DEFINITION OF PARENTAL ALIENATION
Parental Alienation (PA) is defined as the efforts on the part of one parent (referred to as the preferred, favored, or alienating parent) to turn the child unjustifiably against the other parent (referred to as the rejected, disfavored, or alienated parent), through the use of parental alienation behaviors or strategies. The child may then add his/her own contributions to the deprecation and rejection of the alienated parent.
Not all children exposed to parental alienation strategies reject the targeted parent. When they do, they are referred to as alienated.
Alienation cases are often confused with or referred to as estrangement. Estrangement differs from alienation in that the estrangement behaviors of the child are justified through the extreme actions (e.g. alcoholism, physical or emotional abuse, etc.) of the parent that is estranged. Whether or not they become alienated, exposure to parental alienation behaviors or strategies is harmful to children.
Parental Alienation is currently considered child abuse by many professionals that understand the dynamics of PA.
When grandparents are being alienated from their grandchildren in an in tack family environment this is referred to as grandparent alienation.
TEN STAGES OF HEALING
Change can often be a daunting process that leaves you feeling out of control. When you are in control, you tend to feel secure and comfortable. Change can destabilize your emotions, triggering feelings of insecurity and a greater loss of control. Change can create chaos, confusion, and even symptoms of depression, but in its presence in your life means that healing is taking place. There are ten stages involved in the process of healing. It/s a universal journey that comes with an easy- to-read map once you recognize the chaos in your life for what it really is. Each stage on the path to healing is necessary and normal.
10 Stages of Healing
The ten stages of healing can be felt on many levels of your being: Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Since everyone is different and so are their coping mechanisms, these stages may not necessarily occur in the sequence outlined below. Some may skip a stage and then return to it later. Regardless of the order, the entire healing process may last for days, months or even years. An important point to note is that you do not need to go through this on your own. It is prudent that you seek professional help from those qualified in the area of counseling or spiritual mentoring or both and if this is not possible, the wise counsel of a supportive friend or understanding relative is recommended.
This stage occurs first if there has been a sudden crisis, trauma or uncontrollable loss, such as the death of a loved one, news of a terminal illness, a betrayal or breakdown in relationship, or the loss of financial security. Your ability to function as normal may be affected or reduced, your energy levels may drop and emotional numbness, disbelief or the inability to mentally comprehend the situation may be experienced. This is followed closely by denial.
Not knowing what is happening or what the outcome may be causes people to deny their situation or deny their loss. Life seems unreal and leaves you with a sense of this can’t be happening. Human beings tend to assume that bad things don’t happen to good people, so denial maintains a pretense that nothing has changed and everything is still okay. Denial is usually brief, but it does give you the opportunity to prepare yourself for the next stage. Denial is a natural part of the healing process. It gives you the time you need to fully comprehend what’s happening to you. It’s a safety mechanism designed to stop you from losing control and feeling as though you are going crazy. Once you’re ready to face the situation, you will be able to move on from this stage.
Once you’ve worked through denial and come to terms with what has happened, you will move on to the next stage of healing which encompasses emotional pain in the form of anger, frustration, resentment and even envy. Why did it have to happen? What did I do to deserve this? Why me? These are questions you find yourself asking out of desperation. You might be angry and even outraged at not being able to change the inevitable or you could be frustrated because you are not in control. Resentment and envy are also common emotions because what you are going through may be perceived as unjust or unfair, which can also lead to thoughts of revenge. This anger is usually randomly displaced in all directions and projected onto any area of life, other people or things around you. When you are going through this stage, those around you will not be good enough, they will be to blame or at fault, or doing everything wrong according to you. (1) These emotions will be felt in varying degrees according to your personality type and how much anger, frustration or resentment you allow yourself to release. It’s important to release these negative emotions in a physical manner through art therapy or creative pursuits, sports, exercise, massage or under the guidance of someone qualified to do so, in order to avoid a build-up of stress in your body. Chakra Self-Healing is also a way to support yourself when you are in this type of pain. Emotional and mental stress that has accumulated over time can cause muscle tension, spasms and physical pain. This can also lead to a noticeable decrease in your health and wellbeing. Every person is different but everybody does experience some degree of anger when going through a time of loss, grief, bereavement or change.
Most often due to feelings of guilt, bargaining will follow the pain of anger. Eventually you realize that anger is not making things better, so you try bargaining instead. You give up something, make a sacrifice, or dedicate your life to service hoping that things will right themselves. You might find yourself thinking: ‘If I did this or that then this might not have happened’ or ‘I should have done so and so,’ or ‘if I do this then it might make it better’. You may have regrets about what you did or did not do in the past. It’s important not to punish yourself, but to realize that this is yet another stage on your healing journey. Bargaining is what you are meant to do. It’s a subconscious way of trying to balance the scales. Every stage of the healing process has its place on the road to recovery and that includes the recovering of your true self, soul and spirit.
When denial, pain and bargaining do not work, you may find yourself in a period of depression. You begin to feel that you can’t do this anymore, or you can’t go on anymore. Your spirit is low, so you’re physical, emotional and mental energy is often under par too. You often lose hope of ever getting your life back to normal again. You might feel sad but will not want to express it. You go into a dark and gloomy state where you don’t want to interact with others. Feelings are suppressed and this stops your energy from flowing. This then blocks up your energy field, causing a sense of hopelessness or despair, accompanied by a lack of motivation or enthusiasm. You may feel lifeless and unhappy. This is why depression will sometimes indicate that you are actually in this fifth stage of the healing process, or that you are possibly in the midst of a spiritual crisis that is typical of the Dark Night of the Soul. You will need to take good care of yourself to stay healthy at this time.
In such an unhappy state, you eventually surrender yourself to the reality of the situation. You’ve reached your limit and had enough, so eventually you say, ‘I give up’. If forgiveness is in order, then you may be ready to do that by now. Another way to help understand the concept of surrender is to use the word ‘resignation’. Resigning yourself to the situation as it is here and now helps you to move on to the next stage of acceptance. It means letting go of perfectionism and entering into wholeness of being, where you learn to accept the good, the bad and the ugly in your life. Does surrender mean losing control, or is it about taking control by agreeing to go with surrender as the best option available right now? If there is a better option available, perhaps you should take it, but if you have tried everything and no other choice is left, then resigning yourself to the situation will be your only option. To help you surrender practices letting go of the smaller things in your life, so that when it comes to the larger or more complex things, your ability to let go and surrender will be relatively familiar to you. When you realize that you cannot change the situation or your perspective on it, then the way to surrender is to stop resisting the situation and accept the reality of it as it is now. Your resistance creates enormous stress, so surrendering will release it and pave the way for you to experience a sense of relief. Once you have done all there is to do that is humanly possible on your part, you have to stop and let go of the things you can’t have, and appreciate what you do have by turning your attention to all the good things in your life.
Surrender opens the door to acceptance and recovery. When you accept your situation, it means you’ve come to terms with what has happened and you’re ready to take responsibility for your life and how you feel once again. You reach the point where you are able to express your previous feelings of anger, frustration or hopelessness. You are getting to know yourself all over again, and you are beginning to like what you see. You may find you still want to be left alone to do this as you prepare yourself for rebirth.
Once you’ve reached acceptance, you know you are in recovery, where you will naturally move on to the stage of rebirth. You are getting ready to change your life so that you can start again. You’ve come a long, long way and you’re doing well, but you will need even more quiet time to yourself at this stage. You might feel the need to go on a retreat to get to know yourself again. This helps you to move on and create a new beginning for yourself.
You will have changed many areas of your life in order to reach this point. You may have scrutinized your career, friendships, relationships, money, health and more in order to do some major clearing out of what is no longer useful. As you come out of your time of loss, change or bereavement, and after grieving for what you have had to leave behind, you may find that you’ve attracted new friends and relationships into your life and may even take on a new job or move to a new location. You can be quietly pleased with your efforts. You are moving on to create a new life.
For some, one of the final stages of healing may include a desire to be of active service to others during their healing process. After experiencing your own healing, you may find yourself called to support, inspire and
empower others through their healing journey, in a professionally paid capacity, or in a less formal helping manner. Your own experience of healing and recovery can often be a valuable source of wisdom, insight and guidance for others during their times of change and loss.
You will always regain a degree of control and reassurance when you know what is happening to you. This is possible when you are aware of the stages in the healing process. That way, instead of remaining stuck, or left without passion, joy or enthusiasm long after experiencing loss or change, you realize there is a good life waiting for you beyond your current difficulties. Each stage is a normal, natural step towards healing. Attempting to deny your body, soul and spirit’s natural urge to heal will simply slow down, or worse, pause, stop and even reverse your healing process. The hard truth is that unless you allow yourself to heal, by giving yourself permission to do so, you may grow resentful and bitter instead of getting better.
Once you have identified the symptom experienced when coping with your loss, then you can learn to deal with change, grief for bereavement in a more conscious and pro-active way. You now have a map after being lost in the desert for so long. You can find your way back home, but you are different. Your difficult experiences and the subsequent strengths and resources you’ve developed have transformed you.
Gail Goodwin A question of Balance-Colour, Energy and Healing with Chakras’ pgs 173-17
LAW OFFICES OF JOSEPH H NIVIN, ESQ.
RULES FOR CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES
Avoid making any major changes during the proceeding, such as moving your residence, starting a new relationship, etc. If you must make these changes, then speak with the attorney first about how to minimize the impact upon the litigation.
SPECIFIC PROBLEMS OF CHILDREN SUFFERING FROM THE EFFECTS OF PARENTAL ALIENATION
The following is a series of symptoms found in children affected by Parental Alienation. The effects can be both short and long term. Moreover, not all symptoms occur in all children. It should also be noted that there will be differences between younger and older children.
Loss or a lack of impulse control in conduct Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem Clinging and separation anxiety
Developing fears and phobias Depression and suicidal ideation Sleep disorders
Eating disorders Educational problems
Bed wetting and soiling
Drug abuse and self-destructive behavior Obsessive-compulsive behavior
Anxiety and panic attacks
Damaged sexual identity problems
Poor peer relationships
Excessive feelings of guilt
5Ludwig F. Lowenstein, Ph. D. "Specific Problems of Children suffering from the Effects of Parental Alienation (PA)." Accessed October 25, 2014. www.parental--- alienation.info
Lessons from a Family Law Attorney By Joseph H. Nivin, Esq.
As a family law attorney, people often ask me whether I’ve learned lessons about how to make marriage work.
They are asking the wrong question. The decision to get divorced is a personal decision that anybody can end up making. The more important question is: If you decide to split from your spouse, what will the divorce look like? Will it be financially and emotionally devastating? Or will you be able to move on, heartbroken but otherwise intact, and capable of co-parenting your children with your ex? If you follow the lessons listed below, then you are far more likely to fall into the second category.
Disclaimer: The suggestions in this article do not apply to cases where there is serious domestic violence, child abuse, serious neglect, or parental alienation.
1. Be a support, not a weight around your spouse’s ankles. The nastiest divorces involve custody battles. The last thing that you want is for your spouse to ask her attorney, “Why’s he interested in the kids all of a sudden?” Start being involved now.
2. You don’t have to defend every single point in every single argument. The only way to reduce fees in your divorce is to come to an agreement on as many issues as possible. If you fight over everything, then your divorce will be very expensive. If you pick your battles, then you will save both money and energy.
3. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. During hotly contested custody cases, clients often ask me, “Do I have the right to do X?” This often leads to the following response from me: “There’s no law against it, but. . .” The client may listen, and save him or herself a lot of angst. Or the client may interrupt and say, “All I want to know is whether I have the right to. . .” That client isn’t doing him or herself any favors.
Example: Don’t have your new significant other sleep in the same house as your children without talking to your ex first, just because it’s not illegal.
Nobody can guarantee the future on their wedding day. However, if you’re getting divorced, then follow these simple rules. You’re much more likely to come out okay in the end.
KELLY BAKER, PHD.
1/5, Introduction to Kelley Baker, PhD. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9zJupc1d58&t=20s
2/5, What is Parental Alienation and How Does It Happen? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX1zs0zGG8w&t=22s
3/5, Our Children are NOT Objects to Be Possessed, Controlled, or Manipulated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg0Zu14RdTA&t=17s
4/5, Seventeen (17) Parental Alienation Strategies of the Alienating Parent. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUelNu2G9RU&t=92s
5/5, The Little Boy and the Beast—What Happens During a Divorce. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBldlsuzzdE
FAMILY LAW JOURNAL
A PublicAtioN of the stAte bAr of michiGAN fAmily lAW sectioN • hoN. richArd b. hAllorAN, chAir editors iN chief: ANtheA e. PAPistA & Amy m. sPilmAN
editoriAl boArd: dANiel b. bAtes, sAherA G. housey, shoN cook & JAmes W. chryssikos
AssistANt editors: lisA m. dAmPhousse, ryAN m. o’ Neil, shelley r. sPiVAck, kiANA e. l. frANulic, & Ashish s. Joshi
Volume 46 Number 8 october 2016
Chair Message ....................................................................... 1
By Hon. Richard B. Halloran, Family Law Section Chair 2016-2017
By Sahera Housey and Ryan M. O’Neil
Letter to the Editor: Why is Mediation So Important Now? ......................................................................................4
By Ross F. Stancati
Parental Alienation: The Problem (Part One of a Two- Part Series)............................................................................. 7
By Ashish S. Joshi
Preparing for Court Proceedings with Survivors of
Domestic Violence:Tips for Civil Lawyers and Legal
Advocates ............................................................................. 11
By the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health
The Case of the Issue .......................................................... 14
By Henry S. Gornbein and Lise M. Spresser
Professor Lex....................................................................... 17
By Harvey I. Hauer and Mark A. Snover
Revisiting Holder’s Interest Value – or Value to the Owner .................................................................................. 21
By Joseph W. Cunningham
“The Clock is Ticking” – Dates and Deadlines in the Military Divorce Case (Part One) .................................... 25
By Mark E. Sullivan
Recent Published and Unpublished Cases ....................... 29
Summarized by the State Bar Family Law Council Amicus Committee Members
Legislative Update .............................................................. 34
By Stephanie Johnson
Parental Alienation: The Problem (Part One of a Two-Part Series)
By Ashish S. Joshi
Ideally, a divorcing couple aspires for a healthy closure of a marriage. Yet when a marriage has produced children, a post- divorce parent-child relationship continues to exist and necessi- tates that the parents, despite their divorce, continue to co-par- ent the child. At the healthiest end of this spectrum, a child has positive relationships with both parents and desires time with each of his or her parents. The majority of post-divorce children fit into this category. At the other end of this spectrum is an un- healthy, pathological situation wherein a child rejects a parent. Where the rejection is unequivocal, strident, without guilt or ambivalence, absolute and without justification, we encounter the phenomenon known as “parental alienation.”
For litigants who are caught up in the tentacles of the alien- ation monster and attempt to seek redress from the family court system, the words of the actor Alec Baldwin ring true: “to be pulled into the American family law system in most states is like being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel road late at night. No one can hear your cries and com- plaints, and it is not over until they say it is over.”1
Parental Alienation: What’s in a Name?
The Michigan Court of Appeals has defined parental alienation as “[t]he process of one parent trying to undermine and destroy to varying degrees the relationship that the child has with the other parent.”2 It is a “mental condition in which a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-con- flict separation or divorce – allies himself or herself strongly with an alienating parent and rejects a relationship with the ‘target’ parent without legitimate justification.”3
Experts have used different terms to describe paren- tal alienation.4 For example, in their book published by the American Bar Association, Stanley Clawar, a sociologist, and Brynne Rivlin, a social worker, used the terms “programming,” “brainwashing,” and “indoctrination” when describing the be- haviors that cause parental alienation.5 The authors explained that these behaviors
“...hinder the relationship of the child with the other parent due to jealousy, or draw the child closer to the communicating parent due to loneliness or a desire to obtain an ally. These techniques may also be employed
to control or distort information the child provides to a lawyer, judge, conciliator, relatives, friends, or others, as in abuse cases.”6
Another expert, Dr. Richard Warshak, has used the term “pathological alienation” to mean:
...a disturbance in which children, usually in the context of sharing a parent’s negative attitudes, suffer unreasonable aversion to a person or persons with whom they formerly enjoyed normal relations or with whom they would normally develop affectionate relations.7
Recently, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed a district court’s holding a parent in contempt of violating the Court’s parenting time orders. The Nebraska court found the cus- todial parent to have used “passive aggressive techniques” in undercutting the non-custodial parent’s relationship with the children.8 While the words “parental alienation” were not used by the Nebraska court, the discussion of the custodial par- ent’s strategies leave little room for doubt that the Court was addressing parental alienation. The consensus amongst the courts, experts and mental health professionals appears to be that parental alienation “refers to a child’s reluctance or refusal to have a relationship with a parent without a good reason.”9
As to how parental alienation takes place, Dr. Amy Baker’s research describing seventeen of the most prevalent alienating strategies is widely used and accepted by mental health profes- sionals.10 These include: badmouthing, limiting contact, con- fiding in the child, asking the child to spy on the target parent, referring to the target parent by first name, withholding im- portant information from the target parent and undermining the authority of the target parent. Not all strategies have to be present for alienation to occur.
In terms of the severity of the symptoms or behaviors that are manifested in the child, parental alienation can be termed as mild, moderate, or severe.11 Mild parental alienation “means that the child resists contact with the target parent but enjoys the relationship with that parent once parenting time is underway.”12 Moderate parental alienation “means that the child strongly resists contact and is persistently oppositional during parenting time with the target parent.”13 Severe paren-
Michigan Family Law Journal 7
tal alienation “means that the child persistently and adamantly refuses contact and may hide or run away to avoid being with the target parent.”14
Parental Alienation versus Estrangement
While the common denominator in both parental alien- ation and parental estrangement is the child’s refusal to have a relationship with one of his or her parents, the distinguishing feature of parental alienation is that the child’s rejection of the target parent is without legitimate justification. If, for example, a parent was abusive, the child’s rejection of that parent is for a good reason. Most mental health professionals term this legiti- mate rejection of a parent by a child as estrangement.
While estrangement may also result in a child rejecting a parent and may necessitate court and therapeutic intervention, it does not necessarily negate the concept of parental alienation. The existence of the former does not necessarily mean absence of the latter. At times, experts may find that despite a pattern of abuse or neglect demonstrated by a rejected parent, there also exists evidence of parental alienation. These cases are known as “hybrid” cases. In evaluating a case for presence of alienation and/or estrangement, it is important to look for evidence sup- porting the reason for rejection. If abusive or neglectful behav- ior is alleged of a parent, it is important to look for independent evidence supporting this behavior. It is important to look at the relationship as it existed prior to the divorce and/or separation. If the father is being accused of having an anger problem, was this complaint made by the child (not the spouse) before the separation and/or divorce? If the mother is being accused of ne- glect, did this problem manifest before the divorce and/or sepa- ration? Were there findings made by Child Protective Services that corroborate the allegations of abuse? Are there witnesses who have witnessed the abusive behavior of the accused parent? Why is this important? It is important because in a forensic set- ting – such as a courtroom – a fact finder is asked to determine a more objective “truth” than what practicing clinicians and therapists are asked to evaluate behind closed doors.
At times, a “policy argument” is thrown around positing that parental alienation is nothing but a gambit that has been generated to protect abusive fathers from being accountable for their actions. Sometimes this strawman of an argument is taken to preposterous levels. For example, one of the well known de- tractors of parental alienation wrote a letter to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) Task Force alleg- ing that advocates of parental alienation include “father’s rights’ groups who don’t like to be interfered with when they are sexually abusing their children.”15 The detractor subsequently withdrew his statement, saying, “I apologize for suggesting that all fathers who accuse mothers of [parental alienation syndrome] are sexu- ally abusing their children. That was clearly an overstatement that I retract.... I do not deny that parental alienation occurs and that a lot of people are hurt when there is an alienator.”16
Abuse, of course, should not be condoned; when proven, it has to be met with swift and effective action. However, in a forensic setting, it may be difficult at times to distinguish es- trangement from alienation. “Determining when a child’s nega- tive feelings about one parent are rational or irrational is more often than not quite challenging. In some respects, the process is similar to differentiating a non-bizarre delusion from a persis- tent, justified worry.”17 A child who has been alienated typically “has a false belief that the rejected parent has been abusive or neglectful. Children with false beliefs about events that never actually occurred may develop false memories ... memories of non-events.”18 In evaluating a case for the presence of alienation and/or estrangement, the court appointed evaluators and/or experts must investigate whether the reasons given for contact refusal are true, accurate and/or justified. Fortunately, there is good research that shows how to do it.19
A thorough investigation into allegations of abuse is nec- essary not only to rule out the possibility of estrangement but also to understand alienation. Domestic violence is about control and domination. A perpetrator of domestic violence is likely to continue his or her “violent” pattern by controlling the children also. Research has demonstrated that “abusive ex- partners are likely to attempt to alienate the children from the other parent’s affection (by asserting blame for the dissolution of the family and telling negative stories), sabotaging family plans (by continuing criticism or competitive bribes), and un- dermine parental authority (by explicitly instructing the chil- dren not to listen or obey).20 A parent who has been found to be abusive or controlling and domineering is more likely to continue his or her harassing and controlling pattern by manipulating the children to turn against the victim parent.21
Another differentiating aspect between estrangement and alienation is the level of rejection of a parent by the child. An alienated child is polarized in his or her views of the rejected parent. The target parent is characterized as horrible; the pre- ferred parent is praised as “perfect.” The level of polarization in severe alienation cases is pathological. While non-alienat- ed children recover quickly from whatever caused their re- sentment, alienated children “never” “ever” want to see the target parent. Though it sounds counter-intuitive, research shows that an alienated (and non-abused) child may be more negative toward the rejected parent than a child who was actually abused:
“It is remarkable that abused children frequently remain attached to their abusive parents, whom they might perceive as charming and charismatic. ... a maltreated child may have ambivalent feelings toward the abusive parent; however, the alienated child almost always has highly negative attitudes toward a non-abusive parent.”22
8 Michigan Family Law Journal
Parental Alienation versus Parental Alienation Syndrome
Courts often face a battle of experts on the topic of “pa- rental alienation syndrome.” A parent who is accused of en- gaging in alienating behaviors may present expert opinion that “parental alienation syndrome” has no scientific underpinning and therefore, the court must disregard any and all evidence of parental alienation. This is a red herring.
The term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” was formulated by a child psychiatrist Richard Gardner. Dr. Gardner explained:
“the parental alienation syndrome is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes... It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent....”23
Dr. Gardner’s formulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome was lauded by some and criticized by others. The criticism that was levied at Dr. Gardner mainly consisted of “ad hominems and shoddy scholarship” that found him pilloried.24 However, since Dr. Gardner’s formulation of the Parental Alienation Syn- drome in the mid eighties, several mental health professionals and researchers, working independently of Dr. Gardner, have studied the behaviors that are considered as alienating behaviors and reached a consensus that parental alienation is real and it constitutes “child abuse.”25 The Clawar / Rivlin’s study that was published by the American Bar Association in their book titled Children Held Hostage, Dr. Richard Warshak’s description of a pattern of coercive control and domination by a parent, Leona Kopetski’s research, Barry Bricklin’s work and Johnston / Kelly’s paper referring to parental alienation as “an insidious form of emotional abuse of children that can be inflicted by divorced parents,” all ultimately culminated into a proposal that parental alienation be included in DSM-5.26
The difference between the term parental alienation and “parental alienation syndrome” is that Dr. Gardner’s defini- tion focuses solely on the child’s behavior after he or she has been successfully alienated from the targeted parent. Where- as parental alienation “focuses on the behavior and actions of the aligned parent, rejected parent and the child.”27 As the Connecticut Superior Court acknowledged, the “strategies” of alienation are “scientifically present and reliable, and thus pass the ...Daubert test.”28 In an informal poll of members of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts con- ducted in 2010, 98 percent of the 300 respondents respond- ed affirmatively to the question: “Do you think that some children are manipulated by one parent to irrationally and unjustifiably reject the other parent?”29 While the “parental alienation syndrome” may continue to generate controversy, there is virtually no disagreement amongst the mental health professionals on parental alienation.
DSM-5: A Recent Clarification from the Horse’s Mouth
Another argument lobbed against parental alienation is that it is not included in the “bible” of mental disorders – the DSM-5. Hence, the argument goes, it must not be good sci- ence. This is another red herring. Prior to the publication of DSM-5, “there was a proposal to include parental alienation disorder as a new diagnosis.”30 The members of the DSM-5 Task Force “never said that they doubted the reality or the im- portance of parental alienation.”31 “However, they concluded that parental alienation did not meet the standard definition of a mental disorder, that is, ‘the requirement that a disorder exists as an internal condition residing within an individu- al.’”32 Accordingly, the DSM-5 Task Force “said that paren- tal alienation should be considered an example of a relational problem because it involves a disturbance in the child’s rela- tionship with one or both parents.”33
Recently, two of the authors who contributed to DSM- 5 along with Dr. William Bernet of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, published a paper in the peer reviewed Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.34 The authors pointed out that “one of the new terms introduced in the DSM-5 was ‘child affected by paren- tal relationship distress’ (CAPRD).”35 The authors elaborated that their purpose of publishing the article was “to explain how clinicians and researchers can use the new terminology of CAPRD.”36 They pointed out that “since two of the authors of [the] article” wrote the chapter on “Other Conditions” in the DSM-5, their article was consistent with the structure, con- tent, and intentions of the DSM-5.37 The authors proposed that the CAPRD category should be used by clinicians “when the focus of clinical attention is the negative effects of parental relationship distress on a child in the family, including effects on the child’s mental or medical disorders.”38 The term “paren- tal relationship distress,” authors pointed out, includes behav- iors such as “persistent disparagement of one or both parents by the other parent.”39 Typically, as a result of such behaviors, “a child affected by parental relationship distress displays im- paired functioning in behavioral, cognitive, affective, and/or physical domains. Examples of behavioral problems include oppositionality and the child’s reluctance or refusal to have a relationship with a parent without a good reason (parental alienation).”40 Examples of “cognitive problems” may include the child “adopting the false belief that the rejected parent is evil or dangerous (parental alienation).”41 The authors clari- fied that “children who experience parental alienation almost always fulfill the definition of CAPRD.”42 The concept of pa- rental alienation is covered by DSM-5.
The psychological damage associated with parental alien- ation has been well researched and documented.43 Heeding the clarion call of anguished parents and frustrated mental health professionals, courts around the country have inter-
Michigan Family Law Journal 9
vened in the cases involving parental alienation. In part two of this article, I will discuss the issue of court interventions – what courts can and should do when faced with parental alienation.
About the Author
Ashish S. Joshi is a trial lawyer and the owner of the law firm Lorandos Joshi, P.C. Mr. Joshi’s practice focuses on complex litigation including cases involving parental alienation and in- ternational divorce. Mr. Joshi has represented and counseled cli- ents across the nation and internationally on the issue of parental alienation. He has been admitted to practice law in Michigan, New York, District of Columbia and India. Mr. Joshi serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Litigation, a journal published by the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association.
Bernet W, Sauber R, eds. Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Men- tal Health and Legal Professionals, Charles C. Thomas; 2013, pg. 494.
17 Supra 10, citing to Ceci S, Crotteau-Huffman M, Smith E, Loftus E., Repeatedly Thinking about a Non-Event, Conscious Cogn. (1994), 3:388-407.
18 Supra 10 at 577.
19 See e.g., Bernet, W, Freeman B. The psychological assessment of contact refusal in Lorandos D, Bernet W, Sauber R, eds. Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Profes- sionals, Charles C. Thomas; 2013, pg. 47-73; Drozd L, Olesen N (2004) Is it Abuse, Alienation, and/or Estrangement? A decision tree. J Child Custody. 1:65-106.
20 Jaffe P, Johnston J, Crooks C, Bala N., (2008), Custody disputes involving allegations of domestic violence: Toward a differential approach to parenting plans. Family Court Review, 46(3), 500- 523
21 Warshak, R. (2010), Family Bridges: Using insights from social science to reconnect parents and alienated children, Family Court Review, 48-60.
22 Supra, 10 at 577.
23 Lorandos, D. (2013), Parental Alienation in Morewitz S, Gold- stein M (Eds.), Handbook of Forensic Sociology and Psychology, Springer, New York, pg. 323.
25 Id. at 324.
27 Mastrangelo v. Mastrangelo, 55 Conn. L. Rptr. 245 (2012) (Unreported). 28 Id.
29 Baker A, Jaffee P, Bernet W, Johnston J (2011). Brief Report on Parental Alienation Survey. The Association of Family and Con- ciliation Courts eNEWS, 30(2).
30 Supra 10 at 575. 31 Ibid.
34 Id. at 571-579. 35 Id. at 571.
36 Id. at 572.
42 Id. at 575.
43 Wallerstein J, & Blakeslee, S. (1989). Second Chances: Men, women, and children a decade after divorce, New York: Ticknor & Fields; also see Baker, A (2005) The long-term effects of parental alienation on adult children: A qualitative research study. Ameri- can Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 289-302.
Three Types of Parental Alienators
Copyright 1997 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.
Alienation and the degree of severity
Parental alienation varies in the degree of severity, as seen in the behaviors and attitudes of both the parents and the children. The severity can be of such little consequence as a parent occasionally calling the other parent a derogatory name; or it could be as overwhelming as the parent's campaign of consciously destroying the children's relationship with the other parent. Most children are able to brush off a parent's offhand comment about the other parent that is made in frustration. On the other hand, children may not be able to resist a parent's persistent campaign of hatred and alienation.
Parents must be cautioned not to conclude that all parent-child relationship problems are caused by alienating behavior. When there is true abuse, it is natural that a parent will feel protective towards the children. This is not alienation. On the other hand, the parent is expected to cooperate with investigators and consider alternative explanations that would explain the allegation. Alternative explanations explaining a serious parent-child problem can include a failure to bond, punitive punishment, insensitivity to the child's needs or a failure to understand development issues. Sometime a competent evaluation is needed to determine how alienation may contribute to the problems between the targeted parent and the children. This is a complex process that requires a court order and the participation of both parents and the children.
Who Uses Alienation?
We are frequently asked the question if someone other than a parent can alienate the child? The answer is an emphatic yes. Grandparents, stepparents, family friends and even attorneys and therapists can alienate or contribute to the alienation.
Frequently an alienated parent will surround themselves with people that support alienation, believing that the child needs to be protected or saved from the targeted
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Learning to Recognize Types of Alienation
Preventing or stopping alienation must begin with learning how to recognize the three types of alienation because the symptoms and strategies for combating each are different. The three types should not be considered a "diagnosis," but instead are a heuristic (i.e. considering possibilities) way of understanding alienation.
Three Types of Alienation
Naïve alienators are parents who are passive about the children's relationship with the other parent but will occasionally do or say something that can alienate. All parents will occasionally be naïve alienators.
Active alienators also know better than to alienate, but their intense hurt or anger causes them to impulsively lose control over their behavior or what they say. Later, they may feel very guilty about how they behaved.
Obsessed alienators have a fervent cause to destroy the targeted parent. Frequently a parent can be a blend between two types of alienators, usually a combination between the naïve and active alienator. Rarely does the obsessed alienator have enough self-control or insight to blend with the other types. These three patterns of alienating behaviors are not intended to be used as a diagnosis. The types have not been validated sufficient for litigation.
Keep in mind that the source of alienating behavior can come from mothers, fathers, stepparents, relatives, and even babysitters, "best friends" of the parent, the parent's attorney, or a therapist.
Further Information about Each Type of Alienator
Type One: Naïve Alienator
"Tell your father that he has more money than I do, so let him buy your soccer shoes."
Most divorced parents have moments when they are naive about their alienating behavior. These parents mean well and recognize the importance of the children having a healthy relationship with the other parent. They rarely have to return to court because of problems with visits or other issues relating to the children. They encourage the relationship between the children and the other parent and their family. Communication between both parents is usually good, though they will have their disagreements, much like they did before the divorce. For the most part, they can work out their differences without bringing the children into it.
Children, whether or not their parents are divorced, know there are times when their parents will argue or disagree about something. They don't like seeing their parents argue and may feel hurt or frightened by what they hear. Somehow, the children manage to cope; either by talking out their feelings to a receptive parent, ignoring the argument or trusting that the skirmish will pass and all will heal. What they see and hear between their parents does not typically damage the children of the naïve alienator. They trust their parent's love and protection. The child and the parent have distinct personalities, beliefs and feelings. Neither is threatened by how the other
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feels towards the targeted parent.
The characteristics of naïve alienators are:
Their ability to separate in their minds the children's needs from their own. They recognize the importance for the children to spend time with the other parent so they can build a mutually loving relationship. They avoid making the other parent a target for their hurt and loss.
Their ability to feel secure with the children's relationship with their grandparents and their mother or father.
Their respect for court orders and authority.
Their ability to let their anger and hurt heal and not interfere with the children's relationship with their mother or father.
Their ability to be flexible and willing to work with the other parent.
Their ability to feel guilty when they acted in a way to hurt the children's relationship with their mother or father.
Their ability to allow the other parent to share in their children's activities. Their ability to share medical and school records.
Naïve alienators usually don't need therapy but will benefit from reading "Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children From Parental Alienating," because of the insight they will gain about how to keep alienation from escalating into something more severe and damaging for all. These parents know they make mistakes but care enough about their children to make things right. They focus on what is good for the children without regret, blame or martyrdom.
Type Two: Active Alienators
"I don't want you to tell your father that I earned this extra money. The miser will take it from his child support check and that will keep us from going to Disneyland. You remember he's done this before when we wanted to go to Grandma's for Christmas."
Many parents returning to court over problems with visitation are active alienators. These parents mean well and believe that the children should have a healthy relationship with the other parent. The problem they have is with controlling their frustration, bitterness or hurt. When something happens to trigger their painful feelings, active alienators lash out in a way to cause or reinforce alienation against the targeted parent. After regaining control, the parent will usually feel guilty or bad about what they did and back off from their alienating tactics. Vacillating between impulsively alienating and then repairing the damage with the children is the trademark of the active alienator. They mean well, but will lose control because the intensity of their feelings overwhelms them.
The characteristics of active alienators are:
Lashing out at the other parent in front of the children. Their problem has more to do with loss of self-control when they are upset than with a sinister motivation.
After calming down, active alienators realize that they were wrong. They usually try to repair any damage or hurt to the children. During the making up, such parents can be very comforting and supportive of the child's feelings.
Like naïve alienators, they are able to differentiate between their needs and those of the children by supporting the children's desire to have a relationship with the other parent.
Like naïve alienators, active alienators allow the children to have different feelings and beliefs from their own. During the flare-ups of anger, however, the delineation between the child and parent's beliefs can become very blurry until
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the parent calms down and regains control. For the most part, older children have their own opinions about both parents based upon personal experience rather than what they are told by others. To keep peace, the older child usually learns to keep their opinions to themselves. Younger and more trusting children become more confused and vulnerable to their parents' manipulations.
They have the ability to respect the court's authority and, for the most part, comply with court orders. However, they can be very rigid and uncooperative with the other parent. This is usually a passive attempt to strike back at the other parent for some injustice.
Active alienators are usually willing to accept professional help when they or the children have a problem that does not go away. They are sincerely concerned about their children's adjustment to the divorce. Harboring old feelings continues to be a struggle, but active alienators continue to hope for a speedy recovery from their pain.
Type Three: Obsessed Alienator
"I love my children. If the court can't protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he's never abused the children, I know it's a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don't want to see him, I'm not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds."
The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause: to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children's personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final. The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings won't heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.
The characteristics of an obsessed alienator are:
They are obsessed with destroying the children's relationship with the targeted parent.
They having succeeded in enmeshing the children's personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes "us against them." The obsessed alienator's supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven't been subpoenaed.
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They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.
They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator's mind that he or she was right all the time. The court's authority does not intimidate them.
The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.
The obsessed alienator will probably not want to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.
There are no effective treatment protocols that have been validated for either the obsessed alienator or the PAS children. The courts and mental health professionals are sincere in wanting to help these families but their efforts frequently fail.
The best hope for children affected by an obsessed alienator is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the alienation is entrenched and the children become "true believers" in the parent's cause, the children may be lost to the other parent for years to come. I realize this is a sad statement, but I have yet to find an effective intervention, by anyone, including the courts that can rehabilitate the alienating parent and child. There can still be hope in that spontaneous reunification can occur, usually in response to a crisis that causes the alienated child to reach out to the rejected parent.
In the past year, however, I am seeing examples of successful reversal of parental alienation syndrome. This may not be true, though, for the obsessed alienator.
If you have a success story about how you were able to overcome the alienation caused by the obsessed alienator and are now reunited with your children, I would love to hear your story. Please send me e-mail so I can learn from your experience. Perhaps you have something important from your story.
Betsy Wuebker - "The Narcissist"
Communicating with a narcissistic person
When communicating with a narcissistic person there are certain tactics that you can use for better outcomes:
1. Use “I” language vs. “you” language. What this means is you state the circumstances as to how they affect you, rather than accusing the other person in your commuication.
2. See if you can compliment the narcissist while you simultaneously set boundaries. Stroke their ego a bit, if you can stand to.
3. Remind yourself you’re dealing with a narcissist to depersonalize the interaction on your end. You can trust that the narcissist is dealing with you in a very depersonalized way. Get as close to that place as you can to mitigate their emotional effects on you.
4. When possible, validate the narcissist while maintaining your boundaries.
“You’re saying I’m the one at fault? Okay, we see things differently. I’m not going to accept responsibility for this.”
“I appreciate you want a response right now, but I’m going to have to think about this. I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
“As disappointed as I sense you are by this situation, on my end, I’m disappointed because it appears you think my motive is something that it’s not. Please don’t assign motives to me that aren’t true.”
“One of the many things I admire about you is your writing ability. So I’m surprised you couldn’t find a way in your latest email to express your frustration without me feeling accused.”
“Your last remark was inappropriate. In the future, please know that if you express your feelings using the type of language you just did, we’ll have to postpone communication until we can have a civil discussion.”
“That’s not the way it happened. I’ve gone along with you when you’ve tried to convince me of things that weren’t true in the past. I am not going to let you do that any longer."
"I realize there are significant issues between us. I would really like to approach these with an open heart and with professional help if need be. I respect your needs at this time and love you forever. Please know that my door is always open to address our relationship with the idea of how best to move forward together. If a mutually respectful relationship between us isn’t possible at this time, I would like to have communication and a loving relationship with the kids. I hope that is possible even if you and I can’t have one."
It’s never a bad idea to write some of these things down in your own language and then practice them so that you feel natural using them. Once you start using them, you’ll probably be repeating them over and over. The narcissist doesn’t like to pull the “do not pass go” card, which is what you’re handing them by stating the truth and establishing a boundary. So be prepared to stand your ground. Be simultaneously assertive and calm.
Things to ask a legal or mental health professional upon consult to determine whether they can most effectively deal with the influences a narcissistic personality will have:
“What experience have you had with the effects of narcissistic behavior in this type of dispute?”
“Have you ever successfully represented someone who has been alienated from their children in a custody scenario? If so, what can you share with me which might be relevant to how we proceed?”
“If you suspected NPD or some other disorder in an individual, or if there was behavior that was detrimental to the well-being of the children in a custody decision, what would be your course of action?”
“How would you assess the landscape in this jurisdiction with respect to familiarity with the effects of disordered behavior? Is there a willingness on the part of the court system to be proactive in order to protect against those effects? Are there certain judges, guardians ad litem, and other professionals who better identify and understand this?”
The Narcissist: A User’s Guide - published in 2010 (please note: somewhat dated, lots of newer resources and material have come out since we wrote this) http://www.e-junkie.com/37551/product/481705.php#The+Narcissist%3A+A+User%27s+Guide
The Narcissist at Work - for those who are “blessed” with a narcissist in their workplace http://www.e-junkie.com/37551/product/481642.php#The+Narcissist+at+Work
The Narcissist You Divorce - not just for divorcing spouses, but for extended family members who want to support an alienated spouse, or those who are dealing with narcissistic behavior in custody and visitation matters. http://www.e-junkie.com/37551/product/503162.php#The+Narcissist+You+Divorce
The above are all purchased as PDF downloads.
The comparison of Narcissistic Personality Disorder characteristics between the DSM-IV and the DSM-V appears in this comprehensive pdf. Please use the link if you are going to share the document, copy parts of it, etc.
The DSM advises laypersons should consult the DSM only to obtain information, not to make diagnoses, and it recommends that people who may have a mental disorder should be referred to psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment.
Ways to Talk to Your Kids About NarcissismUpdated on January 24, 2018
The Little Shaman
The Little Shaman is a bodywork healer, spiritual counselor, hypnotherapist, and a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders.
Here are some guidelines you can use to talk to your children about narcissistic behavior.
Usually, this is information for people who have children with a narcissistic partner, but it could also be that you are a grandparent with custody, a step-parent, an aunt or uncle... It's a sad fact that many children are affected by narcissistic parents. They are used by them, abused by them, disappointed by them and much more. Narcissists often seem to view children as their equal; they will say things to the children that most people would only say to another adult. They will use the child to hurt the other person, often saying vile, despicable things to the child without caring at all how it affects them or makes them feel. The child does not matter to the narcissist in any way except in the way that anyone matters to them, which is as a tool they can use. Children are objects to a pathological narcissist. The narcissist will "love" the child so long as the child gives the narcissist what they want. This is often unconditional acceptance and love, which children give their parents because they don't know any better. It's a sad shameful thing that they should ever have to learn differently. Narcissists may be kind to the child, but this is not love. It is easy for narcissists to be kind to people who do not threaten them or challenge their authority. If the child does - and they will, because all children do - this will change.
It is imperative that people really understand this, so that they realize there is no way to mitigate the abuse or protect the child from it, especially if the narcissist lives in the same house. The narcissist does not care about your child any more than they care about you or anyone else. They do not care how their behavior affects the child or if they hurt the child. It does not matter to them. The only person who cares is you. If you want to protect your child, get them away from the narcissist. There's no other way to say it. Prove the abuse and fight for supervised visitation so that what they are saying to your child can be monitored.
Once your children are old enough to understand, you may want to talk to them about their parent's behavior. It's important to remember that the narcissist is going to twist anything you say into something bad. They will say you are trying to turn the children against them, that you are bad-mouthing them to the child and anything else they can think of. But you can't worry about what the narcissist thinks, because if you do, you will never be able to do anything. They will twist anything you do into abuse and hateful behavior, regardless of what it is. They only care about themselves and keeping their shame hidden behind manufactured anger and self-righteous indignation.
Children should be told the truth. They'll figure things out on their own sooner or later and they're able to understand a lot more than people think. They're also more accepting than people think. The truth is that the narcissistic parent has a problem with their behavior and the things that they say. If the parent has been diagnosed with something, you may choose to tell them that their parent is sick. This should not be used as an excuse for their behavior, however. Only as an explanation of it. Both children (and adults) need to learn that sometimes people say and do hurtful things, but that means that person has a problem, not you. It's OK to feel hurt or angry or however they feel, and it's also OK to love their parent, even when they can't understand the parent's behavior or don't like the things they say. It's OK to feel hate or resentment or any other way. Children should never be shamed for their feelings, corrected about them or talked out of them. They feel how they feel. They should be encouraged to express their feelings honestly in an environment where it is safe to do so. It is absolutely necessary that the children understand it is not their fault and that it is not their responsibility to do anything about their parent's problem. Above all, they need to understand that abuse is wrong. The only way they will really understand that is when you make sure it doesn't happen anymore.
Conversations should be age-appropriate and of course, should not include any details that children don't need to hear in order to understand. An important thing to remember is not to justify or defend the narcissist's behavior. Or your own. Resist the urge to defend yourself or to minimize things. Someone who has been hurt does not want to hear that. What they usually want is to be listened to and validated. If your child asks you why you did not leave the relationship sooner - and they might - be honest. This is the one question nobody in an abusive relationship wants to answer but it's one that everyone in one has to answer sooner or later if they want the family to heal. Try not to place blame, either on yourself or the narcissistic parent. If your child is angry at you, accept that. They have the right to their feelings.
No one is going to pretend that this is easy or that every situation is the same. Having children with a narcissistic partner is one of the most horrible situations you can be in. Nothing stops these people. Nothing deters them and they don't care who they hurt. Teach your children that abuse is wrong and that it is not their fault. Teach them that when someone is hurtful, it is because that person has a problem, not because they do. Teach them it's OK to feel, teach them not to make excuses and above all, teach them to love by modeling loving behavior for them.
FAMILY LAW JOURNAL
A PubliCAtioN of the stAte bAr of miChiGAN fAmily lAW seCtioN • hoN. riChArd b. hAllorAN, ChAir editors iN Chief: ANtheA e. PAPistA & Amy m. sPilmAN
editoriAl boArd: dANiel b. bAtes, sAherA G. housey, shoN Cook & JAmes W. Chryssikos
AssistANt editors: lisA m. dAmPhousse, ryAN m. o’ Neil, shelley r. sPiVACk, kiANA e. l. frANuliC, & Ashish s. Joshi
Volume 46 Number 9 NoVember 2016
Chair Message ....................................................................... 1
By Hon. Richard B. Halloran
By Sahera G. Housey and Ryan M. O’Neil
Mediation matters: Failure is Always an Option .............. 3
By Joseph Hohler III
Parental Alienation: Remedies (Part Two) ......................... 6
By Ashish S. Joshi
Remedies for Victims of School-Related Stalking:
Title IX Lessons for Family Law Practitioners ................ 13
By Liz Abdnour
The Case of the Issue .......................................................... 16
By Henry S. Gornbein and Lise M. Spresser
Changing Needs, Changing Courts: The Genesee
County ADAPT Program ................................................... 18
By Tony McDowell
Professor Lex....................................................................... 20
By Harvey I. Hauer and Mark A. Snover
Tax Trends and Developments: Federal Income Tax
Filing Tips and Related Info ............................................. 24
By Joseph W. Cunningham
“The Clock is Ticking” – Dates and Deadlines in the Military Divorce Case (Part Two)..................................... 26
By Mark E. Sullivan
The “Simple” Division Of Defined Contribution Retirement Plans (Part One)............................................. 30
By Meletios Golematis
Selected Recent Appellate Decisions............................... 32
Summarized by the State Bar Family Law Council Amicus Committee Members
Legislative Update .............................................................. 38
By Stephanie Johnson
Parental Alienation: Remedies (Part Two of a Two-Part Series)
By Ashish S. Joshi
Parental alienation is a declaration of war by one parent against the other. The goal is clear: complete and utter annihi- lation of the target parent’s relationship with the child. The be- haviors that lead to alienation have become a pervasive aspect of divorce litigation.1 Courts around the country, including Michigan2, are increasingly showing concern about a parent’s alienating behaviors, and where appropriate, have intervened. At times, the alienating parent does not realize that he or she is doing it. As Judge Michele Lowrance, of Cook County, Il- linois3 recalled:
One day in court, a mother was seeking an increase in child support from her former husband. The father testified that his income had declined dramatically. After the case was over, I was riding down the elevator with the mother and the parties’ teenage daughter. They did not notice I was there or did not recognize me out of my black robe. The mother was sharing details of the case with the daughter, as I would not let the daughter come into the courtroom. The mother was telling her what a liar and manipulator her father was, fully expecting the daughter to agree. I doubted this child would ever be able to hear her father’s side of the story. Even if the father was lying, I wondered why the mother could not share her frustration with her sister, her neighbor, or even the cashier at the corner store; anyone but the child. I was saddened because I knew that sharing this information with the daughter might forever affect the way the girl viewed her father and ultimately how she viewed men in general. Would they all be liars and manipulators to her? The daughter had no way to defend her trust in her father against this onslaught; she would certainly question it and probably cease to rely on it. Could the mother be sure the daughter would heal from believing her father is manipulative, uncaring, and a liar? I don’t believe the mother considered the long- term effects. If she had, would she have intentionally hurt her daughter?4
Enmeshment–lack of proper boundary between a parent and the child–is simply one behavior of the alienation dynam- ic. The alienating parent has difficulty in separating himself
from the child, and thinks of himself and the child as a “team.” In one case of severe alienation, where I was part of the legal team that represented the target parent, the alienating parent freely discussed her pre- and post-divorce extramarital affairs with her teenage children. After an evidentiary hearing on pa- rental alienation, the trial judge found:
These boundary issues extended to [the mother’s] discussion with the children of her pre- and post- divorce extramarital affairs. [She] testified that she... had discussed these matters with the children as a way of ‘taking that away from him.’ When asked about it on cross-examination, [the mother] admitted these disclosures, but denied that it denigrated [the father] to be talking with the children about her search for a ‘strong man.’...[S]he wanted [the children] to know ‘why I built relationships with other men while still married to [the father]’ and that their son correctly reported to the counselor that ‘she was looking for love.’ [The father] testified that he had never discussed such matters with the children.5
The alienator was sentenced to jail. The court suspended her sentence provided she complied with specific court or- ders that were designed to contain, and hopefully, modify her alienating behaviors.6 These cases are tough. While all of the professionals involved in the court system – lawyers, case eval- uators, guardians ad litem, therapists - face a challenge when dealing with these cases, perhaps the toughest challenge faced is the one faced by the fact finder and the decision maker: the judge. As Judge Lowrance observed: “[parental alienation] cases are difficult, and...judges often have no love for them.”7 Judges find that these cases take a life of their own and things get “curiouser and curiouser” as the case unwinds.8 Why? First, some litigants who do not really understand the concept of alienation often misuse it in court.9 There is a difference between mental disorders such as oppositional disorder and actual parental alienation. Then there is the problem of af- fect: an alienator comes to believe what he or she is saying, and their presentation appears to be authentic. On top of it, the children – sometimes adolescents who appear to be doing very well in other spheres of their lives – often support the alienator by telling the judge of their hatred for the target par-
6 Michigan Family Law Journal
ent. And last but not least, when judges try to do what they believe might help the situation – say traditional therapeutic intervention – it does not work and they get exasperated with both parties (and sometimes the therapist too). It is not just maddening; at times it is surreal.
Fortunately, there is good research available that courts can turn to for the help that they need in these cases. As a starting point, it would do good to shatter some mispercep- tions that the bench (and the bar) too often believe. Judge Lowrance identified some of the misperceptions that courts commonly harbor about parental alienation10:
Alienators use fear. They say things like ‘The children are not safe with the other parent.’ They tell me the other parent is something the child should worry about. Supervised visitation, which is often requested by an alienating parent, reinforces the message that the target parent is too dangerous to be left alone with the child. When the court enters that order (unless you determine it is clearly warranted) it sends the message to the child that the court thinks the target parent is dangerous as well.11
Top ten myths about parental alienation
Last year, in a research paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, Dr. Richard Warshak, a Clinical Professor of Psychia- try at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, debunked the top ten fallacies and myths about parental alien- ation.12 These myths are:
5. Rejecting a parent is a short-term healthy coping mecha- nism.
6. Young children living with an alienating parent need no intervention.
7. Alienated adolescents’ stated preferences should dominate custody decisions.
8. Children who irrationally reject a parent but thrive in other respects need no intervention.
9. Severely alienated children are best treated with tradition- al therapy techniques while living primarily with their fa- vored parent.
10. Separating children from an alienating parent is traumatic.
In discussing these strongly held assumptions and myths about parental alienation, Dr. Warshak explained that the “more often the fallacy is mentioned in professional presenta- tions and publications, the more likely it becomes a woozle – a commonly accepted idea that lacks grounding in persuasive evidence yet gains traction through repetition to the point where people assume that it is true.”13 He identified these myths about parental alienation that were commonly found in reports by therapists, custody evaluators, and guardians ad litem, in case law, and in professional articles.14 An assump- tion was determined to be a fallacy if it was “contradicted by the weight of empirical research, by specific case outcomes, or by [Dr. Warshak’s] more than three decades of experience evaluating, treating, and consulting on cases with parental alienation claims.”15
These myths fall into two categories: “those that predomi- nantly relate to the genesis of parental alienation and those concerned with remedies for the problem.”16 For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the latter myths.
Myth # 1 - Courts cannot enforce parenting time against an alienated adolescent’s wishes.
Consider two scenarios:
Scenario 1: A judge who understood that a 13-year old’s decision to sever his relationship with his father reflected im- paired judgment but nevertheless acquiesced to the boy’s de- mands because, “He is now of an age where, even if he may be too immature to appreciate what is best for him, he cannot be physically forced to remain where he does not want to be.”17
Scenario 2: A judge who, faced with a similar situation, addressed the teenage boys: “I want you gentlemen to under- stand that it is the court’s order, not your parents’ order that you and your parents are abiding by. And the consequences fall on your parents if there is a failure to comply, so I want
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you to know that while you think you are of an age where you can make these decisions or should be able to make these deci- sions, you’re not yet.”18
Which orientation, of the two mentioned above, is likely to stop alienating behaviors and save a fast-deteriorating par- ent-child relationship? Lawyers, guardians ad litem, parenting coordinators, therapists, parents, and even judges feel stymied when adolescents refuse to follow court-ordered parenting time schedule. The alienating parent is only too happy to point out: I have encouraged my teen to go and see the other parent but he just won’t do it. What to do?
One thing to do would be what a trial judge recently did in Nebraska.19 In stripping a mother of custody and award- ing custody to the father, the court found that the mother encouraged the children to violate the parenting plan and was alienating them from their father. In response to the mother’s argument that it was up to her 15-year old daughter to decide whether to see her father, the trial court stated:
I’m going to tell you the law in Nebraska is very clear, 15-year-olds don’t make the decision about whether they attend visitation time with their parents or not...If [the daughter] suddenly decided that she didn’t like to go to school, for example, or that she
didn’t like one of her teachers or that she didn’t want to do something like that, or that she didn’t want to go to a medical appointment, I’m going to guess that you would find a way to make sure that she got there regardless of whether she didn’t want to or not....[A]s a parent, you’re under an order for parenting time to take place.20
There are plenty of things that courts can do. But one thing that never succeeds is to attempt to “get through” to the alienating parent:
As judges we all develop a ‘speech’ that we give parents that are interfering in the other parent’s relationship or acting in other damaging ways to their children. We too often think that our ‘speech’ is so good we could get through to a brick. In alienation cases, it is different. Never base your strategy or concentrate your efforts on getting through to the alienating parent. They are not only committed to resisting change, but often they believe in their perception. I have made this mistake myself and I can tell you that they have no epiphany. It is far more effective to attempt to change behavior by forcing them to fear consequences by the court.21
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Michigan Family Law Journal
Courts however need not feel helpless in the face of opposi- tional behavior from alienated teenagers. Research studies have demonstrated that most children’s protests evaporate when re- united with a rejected parent.22 Adolescents, like adults, need to understand that they are not above the law or beyond its reach. Teenagers comply with many rules and expectations that are not of their own choosing. “It is an error to assume that they do not benefit from an assertion of authority on the part of the court and their parents.”23 As Dr. Warshak points out, despite their more mature cognitive capacities compared to younger children, adolescents are suggestible, to external influence and highly sus- ceptible to immature judgments and behavior.24 Instead of giv- ing into children’s demands, the court can and should order an intervention to assist children in adjusting to court orders that place them with their rejected parent.25 There should be a clearly outlined set of consequences for the alienating parent enabling violation of court orders. As a sanction for the alienating par- ent’s actions, courts have awarded the target parent additional parenting time.26 Depending on the circumstances, maybe the court can assess a monetary sanction for each missed visit.27
The Nebraska Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s decision that sanctioned a mother for violating several court orders including a parenting plan.28 The trial court gave the mother suspended jail sentences of 48 hours and 30 days. It gave the mother an opportunity to purge the 48-hour jail sen- tence if she wrote two statements – “I love my child more than I hate her father” and “I will never disobey an Order of this Court again” – 100 times each and provide them to the Court29. The Court also gave the mother an opportunity to avoid the 30-day jail sentence if she did not make disparaging remarks about the father in the child’s presence and stayed more than one mile away from the child’s school on days the father had parenting time. An additional jail sentence of 48 hours could be purged if the mother wrote and delivered a letter to the child’s school ex- plaining the modified parenting time and that she was not to be present at school during the father’s pick up and drop off times. The appellate court not only affirmed the trial court’s decision but pointed out to the mother when she repeatedly argued that there was no provision in the prior orders which prevented her from being at the child’s school:
This argument misses the point, however, which is that [the mother’s] presence at school on these occasions and her encouraging [the child] not to leave with her father interfered with [the father’s] ability to exercise his parenting time.30
Courts can and should enforce parenting plans. Judges can subtly compel the alienating parent to get involved in solving the problem of a child who doesn’t want to visit the target par- ent. When faced with an alienating parent who professes sup- port for the parenting plan but claims that he or she is helpless and cannot make the child visit the other parent, here’s what Judge Lowrance recommends:31
Ask the alienating parent: ‘Are you concerned about your child not going on visits?’
Ask the alienating parent: ‘How have you changed your conduct when you see your encouragement is not working?
Ask the alienating parent: ‘What have you done differently to show your concern?
The formula for the questions is: Guidance – Boundaries – Incentives – Consequences....
What you want to look for is: they are either lying about their good faith to foster visitation or they are a completely ineffective parent. So it may be that unless there is a transfer of custody, the situation can’t be turned around.
Myth # 2 - Alienated children who have irrationally rejected a parent but thrive in other respects need no intervention.
Alienated children can do well in other spheres of their lives. They can excel academically, win athletic competitions, avoid drugs, win school elections, act polite and help grand- mas cross roads. At the same time, they can “sustain signifi- cant psychological impairment evident in their relationships with friends, their favored parent, and legal authorities.”32 The sequala of alienation, over a period of time, bleeds into other relationships that the alienated children have. It affects their “global thinking about others as allies or enemies, contempt for those who see things differently, feelings of entitlement in personal relationships, and avoidance of conflict.”33 As par- ents, we teach and encourage our children to work through their conflicts. Judges encourage litigants to mediate. Our entire society is based upon the premise that rational human beings should attempt to manage and hopefully resolve a con- flict. Alienated children who have been empowered to reject a parent think differently. “When conflicts arise with friends, alienated children who have been empowered to reject a par- ent are apt to do the same with friends: they avoid conflicts by abruptly ending friendships rather than practicing skills to manage conflict and sustain relationships.”34
Dr. Warshak presents three reasons for courts to intervene on behalf of alienated children despite their apparent success in areas of life unrelated to the parent-child relationship:
First, children’s apparent good adjustment may be superficial or coexist with significant psychosocial problems. Second, regardless of adjustment in other spheres, the state of being irrationally alienated from a loving parent is a significant problem in its own right and is accompanied by other indices of psychological
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impairment. Third, growing up apart from and in severe conflict with an able parent risks compromising children’s future psychological development and interpersonal relationships.35
Good grades, friends, and other achievements should not discourage a court to intervene to protect a parent-child rela- tionship that is at risk due to alienating behaviors.
Myth # 3 - Alienated children are best treated with traditional therapy while living primarily with their favored parent.
Sir John Mortimer, the noted lawyer and creator of the “Rumpole of the Bailey” series, was once asked about his writ- ing habits on a radio show. He told the interviewer that before he begins writing, he has a glass of champagne. It set his brain racing. The interviewer’s response was: “Are you having coun- seling for that?”
As family law practitioners, we often advocate counseling or therapy to our clients. Often, judges’ first tool of choice in trying to resolve a conflict is to send parties to therapy. Kids don’t want to see the mom or dad? Go work it out in thera- py. In alienation cases, research demonstrates that traditional psychotherapy, while children remain under the care of their favored parent, is unlikely to repair the strained parent-child relationship and in fact, may make things worse.36 Why?
One reason why phobia reduction techniques fail to overcome children’s refusal to spend time with a parent is that most of these children, except preschoolers, do not really fear their rejected parent. If they act frightened of the parent, often this is a ruse to avoid contact. The lack of genuine fear is evident in the children’s uninhibited denigration, expressions of hatred, and disrespect toward the rejected parent, as opposed to the obsequious or withdrawn behavior typical of children’s interactions with a feared adult.37
Traditional therapy can magnify and solidify the animos- ity and hatred that the alienated child feels towards the target parent. As Judge Lowrance found:
I have seen traditional therapists allow the child to determine how long it will be (if ever) before they agree to see the target parent. Because the child is aligned with the alienating parent, they are emotionally required to keep rejecting contact with the target parent. Remember, alienated children are often told that if they are nice to the target parent, it could be used ‘against’ them in court.38
Effective therapy, in these circumstances, is reunifica- tion therapy. Reunification therapy, in contrast to traditional therapy, activates old positive memories and more importantly challenges distorted thinking. It is not uncommon to see false
memories implanted in a child in a severe alienation case. In some cases of severe alienation, therapy may have to be sus- pended and the courts may have to think about other “effec- tive interventions that provide transformative experiences that help children relinquish negative attitudes while saving face.”39 If therapy is not helping and may aggravate the situation, the therapist may feel ethically bound to inform the court that treatment should be discontinued.40
Myth # 4 - Separating children from an alienating parent is traumatic.
Despite the research that demonstrates that alienation abates when children are required to spend time with the par- ent they claim to hate or fear, some experts mislead courts into believing that dire consequences will befall the children if the court enforces parenting time against a child’s wishes. Courts would do well to put these predictions to a Daubert test. Such predictions are highly vulnerable to “reliability challenges be- cause the experts cite undocumented anecdotes, irrelevant re- search, and discredited interpretations of attachment theory. No peer-reviewed study has documented harm to severely alienated children from the reversal of custody.”41 On the other hand, there are studies of adults who were allowed to reject a parent and who later regretted that decision and reported long-term problems with guilt and depression that they attributed to hav- ing been allowed to reject one of their parents.42
Experts who advocate against separating children from an alienating parent usually rely on the so-called attachment theory.43 The research behind such predictions of doom and gloom cannot be accurately applied to alienation cases. It pri- marily concerns children who experienced prolonged institu- tional care as a result of being orphaned or separated from their families for other – often severely traumatic – reasons.44 When faced with such experts, attorneys should challenge the experts to “unpack evocative jargon” and challenge the sci- ence behind such predictions.45 “The lack of empirical sup- port for such pessimistic predictions can be contrasted with the benefits of removing a child from the daily care of a dis- turbed parent whose behavior is considered psychologically abusive.”46 At times, separating the child from an alienating parent coupled with effective intervention measures is the only way that a court can remedy alienation.47
Even changing custody may not be enough in some cases. In a Michigan case, the trial court, upon finding alienation amongst other things, awarded the father sole physical custo- dy.48 The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s custody decision.49 Upon the change of custody, the alienating parent retained liberal parenting time. The reaction was swift and horrific. The alienating parent manufactured allegations of sexual abuse against the target parent, orchestrated inves- tigation of abuse by authorities in Colorado and Michigan, abducted the children and fled to Missouri, sought refuge at a
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“safe house” in Missouri, dyed the children’s hair and limited the children’s ability to go outdoors to avoid being found.50 Ul- timately, the alienator was arrested and the children returned to the target parent. The trial court, finding the alienating par- ent’s behavior to be severely contemptuous, ordered the parent to serve 90 days in county jail. Importantly, the court noted that it did not enforce parenting time orders during periods of incarceration.51
Alienators “going postal:” Unfair and unjust criticism of judges.
Parental alienation cases often demand hard-hitting deci- sions. A judge, after reviewing the record and weighing admis- sible evidence produced at a trial, may be required to fashion an appropriate remedy. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the remedy could be reunification therapy, change of custody, and/or jail time for violation of court orders. When faced with an adverse ruling, it is not uncommon for an alien- ator to lash out at the court and the professionals involved by distorting the facts, refusing to acknowledge the severe harm caused by parental alienation and disparaging and criticizing the court – all outside the confines of appellate process.
In this day and age of social media, lines are blurred be- tween free speech and cyber-bullying. Last summer, the Pres- ident-elect laid into U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The Judge was publicly criticized of being incapable of adjudicat- ing a case because he was “Mexican.” The President-elect la- beled the judge a “hater,” and went on to state in the media: “I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court sys- tem...ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace.”52 The “traditional press, the blogosphere, and Twitter all went crazy”53; Judge Curiel, of course, remained silent. Under the ABA’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 2.10(A), “a judge shall not make any public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or im- pending in any cour.”54
The Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct restricts judicial re- sponse more absolutely than the ABA Model Code. Canon 3(6) mandates that “a judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court, and should require a similar abstention on the part of court personnel subject to the judge’s direction and control.” In face of stinging criticism – on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, media – judges stay silent. Court staff and personnel stay silent. “That leaves to us, the lawyers, the task to speak up on behalf of judges unfairly accused.”55 To assist the state and local bar associations in coordi- nating responses to inaccurate and unjust criticisms, the ABA has prepared a guide called Rapid Response to Unfair and Unjust Criti- cism of Judges.56 The guide, written by the prior Standing Com- mittee on Judicial Independence, emphasizes the critical need to respond to attacks in a timely manner and appropriate manner.
The ABA’s goal is to:
To provide a mechanism through which a bar association and members of other constituencies can provide timely responses to the serious, unjust criticisms of judges and the judiciary or to misunderstandings about the role of a judge or the judicial system. The focus of these responses is to provide the public with information to help them better understand the legal issues related to a specific situation, including the role of judges, the application of the law, and the restrictions and responsibilities placed on judges in the canons and rules.57
As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reminded us, “where democracy depends on the separation of powers and vital and independent judiciary – ‘[c]riticism is fine; retaliation and in- timidation are not.”58
It’s time for the State Bar of Michigan and/or the Fam- ily Law Section to form a taskforce that can coordinate a re- sponse, if one is required, to inaccurate and unfair attacks on our judiciary.
About the Author
The author is a trial lawyer and the owner of the law firm Lo- randos Joshi, P.C. Mr. Joshi’s practice focuses on complex litigation including cases involving parental alienation and international divorce. Mr. Joshi has represented and counseled clients across the nation and internationally on the issue of parental alienation. He has been admitted to practice law in Michigan, New York, District of Columbia and India. Mr. Joshi serves as the Editor-in- Chief of Litigation, a journal published by the Section of Litiga- tion of the American Bar Association.
1 See Stanley S. Clawar & Brynne V. Rivlin, Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children (American Bar Association Press 1991).
2 See e.g. Moir v. Moir, Docket No. 323725 (Mich. COA, Feb. 11, 2016), McNutt v. McNutt, Docket No. 328214 (Mich. COA, Dec. 15, 2015), Brady v. Brady, Docket No. 326396, (Mich. COA, Sept. 22, 2015), Webbe v. Webbe, Docket No. 325847 (Mich. COA, July 30, 2015), Poag-Emery v. Emery, Docket No. 318401 (Mich. COA, April 22, 2014).
3 Michele Lowrance is a former domestic relations judge in Cook Coun- ty, Illinois. She has written and presented extensively on the topic of parental alienation and judicial interventions.
4 Michele Lowrance, A Judge’s Perspective on Parental Alienation, in Pa- rental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Profes- sionals, 507 (Demosthenes A. Lorandos, William Bernet, and Richard eds., 2013).
5 Boterenbrood v. Boterenbrood, Ottawa County Circuit Court Case No: 11-71079-DM, pg. 11.
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35 Id at 241-242.
36 Id at 243, (citing Kirk Weir & C. Sturge Clinical Advice to Courts on Chil- dren’s Contact with their Parents Following Parental Separation 11 Child and Adolscent Mental Health 40 (2006), Barbara Jo Fidler & Nicholas Bala, Children resisting post separation contact with a parent: Concepts, Controver- sies, and Conundrums 48 Family Court Review 10 (2010); Ben Garber, Cognitive-behavioral methods in high-conflict divorce: Systematic desensitiza- tion adapted to parent-child reunification interventions. 53 Family Court Review 96 (2015); and others).
37 Id at 243.
38 Michele Lowrance, supra at pg. 511-512. 39 Richard Warshak, supra at 243, 245.
40 Id at 244.
42 Richard Warshak, supra at 242 (citing Amy J.L. Baker The long-term ef- fects of parental alienation on adult children: A qualitative research study. 33 American Journal of Family Therapy 289 (2005)).
43 Ibid (citing Peter G. Jaffe, Dan Ashbourne, and Alferd A. Mamo, Early Identification and prevention of parent child alienation: A framework for balancing risks and benefits of intervention 48 Family Court Review 136 (2010)).
44 Ibid (citing Pamela Ludolph & Milfred D. Dale, Attachment in child custody: An addictive factor, not a determinative one 46 Family Law Quarterly 1 (2012)).
45 Ibid (citing John A. Zervopoulos, How to examine mental health ex- perts, 180, (American Bar Association Press 2013)).
46 Ibid (citing Stanley S. Clawar & Brynne V. Rivlin, Children held hos- tage: Identifying brainwashed children, presenting a case, and crafting solutions. (American Bar Association Press 2013);; Joan B. Kelly & Janet R. Johnston, The Alienated Child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome 39 Family Court Review 81 (2001)).
47 Id at 244.
48 Carpenter v. Carpenter, File No: 09-63448-DC (Circuit Court for the
County of Ottawa, February 9, 2010)
49 Carpenter v. Carpenter, 2010 WL 4628937, (Mich. COA, November 16, 2010)
50 Carpenter v. Carpenter, File No: 09-63448-DC (Circuit Court for the County of Ottawa, February 22, 2012)
52 Laurence Pulgram, When Attacks on Judges Go Beyond the Pale, 4-5, 43
Litigation 1, Fall 2016. 53 Id.
56 www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/judicial_inde- pendence/rapid_response_pamphlet.pdf.
58 Laurence Pulgram, supra (citing Sandra Day O’Connor, A Fair, Impar-
tial and Independent Judiciary, 8, Nat’l Voter, Feb. 2008)). November 2016
29 Michigan courts have ordered alienators to write such apology letters as well. See Tafe v. McClenton, Docket No. 318713 (Mich. COA, De- cember 9, 2014).
How to Select an Expert in Parental Alienation
Parental alienation, a family dynamic in which one parent engages in behaviors that are likely to foster a child’s unjustified rejection of the other parent, is all too common. By some estimates 80% of all divorcing parents engage in some PA behaviors (Clawar & Rivlin, 1992). Although, not all children exposed to PA behaviors become alienated (unjustifiably reject one parent and align with the other), rates of alienation in children may be as high as 1% (Bernet, Boch-Galhau, Baker, & Morrison, 2010). A body of research now exists establishing the negative long-term effects of exposure to PA behaviors for children (e.g., Baker & Eichler, 2014; Bernet, Baker, & Verrocchio, 2015; Verrocchio & Baker, 2015). Some research, along with a host of memoirs, also documents the extremely painful experience of alienation for the targeted parents (e.g., Baker, 2006; Baker, & 2006; Baker & Fine, 2014).
Many targeted parents find themselves involved with legal as well as mental health professionals as they navigate their parental alienation journey (Gardner, 1998). Although there is considerable research and clinical wisdom in our current knowledge base, PA is still an emerging field. Presently, there is no credentialing body to provide professionals with an evidence-based training protocol and/or related information to address the problem of parental alienation. This parallels the progression in other mental health fields. For example, although addictions existed well before the 1980’s, it wasn’t until 1988 that the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders was created to provide credentialing as a Certified Addiction Specialist. Prior to that, anyone could claim to be an expert in the treatment of addictions regardless of his or her knowledge, experience, or skill.
This is problematic because—as a bona fide specialized field of practice—there is a knowledge base and core content that experts must have to properly assist families affected by parental alienation and to avoid common errors that can result in poor outcomes for such families. Such errors are very common among non-specialists because many aspects of parental alienation are highly counterintuitive. The field is counterintuitive because the human brain is hard-wired to commit certain types of systematic cognitive errors that are particularly common in PA cases (Miller, 2013). Consequently, non-specialists who attempt to evaluate or manage such cases will often fall prey to a variety of cognitive and clinical errors, particularly if they rely on naïve intuition rather than a highly- specialized knowledge base. Furthermore, such clinicians are likely to have great confidence in their incorrect conclusions. Indeed, the usual repertoire of clinical skills is often inadequate in such cases and will often result in poor clinical and forensic outcomes (Miller, 2013). To avoid such errors, clinicians require highly-specific training in PA and related family dynamics such as pathological alignment and pathological enmeshment (Minuchin, 1974; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). PA-specific training and knowledge is required in order to avoid such mistakes. Three examples are provided here (and mentioned below as axiomatic positions within the field).
The first is that mental health professionals are trained to rely on their clinical judgment and impressions when meeting and working with clients. These impressions form the data points that
clinicians draw on when making decisions about client’s mental health status. This is problematic for PA cases because targeted parents often present as anxious, agitated, angry, and afraid. Having sustained severe psychological and emotional trauma, they are in crisis mode and will therefore often make a poor first impression. They may have pressured speech. They may display psychomotor agitation. They may avoid eye contact. They may interrupt the clinician.
They may appear to have an agenda and may even appear paranoid or delusional because they are likely to believe—accurately, if the case is indeed one of PA—that the other parent is trying to undermine their relationship with their child. They are also likely to appear defensive and—not unreasonably—be unwilling to take responsibility for causing the crisis. In contrast, alienating parents are likely to make an excellent first impression. They present as cool, calm, charming, and convincing. They are poised and in command of their emotions. They are basking in the glow of victory—of their children’s professed preference for them and emphatic rejection of the other parent. To a PA novice (regardless of how experienced the clinician might be with other types of cases) the parents’ contrasting presentations may seem genuine and come to dominate hypothesis generation and clinical decision-making as to the family dynamics. The children’s complaints about the targeted parent may appear well-founded and their preference for the alienating parent may appear reasonable. Non-specialists who fail to recognize this characteristic pattern—i.e., that targeted parents generally present poorly and alienating parents generally present well—are likely to accept the alienating parent’s version of events, especially when provided with an almost identical history by the child(ren). They are also likely to find the alienating parent more pleasant and likeable, and thus more sympathetic.
The second counterintuitive aspect of PA, one that is rarely appreciated by non-specialists, is that in moderate and severe cases the alienation is usually accompanied by pathological enmeshment. This is problematic because unless the observer or evaluator has extensive expertise in this area, pathological enmeshment appears to be—and could be mistaken for—healthy bonding—a close, loving, healthy, parent-child relationship. Evaluators who mistake enmeshment for healthy bonding fail to appreciate the serious psychopathology that is typical of enmeshed parents including pathological dependence or co-dependence, delusional thinking, and severe boundary violations. Such observers may also fail to appreciate that an enmeshed child has lost his or her identity, sense of self, individuality, autonomy, and critical reasoning skills to the point that he or she has become an extension of, and proxy for, the parent. This is potentially catastrophic in the setting of a custody dispute because the clinician or custody evaluator, having made these mistakes (often with great confidence), may then recommend that sole custody be awarded to the pathologically-enmeshed parent. If this happens, the child has been entrusted to a deeply-disturbed, personality-disordered, abusive parent who is incapable of putting the child’s needs ahead of his or her own. Indeed, in our collective experience, when cases of severe alienation and enmeshment are evaluated by professionals who are not bona fide specialists in alienation and estrangement such errors are common.
Third, a non-PA specialist is unlikely to know how to differentiate an abused child from an alienated child. Alienated children present as extremely angry, rude, aggressive, and provocative towards the
targeted parent. They are likely to deny ever having had a good relationship with that parent and are unlikely to express any interest in repairing the relationship in the future. While this may appear to be a rational response to abusive parenting, it is actually not the expected response from an abused child. Research and the clinical literature consistently report that abused children generally cling to and are protective of the abusive parent. They want to repair the relationship and forgive the abuser, and they are likely to deny or minimize past abuse (Baker & Schneiderman, 2015; Clawar & Rivlin, 2013; Gottlieb, 2012). In fact, it is only alienated children who demonstrate a particular clinical picture which may—to the untrained clinician—appear to be consistent with maltreatment.
In sum, there is a knowledge base in the field of parental alienation that has been gathered through academic research and expert clinical observation and shared among experts but that is not yet routinely available to front-line clinicians in the form of a credentialing or training protocol. In the absence of such credentialing, any mental health professional can assume the title of an “alienation expert” with respect to diagnosis, intervention, or treatment regardless of his or her level of actual knowledge. Because we believe that some mental health professionals naively or otherwise claim to be PA experts when in fact they are not, we have come together to provide targeted parents with some guidelines for differentiating true PA specialists from non-specialists or pseudo-specialists.
Our motivation for undertaking this effort was that we understand how horrible it is for targeted parents to have their relationship with their beloved child undermined, disrupted, or damaged by a third party, either the other parent or some other alienator. Collectively, we have worked with several thousand parents who want to protect their children from this terrible form of child abuse.
We know that many targeted parents are avid consumers of PA knowledge and strive to educate themselves about this problem. We have come together, as experts in the field, to help such parents weed through the myriad resources now available on and off-line and to help them identify accurate and reliable information. Regrettably, some professionals claim to be experts in PA when, in fact, they lack the necessary background, credentials, or expertise to properly advise parents in this regard. Worse, some of these self-proclaimed “experts” promote ideas that are inconsistent with well-established scientific principles—that is, their opinions and theories are in conflict with generally-accepted, evidence-based scientific understanding about what PA is and how to remedy it.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy for non-scientists to distinguish between good science and bad science—or between science and pseudoscience. As the field has grown, and as more and more is written, there has been an explosion of information on the subject of parental alienation. There are multiple websites, YouTube videos, blogs, and Facebook pages devoted to the subject. When sifting through this abundance of information, it is important to understand that some statements and sources are more accurate than others. Likewise, some “experts” are more scientific than others. The purpose of this brief paper is to help targeted parents identify who is and is not truly an expert in the field.
The rest of this paper is divided into two sections. First, we present some guidelines as to what a targeted parent should look for with respect to the background, experience, and credentials of a genuine expert. Second, we identify core information, fundamental points, and basic concepts to which an expert should subscribe. These basic premises have been scientifically validated and are neither controversial nor debatable among genuine experts who are credible specialists in alienation and estrangement. No genuine expert in PA should disagree with any of these ideas—they are axiomatic within the field.
Factors to Consider When Selecting an Alienation Expert
The qualifications below can be used as a checklist to identify true expertise as opposed to limited or pseudo-expertise. It is imperative for the expert to have a strong background and training in relevant areas—rooted in sound science and the scientific method. While experience as a targeted/alienated parent, or perhaps a formerly-alienated child, can be very helpful, personal experience alone is not enough. We believe that it is this scientific educational background—applied to the phenomenon of PA—that separates truth from ideology, fact from fiction, and good advice from bad. Though a genuine expert might not meet every one of these criteria—for instance, an excellent clinician might not have published any scientific papers—a true expert should have most of these.
1. An advanced degree (masters or doctoral) from an accredited educational institution in a relevant discipline or field. This is not meant to trivialize the importance of some lay counselors and coaches who, through experience and/or “on-the-job training” may have much to offer, but it is critical for targeted parents to understand that, in general, PA is a complex, complicated problem that generally requires substantial scientific understanding and professional expertise.
2. A deep, extensive knowledge of the clinical literature regarding pathological alignment, alienation and estrangement, and pathological enmeshment, as well substantial knowledge and understanding of borderline, narcissistic, and sociopathic personality disorders. The reason for the latter point is that such personality disorders are not only common among alienating parents (and virtually ubiquitous among severe alienators), but are often missed by non-specialists, in part because individuals with these disorders tend to be master manipulators who are charming and highly-skilled at managing first impressions. They also tend to be pathologically dependent which helps to explain the pathological enmeshment with the child.
3. Authored or co-authored published works regarding PA in peer-reviewed publications. (Self- publication does not meet this criterion.)
4. Completed educational programs or other training by qualified experts in relevant areas. These training programs should be recent and should include advances in research and evidence-based practice.
5. Provided Continuing Education (CE) training to mental health professionals or Continuing Legal Education (CLE) to legal professionals on parental alienation. CE and CLE training experience suggests the presenter is a recognized expert in the subject matter he or she is teaching.
6. Qualified as an expert in a court of law with respect to PA and related issues.
7. Maintained an ongoing, collaborative communication with other experts in PA in order to benefit from an exchange of ideas and recent advances in the field.
Scientifically-Derived Consensus Regarding Parental Alienation
PA was first described decades ago, and has been given a variety of names. As the problem has become better recognized, our understanding has become increasingly refined. Evidence-
based practice dictates that the key elements—the various “moving parts”—of PA must be examined and tested through using the scientific method. The following expert consensus opinions are the result of this process and form the foundation of our current understanding of alienation and related issues.
1. Alienated children present very differently than estranged children. The similarities are superficial. Although both alienated children and estranged children will often align with one parent over the other, to expert eyes—by which we mean a professional who specializes in alienation and estrangement—it is usually straightforward, if not easy, to distinguish between the two. On the other hand, the differences are often missed by non-specialists.
2. Many aspects of identification and treatment of PA are counterintuitive. For example, alienated children often appear to have a healthy bond with the alienating parent although it is actually an unhealthy, enmeshed relationship. Many alienating parents present well to evaluators and courts although they are actually engaging in destructive behaviors. Many targeted parents appear anxious and agitated despite being healthy and competent. For this reason, only a qualified PA specialist should conduct this work.
3. Children rarely reject a parent—even an abusive parent. Therefore, in the absence of bona fide abuse or neglect, when a child strongly aligns with one parent and emphatically rejects the other, that pattern strongly suggests alienation—not estrangement.
4. Clinicians and other professionals should carefully consider severity. PA is typically a progressive process in which—sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly—the child begins to resist contact with and/or reject the previously-loved targeted parent. Severity should be identified as mild, moderate, or severe. This is important because, among other things, it allows the examiner to identify early warning signs of PA which, in turn, permits a qualified clinician to provide interventions in ways that are customized and appropriate for the level of severity.
5. The work of Dr. Richard Gardner (e.g., 1998), a child psychiatrist, provided a theoretical framework and conceptual model for understanding the phenomenon. His original insights have since been validated by both researchers and clinicians. His work was based on sound scientific principles and generally-accepted standards of psychiatric practice.
6. The eight manifestations of parental alienation first identified by Dr. Gardner are generally- accepted and valid. Although others have been identified, the original eight are well-established as valid and useful indicators of alienation, and are rarely, if ever, seen with estrangement. They have been tested empirically and found to be accurate, valid, and reliable.
7. The seventeen alienation behaviors described by Dr. Amy J.L. Baker are research-supported and evidence-based. They provide a valid and reliable set of useful indicators with which to assess the behavior of favored parents with respect to PA.
8. Although some cases are hybrids, the assertion that most cases are hybrids (meaning a mix of alienation and estrangement) is not supported by the clinical literature.
9. Children do not have the cognitive maturity or the capacity to make an informed decision about whether to have a relationship with a parent. They cannot imagine the implications of having a parent absent from their lives, and do not necessarily know what is in their best interest. Nor do they genuinely want the power to cut a parent out of their lives.
10. Children (and adults) can be unduly influenced by emotional manipulation to act against their own best interests. They can be misled to believe things that are not true, even about a parent. It is possible to induce false memories in children and/or to program children to relate events—often sincerely and convincingly (at least to naïve or unwary observers)—that, in fact, did not take place or did not take place in the way described.
11. Many, but not necessarily all, alienating parents have one or more personality disorders (typically of the borderline, narcissistic and/or sociopathic type). The more extreme or severe the alienating behavior, the more likely it is that the alienating parent has an underlying personality disorder.
12. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse, specifically psychological and emotional abuse. It meets the diagnostic criteria for child psychological abuse as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association (2013).
13. Although Dr. Gardner popularized the concept and clarified many of the definitions and subsets inherent in the determination of what PA means, its development, and its deleterious effects upon the family, the concept appeared long before Dr. Gardner first wrote about the problem in 1985.
14. The model provided by Dr. Gardner has provided an excellent framework for both diagnosis and treatment. Although it has been refined and enhanced over the past 30 years, the basic concepts remain valid. Virtually all of the successful treatment programs for PA are based on his original model. Despite unsupported claims to the contrary, no alternative model has been shown to be clinically, theoretically, or scientifically superior. For the most part, proposed alternatives provide little or no outcome data and/or appear to be neither clinically, nor theoretically, nor scientifically sound.
15. Only reunification therapy provided by a PA specialist who thoroughly understands the clinical and scientific points in this paper, and whose treatment plan is highly-customized for PA based on sound scientific evidence and clinical outcome data, is recommended. Team-based “intensive reunification therapy” is appropriate in treating moderate to severe alienation while traditional in- office, out-patient reunification therapy may have its place when considering treatment for mild alienation. The treatment should be appropriately matched to the family.
We hope this information will be helpful in obtaining qualified advice or assistance.
Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., Steven G. Miller, MD., J. Michael Bone, Ph.D
And in alphabetical order
Katherine Andre, Ph.D.
Rebecca Bailey, Ph.D.
William Bernet, M.D
Doug Darnall, Ph.D.
Robert Evans, Ph.D
Linda Kase Gottlieb, LMFT, LCSW-R Demothenos Lorandos, Ph.D. JD Kathleen Reay, Ph.D.
S. Richard Sauber, Ph.D.
References and Recommended Reading
Baker, A.J.L. (2007). Adult children of parental alienation syndrome: Breaking the ties that bind. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
Baker, A.J.L. (2006). The power of stories: Stories about power: Why therapists and clients should read stories about the parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy,34(3), 191-203.
Baker, A.J.L. & Andre, K. (2015). Getting through my parents’ divorce: A workbook for children coping with divorce, parental alienation, and loyalty conflicts. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Baker, A.J.L, Bone, M. & Ludmer, B. (2014). High conflict custody battle survival guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbingers.
Baker, A.J.L., & Darnall, D. (2006). Behaviors and strategies of parental alienation: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 45 (1/2), 97-124.
Baker, A.J.L. & Eichler, A. (2014). College student childhood exposure to parental loyalty conflicts. Families in Society, 95,59-66.
Baker, A.J.L. & Fine, P. (2014). Co-parenting with a toxic ex: What to do when your ex spouse tries to turn the kids against you. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. Baker, A.J.L. & Fine, P. (2014). Surviving parental alienation: A journey of hope and healing. Latham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Baker, A. J. L., & Sauber, S. R. (Eds.). (2013). Working with alienated children and families: A clinical guidebook. New York: Routledge.
Baker, A.J.L. & Schneiderman, M. (2015). Bonded to the abuser: How victims make sense of childhood abuse. Latham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Bernet, W., Baker, A.J.L., & Verrocchio, M.C. (2015). Symptom-Checklist-90-Revised Scores in Adult Children Exposed to Alienating Behaviors: An Italian Sample. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 60(2), 357-362.
Bernet, W., Boch-Galhau, W.V., Baker, A.J.L., & Morrison, S. (2010). Parental Alienation, DSM-V, and ICD-11. American Journal of Family Therapy, 38, 76-187.
Clawar, S. S., & Rivlin, B. V. (2013). Children Held Hostage: Identifying brainwashed children, presenting a case, and crafting solutions (Second ed.). U.S.A.: American Bar Association.
Darnall, D. (2010). Beyond divorce casualties: Reunifying the alienated family. Lantham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.
Gardner, R.A. (1998). The parental alienation syndrome, second edition. Cresskill, N.J.: Creative
Gardner, R. A., Sauber, S. R., & Lorandos, D. (2006). The international handbook of parental alienation syndrome: Conceptual, clinical and legal considerations. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
Gottlieb, L. J. (2012). Parental alienation syndrome: A family therapy and collaborative systems approach to amelioration. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
Lorandos, D., Bernet, W., & Sauber, S. R. (2013). Parental alienation: The handbook for mental health and legal professionals. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
Miller, S.G. (2013). Clinical reasoning and decision making in cases of child alignment: Diagnostic and therapeutic issues. In A. Baker & S. R. Sauber (Eds.), Working with alienated children and families: A clinical guidebook (pp. 8-46). New York, NY: Routledge.
Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Reay, K. (2015). Family Reflections: A promising therapeutic program designed to treat severely alienated children and their family system. American Journal of Family Therapy, 43(2), 197-207.
Verrocchio, M.C., & Baker, A.J.L. (2015). Italian adults’ recall of childhood exposure to parental loyalty conflicts. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(1), 95-105.
Wallerstein, J. S., & Kelly, J. B. (1980). Surviving the breakup: How parents and children cope with divorce. New York: Basic Books.
Warshak, R. A. (2010). Divorce poison: How to protect your family from badmouthing and brainwashing. New York: Harper Paperbacks.
- Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D