There is a quiet, and largely unreported, epidemic unfolding in the American family court system. More and more parents, mostly mothers, are experiencing firsthand the cottage industry that is “parental alienation therapy.” Those who have experienced it describe an utter, almost incomprehensible hell.
Richard A. Gardner, M.D., a child psychiatrist, was the creator and main proponent of a theory called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). He promulgated the idea in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
His “research” was criticized as largely anecdotal, and indeed was mostly based on his testimonies as an “expert witness” in child abuse trials.
The theory of parental alienation is now almost totally discredited by academics. It has never been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), or any other academic association. It has never passed the scrutiny of peer review.
Further, Gardner was sympathetic towards child sex abusers, saying “there’s a little bit of pedophilia in all of us,” claiming that children sometimes seduce adults and excusing pedophilia by saying it was normal in many cultures.
He died by suicide in 2003.
But lurking in the shadows, there are still practitioners of the “parental alienation therapy,” and a few of them run programs based upon the theory. Even though it is considered junk science and totally discredited in academia, and even though it has never been proven to work, American judges—wittingly or unwittingly—are still sending children to “parental alienation therapy.”
One of those practitioners is Linda Gottlieb, who runs what she calls a “Parental Alienation Therapeutic Vacation” called Turning Points for Families in New York. She hosts a four-day “treatment” program, for which she charges $15,000. According to those who have been ordered to attend, she hosts the “therapy sessions” either out of a hotel or in her home.
Over the past weeks, I have spoken with mothers and children who have been subjected to Gottlieb’s program, which serves to convince children that they are mistaken about a parent whom they have accused of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Instead, the program teaches children that the alleged abuser and the children themselves are the victims of “alienation” by the non-abusive parent.
What follows are the accounts of those parents and children.
“The family court system is like the judicial mafia.” —Dorinda Rottenberger, Turning Points for Families victim
Dorinda is a mother of two from Florida. She and her ex-husband, Jonathan Javier Martinez, divorced years ago. The pair share custody of the kids. Her daughter Hannah is now 13, and her son Gabe is nine.
In 2017, Gabe was a pre-K student when he made an offhand sexual remark to another student. Only 4 years old at the time, his comment drew the attention of his teacher and school administrators. Upon further questioning, he revealed that his father would touch him inappropriately. The school alerted Dorinda and called the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).
But when DCF and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) questioned Gabe, he became shy and wouldn’t talk. This is typical of children who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a parent. Though officially the case was closed, a judge suspended timesharing between Jonathan and Dorinda. With no evidence that Jonathan was actually abusing Gabe, Dorinda voluntarily allowed Jonathan to share custody.
In late 2019, Dorinda moved with the children to New Jersey. She sent the children to Florida for a month in the summer of 2020, where they visited Jonathan. Dorinda says everything seemed great—until they returned from their trip.
“Did my dad touch my brother?” Hannah asked Dorinda in what Dorinda describes as a total blindside. It was the first time Dorinda had thought about the allegations Gabe made against Jonathan years prior, but Gabe still wouldn’t address the issue.
Around Thanksgiving of 2020, Jonathan moved to New Jersey to be closer to the kids. “All hell broke loose,” Dorinda said.
For 18 days, Hannah barely ate and couldn’t sleep. Dorinda was on alert and scheduled an appointment in early December with a forensic psychologist. Hannah had been cutting herself. She was catatonic and wouldn’t talk. The psychologist determined that she was depressed and suicidal. Jonathan’s move was the impetus, Dorinda says.
“He did bad things to my brother,” Hannah would say. “I have to protect my brother.” At the time, though, she still wouldn’t make any direct or specific claims. Gabe remained silent, and Hannah couldn’t bring herself to share any further details until eight months later, in August of 2021. By that time, Dorinda and the children had moved back to Florida.
In a therapy session, Hannah finally gained the courage to type out what she had been unable to say for so long. “Jonathan is making Gabe touch Jonathan’s private area. I know,” she wrote. “Jonathan raped a four-year-old, and not just a random kid—my four-year-old brother.”
In the meantime, Jonathan filed a contempt case against Dorinda, claiming that she wasn’t abiding by the child-sharing plan ordered by a judge in their divorce proceedings. Dorinda describes it as one of many such frivolous claims by Jonathan that she was in contempt of their custody agreements. To this day, Dorinda has never been held in contempt.
A judge appointed a guardian ad litem called Shirin Rustomji, who recommended that Hannah complete family therapy with a licensed clinical social worker called Peggy Gummoe.
Meanwhile, Jonathan returned to Florida in early 2022, again distressing Hannah. Gabe had just finished visiting Jonathan for Christmas at the end of 2021 and into early 2022. Dorinda says Gabe came back crying, and for the first time since he was four, opened up about his abuse at the hands of his father. According to Dorinda, he said he’d kill himself if he had to see Jonathan again, and told the story of his sexual abuse in graphic detail.
When Rustomji was alerted, Gabe once again became shy, and would not give details about the abuse. She ordered Gabe to a family therapy session with Jonathan. But Gabe was talking, just not to Rustomji.
Dorinda found out in April that Gabe had told school administrators about the abuse months prior. The school had called DCF, and then Rustomji. But Rustomji allegedly dismissed the claims, and Dorinda was never notified.
By May, the kids were becoming bolder. Hannah confirmed Gabe’s story and shared more stories about how their father would make the pair engage in sexual activity while he watched. Dorinda called the child abuse hotline, springing an investigation, and this time the children cooperated with the investigators. Gabe said Hannah was being abused as well. He explained it in graphic detail. Hannah confirmed the story.
Still, Rustomji refused to believe the claims made by the children and ordered another therapy session with Gummoe. Gummoe also refused to believe the children’s accounts of sexual abuse, telling them there was no proof of their allegations. Dorinda says her children were screaming and crying, trying to get Gummoe to listen, but she didn’t.
On June 10, during a hearing for another contempt claim filed by Jonathan, Rustomji then recommended two programs for the family to attend, one called Family Bridges and another called Turning Points for Families. Neither the judge nor Dorinda had ever heard of these programs, so the judge ordered Rustomji to “do research,” and select a program for the family.
Rustomji selected Turning Points.
Turning Points is a “therapy” program for children who have been “alienated” by a parent. As mentioned above, there is no academic credibility to the theory of parental alienation. In this case, and in the cases of others that follow, guardians ad litem, court-appointed social workers, and judges simply refuse to believe that the children central to the case are the victims of abuse. Instead, they blame the non-abusive parent for falsely and maliciously planting ideas in the heads of the children, effectively protecting the alleged abusers.
Linda Gottlieb runs Turning Points. She is not a psychologist or psychiatrist. She is merely a social worker who has taken it upon herself to attempt to “cure” children who claim to have been abused by a parent. When a judge orders a child to Turning Points, that judge hands total power over to Gottlieb to impose sequestration periods wherein the “alienating” parent is not allowed to see the children. Those 90-day periods take effect after her four-day “therapy” program.
Gottlieb has unfettered power to extend that sequestration period, and she wields it viciously. She requires the “alienating” parents to “prove” that they have been rehabilitated before she allows reunification with the children. (Some men have been victims of this program too, but none would speak on the record).
Just 12 days later at a follow-up hearing, the judge took Rustomji’s advice and ordered the children to attend Turning Points with Jonathan. She ordered Dorinda to cease all contact with the children. The judge would not hear any evidence of abuse. There was no trial. There was no finding of facts. There was no ruling on parental custody. There was only Turning Points.
When the children learned that they would have to attend the “therapy” with Jonathan, all hell broke loose. Gabe threatened to kill himself at the thought of having to see his father again. When Dorinda took him to the hospital, fearing for his life, Gabe was “Baker Acted.”
The Baker Act allows involuntary institutionalization for those experiencing mental health crises. Gabe’s Baker Act hospitalization was later used as further evidence of the allege “alienation” perpetrated by Dorinda.
At the time of this writing, Dorinda does not know where her children are. She has no contact with them. Presumably, they are in New York attending Gottlieb’s therapy. Dorinda does not know when she will see them again.
“We have lied to our children,” Dorinda says. “They see posters and billboards, hear presentations at school, and see television ads that tell them to speak up if they are abused and they will be believed. But that’s a lie. Instead, we punish them when they do not have ‘evidence’ of their abuse and are ripped from their safe parent and forced to be with the parent they say abused them.”
Minh Nguyet Luong
“We all want to believe in the justice system. We all want to believe that judges are unbiased and fair. This is not right. This is not America. This is not how the justice system works. I’m not the one who hurt my kids. Why are they being taken away from me?” —Minh Nguyet Luong, Turning Points for Families victim.
Minh is a mother of three living in Nevada. The fact pattern in her story is almost identical to that of Dorinda’s.
Minh’s ex-husband James, she says, never wanted anything to do with their children until the pair divorced in 2019. She moved out of the house after the divorce, and shared custody of the children with her ex-husband. She says James quickly became violent with the children when they were in his custody.
For two and a half years, from 2019 until this year, Minh says James abused the children. In one incident, when her daughter—also named Hannah—attempted to run away, James caught her and choked her with the straps to her purse. He is accused of dragging her around the house by the hair, punching her in the nose until she bled, burning her arm with a hot pan and pinning her up against a counter, menacing her and tripping her when she tried to run away, among other allegations.
During the latter incident, Hannah’s brother Matthew attempted to help his sister. For that, he was allegedly choked and beaten. James is accused of being openly abusive of Matthew, too. Naturally, the children did not want to spend time with their father.
On one occasion, Matthew crawled into Minh’s trunk to try to avoid seeing James. She called the police because she did not know what else to do. But the police said she had to abide by the judge’s custody order, and Matthew had to see his dad.
During the multiple instances of alleged abuse, Minh would find her children bloodied and bruised upon their return to her custody. She would call CPS, who refused to believe her claims. In one instance, CPS even claimed that she filed a report against James “maliciously.” The police were called many times, but they were unhelpful, too. Even an appointed guardian ad litem advised Minh not to report the abuse to CPS, despite the fact that guardians ad litem are required by Nevada law to report suspected child abuse to CPS.
Things nearly changed when Hannah reported her abuse to a psychiatrist, who took the step of reporting that abuse to CPS. But CPS claimed once again that Minh and Hannah were filing malicious claims against James. Minh says the children feared for their lives.
Meanwhile, the custody battle raged on.
In February, a judge told Minh that she did not know the truth about her children’s allegations of abuse, and that those claims were “exaggerated.” Minh was deemed to be alienating her children. The judge ordered Minh not to have contact with Matthew, though she was awarded custody of Hannah. In April, the court ordered the children to attend Turning Points with their father.
Minh flew Hannah to New York, where she met James and Matthew in a restaurant with Linda Gottlieb. She hired a private investigator to track the interactions. During the meeting, Hannah was distraught about leaving Minh. Matthew was catatonic and did not say a word.
Gottlieb allegedly ordered Minh to leave the restaurant, or she would add another 90 days to the sequestration period after the four-day “therapy.” Gottlieb allegedly became irate at Hannah over her distress and slammed a table against Hannah in the restaurant. That was only the beginning of the abuse.
Eventually, all the parties except for Minh headed to the hotel where Gottlieb began her session. The private investigators followed. During that first session, Gottlieb reportedly punched Hannah. Minh received a text from Matthew saying that he needed the police. The private investigators called the police and contacted the hotel staff. When the police arrived, Hannah reported the abuse and was taken to the hospital. She was hospitalized for three days, effectively ending the four-day “therapy” program. All parties left New York after Hannah’s hospitalization ended.
The custody battle now rages on.
A guardian ad litem sent Hannah to stay with Minh in May. She’s been there ever since. But Matthew is still in the sequestration period ordered by Gottlieb and cannot see Minh.
An appellate court ordered an evidentiary hearing in the lower court, but Minh says the judge has already decided to give James custody of the children. The judge will not hear testimony from the children and will not allow a forensic custody evaluator to testify. That hearing is set for September. Minh is already planning her appeal.
“If anyone was to tell me my story, I would think that I must have done something bad to deserve this,” Minh says.
“The judge basically handed our case to this crazy lunatic. I was forced to pay $15,000 for four days of her brainwashing my children.” —Sunny Robbins
Sunny Robbins, who lives in California, hasn’t seen her kids since December of last year.
Sunny filed for divorce from her husband Jeff Pi in 2015. She said her ex-husband was both emotionally abusive and physically abusive to their daughter Kelsey. Sunny initially was granted custody and granted an out-of-state move. Jeff could only see the kids every other weekend.
But Jeff wanted revenge, and he knew he could get it with claims of parental alienation. (Fathers are reportedly using the theory more and more in family court in order to win custody battles). Sunny says he’s sued her each year since their 2015 divorce, fighting for more custody and less child support. In a text message to her son Chris, Sunny called Jeff a “monster.” That was later used as evidence that she was alienating her children. In a hearing last October, Jeff pushed specifically for Turning Points and Linda Gottlieb. He was granted his wish, and the kids were whisked away to Linda’s camp. The children left for New York on December 16 and haven’t had contact with Sunny since.
“It’s judicial human trafficking,” Sunny said. “They’re legally trafficking our children.”
She has hired a Minor’s Counsel, the equivalent of a guardian ad litem in California, but that has not been helpful.
The last hearing Sunny had was on June 6.
Gottlieb has called Sunny “delusional,” and said that since Sunny will not admit to alienating her children, she will continue to add 90 day sequestration periods to the children’s “therapy” program.
“Linda targets a certain [type of] woman. It’s a desperate woman that will try to do anything to save her children. We’re weak from being attacked constantly by our ex-husbands in the legal system.” —Kristine Schock, Turning Points for Families victim
Kristine Schock divorced her overbearing husband who isolated her from the rest of her family, and whom she accuses of physical abuse, in February of 2017. Her girls, Kara and Brooke, then in elementary and middle school respectively, did not have a great relationship with their father, and did not want to see him. Kristine was given primary custody of the children, and the younger child, Brooke, refused to see her father. Kristine says that when they would see the father, whose name is Scott Sherrill, he would physically abuse the children, and try to pass it off as parental discipline.
As with the other cases, CPS did little to help.
Scott’s behavior mirrors that of the other dads in this story. Since Brooke often refused to see him, he threatened to have Kristine held in contempt. He even threatened to plant drugs on her and call the police, with whom he had a good relationship, according to Kristine. This went on for two years.
In those two years, Scott began making allegations of parental alienation through his attorneys, leading up to a 2019 court showdown over the custody arrangement between he and Kristine.
Kristine had never heard the term “parental alienation,” but court appointed therapists determined after a 45-minute interview that she was guilty of alienating the kids. After a three-day hearing, the judge said she wouldn’t rule in the custody battle, and that Kristine and Scott would have to work it out for themselves. Kristine’s attorney advised her to send the kids to Turning Points at the behest of their father and give over primary custody to Scott in order to avoid jail time for the contempt charges. Scott had been filing such charges against Kristine for years, and her financial resources were drained from the legal battles.
She agreed to Turning Points, and her kids were sent to New York with their father.
Part of the custody deal required the typical 90-day sequestration period, and Kristine was forced to move away from her children. Scott also received primary custody. “In each area, Gottlieb has a little cult of social workers,” Kristine said. “We’ve got a hotspot here. These attorneys are just being hit out of nowhere with this, and they don’t know how to defend it.”
After the “therapy” was complete, the kids were almost completely isolated from their mother. They were only allowed to talk to Gottlieb-approved therapists, and were allegedly convinced that, among other horrific things, their dad would kill Kristine if he couldn’t have custody.
Meanwhile, Brooke was talking to school counselors and recounting abuse on behalf of her dad.
On her end, Kristine said everything was quiet until 2022, when Brooke and her younger sister Kara ran away, back to Kristine. Another custody battle ensued, and this time, Kristine was ready to go to court with several witnesses that would testify to the alleged abuse by her husband.
Scott planned to argue again that Kristine was in contempt of their custody agreement. But when he learned that the counselors would testify as witnesses, he backed off. Kristine says he walked into the May hearing and gave primary custody of the children back to Kristine. He agreed to let a court-appointed counselor determine when he could see the kids again. Part of the contingency also required Kristine to pay him $100,000, which she says means she will be paying him for the rest of her life. Brooke, now 17 and Kara, now 14, remain in her custody at the time of this writing.
“This is a total corruption of the system,” Kristine says. “And the children are the ultimate victims in this. These people do not care that a child has been mentally, physically, verbally or sexually abused, and that’s what blows my mind.”
“It was absolutely emotional torment of children. And they thought it was so funny, and they were having such a great time.” —Brooke Schock, Turning Points for Families attendee and victim.
I was able to speak with Brooke, Kristine’s older child, who personally attended Gottlieb’s “therapy” in 2019. Brooke independently confirmed her mother’s story and described her experience at Turning Points.
During the program, which she and Kara attended with their father Scott, their phones were taken away. They were not allowed to have contact with the outside world. One of Brooke’s friends even called the police to report that she had disappeared, because they left Texas so quickly and without notice.
The “therapy” was conducted inside Gottlieb’s home. For most of the time, the trio sat on a couch being filmed. The first day, Brooke says, was all about guilt-tripping the kids. Gottlieb told them how great a person their dad was, and how much he loved them. She blamed their parents’ divorce on the kids, whom she painted as ungrateful. “She tried to convince us that we had a wonderful, loving relationship with our father,” Brooke said.
On the second day, the tone shifted.
Gottlieb acted less harshly towards Brooke and her sister, and instead began trying to convince them that maybe they weren’t the problem. Rather, Gottlieb tried to impress upon them that their mother might be the problem. Brooke describes this as an intentionally wicked process.
She says kids, and vulnerable kids in particular, are looking for an out. They naturally want blame to be shifted away from them. Gottlieb preyed on this natural instinct to influence the children to agree that their mother was in fact alienating them.
The third day of “therapy” consisted of what Brooke called mind games, intentionally used to convince the kids that ideas could easily be planted in their minds. She says videos were used for this purpose, and that the overall idea was to convince them that their mother had placed the idea in their mind that their father was an abuser.
On the final day of the camp, Gottlieb tried to get the children to admit on camera that the therapy had worked, and that indeed, their mother had alienated them. Brooke says that neither she nor Kara would agree, drawing Gottlieb’s ire. Scott observed and sometimes actively participated in the program. Throughout the program, according to Brooke, Gottlieb “sprinkled in radical, unbelievable things” about Kristine. She allegedly claimed that Kristine was dead or was going to die, or that Kristine would try to poison Brooke and Kara or hurt them in some way.
Brooke says Kara broke down in tears, convinced that her mother was dead. “It was absolutely emotional torment of children,” Brooke said. “And they thought this was so funny, and they were having such a great time.”
The “therapy” also included rock-climbing adventures and trips to Times Square, where Brooke says Gottlieb tried to make them smile for photos to project the appearance that they were having fun during their time in New York.
Brooke describes Gottlieb as the type of person most people run away from. She calls her spiteful, vengeful, and hateful. During the program, Brooke claims, Gottlieb made a comment about how she got into social work to “tell her [own] parents what they did wrong to her.” Brooke says Gottlieb had no interest in the kids’ side of the story at any point during the “therapy.”
“She’s kind of like a thief. She’s crooked, corrupt, ruthless,” Brooke said. “I mean, she’s stealing from children. She’s stealing a relationship between a parent and their children. She’s an accomplice to abuse. She’s not understanding. She’s not empathetic. She had no empathy for children who were suffering. She needs to be taken far away from children.”
After the camp came the typical 90-day sequestration period. Brooke says that she and her sister could only speak with their mother on the phone twice weekly for 30 minutes.
After the sequestration period, Scott still had custody of the kids until earlier this year, when they ran away. They were on the run for three months because of a temporary restraining order filed against Kristine by Scott. They stayed with friends for most of that time. Finally, the May court hearing arrived wherein Scott agreed to give custody back to Kristine for fear of what the counselors might say during their testimony against him.
Brooke and Kara have been with Kristine ever since.
“I would want to know what type of emotional benefit, reward, [Gottlieb] gets within herself from destroying children like us,” Brooke said.
The Center for Judicial Excellence
Despite what appears to be a system failure at all levels, the mothers do have at least one advocate. Kathleen Russell is the Executive Director of the Center for Judicial Excellence. She has been lobbying state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to do away with “parental alienation therapy” programs. She wrote Kayden’s Law, requiring courts to hear allegations from abused children during custody proceedings.
“A lot of money is being made,” Russell says. “We used to be very cautious about alleging corruption in the court system, but after 16 years of doing this work, I can say that it’s almost like a form of judicial child trafficking by the family courts.”
“Sixteen years ago, if I said that, people would just think I was nuts and dismiss us outright,” she said, “but it’s the same thing happening all over the country. We get calls every day from parents who describe losing their children because of alienation for trying to protect them from violence, abuse, rape, molestation—I mean it is an epidemic.”
She said that when she and her colleagues tried to quantify how many children have been “trafficked” away from a safe parent and forced into ongoing abuse with the other parent, the figure comes to about 58,000. Most of those children, she says, have been court-ordered into abusive homes.
“These are not foster kids,” she said. “These are kids of divorce who have a perfectly loving parent who they’re attached to, so these camps are trying to threaten children into denying their abuse at the hands of their other parent.”
Russell says a common tactic used in “parental alienation therapy” is to threaten kids by telling them they will never see their loving parent again, unless they forget the abuse by their other parent. “They’ll sometimes threaten that if you don’t cooperate, your mom is going to go to prison, and these poor kids are already distraught, they’ve already reported horrific abuse by a parent,” she said. “It’s barbaric.”
Russell says that parental alienation programs are a growing industry.
“These programs have been growing [and] no one is tracking them except for our organization” Russell said. “We’ve been really focused on these programs since 2016. Just yesterday, we learned that there are 24 victims of Linda Gottlieb’s in the Tampa area alone, and that’s just one of a handful of these [parental alienation] programs, and seems to be the most prolific.”
It’s a big business. Tens of millions of dollars have poured into “therapy” programs like Gottlieb’s. Russell says that at its core, parental alienation is simply about denying child abuse. She says the courts are steeped in what she calls the “junk science” of alienation. “Whenever evidence of abuse is brought or raised in the context of a divorce or child custody matters, it’s got to be a lie or a fabrication, and instead of investigating these crimes against children, the court focuses on demonizing the parent who’s trying to protect their children,” she said.
“It’s an easy way to dismiss these abuse allegations, and avoid a costly, time-intensive investigation.”
Linda Gottlieb did not return multiple requests for comment.