traffic stats


Jun 012014

frozen-embryosA judge has awarded custody of frozen embryos to a 42-year-old woman over the objections of her ex-boyfriend who said it violates his right to not procreate.

In 2009, Karla Dunston, began dating Jacob Szafranski, a 32-year-old firefighter. A few months into their relationship Dunston was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy that would ultimately destroy her fertility.

She testified that she longed to have a biological child and asked Szafranski to provide his sperm so that embryos could be frozen prior to her treatment, and he did so, despite neither of them thinking the relationship had long-term prospects.

The couple broke up in May 2010. Szafranski said he changed his mind about being a father after friends and a girlfriend reacted negatively, according to court documents.

Judge Sophia Hall said Friday in a written ruling that oral agreements between Szafranski and Dunston concerning use of the embryos stand and added that Dunston’s desire to have a child outweighs Szafranski’s desire to not procreate.

“Karla’s desire to have a biological child in the face of the impossibility of having one without using the embryos outweighs Jacob’s privacy concerns, which are now moot,” the judge said in the ruling, “and his speculative concern that he might not find love with a woman because he unhesitatingly agreed to help give Karla her last opportunity to fulfil her wish to have a biological child.”

Dunston’s lawyer, Abram Moore, applauded the ruling.

“Using these pre-embyros is important to our client, but it is equally important to her to set a precedent in Illinois which helps other women cancer survivors who find themselves in this heart-wrenching situation,” he said in an email.

Szafranski’s lawyer, Brian Schroeder, said they plan to appeal the decision.

“We’re obviously very unhappy,” he said.


Karla Dunston

Schroeder said lawyers for both parties have agreed that the embryos should not be implanted in Dunston until the appeal is completed.

Through a lawyer, Dunston previously has said she was not seeking any support, financial or otherwise, from Szafranski.

It was by both legal teams noted that despite the intentions to the contrary by Dunston, Szafranski would be liable for child support in the event of a birth, and that this financial obligation will be viable and retrospective if at any time Dunston decides to seek financial support from Szafranski.

In 1985, 260 babies were born through assisted reproductive technology; in 2010, the number topped 61,000, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Yet only a few state higher courts have addressed, with mixed results, what to do with frozen embryos once a couple has separated. Legal experts said they would be watching to see how Illinois handles the complex issue.

Read Story

Nov 232013

MORE and more families are taking steps to confirm their children’s parentage. But experts say it doesn’t have to be a negative and nasty experience.

For decades paternity tests have been cast as the bad guys, the marriage-breakers, an all-round negative experience – but now, as they become a more common part of modern life, some experts are extolling the positive side of testing.

It is estimated that in Australia, more than 10,000 people – interestingly, mainly women – sign up each year to find out whether their child is biologically theirs, says Professor Michael Gilding of Melbourne’s Swinburne Institute for Social Research.

While that number seems large, Australia remains a bit slow off the mark in embracing these tests. In the US each year, there are about five times as many paternity tests per head as the population.

But Gilding and other experts believe it is just a matter of time before this type of testing becomes more the norm in Australia, with tests becoming more accessible, affordable and acceptable.

— Getting a test

There are two types of paternity tests available in Australia – legal and non-legal.

A non-legal test is for personal information only and cannot be used for legal issues. It usually involves taking a mouth swab using a kit received in the mail. The swabs are taken from the alleged father and child and are then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Legal tests are required by law to comply with the Australian Family Law Act, so there are strict conditions concerning sample collection and all samples must be tracked from the collection centre to the testing laboratory to be admissible as evidence in court.

— Who wants them?

Men’s rights organisations, such as the Men’s Rights Agency, claim up to 30 per cent of men in Australia are living with a child they mistakenly believe is their biological offspring. In the past, the group has called for mandatory testing of all babies at birth.

Gilding adamantly disputes this figure and says it is probably closer to between one and three per cent.

“To insist everyone has a paternity test because of that [small percentage] where there is paternal discrepancy is overkill,” he says. He adds that most paternity issues arise during a break-up or strained periods in a relationship.

“The main group of people requesting tests are women who have a child outside of marriage and there is a dispute around paternity and supporting parent’s benefit,” Gilding says.

The next-biggest group ordering paternity tests are men with doubts about whether a child they are caring for is biologically theirs – and this has already been shown to have major repercussions for families.

In November 2011 an Australian woman was ordered to pay her former husband almost $13,000 after he arranged a DNA test that confirmed he was not the biological father of the woman’s 14-year-old son.

Andrea Hayward, director of DNA QLD, a specialist paternity testing facility, agrees that the number of men unwittingly raising children who are not biologically theirs has been over-estimated.

“In our experience, 80 per cent of men get paternity confirmed,” Hayward says. “While there are stories of aggrieved fathers who have spent years paying child support for children they then find are not theirs, for a lot of people, testing is a positive experience.

“Someone may have said something that makes a man wonder whether a child is really his. A test can eliminate doubt.”

— Who gives consent?

Another contentious issue is whether both parents should be aware of a test. Gilding believes there are times when the tests can be carried out without the other parent’s consent.

“I think men have a right to the knowledge of their biological paternity. But they shouldn’t be able to do a test without the mother’s knowledge,” he says.

“Tests can be done in anger. But both parents need to think about their relationship to the child. Trying to humiliate the mother may undermine a father’s long-term relationship with that child,” Gilding says.

— Here to stay

Hayward and Gilding believe paternity testing is generally a positive initiative. Plus, there is no going back now.

“Paternity tests are here. The genie is out of the bottle,” Gilding says. “And for the eight out of 10 men who find they are the father, that’s a cause for relief.”

Nov 122013
Federal Circuit Court of Australia

A LITTLE boy will be raised by the “only father he has ever known” after a horrific head-on crash took the life of his mother on a notorious Queensland highway.

The tragedy in 2012 sparked a complex family court row as the “father” and the mother’s family fought for custody of her three children.

In an extraordinary ruling handed down in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the boy’s “psychological father” has secured sole parental rights.

The decision has ended a bitter 18 months of litigation centred on the boy, who is the middle child.

He will grow up alongside his younger half-sister, who is the only biological child of the relationship.

A second boy, who is the eldest child in the family, is staying with his maternal grandmother under an agreement with his biological father.

The maternal grandmother had fostered the mother-of-three since infancy. Judge Michael Baumann’s ruling followed her failed attempts to involve the younger boy’s biological father in the court case.

But perhaps the saddest moment was a fight over a lock of the mother’s hair, her hand-prints taken when she died and her jewellery and photos.

“These children have suffered what, in many ways, is likely to be the hardest loss they will ever experience, the death of a loving and caring mother,” Judge Baumann said.

“Surely all the adults in this situation can take steps to heal these rifts and support these three children, as they deserve to be supported.”

In a rare admission, Judge Baumann lamented the court’s decision to order a family report within a month of the accident, with both families still “engulfed by grief”.

Ainsley Pavey

Read More

Nov 062013

JUDGMENT delays in Australia’s cash-strapped family court system have blown out further as judges move to tackle the rising number of cases involving family violence in Australia.

With the Abbott Government foreshadowing $30 million in cuts to the family courts over the next four years, the outlook remains bleak for those families waiting for an outcome.

According to the latest annual reports on the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court, applications involving family violence have soared to 15 per cent to 403 in the past year.

Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant believes the five per cent jump in applications for final orders involving a family violence notice is due to its definition being widened in last year’s changes to the Family Law Act.

Reports of abuse and violence had been in steady decline in the four years leading up to the reforms.

But new 28-day deadlines for dealing with the matters have had “significant impact” on court resources.

“The requirement of the court to find further efficiencies means that we must continue to look for ways to reduce costs, despite many years of implementing numbers savings initiatives,” Justice Bryant said.

“Considering that the courts have undergone a relentless number of reviews all seeking to identify ways to reduce costs, the reality is that there are very limited reductions to be made without having a serious impact on service delivery, particularly given that more than half of the Family Court’s costs are fixed such as salaries for judicial officers and property expenses.”

A total of $12.2 million in wages was shared among the 30 judges of the Family Court in the last financial year, according to the report.

Justice Bryant said the role of the court was being reduced to a “smaller court which manages all appeals and deals with the most complex famil law cases”.

While the court boasts a high clearance rate for cases, there remains a significant number of cases still awaiting judgment after two years.

Figures showed 11 per cent of litigants still had no judgment after a two-year wait, with 49 per cent of cases waiting for more than three months.

The court met only three out of seven KPIs, failing to deliver on promised final and interim order targets.

A total of 3,067 final orders and 3,419 interim orders were handed down.

The majority of cases settled before final judgment, with 14.6 per cent needed a judgment.

Property disputes were the most common – a total of 52 per cent of all cases requiring a ruling.

Meanwhile, the number of appeals fell 13 per cent to 326, with a slight increase in males (60 per cent) over females (37 per cent) seeking to overturn decisions.

The caseload is in stark contrast to the “workhorse” Federal Circuit Court, which litigated 89,599 cases.

The work was shared between 64 judges, including 23 females and 41 males.

They met two of performance goals, with less than one per cent of matters litigated being subject to complaint (0.19 per cent) and 60 per cent resolved before trial.

But the court fell short of a deadline of six months in 90 per cent of cases being finalised, managing only an 83 per cent completion rate.

A total of 172 complaints were also lodged, including 81 for late judgments.

Oct 052010

courts-treat-fathers-differentlyMEN are being unfairly treated during custody battles according to an Albany father.

The man whose case is still in court cannot be named, but he alleges fathers in the system were being treated like common criminals.

The man said he had been charged with child abuse but felt the allegations were baseless.

He felt the issues were no more than infrequent domestic arguments, and he cannot get help or advice on the matters.

The children in question have been in the care of their mother since December, 2009. He alleges she is a drug addict.

“These children have been taken out of my care without any proof,” he said.

“The matter has gone to the Department of Child Protection (DCP) but as far as I am aware has not gone on to the police.”

When police protectors were contacted, they were unaware of the family in question.

“She (ex-partner) keeps lying to these government departments and putting the children into dangerous situations,” the father said.

“I’ve hit a brick wall and these departments seems to just want to protect her.

“I am a decent parent and the way I’ve been treated is disgraceful.

“No-one is doing their job and if DCP don’t start doing their job they will have blood on their hands.”

Family Law Action Group (FLAG) member Simon Hunt said fathers were often removed from their children’s lives on an interim basis.

“Their only prospect is to convince a biased court (and biased practitioners) that the situation should change and their role restored, which is ridiculously difficult,” he said.

“The notion of shared parenting after divorce is seen as radical and only possible in rare circumstances where both parents get on very well.

“The Family Court actually cite ‘conflict’ as the reason why one parent – usually the father – must be excluded from their children.”

Mr Hunt said child custody litigation was about winners and losers with very few mothers able to cope with the idea of being excluded from their children’s lives.

The DCP would not make comment on the case but denied men were being unfairly discriminated against in cases of alleged domestic violence and custody battles.

“The department observes a stringent non-discrimination policy to provide fairness and equity to all Western Australian families and ensures that these people who need direct assistance have an opportunity to receive that assistance,” a spokesperson said.

“The department conducts rigorous interviews and risk assessments to determine the best accommodation and care option for children.

“In some instances the child will be placed in care outside of the immediate or extended family.”

DCP said various services were available through government and non-government agencies including Anglicare, Regional Counselling and Mentoring Services.

“There are also a number of group counselling sessions including Changing Tracks for male domestic violence perpetrators, post-separation services and substance abuse counselling provided primarily by not-for-profit organisations,” the spokesperson said.

“In the Albany area, men are able to access individual counselling through a number of local private practitioners.”


Apr 012010

With the increasing commonality of divorce involving children, a pattern of abnormal behavior has emerged that has received little attention.  The present paper defines the Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.  Specific nosologic criteria are provided with abundant clinical examples. Given the lack of scientific data available on the disorder, issues of classification, etiology, treatment, and prevention appear ripe for investigation.


A divorced man gains custody of his children and his ex-wife burns down his home.  A woman in a custody battle buys a cat for her offspring because her divorcing husband is highly allergic to cats.  A mother forces her children to sleep in a car to “prove” their father has bankrupted them. The actions illustrate a pattern of abnormal behavior that has emerged as the divorce rate involving children has grown.

Today, half of all marriages will end in divorce (Beal and Hochman, 1991).  The number of children involved in divorce has grown dramatically (e.g., Hetherington and Arastah, 1988) as well.   While the majority of such cases are “settled” from a legal perspective, outside the courtroom the battle continues.

The media have spent considerable effort raising public awareness about the problem posed by divorced fathers who do not provide court-ordered child support payments.  Hodges (1991) has noted that less than 20 percent of divorced fathers provide child support payments three years after their divorce.  Research on the decline of women’s economic status following (e.g., Hernandez, 1988; Laosa, 1988) has contributed to recent legislation to address the “Deadbeat Dad” problem.

While the media correctly portray the difficulties imposed upon women and children by the “Deadbeat Dad” phenomenon, the cameras have yet to capture the warfare waged by a select group of mothers against child support paying, law-abiding fathers.  Everyday, attorneys and therapists are exposed to horror stories in which vicious behaviors are lodged against innocent fathers and children.  Unfortunately, there are no scientific data on the subject.  Similarly, the clinical literature has relatively ignored the problem..

A noted exception can be found in the clinical writings of Gardner (1987, 1989)  who has provided excellent descriptions of the Parental Alienation Syndrome.  Here, a custodial parent successfully engages in a variety of maneuvers to alienate the child from the non-residential parent.  Once successfully manipulated, the child becomes “…preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated” (Gardner, 1989 p. 226).  In the typical case of Parental Alienation Syndrome, both mother and child engage in an array of abnormal actions against the father.  Gardner views “brainwashing” as a concept “too narrow” (Gardner, 1989) to capture the psychological manipulation involved in turning a child against his/her non-residential parent.

While Gardner’s pioneering descriptions of the Parental Alienation Syndrome provide an important contribution to our understanding of divorce-related child-involved hostilities, the present paper is concerned with a more global abnormality.  As noted in the examples provided in the beginning of this manuscript, serious attacks on divorcing husbands take place which are beyond merely manipulating the children.  Further, these actions include a willingness by some mothers to violate societal law.  Finally, there are mothers who persistently engage in malicious behaviors designed to alienate their offspring from the father, despite being unable to successfully cause alienation.   In sum, these cases do not meet the criteria for Parental Alienation Syndrome.  Nevertheless, they portray a serious abnormality.

The purpose of the present paper is to define and illustrate this more global abnormality with the hope of generating increased scientific and clinical investigation of this problem.


The present section provides a beginning definition of the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, which has been derived from clinical and legal cases.  As in all initial proposals, it is anticipated that future research will lead to greater refinement in the taxonomic criteria.

The proposed definition encompasses four major criteria, as follows:

1. A mother who unjustifiably punishes her divorcing or divorced husband by:
a.  Attempting to alienate their mutual children from the father
b.  Involving others in malicious actions against the father
c.  Engaging in excessive litigation

2. The mother specifically attempts to deny her child (ren)
a.  Regular uninterrupted visitation with the father
b.  Uninhibited telephone access to the father
c.  Paternal participation in the child(ren)’s school life and extracurricular activities

3. The pattern is pervasive and includes malicious acts towards the husband including:
a.  Lying to the children
b.  Lying to others
c.  Violations of law

4. The disorder is not specifically due to another mental disorder, although a  separate mental disorder may co-exist.


In this section, I will provide clinical illustrations for each criterion using the reference numbers provided above.  As criteria 1-3 are behavior specific to the Malicious Mother Syndrome, I will provide a series of clinical examples.  The fourth criterion which addresses the relationship of the proposed syndrome to other mental disorders, will be discussed more generally.

    Criterion 1A:  Alienating the Children

The range of actions taken by a mother to attempt to alienate her children from their father is impressive.  For example:

One mother lied to her children that she could no longer buy food because their father had spent
all of their money on women in topless bars.

A doctor’s wife forced her 10-year-old son to apply for federally funded free school lunches to
delude the boy that his “daddy has made us poor.”

A woman who for years was very close to the children in a custody battle, was asked by their mother to give up neutrality and join her campaign against the father to “dance on his grave.”
When the friend refused to give up her neutrality, the mother falsely informed her children that their father was having an affair with this woman.

These behaviors, if successful, could lead a child to not only hate the father, but perhaps go years without seeing him.  As Cartwright (1993) has noted: “The goal of the alienator is crystalline: to deprive the lost parent, not only of the child’s time, but of the time of childhood.” (p.210).

    Criterion 1B:  Involving Others in Malicious Actions

The second component of the first major criterion where the mother attempts to punish the husband, involves manipulating other individuals to engage in malicious acts against the father.  Examples of this kind are as follows:

During a custody battle, a mother lied to a therapist about the father’s behavior.  The therapist,
having never spoken with the father, appeared as an “expert” witness to inform the Judge
that the mother should be the primary residential parent and that the father needed to be in

One angry mother manipulated teenagers to leave anonymous threatening notes at the ex-
husband’s home.

A mother who had lost legal custody of her children, manipulated a secretary at the child’s
school to assist in kidnapping the child.

In the above examples, it is important to note that the person manipulated by the angry mother has, in a way, been “alienated” against the divorcing husband.  Typically, the individual “duped” takes on a righteous indignation, contributing to a rewarding climate for the mother initiating malicious actions.

    Criterion 1C:  Excessive Litigation

There is little question that either party in a divorce or custody proceeding is entitled to appropriate legal representation and action.

Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, however, attempt to punish the divorcing husband by engaging in excessive litigation.

A belligerent and unreasonable mother verbally attacked her ex-husband whenever she saw him.  Over time, his response was to ignore her.  She then took him to court, asking the judge to require the ex-husband to talk with her.

One mother told a judge that her daughter was not really her divorcing husband’s child

One woman refused to stop attacking her ex-husband through the courts, despite numerous attorneys being fired or voluntarily leaving the case.  Over a three-year period, seven different attorneys were utilized.

Data exist which can help in determining the range of excessive litigation.   For example, Koel et al. (1988) report on the frequency of post-divorce litigation in a sample of 700 families.  Their data indicate that only 12.7% of families file one post-divorce petition to the court, whereas less than 5 percent file two or more petitions (Koel et al. 1988); less than one percent file four or more petitions.

    Criterion 2A: Denying Regular Visitation

Experts are in relative agreement that regular and uninterrupted visitation with the non-residential parent is desirable and beneficial for children, except in extreme circumstances (Hodges, 1991).  In fact, some states, such as Florida, have laws written to reflect this view (Keane, 1990).  Unfortunately, even when the father and children have legal rights to visitation, individuals with Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome continue to interfere with it.

A mother who previously attacked her ex-husband physically during visitation transfers of the children, refused to provide the children when the ex-husband had the police attend to monitor exchanges.

When one divorced father arrived to pick up his children for visitation, the mother arranged for her and the children to be elsewhere so that the father could not visit with the children.

One mother had her physically intimidating boyfriend assault her ex-husband when he came to pick up his children for visitation.

The President of the Council for Children’s Rights (Washington, D.C.) notes that such alienation is considered a form of child abuse (Levy, 1992).  Unfortunately, the police typically avoid involving themselves in such situations.  Furthermore, unless a victimized father is financially capable of returning to court on an ongoing basis, there is little that can be done to prevent such mothers’ behavior.  Finally, even when such cases are brought to trial, the courts are often inadequate in supporting fathers’ visitation rights. (Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992).

Given the physical absence of one parent, the telephone plays an important role in maintaining the bond between child and non-residential parent.  Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome engage in an array of actions designed to circumvent telephone access.

A father called to speak to his children and was told that they were not at home when, in fact, he could hear their voices in the background.

When one father called to speak with his children, the mother put him on “hold,” informed no one, and then left him on hold.

Knowing that the children’s father was away on vacation, one mother encouraged them to leave several messages on his answering machine to call back immediately only if he would like some additional visitation time with his children.

Some fathers find the alienation attempts so painful and fruitless that they eventually are extinguished from calling their children; they simply “give up.”  Placed in a no-win scenario, the father’s “abandonment” (Hodges, 1991) unfortunately achieves the precise result aimed for by the individual suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.

    Criterion 2C: Denying Participation in Extra-Curricular Activities

An integral part of the process of maintaining one’s bond with one’s child is to participate in activities that one did before the parents separated.  School plays, team sports, and religious events are just osme of the type of activities of importance.  Malicious Mothers frequently engage in maneuvers designed to prevent participation in these activities.

One father was deliberately given the wrong date and time for an important event for the child.  The child was asked by the mother, “I wonder why your father didn’t want to come to see you today”?

One mother refused to provide the father with any  information about any extra-curricular activities in which the children were engaged.

Prior to a child’s soccer game, one mother told many of the team parents disparaging falsehoods about the visiting father.  When he came to watch his son’s soccer game, many of these parents looked at him with angry eyes, refused to talk with him, and walked away when he moved toward them.

Malicious Mothers who engage in such behaviors rarely have to face penalties for such actions.  Judges, attorneys, and policemen cannot involve themselves in every instance of blocked paternal access.  Furthermore, most fathers cannot afford the financial requirements involved.  As such, the cycle of access interference perpetuates itself.

    Criterion 3A: Malicious Lying to the Children

Given their developmental status, children in a disputed divorce situation are quite vulnerable.  When one parent decides to attack the other by lying to the children,  examples of this type of malicious behavior may include some of the following:

One divorcing mother told her very young daughter that father was “not really” her father, even though he was.

An eight-year-old girl was forced by her mother to hand unpaid bills to her father when he visited because the mother had falsely told the daughter that the father had not provided any economic means of support to the family.

One mother falsely told her children that their father had repeatedly beat her up in the past.

These examples of malicious lying can be contrasted with the more subtle maneuvers typically seen in Parental Alienation Syndrome, such as “virtual allegations” (Cartwright, 1993).  Here, the mother setting up a Parental Alienation Syndrome may hint that abuse may have occurred, whereas the individual suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome falsely claims that abuse has actually occurred.

    Criterion 3B: Malicious Lying to Others

Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome may engage a wide range of other individuals in their attacks upon the ex-husband.  However, with this particular criterion, the individual with Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome specifically lies to other individuals in the belligerency against the father.  Some examples include the following:

One furious mother called the president of the (1500 employee) workplace of her divorcing husband, claiming falsely that he was using business property for person gain and was abusing their mutual children at his work locale.

One woman falsely told state officials that her ex-husband was sexually abusing their daughter.  The child was immediately taken away from him and his access to her was denied.

During the course of a custody dispute, one mother falsely informed the guardian, who was investigating the parenting skills of each parent, that the father had physically abused her.

Snyder (1986) has reported on the difficulty imposed upon legal authorities when confronted with someone who is an excellent liar.  Consistent with research on the inability of “specialists” to detect lying (Ekman and O’Sullivan, 1991), a skilled fabricator can be a compelling witness in the courtroom (Snyder, 1986).  While sometimes seen in borderline personalities, Snyder (1986) notes that pathological lying (Pseudologia Fantastica) is not restricted to that particular character disorder.

    Criterion 3C: Violating Law to Attack the Husband

Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, have few, if any boundaries in their campaign against the divorcing husband.  Violations of law are common in many cases, although the laws broken may be relatively minor.  However, in some cases, the violations of law may be quite serious.

One woman deliberately drove her automobile into the house of the ex-husband where their mutual children resided.

In the midst of a custody battle, one woman broke into the residence of her divorcing husband and stole important business papers.

An angry divorcing mother called a Christian evangelical television station and pledged $1,000, giving the name, address and phone number of her divorcing Jewish husband as the pledgee.

The above descriptions may remind the reader of certain personality disorders (e.g., antisocial, borderline, sadistic) but these behaviors may be demonstrated by individuals with Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome who do not appear to meet official diagnostic criteria for an Axis II disorder.  Further, in each  of the four examples provided above, none of the Malicious Mothers involved was sentenced for such behavior by a Judge.

    Criterion 4:  Not Due to Another Disorder

In assessing the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, it is important to note that many of the above clinical examples seem to have occurred in individuals who had no prior mental disorder diagnosis or treatment.  In fact, one mother who engaged in extreme maliciousness toward her divorcing husband had several mental health professionals testify that she was not suffering from any type of mental disorder.

In the author’s experience, for each mental disorder that might come to mind to account for some of this behavior, an exceptional case presents.  For example, in some cases, an Adjustment Disorder might seem an appropriate diagnosis, yet one woman still denied her ex-husband visitation 10 years after the divorce.  Other cases might suggest a possibility of a personality disorder diagnosis, yet one woman who repeatedly violated the law in attacking her ex-husband, received no personality disorder diagnosis despite being evaluated by masters level and doctoral level examiners.  In some instances, Intermittent Explosive Disorder might be considered, yet the anger for many of the mothers does not appear to be intermittent.

Finally, the reader should appreciate that while diagnostic accuracy for certain psychiatric difficulties is not as good as one would like (e.g., the personality disorders, see Turkat, 1990), the problem is compounded in family law where incompetent mental health examiners sometimes become involved in the judicial process (Turk, 1993).   Clearly, the relationship between Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome and other mental disorders is a complex one which requires significant investigation.


The above description of the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome raises a variety of important  clinical, legal and scientific issues.

From a clinical perspective, families that involve a Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome are subject to serious episodes of stress and distress.  Yet, there is no scientific evidence on how to treat this phenomenon.  It is particularly compromised by the fact that many of these cases that appear to meet the proposed diagnostic criteria deny that there is anything wrong with them.

An additional difficulty is that many therapists are unaware of this pattern of malicious behavior (Heinz and Heinz, 1993).  As such, there are malicious therapists who are “fooled” by such cases and, as noted earlier, will come to court testifying that there is nothing wrong with the mother involved.

From a legal perspective, there are some attorneys who may unintentionally encourage this type of behavior (Gardner, 1989).  On the other hand, there are some attorneys who deliberately encourage such behavior as the financial rewards for them are time dependent.  In other words, the more involved the litigation process, the greater the profits for the attorney.  (Grotman and Thomas, 1990).  However, even for the subset of attorneys for whom this may be true, there is a point of diminishing returns.  Furthermore, independent of economic considerations, many who become involved with family law courtrooms find that these types of cases are not handled well (Greif, 1985; Levy, 1992).

The woman who is not disturbed “enough” to lose custody of her children in the courtroom will not have money denied to her because she engages in this behavior; nor will she go to jail.  Thus, many clients report significant frustration when they and their children are exposed to this type of behavior, and the courts seem to do little.

In a review of  pertinent law literature on bias against men in family law proceedings, Tillitski  (1992) concluded that there is widespread discrimination.  This is well illustrated by one family law Judge’s statement that, “I ain’t never seen the calves follow the bulls, they always follow the cow; therefore, I always give custody to the mamas.” (Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992, p. 741).  Similarly, it is noted that visitation rights of fathers are not enforced as rigidly as are child support orders (Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992.)  Such bias against men in family law proceedings results in a unique group of fathers who unintentionally become relatively helpless victims of the system (Tillitski, 1992).  This situation would seem to reinforce much of the vicious behavior displayed by women suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.

The issue of sex distribution of the disorder certainly needs to be addressed.  The overwhelming majority of custodial parents are female (Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992).  Gardner (1989) has noted that Parental Alienation Syndrome appears most commonly in females, although it is possible for a male who has custody of the children to engage in the same type of alienating behaviors.  The author’s experience with Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome is similar to Gardner’s.  However, the present writer has yet to see a case of a father engaging in all of the criteria listed.  This does not mean that it is not possible for there to be a “Malicious Father” Syndrome.  In fact, Shephard (1992) reports that there is significant abuse of some custodial mothers by non-residential fathers.  On the other hand, it should be noted that there are females who are required to pay child support, but we have yet to hear about “Deadbeat Moms.”  Given at the present time that a case in which the father met all of the criteria for Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome has yet to be documented, it appears advisable to await scientific evidence to guide issues of nosologic labeling.

How prevalent is the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome?  The answer is unknown.  Gardner (1989) reports that approximately 90 percent of all custody battles involve some aspects of parental alienation.  Further, Kressel  (1985) reviewed data indicating that up to 40 percent of maternal custodians denied visitation to the ex-husband in order to punish him.  Relatedly,  Arditti (1992) reported that 50 percent of a sample of divorce fathers (N=125) indicated that visitation was interfered with by the mother.  While aspects of parental alienation may be common, it is highly unlikely that such a percentage of maternal custodians would meet all of the criteria for Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.

In regard to incidence, it would appear through the title of this syndrome that the malicious behavior is precipitated by the divorce process.  However, this is clearly an empirical question.  While the malicious actions may first be noted during a divorce process, it is possible that maliciousness may have been present earlier but undetected.  Research on pre-divorce parental conflict (Enos and Handal, 986) supports this speculation.  Relatedly, it may also be that there are some cases of pre-existing mental disorder that have not been discovered until the stress of the divorce itself unfolds.

Finally, it should be noted that research on the nature of post-divorce family functioning is beginning to emerge.  Some data exist on the role of parental conflict in children’s post divorce functioning  (e.g. Frost and Pakiz, 1990; Furstenberg et al., 1987; Healy, Malley and Steward, 1990; Kudek, 1988), but studies have yet to appear on the more extreme cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome and Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.

The Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome represents an important societal phenomenon.  The disorder affects children, parents, attorneys, judges, guardians, mental health professionals and others.  Until this phenomenon is explored more thoroughly in the scientific and clinical literature, the problems imposed by individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome will continue to plague us.  Hopefully, the present manuscript will stimulate research so that clinical and legal management guidelines can be developed.

Posted by Ira Daniel Turket, PhD

Mar 072010


AN EXPLOSION in online romances is making the toughest Family Court issue even tougher, with more divorcees than ever wanting to move their children interstate or overseas to be with a new partner.

March 7, 2010

A world-first study of 80 parents involved in relocation disputes shows online dating is having a devastating impact on already-broken homes, putting an average distance of 1646 kilometres between children and the parent left behind.

Parents are being bankrupted, selling their homes, losing contact with their children or travelling long distances only to have visitation rights denied.

The average legal cost for settled divorces is $50,000, and $75,000 for court cases.

Results of the study suggest some parents are not upfront about new relationships when they go to court asking to relocate their children.

University of Sydney researchers have been following 40 men and 40 women involved in 71 relocation cases since 2006. They say the growth of internet romances is combining with a rise in broken relationships, increases in international mobility and the tyranny of distances in Australia to make relocation a more vexed issue than ever.

”Internet-based introduction services have radically increased the opportunities for separated parents to meet new people, and the connections thus formed are supported by very cheap modes of communication such as email, internet ‘chat’ programs, and web-based telephone or video communication,” Professor Patrick Parkinson, Associate Professor Judy Cashmore and Judi Single wrote in an article for US journal Family Law Quarterly.

While less than a quarter of women surveyed said they wanted to move due to a new relationship, about a third of men believed it was a factor in their ex-partner’s decision. ”The fathers’ accounts indicated the possibility that in certain cases the existence of a new partner might not have been disclosed to the court,” the authors wrote.

The legal costs of relocating often reached hundreds of thousands of dollars and the costs of maintaining contact with children were as much as $15,000 a year.

This led the authors to urge lawyers and judges to test if the moves were realistic before encouraging them.

Relocation disputes are ”the San Andreas fault of family law”, according to former Family Court judge Richard Chisholm. They are the most difficult decisions judges must make.

The disputes end in expensive court cases more than any other family law matter, with 59 per cent decided by a judge (four times the general rate). And it is almost always the mother who wants to move, making gender a major issue in the debate.

A High Court decision last week swung the pendulum slightly back in favour of parents wanting to relocate.

In a high-profile case code-named ”Rosa v Rosa”, a mother had been forced to remain in a Queensland caravan park, depressed and living on welfare payments, after she moved there from Sydney for her husband’s mining career and they separated. The High Court said the decision was wrong and ordered a fresh hearing.

Judges will have to ask whether an arrangement is ”practicable” before they can make orders for equal time in future.

About 23,000 divorces, half involving children, are granted in Australia each year.