A blog launched in 2007 by a divorced man from Pennsylvania has sparked a debate about free-speech. Anthony Morelli created ThePsychoExWife.com as a place for him to vent. The site quickly became popular with other divorced men, who added their own horror stories and opinions.
When Morelli's ex-wife recently found out, she called the site "heartbreaking," and potentially harmful to their two sons, according to Larry King of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Morelli was ordered to remove the site at a June 6 custody hearing by Bucks County Court Judge Diane Gibbons. Instead of following the judge's orders, Morelli posted a vicious string of attacks on his ex-wife over the next two days.
On June 14, Judge Gibbons called Morelli back to court and had the site shut down. Morelli has now hired a new lawyer to appeal the case in Superior Court, claiming that his free speech rights were violated. Some First Amendment legal experts agree, stating that Morelli's site is protected speech unless it threatens national security. "We have a principle in the law that you can't censor speech just because most people find it offensive," says Robert D. Richards, founding director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Ammendment at Pennsylvania State University.
Others, including Meg Groff, a family law attorney in Doylestown, supports the ruling and states that it is "extremely damaing to children to have access to that kind of denigration of a parent. Ususally in custody orders it is not permitted."
According to developmental psychologist Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., badmouthing an ex-spouse, known as Parent Alientation Syndrome (PAS) is one of the most damaging aspects of divore on children. It can lead to children feeling as though they must choose between the two parents, which can lead to emotional pain, guilt and strained relationships. Dr. Baker explains that being exposed to PAS represents a form of emotional abuse, and can have several long-term effects, including depression, low self-esteem, and problems with developing healthy relationships.
In my mind, the dispute over Morelli's free speech rights overshadows the larger underlying issue of the negative affects badmouthing ex-spouses can have on children. "It's certainly okay to feel and express resentment and anger toward your ex-partner for as long as it takes you to grieve," says Paul Courteau, Ph.D., a counselor in Montana. "So, express it! - but not around your kids." [or where your kids can access it, in this case].