Tag Archives: parental alientation

Canada Judge Reverses Custody in Case of Parental Alienation

From API’s Publications Team

GavelCanadian parents who have been the target of parental alienation that is negatively affecting their attachment to their children now have the courts on their side. According to an article on TheGlobeAndMail.com, “Courts Can Rescue Kids From an Alienating Parent,” judges in Canada are now willing to intervene in such custody cases and remove children from homes of the alienating parent even if it’s against the child’s wishes.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is tactics used by one parent to systematically poison the minds of the children against the other parent. For more information, read these articles from the DIVORCED & SINGLE PARENTING section:

The concern is that there is no scientific proof that this intervention to resolve parental alienation cases works.  The support for custody reversal is the studies that reveal what will happen if parental alienation is left to continue unchecked. Children grow up to experience feelings of guilt toward the alienated parent and anger toward the alienating parent, to the point where these emotional traumas negatively affects their relationships with others.

Earlier in January, an Ontario judge stripped a mother of the custody of her three children, ages 9-14, and limited her access to the children to no closer than 300 meters unless in a counseling session. The father had fought for 10 years for custody away from the woman who was trying to excommunicate him from their children’s lives. The father now has the right to take away the children’s cell phones and other devices to prevent communication with their mother, and to remove them from the country in search of counseling.

Eventually, the goal is for the mother to have less restrictive access and communication with the children and for the children to have a positive relationship with both parents. However, the interventions and counseling are to help the child figure out their true feelings toward both parents.

An Example of Parental Alienation

Author Richard Warshak describes a severe case:

During the custody trial, an 18-year-old child threatened violence against his mother if the judge awarded her custody. Today, the child admits that these threats were not his true feelings but what he had been brainwashed to say and think.

This is only the third such ruling in Canada’s history. The first two occurred in Ontario in 1989 and in Quebec in 1991.

“There is a greater understanding that the courts really hold the power to rescue the children from the situation of being caught in the middle,” said Richard Warshak, author of Divorce Poison and coordinator of a workshop that helps alienated parents reunite with their children. In the judgment, Madam Justice Faye McWatt wrote that the mother’s “unrelenting behavior toward the children is tantamount to emotional abuse.”

None of the children wanted to live with their father, but it was determined that the children, even the teen, were unable to think clearly about what they wanted because they had been brainwashed by their mother.

“The Canadian courts are in the forefront,” said Warshak of Dallas, Texas.

But making rulings in parental alienation cases will continue to be a slow process. Child psychologist Barbara Fidler, who had been involved with the family for many years, said professionals involved in these cases need time to assess the situation and to try less drastic measures such as parenting plans and visitation changes.

“There are some cases of what we call realistic estrangement,” Fidler said. “The alienated parent may be abusive, and the child has good reason for not wanting to visit. And then there is true pathological alienation, in which children are refusing contact without good reason.”

This latest ruling is giving hope to parents targeted by parental alienation, who say the tide appears to be turning.

“There was a period of time when people thought that if you did anything to sever that attachment between the child and the favored parent — that is, the allegedly toxic parent — that could cause more harm than any good,” said Jeffery Wilson, a family lawyer specializing in child advocacy.

To read the entire article, go to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090129.wlgenex29/BNStory/lifeFamily/home.

What Can a Parent Targeted by Parental Alienation Do?

By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling

Parents who are concerned about the other parent trying to turn their child against them should definitely take this concern seriously. Targeted parents should not assume that, because they have a warm and loving relationship with their child, this same child is immune to parental alienation efforts. Targeted parents should also not assume that this problem will go away by itself. Often, a child who experiences parental alienation becomes increasingly alienated until the child is completely out of the parent’s life.

There are several steps targeted parents can do in dealing with potential alienation of a child:

  1. Document the sources of concern, including the specific dates, times, and events – It is possible that putting this list together can shed light on the situation and help a parent see that the situation is much better or worse than originally thought to be. The list could also offer clues as to likely strategies to be used by the alienating parent in the future, which could possibly be thwarted with some advance knowledge and planning. If a parent concludes that parental alienation is a legitimate concern, it is very important that a team of mental health and legal professionals, who are familiar with the problem, is pulled together. Should the situation involve a court case, it is important to work with professionals who understand the dynamics of PAS.
  2. Hold himself or herself to the highest possible standard of parenting – That means the targeted parent should never being late for pick-ups and showing up for all visitation and activities, no matter how difficult that might be and even if it is highly likely that the child will not be made available. Targeted parents need to realize that every misstep will be greatly exaggerated by the alienating parent and that it hurts the “cause” to behave in a way that gives the appearance of being untrustworthy or unloving.
  3. Do not engage in lengthy debates with the child about the alienation – Children do not want to be told that they are being manipulated and that they are not thinking for themselves. Such an attack is likely to entrench the child further into the alienation. Similarly, targeted parents should not spend too much time – if they have any actual visitation time left – engaging in arguments about any of the specific areas of disagreements. It is completely understandable why parents would want to defend themselves when their child is falsely accusing them of some misdeed. However, what the child may take away from such an encounter is a bad feeling about the time spent with the targeted parent. It is much wiser to make whatever time is available with the child positive, warm, and loving – or at least not actively negative and hostile. That being said, it is suggested that targeted parents respond to an accusing child with the following statement, “I hear that you believe that I (insert specific accusation), and I am so sorry that you believe that. I do have my own perspective on that and am willing to discuss it with you if and when you want. In the meantime, let’s (insert enjoyable activity here).” This puts the targeted parent on the record that there is another side of the story, without forcing the child to face a reality she is not able to accept. On a related front, the best way for targeted parents to show their child who they are is to be their best self and to maintain their love and support for the child. Many targeted parents – overcome with grief and frustration – become tempted to cease reaching out to the child, but this can be a mistake. Even the most alienated and rejecting child does not really want the targeted parent to go away for good. The targeted parent can help the child and their relationship by behaving in a consistently loving and available manner – no matter what. Thus, even if the child has cut off a targeted parent, that targeted parent can still send letters, text messages, e-mails, gifts, and so forth. Even if the targeted parent is certain that the cards and gifts are being thrown out or not being brought to the child’s attention, it is important to have a system for consistently trying to make contact, in the event that the child does become aware of these efforts. At the same time, these points of contact should not be guilt-inducing or manipulative in any way. The most important message to convey is, “I love you, and I am thinking of you. I would love to spend time with you whenever you want.”
  4. Maintain empathy for the child, no matter how disagreeable he behaves – It is helpful to think of the child as a nested doll (a doll inside a doll inside a doll) in which the innermost doll is the real child and the outer dolls represent the defenses and distorted beliefs that separate the child from the parent. No matter how ugly the child behaves, the real child is still somewhere deep inside, needing the targeted parent to love him.
  5. Never give up hope – Even the most alienated child can eventually have a realization and want to reestablish contact with the targeted parent. There are many different catalysts for having the realization that one has been manipulated by a parent to forgo a relationship with the other parent. The targeted parent may be the last person to know that the child is in the process of having a change of heart. That is why the targeted parent must always let the child know that the child is valued and loved and will be welcomed back whenever she is ready. It may be useful to think of an alienated child as lost in a dark forest of lies and confusion. All of the points of contact that the targeted parent initiates are like a trail out of that forest, guiding the child back to the targeted parent.
  6. Become educated and get support – Being a targeted parent is one of life’s most painful and sorrowful experiences. Few people understand PAS unless they have experienced it firsthand. There are support groups on the internet and in some communities for targeted parents. There are also a number of good books and websites for targeted parents.

For More Information
Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind by Amy J. L. Baker
Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation by Douglas Darnall
Divorce Poison by Richard Warshak
The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals by Richard A. Gardner

What the Research Says About Adult Children of PAS

By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling

The problem of children allying with one parent against the other has been noted for decades, yet little research has been conducted on the problem of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and especially what happens to the children who grow up alienated from one parent by the other parent. In the fall of 2004, such a study was conducted, the purpose of which was to ask three general questions:

  1. Do some alienated children grow up to figure out that they had been manipulated by one parent to forgo a relationship with the other parent?
  2. What are the catalysts for such a realization process?
  3. What are the perceived long-term effects of such an experience?

It was the aim of the study to give a voice to individuals who had been at the center of intense conflict between their parents. These are people for whom so many others have spoken but who have not yet had a chance to speak for themselves.

Forty adults participated in in-depth interviews about their experience growing up turned against one parent by the other parent. Based on the content analysis of the interviews, the following conclusions were developed:

  • The children were not necessarily allying with the “better” parent – Many of the adult children of PAS experienced physical and/or sexual abuse by the alienating parent. This finding is consistent with epidemiological research on the co-occurrence of different forms of abuse. That is, parents who abuse their children in one way tend to abuse them in other ways. This finding should put to rest the idea that, when children chose sides, they are always selecting the better parent, the one more likely to be responsive to their needs.
  • Alienating parents function like cult leaders – The parents who perpetrated parental alienation utilized techniques similar to those employed by cult leaders. Alienating parents were described by their adult children as using emotional manipulation strategies such as withdrawal of love, creation of loyalty binds, and cultivation of dependency. They were also described as using brainwashing techniques, such as repetition of negative statements about the targeted parents and black-and-white thinking.
  • Parental alienation strategies disrupt the attachment between child and targeted parent – The adult children of PAS described 32 different parental alienation strategies their parents used. These can be considered through the lens of attachment theory, as described by John Bowlby. Within this framework, the strategies are viewed as effective tools for interfering with the developing or existing an attachment relationship between the child and the targeted parent.
  • Alienating parents may have personality disorders – The descriptions of the alienating parents provided by the adult children led to the conclusion that many met the diagnostic criteria for having a personality disorder, a pervasive and distorted relational style. Narcissism was the personality disorder most likely to have been present in these families, although some of the parents might have had borderline or antisocial personalities.
  • Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse – The strategies that the alienating parents used to effectuate the alienation were emotionally abusive in and of themselves. That is, the alienating parents verbally assaulted, isolated, corrupted, rejected, terrorized, ignored, and over-pressured the children in order to alienate them from the targeted parent. These behaviors are part and parcel of what constitutes emotional abuse of children. In addition, it is proposed that separation of a child from a parent for no reason also constitutes a form of emotional abuse.
  • Realization of parental alienation is a process, not an event – Realizing that one has been turned against a parent by the other parent was usually a slow and painful process. For most of the adult children of PAS, it did not occur in a single transformative event. The defense mechanisms constructed to support the alienation – denying that the alienating parent is selfish and manipulative, denying that the targeted parent has positive qualities, denying that the child wants a relationship with the targeted parent, denying that the child is afraid of losing the love of the alienating parent – take time to be broken through. Although all of the adult children interviewed for the study had come to realize that they had been alienated from one parent by the other, the length of time they had been alienated and the age at the time of the awareness varied.
  • The impact of parental alienation is lifelong and may be intergenerational – PAS has negative long-term effects including depression, low self esteem, inability to trust self and others, substance abuse, and becoming alienated from one’s own children. Three different patterns of the intergenerational transmission of PAS have been identified.

These findings from this study refute three common myths about PAS:

  1. That parental alienation is only perpetrated by mothers against fathers – Although this was the case for many of the adult children, it was not true of all of them. In 6 of the 40 interviews, fathers were the alienating parent. Because the sample was neither random nor representative, it is not possible to calculate the actual proportion of gender in the general population of alienating parents. But it can be concluded definitively that some fathers do practice parental alienation. This was also borne out in surveys of targeted parents that produced samples that were evenly divided between mothers and fathers.
  2. That PAS only occurs in divorced families – While PAS was first identified as a phenomenon in the context of post-divorce custody litigation and evaluations, it is now evident that PAS can take place in intact families.
  3. That PAS is only effectuated by custodial parents – Again, a prototypical PAS case was a custodial mother alienating the children from their father, following a bitter divorce. However, this is not the only PAS scenario. The custodial parent has a far greater degree of access to the child in order to effectuate the alienation, but this does not preclude the possibility of alienation being perpetrated during visitation with a non-custodial parent, especially if visitation is frequent and the parent is especially effective at thought control and emotional manipulation techniques.

What is Parental Alienation?

By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling

When parents separate, the goal and the hope is that they can work together in some fashion for the sake of the children. They may imagine that, at the time of the separation, they will have an amicable divorce in which the children freely move between each home and the parents can celebrate family events and holidays together.

Such a “good divorce” is possible but is not the reality for many families. There is a continuum along which separated or divorced families function, from the type of cooperation that represents the ideal at one end of the spectrum to something known as parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) at the other end.

Parental alienation is a set of strategies – attitudes and behaviors – that some parents use in order to emotionally manipulate children, often but not always in divorce situations, to reject the other parent. Based on research with adult children of PAS, as well as “targeted parents,” the following strategies have been identified as the major tools used by one parent to alienate the other:

  • Badmouthing the targeted parent – such as telling the child that the other parent does not love him or her; or telling the child that the other parent is crazy, dangerous, and unworthy when this is not true.
    o Interfering with the child’s contact with the targeted parent  such as throwing out gifts and letters from the other parent; calling excessively during the other parent’s time; picking the child up early or dropping the child off late; forbidding mention or pictures of the other parent; scheduling competing activities during parenting time; or excessive monitoring or forbidding communication or visitation with the other parent.
  • Manipulating the child to reject the targeted parent – such as withdrawing love or making child feel guilty for having a relationship with other parent; forcing the child to choose between his or her parents; creating conflict between the child and the other parent; encouraging dependency on him or herself; interrogating the child after visits with the other parent; providing inappropriate information to the child (details of the marriage, divorce, finances, or court); or allowing child to decide whether to be with the parent when the schedule has been contractually specified.
  • Undermining the child’s relationship with the targeted parent – such as asking the child to spy on the other parent; encouraging or allowing the child to call the other parent by his or first name; encouraging or allowing the child to call someone else “Mom” or “Dad”; or asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent; changing the child’s name to exclude the role of the other parent.
  • Undermining the targeted parent’s role in the child’s life – such as refusing to provide the other parent with information (medical, school, or activities); refusing to provide others (school, doctors, or coaches) with the other parent’s information; having stepparents refer themselves to others (schools or doctors) as “Mom” or “Dad”; preventing the other parent from attending medical, academic, sport, or social activities; saying bad things about the other parent to school, doctors, or other authorities; not inviting or acknowledging the other parent at important events (birthdays or graduations); or diminishing the importance of the other parent’s role in rearing the child to the child and others.
  • Interfering with the child’s relationship with friends and family of the targeted parent – such as limiting contact with the extended family of the other parent; or saying bad things about the extended family to the child or within child’s hearing.

When parental alienation strategies are exhibited by an effective and obsessed alienating parent, it may result in a child succumbing to the pressure to choose sides. Such a choice – although it entails the loss of the targeted parent – reduces the stress on the child by removing him from the middle of a power struggle and loyalty conflict. When children ally with one parent against the other, they tend to exhibit the following behaviors of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS):

  1. Campaign of Denigration – The child becomes obsessed with hatred of the targeted parent. Parents who were once loved and valued, seemingly overnight, become hated and feared. This often happens so quickly that the targeted parent cannot believe that a loving child has turned into a hateful, spiteful person who refuses to so much as share a meal. It must be kept in mind that when there is legitimate reason for the child’s fear or hostility towards the targeted parent, such as founded abuse or neglect, the negative reaction to the parent is not considered PAS. It is only when there is no legitimate cause, and yet the child behaves as if the targeted parent is to be feared and despised, that the most likely explanation is PAS.
  2. Weak, Frivolous, Absurd Rationale for Denigration – The objections made in the campaign of denigration are often not of the magnitude that would lead a child to hate a parent, such as slurping soup or serving spicy food. One alienated child was reported to complain that the targeted parent did not punish her enough. Another’s major complaint was that the parent did not allow the child to nap on the couch.
  3. Lack of Ambivalence – It is a truism of development that children are ambivalent about both of their parents. Even the best of parents are imperfect or set limits for children that cause resentment and frustration. A hallmark of PAS, however, is that the child expresses no ambivalence about the alienating parent, demonstrating an automatic, reflexive, idealized support. The child acts as if she has no mixed feelings or ever has negative reactions to the alienating parent. Alienated children describe the alienating parent as perfect, brilliant, and heroic. One parent becomes all good, while the other becomes all bad. Even much older children who typically express mixed feelings about all sorts of people in their lives – teachers, friends, coaches, and so forth – claim to have no mixed feelings whatsoever about the alienating parent. As one PAS child proudly proclaimed, “I love my father to death, and I would do anything for Daddy.”
  4. Independent Thinker Phenomenon – The child adamantly claims that the negative feelings towards the targeted parent are wholly his or her own, and the alienating parent defends the child’s right to make decisions regarding visitation. These children deny that their feelings about the targeted parent are in any way influenced by the alienating parent. An alienated child may say, “Dad, I don’t want to see you again, and Mom had nothing to do with this. I made this decision all on my own.” The independent thinker phenomenon contributes to the difficulty in countering PAS. An observer might conclude that the child has been brainwashed or unduly influenced but, to the child, the experience is authentic. The more one tries to talk a PAS child out of these beliefs, the more attached to those beliefs he or she becomes. The ownership children take of the alienation through the independent thinker phenomenon is one of the strongest weapons alienating parents have at their disposal. The child no longer requires the alienating parent to tell him what to believe because he has adopted those beliefs.
  5. Absence of Guilt – PAS children will assert that the targeted parent does not deserve to see them. Gratitude for gifts, favors, or child support provided by the targeted parent is nonexistent. PAS children will try to get whatever they can from the targeted parent, believing that it is owed to them and that because that parent is such a despicable person, he doesn’t deserve to be treated with respect or gratitude. Psychologist Richard Warshak has noted the particularly negative effect of this aspect of PAS on the character of the children, who are encouraged to be selfish, manipulative, and exploitive.
  6. Reflexive Support for Alienating Parent – There is no willingness or attempt to be impartial when faced with disagreements between the parents. The PAS child has no interest in hearing the targeted parent’s point of view. PAS children often make the case for the alienating parent better than the parent does. Nothing the targeted parent could do or say would make any difference to the PAS child. Their mind has been made up (for them). A targeted parent could wave written documentation proving the rightness of his or her case or point and the child will have no interest in even looking at or acknowledging the existence of the evidence.
  7. Use of Borrowed Scenarios – PAS children often make accusations towards the targeted parent that utilize phrases and ideas adopted wholesale from the alienating parent. One clue that a scenario is borrowed from an alienating parent is the child’s use of language and ideas that she does not seem to understand, such as making accusations that cannot be supported with detail or using words that cannot be defined. For example, an alienated child called his father a womanizer when he had no idea what the word meant. Another alienated child was provided with a script written by the mother, which the girl was to enact with her father during visitation. At some point in the “play,” the girl was to scream that her father was a bad father and run out of the room crying. This is what lends PAS its feel of programming. Children will adamantly claim things to be true when they do not even understand the words they are saying or it appears as if they are following a script provided to them.
  8. Spread of Alienation to Extended Family of Targeted Parent – Finally, the hatred of the targeted parent spreads to her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so too is her entire family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are suddenly avoided and rejected. Alienated children have been known to miss funerals, weddings, and other important, once-in-a-lifetime events.