Medico-Legal Journal (1999) Vol.67 Part 3, 121-123
Parental Alienation and the Judiciary
Increasing numbers of cases are coming before the Courts where one parent feels displaced in relation to the children in the family. The syndrome, parental alienation (PAS),’ as it is now called, is not a new one, but its importance is being highlighted in the United States as well as in the UK. Judges are often uncertain as to how to treat the situation where one parent seeks to make contact with the children following an estrangement, separation, or an unusually unpleasant and vicious divorce.
There is some pressure on the Judiciary to keep the child or children with the person who has major control, usually the mother. Parental alienation however, also affects some mothers denied contact with their children who are resident with the father. On the whole, it is the male member of the partnership who suffers from the alienation situation.
In recent cases in which I have personally been involved, I had the opportunity of talking about PAS and its problems with two judges, on different occasions. The dilemma is how to deal with the case where the resident partner i.e. the alienating partner, fails to co-operate with the courts in providing adequate access for the other partner. I will recreate the general conversation, on an informal basis and hence no names can be mentioned. Interestingly, similar conversations were repeated with both judges, one male and one female, demonstrating how similar problems are often faced by the Judiciary in parental alienation cases.
Psych.: Your Honour, this is a case typical of parental alienation and I feel it is only right that the alienated parent should have contact with the child in question.
Judge: But the mother says that the child does not want any contact with the boy.
Psych.: This is because there has been a considerable amount of programming, I have discovered through my assessment, to make the child respond in this manner.
Judge: This may well be so but how do I deal with this situation when mother stubbornly refuses to allow contact of the child with the father?
Psych.: It is a difficult situation, your Honour, but the question remains: should justice be done or should it be ignored?
Judge: it is not as easy as that. I have spent time with mothers, even sitting in a cell, to try to get them to see reason to allow their former husbands to have access to a child. Sometimes this has worked while at other times, there has been a refusal. This puts me he a very awkward position since I must consider carefully, first and foremost, the children concerned and they are, after all, in the care of their mother who, if they are deprived of her, due to her being sentenced for failing to follow instructions, will lose a mother vital to their welfare.
Psych.: Again it comes down, your Honour, to considering the question of failure to comply with the Court ruling. If an ordinary criminal fails to obey instructions of the Court, some punitive action is taken. Should not some punitive action also follow when a mother, or father for that matter, refuses to accede to the ruling of the judge and the Court?
Judge: Well, I will see what I can do on this particular matter and the case before me but I still feel that it is a difficult one to settle, when one of the partners is totally opposed to contact with the child and the child in question has decided openly and before me, to refuse to have any contact with the other parent. Are you suggesting that I fine the mother in question or place her in a prison for failing to adhere to my instructions and that of the Court?
Psych.: I personally see no other alternative. It may well be that if such a threat is made, the alienating parent may, in due course, accept what has been recommended by the Court and there will be no need to take the action which you and I both feel is undesirable and may even be counter-productive.
Both judges agreed the case before them was typical of parental alienation and the difficulties they faced are only too obvious. Their first concern, and also that of myself, was the children. If the children have been “brain-washed” and “programmed” in a particular direction, this made the judge’s decision all the more difficult.
It is my view that no exception can be made for failing to adhere to the ruling of a court and that justice must be done however painful this may be. It may well be that the alienated parent should eventually gain access following a period of therapy between the psychologist and the child or children in question, to make them aware of what is happening. If older they themselves may well be able to put pressure on the alienating parent to see sense.
From the conversation, it can be seen that many judges are undoubtedly unsure how best to deal with alienating parents – this usually being the mother. Judges are often saved by the fact that fathers cease to pursue their role of wishing to play a part in their childrens’ lives. This is due to the resistance they meet from the former spouse, who has often formed a new relationship and wishes the new partner to take over the role of father. I have even known cases where the mother insisted the child call the new husband “dad” and the natural father by his first name.
Fathers who pursue both their right and their sense of responsibility through the courts are relatively few. Many opt out due to the resistance they meet from their ex-partners, the programmed child and the reluctance of judges to give them justice. This is undoubtedly due to the following:
Judges are reluctant to punish and most especially incarcerate obdurate mothers who refuse to comply with a judge’s decision that they must allow access with an estranged father.
Judges often are reluctant to ignore the view expressed by children that they do not wish to meet their fathers, despite the fact that such children have been “intensively programmed” to respond in this way by mothers and the mother’s relations.
Judges are reluctant to advise that therapy should take place, despite the fact that when such alienation occurs, children are damaged. Such therapy is often recommended by expert witnesses such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Such recommended periods of therapy for the child and mother are viewed by judges (with the aid of the mother’s Counsel!) as likely to damage further the children who are involved in this conflict and hostility between the parents.
Despite such reservations, judges have a moral duty to provide justice for the alienated party, this usually being the father. The threat of punishment for the alienator must be supported by punishment, including removing the child from mother’s care to a neutral place or to the alienated parent, and to use incarceration when necessary. Failure to carry out this distasteful, but necessary, action against the obdurate party would constitute a mockery of the judicial system. It is my experience as an expert witness to the Courts as a forensic, clinical psychologist, that most alienating parents, whether mothers or fathers, will obey a court order if punishment is threatened for failure to adhere to the ruling. Hence the carrying out of the various possible measures is rarely necessary.
In connection with PAS many judges have, without always being aware, adopted a double standard. They see mothers who are alienators as “victims” to be protected even when they have committed what can only be described as a form of “emotional abuse”. They have abused their powerful position by influencing the young children and turning them against the other parent. They have usurped the role of the other parent or given it to yet another partner with whom they have become associated. In this way, they have, by destroying the right of the other parent taken away that parent’s opportunity to contribute to the child’s welfare. This is at a time when we are seeking to promote the equality of the sexes. Partners should have equal power and responsibility toward their children.
PAS, when it has been proven, is a vicious form of gender opportunism or gender apartheid, which those seeking through justice can no longer ignore. Judges must stop worrying about public outcries if they remove a child from the care of a vicious programming parent who is showing their hostility toward the former partner.
I therefore suggest that the alienated parents, be they fathers or mothers, be protected. In so doing we are also protecting the children of such a relationship from a gross and calculated mis-use of power or position, that of the resident care giver.
Judges in cases of proven PAS should act as decisively as they would if judging a case of proven crime such as rape or murder. They must remove the child from the emotional damage being heaped upon it, to a safe place, where the non-alienating parent, with the help of therapy for the child, can have his influences felt by the child. At the same time, it is necessary to help the parent who has alienated the child in the first place. He or she has undoubtedly suffered from a considerable amount of pathological hostility towards the former partner.
By removing the child, or children, from the influence of the “brain-washing” alienator, the child has the opportunity of experiencing the dedication of the previously alienated parent and to develop a less biased view of that parent. Also the child can develop a positive view of both parents despite them being at war with each other.
This will do much to ensure for that child that both parents, although hostile towards one another, care and are devoted to him/her. This provides the child with a reasonable start in life, which he or she would not have had, had the influence of the alienator been allowed to continue along with a failure to have any contact with the alienated parent at the same time.
Dr L F Lowenstein
Allington Manor, Allington Lane
Fair Oak, Eastleigh
Hampshire, SO50 7DE
1. Parent Alienation Syndrome: What the legal profession should know, MLJ Vol 66 ( 1998) pt 4, 151.
Existence of Parental Alienation Is Now Beyond Debate. Posted with permission by Dr. Richard A. Warshak
Survey results just released show near unanimous agreement among professionals that children can be manipulated by one parent to turn against the other parent.
The survey was taken at the annual International Conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Approximately 1000 legal and mental health professionals attended a debate about whether parental alienation should be included in the future edition of the manual of official psychiatric diagnoses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association – Fifth Edition, commonly known as the DSM-5.
About 300 people responded to the survey. Nearly every respondent, 98%, responded Yes to the question: “Do you think that some children are manipulated by one parent to irrationally and unjustifiably reject the other parent?”
Despite their contrasting opinions on the issue of whether the DSM-5 should include parental alienation, the debate panel agreed: “The survey results were overwhelming in support of the basic tenet of parental alienation: children can be manipulated by one parent to reject the other parent who does not deserve to be rejected.”
Respondents to the survey were divided about whether the rejected parent shares blame when the favored parent engages in alienating behaviors, what I call divorce poison. Although the panel have not yet explained this finding, it is the result I would expect because the question is ambiguous.
The roots of alienation differ among children. Like nearly every psychological disturbance in childhood, multiple threads make up the tapestry of the child’s personality. (See The Complex Tapestry of Parental Alienation.) When looking at the rejected parent’s contributions to the problem, we see a continuum from those whose behavior is primarily responsible for the problem, to those who contribute significantly and without whose contributions the children might not be alienated, to those whose contributions may not have helped the situation, but did not play any significant role in generating the children’s rejection. (See my Huffpost: Stop Divorce Poison.)
The division among survey responses may reflect nothing more than the respondents thinking about different types of cases. Had they been asked, “Do you believe there are some cases in which a rejected parent’s behavior has not contributed significantly to a child’s rejection?” it is likely that the responses would have approached the consensus found with respect to the issue of the existence of irrational parental alienation.
Also, the notions of cause of a problem and blame for it are complex. Legal dictionaries list many different types of causes. I discuss this in my training seminars and expect to blog about it in the future.
The panel expects to publish a more extensive analysis of the survey results. When they do, you can read about it here.
This article is posted with permission from Dr. Richard Warshak
The many parents I have helped, women and men, express astonishment that some people demonize me, attempt to tarnish my reputation, and spread misleading and false information about my work and me. Although my supporters far outweigh my detractors, the people seeking to quiet my voice yell loudly and work hard to circulate their misinformation.
Until now I have allowed the personal attacks and gross misrepresentations to go without answer. I understand the mentality of a true believer and realize that clarification of reality and objective evidence will hit the brick wall of a closed mind. For various reasons, these people want to hold on to their beliefs. They cling to misguided ideas rather than acknowledge the widespread mistreatment of children described in Divorce Poison and my other works. In some respects, they resemble people from earlier generations who refused to acknowledge the evidence of their senses that children were being physically and sexually abused with alarming frequency. Just as the professionals who first pointed an accusing finger at a society that tolerated such abuse were attacked, I suppose it is my fate to be the target of similar attacks.
Defending myself against such attacks feels a bit undignified. It seems an unnecessary waste of time, and gives currency to a few fanatics who attempt to alienate my audience from me using the same tactics that some parents use to alienate their children from the other parent. Some of these extremists have lost custody of their children in a ruling that seeks to protect the children from severe doses of divorce poison. Rather than recognize the rationale for the court’s decision, these people believe that the judge either was biased or was foolishly taken in by the other parent’s allegations. Some of these people would have you believe that there is an epidemic of judges who take joy in placing children with parents who beat or sexually molest them. In fact, one website claims a conspiracy of Masonic judges who, in every family court across North America (I am not exaggerating), automatically give custody to pedophiliac fathers who in turn pimp their children to pedophiliac members of the Illuminati (the group profiled in Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons). I am not kidding. . . . Nor are they.
As I say in the Afterword to the revised edition of my book, when my wife reads these vicious and absurd accounts, she shakes her head in disbelief at the raw animosity that greets the work I do on behalf of suffering families. She asks, “Don’t they know that you’ve devoted your career to the welfare of children?” The many women I have helped through my writing, consultations, and courtroom testimony cannot understand what motivates the detractors, who claim to be advocates for women.
So why am I writing this article? It occurred to me that those who find value in my work might be confused by the drumbeat of misinformation. The downside of responding to critics is that it fuels their zeal and brings more attention to their smears. They live for the battle and are gratified when anyone takes them seriously. I would rather spend my time providing guidance on how to understand, prevent, and repair damaged parent-child relationships. But, for the sake of those who really want to know, here is some clarification.
One smear that has been making the rounds involves a case where I helped a mother whose children were irrationally alienated. Some important details I cannot divulge because they are not a matter of public record and I wish to protect the family’s privacy. Were these details known, domestic violence activists who criticize my involvement in this case would surely regret their words. They would think twice about circulating the innuendos and arguments raised by the father’s lawyer in his attempt to defeat the mother.
Several mental health professionals concluded that the children’s estrangement from their mother was unreasonable. Even the father’s own expert witness recommended that the one child under the age of 18 be removed from the father’s home (but, for reasons unclear, not placed with his mother).
The case was heard before an arbitrator. The arbitrator found that “the mother was the intentional victim of irrational alienation by her sons, designed and orchestrated by the father.” The decision awarded sole custody to the mother and gave her the authority to make decisions on behalf of her son including, at her discretion, enrolling him in my educational workshop. The Arbitrator’s decision was appealed to the Family Court. The Court did not dispute the findings of irrational alienation. But the judge did rule that the Arbitrator should have ordered another evaluation. In the decision the judge pointed out that I gave no recommendations because, as I made clear to the Arbitrator, I had not conducted a custody evaluation. The judge set aside the Arbitrator’s award and allowed the case to go to a new trial.
Here is where the smears begin. The purpose of my testimony was to educate the court about general issues and the state of knowledge regarding parent-child conflicts and children’s rejection of a parent, and to describe various interventions for families in which the court finds that the children’s rejection of a parent is unjustified, irrational, disproportionate to the child’s experience of the parent, and not in the children’s best interests. An expert witness who testifies in this capacity is obliged to explain the limitations of his work in the case. As is my duty, I clarified the purpose of my testimony and volunteered the information that I had not conducted an evaluation and was not there to make a specific recommendation for this family.
Rather than point out that I had testified in a professionally ethical and objective manner and properly apprised the court of the scope of my work in the case, including limitations, some bloggers imply that the Family Court Judge “discovered” the limitations and that I then had to “admit” that I had not seen the children. This is not what happened. I never testified before the Family Court Judge. The Judge simply noted what I had volunteered in my testimony in the Arbitration. My professional colleagues understand that what I did was precisely in accord with professional ethics.
Now it gets interesting, and this is the part critics conceal from their blogs. This was not the conclusion of the case. A new custody assessment was conducted. The assessment results strongly supported the mother’s position, recommended giving her the authority to enroll her son in Family Bridges, and concluded that the workshop was the best option for this family.
The case did go to trial. But, on the eve of the trial, the father’s lawyer, in what appeared to me to be a desperate last-ditch attempt to try his case in the media when it was clear that the evidence favored the mother, submitted an article to Canada’s Law Times that attacked my workshop as unscientific. Fortunately, the editor recognized distortions in the lawyer’s submission and asked me to submit commentary to set the record straight. My article was published. It effectively refutes the lawyer’s arguments. You do not learn about my article by reading the advocate’s blog posts. (See The Slanted Truth for the use of such tactics by alienating parents.) It is as if it did not exist. You can read my article by clicking here.
What you also never learn from reading the blogger’s accounts of this case is the ultimate outcome. Notwithstanding the father’s lawyer’s maneuvers, again, the mother prevailed on all counts. After hearing all the evidence, the judge concluded that “Mother should have sole legal and residential custody of [the child]. Mother shall have complete authority to make decisions regarding [the child's] welfare. She is not required to consult with anyone before doing so; Mother is specifically authorized to obtain any treatment and/or intervention for [the child] as she, in her sole discretion, deems necessary and appropriate for [the child's] best interests; Mother’s authority described above includes, but is not limited to ‘Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships,’ to enable and assist [the child] in adjusting to living with her.”
By selectively citing the earlier Family Court decision, and concealing the trial outcome, the bloggers leave the impression that the court was critical of Family Bridges and blocked the family from participating in the workshop. In the end, the truth is the exact opposite. (Selective attention is another tactic of alienating parents that critics adopt to try to alienate audiences from my work.)
Here is what the judge wrote in her opinion: “This leaves the Workshop, coupled with a change in custody, as the only potential remedy with any chance of success in this difficult case. . . . The court is faced with compelling evidence that a change in custody, coupled with the Workshop is best for [the child]. . . . The Workshop is a last resort. Obviously it would have been better had these problems been identified and corrected early on. . . . Unfortunately, they were not. This leaves the Workshop as [the child's] best last hope.” [Emphasis added.]
I fully expect detractors to post other information attempting to cast doubt on the wisdom of the judge’s decision in this case (which was essentially identical to the arbitrator’s decision; that is, two different triers of fact, after hearing all the evidence, concluded that the mother should have custody and have the right to enroll her child in Family Bridges). I do not intend to respond to such posts.
As rebuttal to any future innuendoes and misrepresentations, I can state the following. The mother has authorized me to state that she is very pleased with the ultimate outcome of her case. Her formerly alienated son, estranged for six years, participated in, and greatly benefitted from, the four day Family Bridges workshop. He rapidly restored his loving relationship with his mother and they now live happily together.
Parental Alienation and HuffPo’s Divorce Section: Reality & Reason on Matrimonial Mismatch by Monika Logan
The Huffington Post recently featured an article,”Stop Divorce Poison.” The article, if properly understood, disentangles a web of blame. Accusations that alienated parents, are somehow responsible, is punitive. The idea that both parents are equally at fault is predicated on assumptions. Dr. Warshak sheds light that alienated parents, similar to survivors of domestic violence, may have married a person that was abusive. Joan Dawson also points out, in her article, No Room for Reason that matrimonial mismatches are a reality. She notes, “Abusers do not come with a sign on their forehead.” She indicates that it is often months or years later, when one finds out the truth. At the beginning of courtship, it is hard to detect that the person you’re in love with, may later resort to despicable tactics. Contrary to popular thought, not everyone marries a like-minded person.
Unfortunately, some groups have no room for reason. Their only explanation to child alienation is that the parent must have been abusive. They rank and order levels of abuse. No one disputes the horrific outcome of physical assault. Yet, it is forgotten, that some abusers tactics consist only of uncensored verbal snares to minor children. Beware: If you are an alienated mother, you will be left in the dust. If you report that your child no longer loves you; you will be questioned and judged. They believe if your child refuses visitation; it is your fault. They do not believe that words alone, by a manipulative ex-spouse, could sway the mind of a gullible child. Grown women can follow the likes of Warren Jeffs, but some are dumbfounded when sociopath ex-spouses lure children with lies. If you have an ex-spouse that never hit you, but instead, refuses to cease denigrating you; you too many become alienated.
Why should parental alienation concern women? Because women are concerned about the emotional well-being of their children. Most would agree; it is not in our children’s best interest to ignore emotional abuse. Ignoring parental alienation is problematic because it casts doubt that long-term emotional abuse is something children just “get over.” (Several studies, not media hype, indicate the damage of relentless denigration, click here, here, and here. Denying PAS also harms women, published in a respected, peer-reviewed journal, click here. )
As Dr. Warshak describes, the article intends to make a few simple points. Some of the points are: it is wrong to use children as pawns to express hostility or punish a former partner; it is cruel to teach children to hate people who love them, and it is abusive to force children to choose which they parent they will feel free to love. The crux of the article is that matrimonial mismatches are a reality. The analogy starts off, Mother Theresa does not marry Saddam Hussein.” Judges and court-appointed psychologists recite this bromide when one parent complains about the other. It is meant to convey a sophisticated, balanced, it-takes-two-to-tango view of divorce-related conflict. The system labels these parents a “high-conflict couple,” and assumes that both contribute equally to their disputes (Warshak, 2010).
In some situations both parents contribute equally, but not in all cases. It is often overlooked that a Mother Theresa can marry a Saddam Hussein (especially, as Dawson notes, he is not wearing a sign revealing his true nature). We must admit; the sign may easily be overlooked when we are young and believe we are in love. I share Dawson’s concerns that PA should be distinguished from DV. It is a tragedy when a protective parent has to live with the fact that his or her child has been placed with an abusive parent. But what about emotional abuse? Parents suffer too when their child is placed with an emotionally abusing parent.
I additionally share Dawson’s concerns that many mothers have made good faith allegations; yet they are doubted. The difference is that alienated mothers make good faith allegations that after their divorce, their once loved child is rejecting. They report their ex-spouse never physically abused them or their child. Instead, they report that their ex-spouse will not follow court orders, and will not cease denigrating them to their minor child. They report that their child treats them with contempt, in fact, with the same disrespect and demeaning tone that their ex utilized when married. I cannot help but wonder what they will do when a good mother insists that they did not do anything to deserve such unwarranted hatred. Their messages will be most likely be censored, canceled, and chastised– claiming no man would be clever enough to coax a child into a clouded state of mind control.
“To a good mother who grieves the loss of her children’s love and respect, alienation is not “theoretical” and there is nothing in sounding the alarm about this form of emotional abuse that conflicts with advocating on behalf of victims of domestic violence.” Dr. Warshak, 2010
Bereavement Without End– A Plea From Alienated Parents Everywhere by Tim Line
The death of a child is indisputably one of the most incredibly horrible tragedies one can imagine. Whether by sudden accidental circumstance, or by a more lengthy cause as in illness, the loss of a child is undeniably painful to experience.Painful to the parents, parents to the family, and painful to anyone related to the child. Never knowing the laughter of that child again or the tears, the joys and the accomplishments is a pain no parent should ever have to endure, and yet it happens. No one is to blame. It just happens.
Imagine the same pain and the same sense of loss, with one exception-the parent is very much aware that the child is alive.
The effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome are very similar to the loss of a child due to accident or illness. For the parent who has been alienated from their child, the bereavement does not end. How do we know? Each alienated parent separately, and all of us collectively have lived with both the cause and the effect of Parental Alienation for countless years. Like a terminally fatal childhood disease, Parental Alienation rips the innocent child from your arms slowly. You witness the suffering. You witness the effects. You can feel the impending doom is inevitable, but you are powerless to do anything about it. You try remedy after remedy hoping that one will finally rid your child of the “disease”. You work like a person possessed in order to finance the efforts, and when the final blow comes, it is emotionally devastating. You question yourself. You blame yourself for the loss. You tell yourself you should have done more.
The very sad part of the story, is it is not unique. There are hundreds of thousands of children and parents affected by PAS. We beg of those with the power to make people aware of this devastatingly horrible phenomena, to please do all they can to educate people on its effects, and to change the laws to protect the innocence of the children involved. Only then can we truly hope to keep children safe from the harmful side effects that are inherent with Parental Alienation itself. It’s killing the spirit of family everywhere.
Parental Alienation: The Evolution of Defamation and Defiance. A Couple of Contributing Factors
Parental alienation does not begin nor end in the courtroom. The sinister plan starts with one person requesting a divorce or wanting a separation. Consequently, fear sets in; the man or woman has to figure out how to regain their power and control. One way, is through their child. While protracted litigation adds more fuel to the fire, signing the decree will not finalize nor force parents to get along. The unhappy parent may use intimidation, threatening long-lasting legal battles. Or, others warn that they are leaving the country with the child. Some make false allegations. It is clear: parental alienation does not end once families leave the court. In fact, it is often just getting started.
One erroneous belief is that parents continue to quarrel and that both parents participate. Certainly, there is an adjustment phase about a year after the divorce. And, it is common knowledge that parents will slip up with an unkind word here and there. However, contrary to popular media; parental alienation can occur without hostile exchanges. In fact, one parent can be kind-hearted and go out of his or her way to keep the peace.
Some might label this as passive behavior. While it was acceptable to be pleasant natured in an intact marriage, if you are the target of a hate campaign, it will not help your plight. Actually, being soft-natured may lead some to conclude the target parent is part of the problem. Surprisingly, the aforementioned threats fits an all too familiar term—domestic violence. As a caveat, not all cases of DV include bruises, but they do share the theme of power and control.
One thing is certain; many alienating parents do not adhere to court orders. As a result, visitation schedules are missed. Missed time with a child provides more time for unholy alliances to form. Or, the alienating parent outright ignores the no bad-mouthing clause. Most agree that constant badmouthing is not good for a child’s psyche. Why would a parent ignore court orders? Answer: Because they know there are not any consequences.
Orders are not enforced for a couple of noteworthy reasons. First, the system is bogged down. Second are mixed messages. Parents are told it is not good to be “in and out of court.” Or, some target parents may simply succumb to the tears of their eight year old that reports, “please do not take (dad or mom) to court.” It is easy to understand, why target parents decide not to enforce orders that are repeatedly ignored. They logically reason court is futile. In other words, why hassle with enforcing court orders that will not be followed in the first place. If the situation entails a destitute woman, she will not have the money anyhow.
Lastly, for those that have resources to enforce orders, some have learned that efforts are pointless. Multiple studies indicate that alienating parents will not follow decrees. Baker & Darnall (2007) discovered that courts poorly enforced visitation and at times, the visitation was not enforced at all. An earlier study by Baker & Darnall (2006) noted the most frequent cited response, as pertaining to parenting time, was that favored parents did not adhere to court orders. Yet, again, another finding by Kelly (2010) indicated that favored parents do not follow through with court orders. Kelly pointed out that favored parents learn through protracted litigation, that courts do not enforce mandates such as parenting classes or therapy. It is no surprise that target parents believe the situation is one beyond their control (Vassiliou & Cartwright, 2001). The logical solution is to educate courts on the perils of parental alienation in conjunction with including this insidious form of emotional abuse in the DSM. Uniformity not only aids in common terminology, but would ensue systematic understanding. Parental alienation is an issue that is too often misunderstood and one that far too many claim is a nothing more than an unfounded theory or a slick cover up.
Baker, A. J. L., & Darnall, D. (2006). Behaviors and strategies employed in parental alienation: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45(1–2), 97–124
Baker, A. J. L., & Darnall, D. (2007). A construct study of the eight symptoms of severe parental alienation syndrome: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 47(1–2), 55–75.
Kelly, J. (2010). Commentary on Family bridges: Using insights from social science to reconnect parents and alienated children. Family Court Review, 48(1), 81–90.
Vassiliou, D., & Cartwright, G.F. (2001). The lost parents’ perspective on parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy, 29(3), 181– 191.
Dealing with Parental Alienation is tough. As noted by author of Divorce Poison, Dr. Richard Warshak, alienated parents have to develop a thick skin. There is not an easy answer. What works for one situation, will not work for another. Yet, keep in mind that other disorders also lack clear-cut answers. A few contributing factors are: personality, temperament and affinity. Still, there are shared commonalities; age counts. So does time. Time is vital . The longer a parent hiked on the high-road, the harder the terrain will be. Exhaustion may arrive–a little too early. Passivity may have replaced healthy activism. While we have not quite resolved the entire issue of PA, silence does not work. Silence (aka the high road) leads to dead ends, long dry spells, and boulders that will knock nearly all parents down—even those with the best preparation & territorial gear.
If you are a rejected parent and have contact with your alienated teenager, you probably discovered that reasoning and logic does not work. One tactic that may prove beneficial is your teens’ friends. They may possibly offset the programmed black & white thinking. Get ready. Open up your home. Grab junk food, turn up the latest hip-hop tunes and rent a couple of movies. Love others. While your own kid may dismiss you, other kids will not. In no doubt, your teen might manifest alienated behaviors such as, in your face defiance, destroying property, or running up your water bill just for fun; there is nothing like an outsider thinking you are an okay parent.
An un-brainwashed teen frequently detests both their parent’s odd mannerisms. On the other hand, an alienated teen, views one parent as fault- free and the other as appalling. The so-called all bad parent did not have to do anything to deserve their low life status. Similarly, the favored parent did not have to do anything to earn their angelic standing. The truth is, their glorified status was achieved through shoddy tactics such as buying the teen unnecessary items while simultaneously shucking responsibility. The ex-spouse, may also have frequent pity parties making the teen feel guilty. Or, perhaps, allows the teen to blow off parental rules, values and exploit boundaries.
Rejected parents are painfully aware that PA looks hopeless but it is not. God is bigger than parental alienation. Not long ago, a rejected mother shared what could be called a shock factor. The alienated mother is not perfect. She is average. The mother loves her teen and goes about day to day performing normal parental duties. The difference is, parenting an alienated teen is triple the pressure compared to non-alienated teens. She, like many others, lives with a spy . She also resides with a teen that disrespects her beyond the level of typical teens. One day, like many others, her teen demanded an after school meal, in his normal demeaning tone. Yet this time, the teen had a friend visiting. The mother, astonished, shared a needed assertion. The teen’s friend remarked, “I wish my mom was like yours.” The alienated mother noted that the look on her teens face was priceless. She later noted, she overheard the friend say, “Your mom is nice; you should not be so disrespectful.” And, “is she really as bad as you say?” A seed was planted.
Without a doubt this mother was pleasantly surprised. Slowly, this mother’s teen left the house for school and actually said have a nice day, vs. slamming the door. Household items were no longer given to the ex spouse. The teen talked a little more, participated in family time, and even said thank you a time or two. Definitely the teen was still somewhat blinded by the favored parent, but a seed was planted. The rejected parent cannot force an ex-spouse that is clearly capable of responsibility, to grow up. The rejected parent cannot rid their ex-spouses tote bag of entitlement, but it will have less impact. This story demonstrates how typical teen behaviors, such as loud music and asking for extended curfews may evolve.
Some alienated parents use the aid of family. If the family understands alienation and does not undermine efforts, change is possible. Unfortunately, certain families follow common societal mentality. They mistakenly think if a child rejects a parent, the parent must be at fault. They believe if a teen acts nervous around a rejected parent, the parent must have done something to warrant the anxiety. The family member may, make the situation worse due to a lack of insight. They fail to realize that if a favored parent has brainwashed a teen (starting at a young age, with the help of extended family) the teen will come to believe mom should be shunned. Accordingly, a fear response will follow. An outsider, another teenager, offers random uncensored comments at unexpected times. Possibly, your teen may be shocked into thinking that maybe, just maybe, both parents are not perfect. And, given enough uncensored and un- planned comments, the teen may start to question the disrespect they dish out and the lie that one-sided family loyalty is necessary. Children should feel free to love both parents without the burden of guilt or feelings of betrayal.
This article is not intended for any form of advice or therapy.
Parental Alienation: Projective Identification & Provoked Target Parents
(your ex-spouse may be faking it on the looking good scale)
Counseling Assessment, Assignment 2
Paper for Graduate Class
by Monika Logan, LBSW
No one disputes that many marriages end in divorce. A portion of these un-happy endings will result in blame, court battles, and bitterness. According to The Center for Divorce Education 10% of divorces are considered high-conflict. The couples that cannot end their divorce by agreeable terms do a great disservice to their children. Frequently, one parent turns a child against the other parent. As a result, the child may reject a once loved parent. This phenomenon has been described in the literature for over 60 years and has been debated for about the last 15 years. It was coined in the 1980s by Dr. Gardner, as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Out of a rejection for the medical model, it is frequently referred to Parental Alienation (PA). As a caveat, PA and PAS are frequently used interchangeably by the lay person and in various professional circles. Nevertheless, PA is a growing dilemma. Especially problematic is when the alignment becomes so entrenched that children join forces with one parent to completely reject and denigrate the other, once-loved parent. (Warshak, 2001; Baker & Andre, 2009; Darnall, 1998; Wallerstein & Kelly 1980). This denigration may lead to a loss of extended family and severed relationships.
Not only is PA an increasing problem for families; it is contentious among professionals. Some clinicians are staunch supporters of the concept that multiple factors contribute to PA. Their clinical work includes samples of divorced families whose children reject them for valid, but nonetheless poignant reasons such as physical abuse, normal developmental phases, or in cases where a parent is an alcoholic. One view (Johnston, 2001) offered is from a family systems’ perspective indicating that PA has many contributing factors. I agree that many factors may lead to estrangement and interrupt, if not destroy, a parent child relationship. Conversely, I propose that it is possible for one parent to harbor hate and resentment towards another; the detestation can be manifested in such a way that a child may suddenly reject a parent that they previously loved. Irrational alienation is possible.
According to Gardner’s formulation, “alienated parents are innocent of any behavior that justifies their children’s total alienation from them. If a parent’s behavior does warrant the children’s alienation, this is not a case of PAS” (Warshak, 2001). I agree with Warshak (2002), “When there is no brainwashing parent there is no PAS.” Clearly, it is ideal that the conflict between the parents that prevents the children from having a meaningful relationship should be addressed (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). Yet, the stark reality is that “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially” (Jaffe, et al., 2010).
I consider that some parents’ cannot move on with life and may not recover from a divorce. Clearly, alienating parents may benefit from counseling and divorce education programs. However, it is also possible that some will not benefit. A number of alienating parents defy court orders and do not believe that he or she has any parenting deficits. When custody battles enter the court, psychological testing may be administered. One commonly utilized objective [italics added] test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2). A study by Gordon, Stoffey & Bottinelli (2010) employed this test to determine differences in primitive defenses such as splitting and projective identification, between cases of PAS and those without PAS. Gordon et al. (2010) defines projective identification as “when one denies personal faults, and projects them on to another and then treats and provokes that person accordingly” ( ¶ 2, p. 225). The concept of splitting is viewed as extreme black and white thinking. As an example, of splitting, alienating parents would describe their ex-spouse as a “bad parent” with no room for human error. In turn, alienating parents indoctrinate innocent children into believing mom or dad is a sorry no-good for nothing of a parent.
Gordon et al. (2010) utilized a sample of 158 MMPI-2s from seven forensic psychology practices. Their study consisted of 76 cases of PAS; the control group consisted of 82 cases in which PAS was not present. The authors note, “because of the heated environment surrounding PAS fueled by a number of competing interest groups, only accumulated objective findings can fairly assess PAS” (Gordon et al., 2010). Their research consisted of two traditional validity indexes. The first included: ( L) Lie + (K) Correction for Defensiveness — (F) Unusual Psychopathology as a measure of primitive defenses. Gordon et al. (2010) notes that although L+K–F adds little additional independent information from the individual scales, this index has retest reliability greater than that of the individual scales (¶ 1, p. 216). The scale can measure the denial of aggressive motives. The authors additionally point out that the LFK relationship corresponds to the defense mechanism of splitting. The second utilized was the Goldberg Index: (Lie + Paranoia + Schizophrenia) – (Hysteria + Psychasthenia). Incorporating two indexes allows for measurement of “primitive defenses in different ways” (Gordon et al. 2010, ¶ 2, p. 217).
As the purpose of the assignment is to evaluate testing, provide my opinion and a personal reaction; I will not detail findings for all three hypothesis as listed by Gordon (2010) et. al. For starters, I agree with the authors “the MMPI-2 proved to be a valuable research instrument in assessing primitive defenses” (¶ 3, p. 225). This test measured what it intended to measure. The combination of LFK provides insight regarding admission of lying, a tendency to spin answers, and if someone is “faking bad” for special attention (Neukrug & Fawcett, 2010). This test is also useful for the clinical scales. I concur, that multiple assessment measures should be used. Special caution is in order when the issue at hand is a child’s life. High-conflict custody decisions should be made by those with high standards, adherence to ethical standards, extensive training, and out-right common sense.
It appears that the MMPI-2 is complementary to clinical interviews, self-reports, and observations. It is not in the child’s best interest to base custody solely on an adolescent’s voiced wish. While Texas law specifies that adolescents may choose; it seems logical that evaluators would realize that a child may be enticed into saying what one parent has taught them. Or, as another example, the adolescent may desire to live where more freedom and material benefit is granted. In cases of Parental Alienation, multiple measures are necessary. In Dr. Richard Warshak’s book, Divorce Poison, How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing (2010) a disheartening story is provided regarding a twelve- year- old girl that had an inexperienced social worker. The girl wrote her mother a letter and reported that she no longer desired a relationship. The girl’s reasoning was that the mother did not treat her with respect and treated her like a baby (p. 36). This was a case of Parental Alienation in which the father had provided instruction on writing the letter. The social worker in this case recommended that the mother get counseling to learn to deal with teenagers. This social workers failure to include multiple assessments and sound reasoning caused great harm. The outcome was a loss of mother daughter relationship.
The MMPI-2 sheds light on the fact that rejected parents, contrary to some findings, are not necessarily part of the problem. In no doubt there may be multiple contributing factors for a child to be estranged from a parent. Yet, I suggest that one person causes Parental Alienation; a bitter ex-spouse. Pathological parents poison their children’s mind and destroy their souls. Gordon, Stoffey and Bottinelli (2008) findings suggest that rejected parents do not favor primitive defenses. As I support the idea that rejected parents in custody litigation are not psychologically different than parents in intact marriages; their research supported my reasoning. They found that alienating parents (both mothers and fathers) had higher T scores compared to the control group (comprised of mothers and fathers) who were in the normal range.
I was not surprised by the findings. It is not mind-boggling that one parent via words and actions can turn a child against another parent. This research exposed the poor emotional boundaries between alienating parents and their children. The authors note, “The sharing of primitive defenses helps the child maintain a pathological symbiosis with the idealized alienating parent who is seen as all good while the target parent is seen as all bad” (¶ 5, p. 225). At this point in my graduate studies, I deem that the MMPI-2 augments other assessment measures. In addition to other measures, assessment requires sound reasoning, reflection, and regard.
Conscious Co-Parenting Institute (addresses Parental Alienation)
All About The Children is the premier web enabled divorce communications management tool for couples with children.
Children in the Middle (May be taken in privacy of your own home) controlled outcome research outcomes
Up to Parents: A free, confidential, and interactive website
for divorcing and divorced parents
The OurFamilyWizard website is an online custody calendar and information manager that allows you to easily schedule and track parenting time, share important family information and expenses as well as create clear communication.
Whether you are just now beginning the journey through divorce, custody agreements, child support, and dealing with an ex-spouse who isn’t thrilled with you, or you’ve been dealing with these issues for years with no break, Mr Custody Coach and our team are here to help you get the most time with your children, stop the harassment, and move on with your life