Mom Termed ´Parental Alienator´ Wins Rare Vindication In Courts by Troy Anderson
Former San Fernando resident Irene Jensen battled the family court and child protective systems for 13 years to save her daughter from an allegedly abusive father.
But the system turned the tables on her: Jensen found herself accused of making up the allegations and in the glare of the national spotlight when she was labeled a "parental alienator."
Her daughter, Tiffany-Ann Carver, now 17, spent years in the custody of her father, a Hawthorne city employee who denies Jensen's claims.
Tiffany eventually ran away and sought the assistance of the Alliance for Children's Rights, which helped place her in a foster home. Late last year, a Los Angeles judge returned Tiffany to the custody of her mother, court records show.
Experts said Jensen is believed to be the only mother accused of "parental alienation syndrome" who has regained custody of her child before age 18.
"It took half my life away from me," said Jensen, now 51. "I felt like a prisoner of war. I've never had anyone terrorize my daughter, an innocent child, myself and my family the way (my ex-husband) and Los Angeles County did."
Now, Tiffany and her mother said they feel free to tell their story.
"What I've gone through was hell," Tiffany said in a recent interview. "I went there and back again."
Rachel Allen, spokeswoman for the California National Organization for Women, said Tiffany's case illustrates flaws in California's family court system.
"We have hundreds of similar cases reported to us, with the majority of them going on for years and years, costing mothers hundreds of thousands of dollars ... and robbing them of their relationship with their children and their ability to protect their children," Allen said.
But Redondo Beach attorney James Crowell said his client, Richard Edwin Carver Jr., 43, denies ever abusing his daughter.
"I know Irene claims she was the victim, but there were two psychological evaluations done and both of them concluded the child should be with the father and that the mother was a parental alienator," Crowell said.
The controversial parental alienation syndrome, which arose in the family court system in the early 1990s, holds that a parent brainwashes children into believing that the other parent has abused them and makes false allegations to authorities in custody cases.
"All of the processes we went through concluded he did not abuse her," Crowell said. "There were allegations of abuse raised in Utah. But Utah basically rubber-stamped what the mom said and didn't check with anyone (in L.A. County)."
Crowell said Tiffany was happy for years with her father - a softball coach - and ran away because her father wouldn't let her stay out late and go to parties.
"It was a typical father-teenager battle," Crowell said. "(She) did not want to live under the discipline of her father." Carver declined to be interviewed.
But Tiffany said she wasn't happy in her father's home.
"My father would blame the bruises and cuts on me on the sports," Tiffany said, adding that he threatened that if she told anyone about the abuse, he would prevent her from seeing her mother or sister.
"I knew I was going to continue to live my life in misery. I packed up my things one day when I was supposed to go to summer school and fled," she said. "I ran for eight months. I was safe with numerous different people in safe houses. I had to cope with a lot, but I was better off on my own."
Court records show incidents began to occur in June 1993, when Carver was arrested on suspicion of spousal battery. The charges were later dismissed.
The couple filed for divorce and Jensen was granted primary custody of Tiffany. The father was given monitored visitation.
A few months later, after a visit with her father, court records show Tiffany told her mother that her father had physically abused her. Jensen reported the incident to sheriff's officials, who found a "lack of sufficient evidence to prove a crime," according to records.
In March 1994, Jensen took her daughter to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, according to hospital records. At the doctor's office, Tiffany reported that her father had sexually abused her, according to court records.
The medical examination report did not rule out sexual abuse and recommended further investigation.
Three months later, Crowell wrote in court documents that Jensen was alienating her daughter from her father by telling her daughter that he had abused her and by making repeated reports of abuse to child protection and law enforcement officials.
Nearly a year later, Crowell asked the court to give physical custody to Carver, noting that two psychological court evaluators had found Jensen was a parental alienator and would continue to make unfounded allegations against Carver.
Tiffany wrote to the judge, saying that she wanted to live with her mother, and doctors filed reports of suspected child abuse, but a court commissioner granted Carver physical custody of the girl in 1995.
While child protection workers in Utah substantiated Tiffany's allegations of physical and sexual abuse in 1996, during a visit by Tiffany to her mother's home in that state, Los Angeles County child protective and law enforcement officials ruled that more than 100 reports of abuse were unfounded.
Despite efforts by judges and the California Judicial Council to eradicate the use of parental alienation syndrome in custody cases, it's still cited in family courts. Now, however, it's simply described as alienating behavior, experts say.
"Basically, it recast the abuser as the victim," said Syrus Devers, an attorney and former consultant to Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, who sponsored legislation to address problems created by use of the legal tactic.
"To everyone's shock, it was extraordinarily successful in litigation," Devers said. "It all begins with the original finding that the person raising these allegations is for some reason not credible. As it works its waythrough the system over the years, it becomes an invincible opinion that is never reversed."
Many legal experts say the syndrome is merely a theory by psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner, who wrote a book about it before he committed suicide in 2003. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize it as a mental disorder, according to court records.
In 1999, Los Angeles Superior Court Supervising Judge Paul Gutman wrote that the syndrome is "largely considered by authorities as scientifically unsupportable."
David L. Levy, chief executive officer of the Children's Rights Council, an international father's rights organization in Hyattsville, Md., disagreed that the syndrome is not real and said he "tends to believe" Tiffany's story.
"Parental alienation is as bogus as child abuse," Levy said. "They both exist, whether you want to call it a syndrome or not."
Now that she's living with her mother, 9-year-old sister and stepfather in Utah, Tiffany says she is much happier.
"(She) seems to be doing really well now," said Natasha Frost, a staff attorney at the Alliance for Children's Rights. "She seems to be healthy and happy and excelling in school."
Tiffany recently graduated from high school and said she plans to go to college this fall.
"I'm going to be studying criminal justice in college so I can help shape the future. I want to teach other girls and women what I went through and what they can do in situations like mine. I see the day coming when no child is in fear to speak the truth."
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