to the alienated father and are thereby also affected by the alienation of the child. Yet, Kayden’s law reflects this biased and unscientific opinion.
3.6 The voices of male victims of domestic abuse and parental alienation are rarely included in
the briefings and materials created by these critics. Rather, a “red flag” that the position of these
individuals and groups is biased is that the primary focus of their arguments and the research
presented focus almost exclusively on female victims and male perpetrators of violence. This
position is biased because population based research in many countries demonstrates that there
are not gender differences in male and female domestic violence victimization.
3.7 The underlying theme of the writings of critics is that when fathers claim they are victims of
parental alienation, their claims are all mendacious and are intended as a means of carrying out
further abuse on the mother. But the writings do not even accept the possibility that allegations
by a mother of domestic abuse, or of PA, which may be no less common than allegations by
fathers, may be untrue. There is absolutely no evidence that men are more likely than women to
manipulate the system by making false allegations, or vice-versa, and judicial experience shows
no differences. Courts make their decisions on the basis of the totality of evidence, in the best
interests of the child.
3.8 It is a matter of serious concern that such non-inclusive, unscientific, one-sided writings are
taken by the political and the justice community to be scientifically valid and conclusive
research. It is shameful that the U.S. government accepted such writings as a basis of Kayden’s
law and did not fully consider the vast scientific support for the problem of parental alienation.
The next sections describe parental alienation and it causes in greater detail, so that you are
aware that parental alienation not an unsound or unscientific theory.