The Harman & Lorandos Study: Exposing misleading information in ideological narratives of alienation

The project to separate out, the needs of children, from the rights of their mothers and fathers, is important. Throughout many decades, the project to convince the outside world that children do not need fathers or that mothers whose children reject them must have done something very wrong indeed, has been ongoing. The picture of a parental rights fight as the dominant discourse, has been a useful way of obfuscating what is happening to alienated children.

Alienation of children from their own sense of self and the parental care that is theirs by right, is the child protection issue we are working with and keeping that at the forefront of our mind is key to everything we do.

The Research

For anyone who works with court mandated treatment of families affected by alienation, evidence based working is essential. Those of us who are concerned with helping families, read research evidence to inform ourselves and develop our practice. If we are to be fully informed, we read all of the research which relates to this field.

It was therefore necessary for anyone working in this space, to read and seek to understand the study by Joan Meier, which was published in 2019.

In a presentation to the National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference in 2018, Joan Meier stated that –

After years of challenging the concept in litigation, trainings, and scholarship, it became clear we need national, objective data to show (or refute) that (i)courts are eexcessively reluctant to believe mother’s abuse claims, resulting in widespread losses of custody to likely abusers.

(ii)alienation theory is used in a gender biased manner to facilitate the denial or minimization of abuse.

**This phenomenon is global and generating growing concern in Canada and the UK.

Joan Meier 2018

KEY FINDINGS FROM THE MEIER STUDY

  • Courts are far less likely to credit child abuse claims than partner violence (DV).
  • Mothers’ reports of Fathers’ abuse in custody litigation are credited less than half the time.
  • When Fathers use the alienation defense, courts credit abuse – especially child abuse – far less.
  • Child abuse allegations and alienation defenses put Mothers at highest risk of losing custody
  • Reduces likelihood of abuse being believed by a factor of 2
  • Reduces likelihood of child abuse being believed by a factor of almost 4 (3.9
  • When Fathers cross-claimed alienation, they were almost 3 (2.9) times more likely to take custody from mothers alleging any kind of abuse

The findings were summarised by Joan Meier in her presentation to the NCFR Annual conference as follows –

These data confirm the widespread complaints about family courts’ rejections of abuse concerns, potentially putting children at risk.

They also confirm that alienation claims are effective in negating abuse concerns

Joan Meier 2018

This study, which makes strong claims about how the Courts are influenced into making decisions, by practitioners who work with the concept of alienation, has had widespread influence around the world, including in the UK. In February 2020, Joan Meier was a guest at a workshop held at Brunel University which was led by Adrienne Barnett, author of a report published in January 2020 entitled ‘A Genealogy of Hostility: Parental Alienation in England and Wales

Meier’s study is referred to as ‘ground breaking’ on the website for this workshop.

Cognitive Distortions

The Meier study was confusing to read, because as a clinician working in this space, it does not correlate with my experience of how courts make decisions about the care of children. For example, in my experience –

  1. fathers claiming alienation must demonstrate significant evidence in the court process in order to achieve the establishment of alienation as a possibility in their case.
  2. mothers claiming alienation, must do the same and in many cases of mother alienation, the practitioner belief that a child is rejecting because of something a mother has actually done is very strong. This gendered bias, which in my experience is sometimes in play in the family court system, is that if a child is rejecting a mother, it must be because she has done something very very wrong, (because children hardly ever reject a mother). This creates a higher bar for mothers to have alienation recognised.

The Meier study was undertaken in the USA. Academics in the UK however, used her findings to support claims made about the UK Family Courts. In Adrienne Barnett’s (2020) paper (see above), the same focus was applied to the discourse within, promoting the idea that alienation is something which is used by hostile fathers towards protective mothers. Barnett claims that the Courts take a widespread ‘hostile mother’ approach.

New Research Which Challenges The Meier et al (2019) Study

The Meier Study has been used around the world to embed information into public consciousness,

The Meier Study however, is now challenged by the outcomes of new research which replicated the Meier Study in order to test the claims being made.

Allegations of Family Violence in Court: How Parental Alienation Affects Judicial Outcomes

Co-authored by Jennifer J. Harman, PhD Colorado State University and Demosthenes Lorandos, PhD, JD PsychLaw.net.

To be published shortly in Psychology, Public Policy and Law

The abstract states (reproduced with permission from the authors)

We tested a set of findings reported by Meier (2019) related to the use of parental alienation (PA) as a legal defense in cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. A total of 967 appellate reports in which PA was found or alleged were sequentially selected from a legal database search. Nineteen research assistants blind to the study’s hypotheses coded the reports for the variables used to test six pre-registered hypotheses using a series of logistic and linear regression models. We failed to find any support for the conclusions made by Meier (2019).

Harman and Lorandos (2020)

The abstract gives some startling information in terms of Meier’s claims, amongst many of which are, that the family courts take child abuse allegations less seriously, when parental alienation is alleged by fathers.

The abstract goes on to say –

Results indicate that the majority of courts carefully weigh allegations of all forms of family violence in their determinations about the best interests of children. These findings, along with several others, raise concerns that the methodological, analytical, and statistical problems we detail about Meier’s report (2019) make her conclusions untrustworthy. Discussion focuses on the importance of using open science practices for transparent and rigorous empirical testing of hypotheses and the dangers of misusing scientific findings to mislead influential professionals who affect the well-being of millions of families.

Harman and Lorandos (2020)
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE HARMAN & LORANDOS STUDY
  • Harman and Lorandos identified at least 30 conceptual and methodological problems with the design and analyses of the Meier Study. The severity of this raises the concern that the study is being used as a ‘woozle.’ (P.2) The concern is raised that there is potential for misleading a naive scientific audience. (P.3)
  • An example is given of such a statement which is that the concept of parental alienation, ‘ was created specifically as a rationale for rejecting child sexual abuse claims.’ This is said to be repeated throughout the Meier study. The repetitive nature of this statement and Meier’s claims that the study provdes ‘evidence’ for this, was the motivating factor for the Harman & Lorandos Study.
  • Harman & Lorandos criticise the Meier report for its claims that Guardians ad Litem (GALS) and evaluators were not likely to credit mothers abuse claims and need to be educated about the use of PA claims when child abuse is alleged by mothers. Harman & Lorandos argue that ‘this implies that all claims of abuse made by mothers should be taken at face value and fails to acknowledge that these third parties have had access to considerably more information than what is provided in the judicial reports the research team reviewed.’ (P.5).
  • Further criticism of the Meier report is found in the use of embolding words to persuade the reader to believe that the findings were statistically significant when they were not, and making the reader believe there is a consensus on a topic when there is not.

Reconstruction of the Meier Study

Harman & Lorandos reconstructed the Meier study and give a lot of detail about the work they put into doing so. They also highlight the difficulties they encountered when trying to obtain information about how the original study was constructed.

In January 2020 the hypothoses were pre-registered by the Harman & Lorandos team in order to minimise potential for their own ideological biases. A team of nineteen research assistants who were blind to the study’s hypothoses, coded 967 appelate reports for the variables used to test the pre-registered hypothoses.

Results

The results of this study are startling and the conclusions are serious. From the authors themselves on page 36 of their report –

In conclusion and after transparently and rigorously testing six pre-registered hypothoses, our results soundly disconfirmed nearly all of the findings we tested from Meier et al’ (2019) report or discovered the findings to be in the opposite direction claimed by the authors. We identified 30 very concerning conceptual, methodological and statistical issues with Meier et al’s (2019) study and when asked to provide us with appendices and statistical output to evaluate her conclusions, she refused to provide them, questioned the inquirer about who they worked for and what types of clients they represented (mothers or fathers) and referred them to a national archive for the material, where such material was still not available at the time of writing. This response raises concerns about the validity of Meier et al’s (2019) data and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

Harman & Lorandos (2020)

The report into this study is lengthy and complex. It gives significant detail about how these authors have diligently reconstructed the Meier et al study, to show the unreliability of the findings from it, which are currently being used around the world, not only to attack the concept of alienation of children in divorce and separation, but to also attack those who work in this field.

Hiding the Child

The strongest feeling I am left with after reading this report, is a deep concern about the way in which the Meier study has been used in an attempt to shift the narrative away from the plight of the alienated child. This has been achieved by persuading people to believe that parental alienation is only about abusive men using the issue to control protective mothers. The Harman & Lorandos study, which thoroughly debunks that claim and others of a similar nature, puts some serious questions on the table about the credibility of the Meier et al (2019) study.

Alienation of children is a serious mental health concern, it is a problem which has been clearly identified and articulated over the past decade in particular and it has begun to be properly addressed as the child protection issue it truly is. The concept of alienation of children and the harm that this causes, is now well recognised in the UK family courts, where case law sets out how this should be managed.

The Harman & Lorandos study makes transparent, the risks being taken in hiding the alienated child, by all those who accept the Meier et al (2019) research without question.

Alienated children right around the world need protection and this study helps to place their needs back where they belong, at the forefront of our collective consciousness.

14 comments

  1. I was deeply disturbed by the lack of correct analytics in the Meier current and previous work. That it follows marxist feminist ideology is very concerning, but worse, this ideology spreads unquestioningly like wildfire throughout the practitioners of child protection.
    We need a global consensus with absolute truth at the core. Is this difficult ? because it has been for 30 years or more.

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  2. As I was reading this, the lyrics to the song by “Moving Pictures” came to mind: What About Me?

    …well, there’s a little boy waitin’ at the counter of a corner shop..

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  3. I was thinking about how much damage the gender wars are doing in obscuring parental alienation. Family as an entity seems to be losing out in favour of a battle between the sexes, the power of women versus the power of men. We need to hear far more about the importance of the family and how it builds a healthy society.

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  4. The only way to stop all of the abuses – PA, DV , IPV etc – is to see all of these things in a much bigger picture. Especially the interconnecting causes and consequences.
    Too much of nearly all arguments are built on sand at best, and malevolence and poison at the worst
    .
    I am creating a framework for this which I call Medusa …
    .
    http://www.moralpropositions.com/_Medusa/index.html

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  5. Thanks Karen for summarizing how the scrutiny of Harman and Lorandos debunked the claims unscrupulously put forward by Meier, and paraded with bigoted jingoistic fanfare by the likes of Adrienne Barnett. Thanks too for including the links. I know you seek the credibility of a doctorate in psychology, and I can understand why. However, in my view your forte is in having grasped the doctrinaire family court stance far more comprehensibly than most psychologists are ever likely to.

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    1. Jen Harman and Demos Lorandos have done the singularly most important piece of research in this field in recent years Richard. I am incredibly glad that it has been done because it resets the course towards full recognition and treatment of this problem. I am indeed on my way to a doctorate, simply because I want to be able to translate clinical practice into research to make contributions to the field which will bring more practitioners to do this work. The more practitioners who come, the faster the issue will be routinely recognised as treatable and the faster we get to that, the faster we get to making it a preventable issue because it will not be allowed to happen because courts will know how to deal with it properly. K

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    1. Dear Joan, thank you for your initial refutation of the Harman and Lorandos report, which I have just now read.

      What you seem to be saying is that Harman and Lorandos haven’t replicated your study because they didn’t have access to the structure of your study. My reading of their report is that they fully explain this point and how they went about reconstructing the study anyway. I think what you are trying to say here is that it is like comparing apples and oranges and yet the methodological process set out in the Harman and Lorandos report is fully explained and understandable and in terms of how it replicated what your study did, it is open and transparent and testable, as all scientific work should be.

      You also seem to be saying that the outcome of your study is the same as the outcome of the Harman and Lorandos study – that parents lose their children when there are claims of alienation made. This is not my understanding of either your study or the Harman and Lorandos Study.

      What your study appears to say, is that alienation of a chid is not a real thing, it is something used by abusive fathers to win custody of children from protective mothers.

      What the Harman and Lorandos study appears to say, is that where alienation is shown to be in play in the family courts, children are being removed from the alienating (abusive) parent’s care and placed with the healthier parent.

      In my experience, alienated children are moved from unhealthy parents who cause them harm, to healthier parents who can provide better care for them. In the UK this is after fact finding and a decision which is made by the Judge. It is often the case that alienated children are moved from fathers to mothers as well as from mothers to fathers.

      As someone who works with alienated children and their families, I and many others, have suffered a significant amount of personal and professional stalking and harassment, from campaigners who use the claims made in your study, to justify their behaviour. That those claims have been thoroughly debunked by the Harman and Lorandos study, is therefore of interest to me.

      I will however, be pleased to read your rebuttal, should it be published, because as you say, I believe in good science and open and transparent debate and I do not wish to enter into that same kind of behaviour, seen in those who campaign using your claims.

      Kind Regards

      Karen Woodall

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    2. Thank you Joan Meier for the important work that you do. It is a shame that people like Harmon attempt to discredit you. The term alienation is used by abusers to distract from real abuse. We believe you, Joan.

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      1. Jennifer Harman and Demosthenes Lorandos haven’t ‘attempted’ to discredit Joan, they HAVE discredited her Nancy. Academics don’t make statements such as those contained in the Harman and Lorandos report lightly – I wonder if you have read the report? You may believe Joan because that is your schema and you must continue to believe that alienation is a tool used by abusive men otherwise your whole belief system falls down, but I don’t. Nonetheless, I support your right to comment and I do not need to engage with your schema because facts speak for themselves. K

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      2. Do you read the study? If you think there are too many false positives of PA, then your efforts should be directed to propose any ideas how to improve TA recognition model instead of declaring “PA is pseudoscience”. I think Harman and co. has sober understanding about all forms of child abuse and works right way. Citation (p. 37-38):
        “Certainly, there are parents who claim they are being alienated from a child when they are not, just as there are parents who claim they are being abused when they are not. Some professionals working with families make false positive findings of parental alienation (Warshak, 2019), and domestic violence or child abuse may be missed or overreported due to a poor understanding of the problems and insufficient efforts to reduce biases. Fortunately, our findings indicate that appellate courts do not take all claims of parental alienation or domestic violence/child abuse at face value. These claims are evaluated based on the evidence presented.”

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    3. I find it very sad when people are awarded grandiose titles, and go on in a fantasy to ruin millions of lives.
      Am I justified in pointing this statement at Joan Meier and her religious tribe ? Well, yes.
      Your concept of evaluating the validity of a proposal comes from the middle ages. There is no valid logical justification for your conclusions. Pseudo scientists should be taught how to do correct science with correct logic and correct mathematics.
      (see my first article on Archetype Calculus which goes beyond Wittgenstein, and can be easily used to show clearly how staggeringly off the mark are the terms being bandied about by the Meier study)

      The Meier study is like Darwin justifying why people not of his own tribe, were further behind on the evolutionary ladder.

      Sad, sad , sad and doing terrible abuse to millions of innocents…
      Tom Dobbie.

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  6. Meanwhile over in the great old USA (I am so glad I live in the UK) comes word of a Senate Bill to mandate mandatory training and standards for forensic evaluators in the Maryland court system (bulk email via PASG quoted in full below)

    Dear parental alienation professionals, targeted parents, and all others who are concerned about PA.

    The State of Maryland Senate is holding a hearing on 1/26 for a Senate Bill to mandate mandatory training and standards for forensic evaluators in the Maryland court system. While this is a welcome innovation in theory, the bill contains the following clause about the education of evaluators:

    (XI) BACKGROUND AND CURRENT RESEARCH–INFORMED LITERATURE REGARDING PARENTAL ALIENATION, ITS INVALIDITY AS A SYNDROME, AND THE INAPPROPRIATENESS OF ITS USE IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES.

    This bill developed from a workgroup report (attached) that discredited PA. No experts in the alienation field were asked to testify before this workgroup. I urge you to write members of the Maryland Senate JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS COMMITTEE to object to this clause in MD SB355, request that credentialed experts in the field of parental be invited to testify before the committee, and that the clause be changed that forensic evaluators should be trained in the research based validity of parental alienation and its importance in custody cases.

    This is a list of the members of the JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS COMMITTEE and their emails. Minimally please write to the Chair and Vice-chair of the committee:
    JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS COMMITTEE
    William C. Smith, Jr., Chair (410) 841-3634, (301) 858-3634 will.smith@senate.state.md.us
    Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher, Vice-Chair (410) 841-3137, (301) 858-3137 jeff.waldstreicher@senate.state.md.us
    John D. (Jack) Bailey jack.bailey@senate.state.md.us
    Jill P. Carter jill.carter@senate.state.md.us
    Robert G. Cassilly bob.cassilly@senate.state.md.us
    Shelly L. Hettleman shelly.hettleman@senate.state.md.us
    Michael J. Hough michael.hough@senate.state.md.us
    Susan C. Lee susan.lee@senate.state.md.us
    Michael A. Jackson michael.jackson@senate.state.md.us
    Charles E. Sydnor III charles.sydnor@senate.state.md.us
    Christopher R. West chris.west@senate.state.md.us
    Thank you for your help.
    All the best,
    Yaakov Aichenbaum

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