Monday, November 02, 2009

Abolishing unscientific testimony

I talked to California Assemblymember Jim Beall Jr., author of AB 612. The purpose of the bill is to eliminate unscientific testimony about alienation theory from the family court.

The bill is in response to claims that child abusing dads routinely win custody in family court because they slyly convince the judge that the mom has brainwashed the kid into suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). PAS has not yet been listed as a recognized disorder by the psychology authorities, so a law against unscientific evidence should prevent this argument. Or so he says.

Beall seems to have been sincerely sucked into the idea that he can protect kids this way, but he is misguided.

First, there are no child-abusing dads who win sole custody. That is a myth. If there were really any proof of child abuse, then the dad would not get the kid. End of story.

Second, the court rules of evidence already say that expert testimony must be backed up by generally accepted science. Of course the family court judges ignore that, but they could ignore his new rule as well.

Third, he wants to write into law a statement that alienation theory is unscientific. So what happens when the psychologist do add PAS to their list of official disorders? Then we will have a silly California saying that something is not generally accepted when it is generally accepted. My guess is that the psychologists will just call it something else to evade the law.

Fourth, the whole approach is contrary to basic notions of innocence until proven guilty. If the dad is really guilty of something, then they should be figuring out ways to prove him guilty, not making rules to prevent him from making arguments in his defense.

Beall has encountered resistance in the legislature, and his bill was amended over his objections. I doubt that it will pass.

I suggested to him that just amend his bill to require all the family court evaluations to provide generally accepted scientific justifications for all their opinions. That would address some of the objections, and cut out some other bogus arguments as well. He had no response.

Reforming family court is going to be difficult.

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