Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jessica Click-Hill and Dalton Lucas: two case studies in parental kidnapping

Why do mothers kidnap their children and lie during child custody cases? Children need both parents.

Dalton Lucas and Jessica Click-Hill are both parentally abducted children that were found many years later. Both were abducted by their mothers, both at nearly identical ages (Jessica was eight and Dalton was seven), both who have fathers who were looking for them.

The biggest difference in the cases, however, is that of the outcome. By the outcome I do not mean legally, as in both cases the mothers have been arrested. The outcome in these cases I am referring to is that of the relationship with the left-behind parent. News stories about Dalton’s case say that his father drove straight from Virginia to Texas to retrieve his son, and the comments on the stories indicate that Dalton introduced his friends and others to his dad before going back with him. It will not be easy for him to readjust under any circumstances, but he seems pleased to see his dad again. Jessica, on the other hand, is indicated by news stories to have no wish to have contact with her father. She was abducted for five years more than Dalton, but since four of those years she was over eighteen it’s possible that she did not live with her mother for all of those.

So what accounts for the difference? Perhaps Dalton’s mother did not try to alienate her son from his father, although this is unlikely. Alienation is almost universal in parental kidnapping cases. Richard Warshak, an expert on parental alienation, has stated that some children are just more resilient to alienation. There are documented cases of parentally abducted children where the child later reports attempted alienation but does not succumb to its influence. Dalton’s mother could have used the classic “your father died” excuse which seems to produce less hostility towards the left-behind parent. Even that is not set in stone, of course: in the well known case of Steven Fagan he told his daughters their mother was dead and when he was arrested he admitted to the lie but then claimed she was an alcoholic. The mother had never been arrested or even accused of wrongdoing on the part of the children, but they still refused to see her or try to maintain any sort of relationship. (I mention the last to try to silence the “if the kid refuses to see a father parent they must have a good reason” crowd, but I doubt it will.) It could have something to do with the level of alienation involved – telling the child their other parent is a drug addict or alcoholic is one level, but telling them the other parent is a sadistic phyical and sexual abuser is quite another.

There’s no way to find out directly what is responsible, of course. But perhaps in both cases there is something to be learned about the detrimental effects of parental kidnapping on a child.

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