I’m all for being evenhanded, but sometimes it is this very evenhandedness that blinds us to what is really going on, and does not allow us, as a system, to effectively protect children from the damage being inflicted on them. That was the case in a court-appointed psychologist’s recommendation about where a child should learn, a recommendation rejected by the court.
In this unusual move, Judge Tal Paperny of the Hadera Family Court, rejected the court-appointed psychologist’s recommendations and showed an appreciation for the overall family dynamics. Specifically, without being heavy-handed, he was sensitive to the impact of the mother – currently the custodial parent – on the child of divorce, as she subtly and not so subtly elbowed the father out of a significant area of the child’s life.
From my perspective, the decision is important since it recognizes the signs of incipient parental alienation, (without naming it) and seeks to nip the phenomenon, if not in the bud, at least before the sapling become a full-grown tree.
In this case, the mother filed a suit that the court allow the child, a 12 year old boy, to be homeschooled.
For any North Americans reading this, it’s worthwhile to point out that while homeschooling in your part of the world often associated with Christian families of a particular social-religious orientation, here in Israel it’s generally families living in a counter-culture lifestyle, whether on their own, or in specific communities.
In any case, in addition to filing with the court, the mother asked the Ministry of Education, – which has a special division to supervise homeschooling – for permission to homeschool the child. To their credit, the staff at the Ministry turned down her request, primarily because of the mother’s failure to involve the father in the process. (Apparently she even failed to mention him in the relevant form!) As policy, the Ministry of Education requests a report from social services in case of divorce or separated parents to ensure that there is cooperation and ongoing contact between the two.
The need for parental cooperation is explained by first, the high degree of parental involvement and supervision required by homeschooling, and second, to ensure that two sets of eyes are on the child, to see that the system agrees with him, and that the child’s will and well-being are being served by the homeschooling.
What’s interesting here for those of us involved in family conflicts is that we see how people become so entrenched in their own animosity to their former spouses that they actually sabotage their own goals. The mother was so inflexible and involved in a zero-sum game with the father – she actually stated to the authorities that she would not so much as allow the father into her home – that despite the fact that she was very ideologically committed to homeschooling, her steadfast unwillingness to involve the father in the child’s education meant that she effectively guaranteed that the authorities would deny her request.
More shocking to me, at some point she actually said that if the court didn’t approve home schooling, she no longer wanted custody of the child!
As I mentioned above, the court appointed a psychologist to meet with the parties and give his opinion as to where the child should learn. I have two things to say – kudos to the court for rejecting the psychologist’s recommendation, and what on earth was the psychologist thinking?!!!
The psychologist’s position was that the substantive educational issue as to the framework in which the child learned was less important than how the decision was made between the parents. Further, he indicated that it was very important for the father to be involved in the child’s life and education.
Here’s where I don’t get it, and unfortunately, it’s an approach I encounter not infrequently in reports of this kind: this expert knows that it’s important for the parents to communicate. In asking why these particular parents don’t communicate, he says that he doesn’t know, and “assumes” that both parents have contributed to the situation.
So, both parents may have contributed to the situation, but it’s not a fifty-fifty split when you have a mother who can’t even bring herself to mention the father on an official form, says openly that she can’t have the father in her house, has a history of non-compliance with visitation and in the past changed schools without consulting the father. How does this expert assume that the parents are going to become effective communicators?
The judge was more diplomatic than me, and ultimately said that he didn’t accept the recommendation, since the psychologist was not unequivocal that home schooling was the best choice. In addition, both the Ministry of Education and the social worker from social services didn’t see things this way.
Most important perhaps, when the judge met with the boy – 12 years old – the child was very clear that he enjoyed his current public school both educationally and socially, and fortunately the judge, unlike his mother and the court’s expert, found sufficient support in the other materials before him, to honour this.