Is Ordering People to Have a Relationship Effective?

Posted By Mark Baer || 10-Jul-2015

On June 24, 2015, Lisa Gorcyca, Judge, Oakland County, Michigan family court, ordered "three kids, aged 9, 10 and 15, to Children's Village for civil contempt of court when they refused to talk to their father." You see, the judge had ordered them to have a "healthy relationship with their father" and they refused to even talk to him.

The father stated that "the last five years have not been easy in and out of court through a messy divorce and allegations of parental kidnapping and alienation." In fact, the family was in "court for a hearing on supervised parenting time."

According to the Detroit News, the mother claimed that her ex-husband (the children's father) "threatened her and her children in 2010 and took out a personal protection order, which was rejected." Around that same time, the mother allegedly "screamed he'd hurt her when she came to get the kids during his visitation hours.... The 15-year-old said that he saw his father hit his mother.... Court records indicated that all three children refuse to speak to their father or touch food he'd touched."

Judge Gorcyca said, "every single adult in this courtroom thinks you have been brainwashed.... [She said], "You are so mentally messed up right now and it's not because of your father.... She also told the boy his father had never been charged with any of the offenses he spoke of." She then compared their "mother's actions to the Charles Manson cult" and said "there is no reason why you do not have a relationship with your father."

Regardless of what led up to the children not wanting a relationship with their father, holding them in contempt of court and punishing them by ordering that they be sent to a juvenile detention facility is completely inappropriate and extremely harmful to the children. This hits home a point that I have been raising for a very long time - a court cannot order people to get along with each other. We see this play out all the time, when parents further damage their relationship with each other by litigating their divorce or non-marital parenting "relationship" and are then expected to co-parent well together.

For example, just yesterday, I read an article titled "Parenting Post-Divorce" by Mervyn Braude and Jaburg Wilk, that provides "tips" to help parents to co-parent following a litigated divorce. The article states in pertinent part as follows:

"It is frequently a challenge to co-parent after the conclusion of a divorce proceeding. After all, divorcing parents have often just concluded divorce litigation – replete with allegations of wrong doing – and frequently with difficult financial arguments.

The focus of this article is the children. While frustration, anger, and hurt feelings are often the result of the divorce litigation, the goal is to shield the children from that litigation and minimize the children’s suffering."

The reason that so many articles such as this are published is because co-parenting AFTER a litigated divorce is extremely challenging for parents, to say the least. The answer to that problem is not for a court to order or otherwise expect that they will be able to co-parent under those circumstances or for lawyers to hold similar beliefs. As I keep saying, outcomes are typically determined by the way in which the "game" is designed. If you don't want that outcome, I suggest that you design the "game" differently.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that doing so would require people with emotional intelligence. However, lawyers and judges tend to have low EQ (emotional intelligence) levels. Designing the "game" differently involves conflict intervention (mediation or collaboration), as opposed to conflict escalation (litigation). After all, as Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

"The majority of children want contact with both parents on a regular basis, and the most common preference among children, and among adults looking back on their parents' divorce, is for parenting plans that more evenly balance their time between homes.

Some children, though, do not crave more time with an absent parent. Instead, these children reject one parent, resist contact, or show extreme reluctance to be with the parent. These children are alienated. In some cases, children have good reasons to reject a deficient parent. In other cases, children reject a parent with whom they previously had a good relationship, often paralleling their other parent's negative attitudes. The children's treatment of the rejected parent is disproportionate to that parent's behavior and inconsistent with the prior history of the parent-child relationship. The following section concerns the category of children whose alienation is not reasonably justified by the rejected parent’s behavior."

In this particular case, the judge is convinced that the mother is responsible for the children's rejection of their father. She may be correct; however, punishing the children is not going to undo that damage. Furthermore, if the judge is wrong about the cause and the father damaged his relationship with his children all by himself, the judge's solution won't solve the problem. In other words, the judge just made matters worse, regardless of the cause. After all, it was one or both parents who said and did things that resulted in their children having these "firmly held beliefs." As an aside, I would like to point out how people develop "firmly held beliefs" because the fact that they hold them doesn't mean that they are based on truth -- only that they believe them to be true. Does anyone think that placing people in jail because of their "firmly held religious beliefs" would cause them to disavow those beliefs? If not, what makes anyone think that it would be any different for children and their feelings toward either or both parents?

Regardless, by carefully scrutinizing the situation, it is very possible to determine whether or not the rejection is a result of parental alienation. Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D. is an expert in this area and more information on signs of parental alientation can be found on on his website.

If the judge firmly believed that the mother is responsible for the children's rejection of their father, it would have made much more sense for her to have ordered them to participate in "Family Bridges: A Workshop forTroubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships. Family Bridges is an innovative educational and experiential program that helps severely and unreasonably alienated children and adolescents adjust to living with a parent they claim to hate or fear. An increasing number of independent practitioners in the U. S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa are trained to lead the program. Although alternative interventions exist, which Dr. Warshak is available to discuss with interested parties, Family Bridges is described on this website because, in his opinion, currently it is the program that has the best chance of helping to alleviate severe alienation."

Regardless of my thoughts on this particular case, what occured clearly shows what I have been saying for quite some time. Are you absolutely certain that you want to be judged? What makes you believe that the person judging you and your family is or would be a good parent in their own right? If not, what makes you think that they are in a better position than you to determine what is in your children's best interest? Remember, someone does not have to be a good parent to become a judge. Furthermore, since lawyers and judges tend to have low EQ levels, I seriously question why anyone would want to take parenting advice from them.

I would now like to address the concerns raised by "The Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence." I agree that the children should not be jailed; howver, the children are not necessarily "trying to be safe." Furthermore, emotional abuse can be far more damaging than physical abuse. If the mother was responsible for the children's rejection of their father, who cares if she is "non-violent?" If she has done what the judge believes she has done, she has emotionally abused those children and caused a trendous amount of harm to them that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

As far as Mary Keefe, Executive Director of the MCEDSV's statement is concerned, "parental alienation syndrome" has been debunked, NOT parental alienation and the cause of it.


The take away is "What about mediation?"