Friday, March 18, 2011

Parental Alienation and Child Custody decisions

Divorce and separation should be about dissolving the cohabitation, shared lifestyle and co-mingling of finances between two adults. It should never be about separating the children from a parent unless there is clearly substantial abuse of the child by that parent. Yet, abusive parents often use the child as a pawn for retribution against the other parent, as a hostage for a beneficial settlement of property or as leverage to obtain a high child support payment order.

If you are in a contested child custody battle then it is important that you recognize what Parental Alienation is, what you can do as a loving parent to ensure that you do not engage in it and how to combat it when the other parent is alienating your child from you.

Much of the information I will be providing here was gleaned from Parental Alienation Awareness Organization. I encourage you to visit their website if you feel that your child may be experiencing Parental Alienation or if you feel you may be at risk of alienating your child from the other parent.

Here are a few things that may indicate that you may be at risk of alienating the other parent.
~ you feel overwhelmed by hurt feelings from the actions of the other parent;
~ you don't want reminders of or items from the other parent in your home;
~ you want to "get back" at the other parent;
~ you feel that you need to protect your child from the other parent;
~ you want your child to affirm that you were correct; or
~ you want sole custody

I am not going to give a full examination of Parental Alienation but, instead, I will just examine a few points and how this may be viewed in the courts and typically what to expect from courts.

First, you should know that your child may side with the alienator. There are reasons for this that may be logical to the child. These include that the child feels the need to protect a parent who is depressed, anxious, or needy. The child may also want to avoid the anger or rejection of the alienating parent.

Parental alienation syndrome [PAS] is the term coined by Richard A. Gardner in the early 1980s to refer to what he describes as a disorder in which a child, on an ongoing basis, belittles and insults one parent without justification, due to a combination of factors, including indoctrination by the other parent and the child's own attempts to denigrate the target parent. Gardner introduced the term in a 1985 paper, describing a cluster of symptoms he had observed during the early 1980s. There is dispute among the psychiatric and legal community as to whether such a condition exists.

The Ocala Divorce Law Blog had this to say in a posting about the effort to get the American Psychiatric Association [APA] to include Parental Alienation in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-5] Dr. William Bernet, a psychiatry professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said it was "flatly ridiculous" for the APA to contend there is not enough information available to warrant including parental alienation in the DSM. He cited legal developments and new research in numerous foreign countries. His proposal defines parental alienation disorder as "a mental condition in which a child, usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce, allies himself or herself strongly with one parent, and rejects a relationship with the other parent, without legitimate justification."

Since the APA has not included Parental Alienation in the DSM some judges will not accept any evidence of or conclusions that a child is afflicted by PAS. However, there are some specific behaviours that when taken as a whole can lead to only one conclusion.

I have worked on numerous cases where parental alienation seemed evident. During the initial interview process I ask about the opposing parent and the child. As these behaviours are being described to me I am considering then how is it that I can present, in detail, some of the additional behaviours of the parent or child involved in alienation to the court?

Here are some of the behaviours that an alienating parent will engage in;
• Inaccurately or untruthfully telling the child about the rejected parent, or suggesting they are unsafe or dangerous.
• Inappropriately confiding adult information with the child.
• Throwing out gifts and letters from the rejected parent.
• Calling excessively during time with the rejected parent.
• Forbidding any reference to, or photos of the rejected parent.
• Scheduling activities that compete with time with the rejected parent.
• Monitoring or forbidding communication or time with the rejected parent
• Withdrawing love, inducing guilt for having fun or feeling love toward a rejected parent.
• Forcing the child to choose between parents.
• Creating conflict between the child and the rejected parent.
• Giving the child parental decision making authority, ie whether to visit with the rejected parent.
• Refusing to provide the child’s information (medical, educational, etc.), to the rejected parent.
• Not inviting/informing the rejected parent of important events. (awards, honors, graduations, etc)
• Refusing to provide others with the rejected parent’s contact information.
• Rewriting history to reduce a rejected parent’s role in the child’s life.

There are classes that may be required of divorcing or separating parents in addition to standard conditions that courts will include in custody and parenting time orders. These often include efforts to mitigate some of the behaviours I have just listed.

Because there is such a reluctance by the courts to acknowledge parental alienation it is difficult to run into court and ask a judge to order the offending parent into counseling. Instead, I suggest a plan that includes reference to specific behaviours that the court has already acknowledged.

Since the alienator will engage in a specific set of bevaviours then I would offer to the court, through an Information for Contempt, those that are specifically acknowledged in the court order or the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.

Monitoring or forbidding communication or parenting time with the rejected parent, refusing to provide the child’s information (medical, educational, etc.), to the rejected parent, giving the child parental decision making authority, ie whether to visit with the rejected parent, and not inviting/informing the rejected parent of important events (awards, honors, graduations, etc).

The clearest order of a court is going to be parenting time. The less knowledgeable parent or attorney may counter the parenting time violations with the argument that the child chose not to participate or that he or she felt the targeted parent was unsafe for the child.

While courts are less likely to find a parent who expresses a safety concern to be contemptuous it does fit the alienator pattern. The parenting time violations and to a lesser extent the interference in communication will lead to a finding of contempt.

The parent who constantly calls the child to "make sure everything is okay" or because he or she "is concerned" or "worried" or who is excessively clingy at the parenting time exchange is using a technique to alienate the child. Essentially the alienator is transmitting to the child a fear of the targeted parent, raising anxiety in the child while engaged in parenting time.

If this can be brought out in the testimony from the contemptuous parent then you are a giant leap closer to getting the court to recognize that the parent is an alienator.

The second area in which I seek to bring out evidence of a parent being an alienator is through exchange of information. The IPTG are rather clear about what is required of a parent as it relates to communicating information from the school or a doctor to the other parent.

I reiterated this point to the Domestic Relations Committee [DRC] today when speaking about Indiana House Bill 1422. The DRC will be altering the language about parental notification. It will soon be clearer as to exactly what information a parent is required to transmit to the other parent.

In summary it is important that you learn about parental alienation because you don't want to be an alienator but also need to recognize if your child is being alienated from you. Parental Alienation is child abuse. It does psychologically damage the child. Although I can create strategies which will use a parent's alienating behaviours against him or her I would much rather have your child not go through it to begin with.

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Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

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©2008, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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