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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Demaj v. Sakaj, Slip Copy, 2012 WL 3822015 (D.Conn.) [Federal and State Judicial Remedies] [Evidence of Parental Alienation]


In Demaj v. Sakaj, 2012 WL 3822015 (D.Conn.) respondent moved to exclude any testimony or other evidence relating to "parental alienation syndrome," in that "[d]isclosures by ...Petitioner as to the testimony expected from Dr. Benjamin Garber indicate that he will testify about the concept of parental alienation syndrome."

The District Court observed that under ICARA and the Hague Convention, there was not one published decision that relied to any degree on the "parental alienation syndrome." It concluded that "parental alienation" was not, and will not be, permitted.

The Court pointed out that in Karkkainen v. Kovalchuk, 445 F.2d 280, 288 (3d Cir.2006), the petitioner-mother argued on appeal that the district court had abused its discretion by appointing an expert to evaluate the daughter's "level of maturity [who] lacked sufficient experience in 'parental alienation syndrome.' " The petitioner-mother contended that her daughter's desires to remain permanently in the United States were the result of the respondent-father and his second wife having alienated the child from the petitioner, including referring to her as the child's aunt. The issue of parental alienation was irrelevant because the district court held that the United States was the child's habitual residence.

Similarly, in Haimdas v. Haimdas, 720 F.Supp. 183, 207, n. 17 (E.D.N.Y.), aff'd on other grounds, 401 Fed. Appx. 567 (2d Cir.2010), the district court categorically rejected the report and testimony of the petitioner-mother's expert regarding the children's maturity level and any other matter in controversy giving the report and testimony no weight. The district judge described the expert's opinions regarding the potentially distorting effects of the protracted custody battle, parental alienation and ping-pong lifestyle that A.H. and S.H. have experienced, as well as their notable verbal abilities and overall intelligence, essentially confirmed the obvious. The district court observed, Frankly, short of opining as to a mental or emotional pathology, it is hard to fathom what a child psychologist in a Hague Convention case could opine that is not already within the ken of an ordinary finder of fact.

In Garcia v. Angarita, 440 F.Supp.2d 1364,1368 (S.D . Fla.2006), like here, the court had ordered a psychological evaluation of the child, which report the  petitioner-father introduced into evidence. In this report, the expert opined, in rejecting the respondent-mother's defense of grave risk, that any psychological harm to their son would be reduced by the close relationship the children with his paternal relatives, and the "support system" that the petitioner-father had in Colombia. The Court
observed that: "Significantly, Respondent is in a position to greatly reduce this risk, if  she so chooses, by discontinuing the activities which [the expert] believes have resulted in a degree of parental alienation toward Petitioner, and if Respondent returns with the  children to Colombia." The issue of parental alienation was hardly the central focus of that trial.

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