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Judge who sent kids to youth facility made tough but correct decision

A Michigan judge who sent three children to a juvenile facility for failing to have a relationship with their father — and called the case one of the worst parental alienation scenarios she’d ever seen — came to the right conclusion with respect to the kids’ best interest, says Toronto family lawyer Brian Ludmer.

The siblings spent about two weeks at the facility before being released and sent to summer camp, at the request of the father they rejected, while a custody battle between their parents continues to play out, CBS Detroit reports.

The case made headlines after Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca ordered the children, ages 15, 10 and 9, be sent to Oakland County Children's Village — a juvenile detention, residential treatment and shelter care facility — after they defied her order to have lunch with their dad, says the report.

The children have called their father a “violent man,” but he claims they’ve been influenced by their mother during a lengthy divorce dispute, CBS reports. The court had made strong findings in support of the father’s position.

The couple, who have been contesting these issues in court since 2009, have made dozens of court appearances concerning parenting time, therapy, schooling and other issues — but have never reached a common ground, says the article.

Comparing the degree of conditioning by the mother to “Charlie Manson’s cult,” the judge told the youngest children — after they chose to join their older brother at Children's Village rather than have lunch with their father — that, “One day you can watch this video and realize that you two have been brainwashed… This is not normal behavior. No adult in this courtroom, except one, thinks this is normal. Every single adult in this courtroom thinks you have been brainwashed.”

Ludmer, of LudmerLaw, says the case is typical of many of the parental alienation scenarios he’s seen.

“Judicial directives to families to restructure in a healthy way have been ignored time and time again,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“It is contempt of court to not follow the directives of a court and it is intensely harmful to the children. The judge here wanted to deliver a message directly to the children, and it helps if the children hear directly from a third party saying, ‘Your parents are struggling with restructuring the family after their separation, and I’m here to help. This isn’t mom’s decision, this isn’t dad’s decision, this is my decision. I’ve got no chips in the game — I only have your best interests at heart.’”

While some news outlets reported the kids were sent to jail, igniting a groundswell of support for the mother, Ludmer says it must be remembered that Children's Village is a multi-purpose facility and the three siblings were not sent to the detention area, but to the section for children awaiting foster care placement.

Children are removed from homes immediately by child protection authorities when physical abuse is proven, but there appears to be a concerning reticence on the part of authorities and the courts associated with cases of emotional abuse, says Ludmer.

“Children don’t have the emotional and cognitive maturity to make a decision that they’re going to disown a parent,” says Ludmer. “These are relationships that are meant to last a lifetime. We tell children they can’t drink alcohol until they’re 19; they can’t drive until they complete a whole bunch of testing and thereafter only a zero alcohol limit is acceptable; they have to go to school … a lot of these rules are protecting children from themselves.”

It is well understood, says Ludmer, that a teenager’s brain is not mature until their mid-20s and focuses more on immediate gratification rather than the long-term impact of a decision. Despite their superior physical skills, car insurance rates for young adults under 25 reflect their lack of caution and reduced risk aversion, compared to adults, Ludmer points out.

“When we push away a normative caregiver (i.e. an average parent), someone who wants to contribute to our lives, we’re acting against millions of years of evolution and therefore it’s pathogenic behaviour. There's something wrong, something inauthentic,” he says. “The cross-generational coalition of one parent and child against the other is a very harmful dynamic long-recognized in psychological literature.

“If we teach a teenager they’re above the law, they will not conform at work, in their social life and so on. If you drive your father out of your life, you won’t have a father when you finally develop maturity and insight and need him in your 20s, 30s, 40s and for the rest of your life. This is when, as young adults, they suffer massive guilt and self-loathing,” says Ludmer.

“The difficulty with these cases is the usual recommended remedy — to go off and do unstructured therapy – usually makes it worse rather than better, and fosters delay in the structural remedy required," he says. "Therapy is based on an alliance between the patient and the counsellor, so it’s the wrong tool for these conflicted families, because it then just becomes another forum for the children and favoured parent to justify their rejection of the other parent."

In this case, it’s clear that the judge was forced to step in and assume the role of “ultimate parent,” says Ludmer, in order to make the best decisions for the children.

“The judge had no choice but to say that the court just finished telling you to take the first step and go to lunch with your dad, and you had the nerve to look the court in the eye and say no. That means you’re really being exposed to some major pathology and I must, for your protection, remove you from the source of that pathology. The judge had to show that the court had the authority to force the family to restructure in a healthy fashion.”

The judge’s actions go beyond this particular case, says Ludmer, since “if the court did nothing here, everybody would know there’s no consequence to refusing to comply with a court order.”

Given the circumstances, Ludmer says the correct decision was made, though the major focus of the remedies has to be on the favoured parent, the only one with practical authority over the children.

“We can’t listen to teenagers when what they’re doing is harmful, will have lifetime ramifications, and will send a terrible message to other families,” he says. “The judge here did exactly the right thing."

 

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