Summary & Abstract
This article is based on the personal experiences of this expert witness
working with families in turmoil following an acrimonious relationship
before and after separation. The effect on children is described and their
no wishing for further contact with the now absent parent. The methods used
by the custodial parent (usually the mother) are delineated. The expert
witness describes the methods used to diagnose “parental
alienation” when it exists. He further considers some currently
controversial approaches, in how to deal with the problems that arise.
These are usually poor or no contact for the non resident parent which
his/her children. Some controversial ways are presented when therapeutic procedures
and mediation fail.
Am I a Controversial Psychologist?
Having worked with families in turmoil for more years
than I would like to state, there are those who have agreed with the manner
in which I have worked as an expert witness and I have also received some
criticism concerning my decisions. It must be said from the onset the final decisions
being made about family issues in the court is for the judges to make. All
the expert can do is to provide evidence and opinions as well as advice
based on such evidence.
It must also be stated that this current psychologist
works perhaps differently from many others in that I assess all past
documents relating to a case, carry our interviews with all those involved,
and use both objective and projective psychological testing to verify what
I may have found in interview and through other evidence. This
comprehensive approach I have found to be of particular value in dealing
with very difficult issues relating to complex family matters.
I have always considered all parties involved with equal
concern, whether it is the mother or father, and with the hope of
reassessing difficulties and trying to find a solution which will be as
acceptable as possible for all concerned. My primary concern of course is
the child/children involved but one cannot distance oneself from the parents
who are also intimately associated with the child and hence happy parents
or parents who are in harmony with one another are a great asset to a child
and they are in the child’s best interest. Warring, hostile parents
and create unhappy children.
It is well known that families after divorce and
separation frequently present implacable hostilities towards one another
and this affects the child/children involved in the relationship. The main
difficulty that appears to occur is the question of access. One parent
usually has custody the other one does not. The other parent who does not
have custody however wishes to have good contact with the child/children
that they both have created.
Due to the acrimony between the parents this becomes
increasingly more difficult as time progresses especially when there are
third parties such as the father finding another partner or the mother
finding another partner, or both finding new partners.
I especially wish to address those who are critical of
my approach to parental alienation problems. Firstly, I do not see parental
alienation in every case. Sometimes it is because a parent has for some
reason or other had a difficult and unhappy relationship with the child and
is therefore rejected by that child. When this however, is not the case and
the parent has had a good relationship, and even a loving relationship with
that child, and this has changed as a result of the separation and divorce,
then one must
consider the possibility that the child has been alienated by the custodial
parent against the absent parent.
I believe very firmly that both parents should have good
contact with their child/children if at all possible as this is in the best
interest of the child/children involved. The exception is when one or both
parents are abusers, either sexually, physically or emotionally. In that
case they should have no further role to play with the child. This is
because their behaviour is harmful to the child
in the short as well as long term.
Another reason why my critics may feel that I am extreme
in my views is because I do believe that parental alienation or
brainwashing of a child is a form of emotional abuse. Unless such parents
desist after a period of treatment from such behaviour
they are unlikely to be of value to the child since they are essentially
retaining power on the basis of “divide and conquer”, i.e. they
are trying to divide the child from the absent parent or the other parent
as it may be the case.
Unless such parents can desist from such behaviour in future and provide an opportunity for the
absent parent who has had a good relationship with the child in the past to
continue that relationship through contact, such parents should not be
allowed to retain the control of the child/children.
While the Judiciary and I may be unhappy about taking
the child away from the custodial parent, especially a mother, I feel there
is more harm being done by keeping that child under such circumstances with
the alienating parent. It could be best and then removing them and placing
them with the alienated parent or in some neutral centre, where the
alienated parent can have good access to the child.
It is my view that children should be protected not
merely from physical or sexual abuser but also an emotional abuser. Such
emotional abuse exists due to the animosity towards another parent. This is
preventing good contact with that child and the now absent parent. By
removing the child from the atmosphere of being “brainwashed”
or “alienated” the child has an opportunity of forming a good
relationship with a parent with whom previously he had such a good
It is unfortunate that many children refuse to see an
absent parent after divorce or separation due to the fact that they have
been influenced unfairly against that parent and frequently will state to
expert witnesses, CAFCASS officers and the Court that they have no desire
to have any further contact with the now absent parent. While this cannot
be dismissed one must in fact investigate why the child has this attitude
and how this attitude has come about.
Many CAFCASS officers, Judges
and even some expert witnesses fail to investigate why a child has an
attitude and behaviour which is totally opposed
to his previous demeanour with that now absent
It must remembered that children are suggestible and
also are very frightened and anxious about the possibility after having
lost one parent, that they may well lose the other one which whom they
reside. They are worried that if they oppose that parent by wishing good
contact with the absent parent they may lose the custodial parent. One can
be certain that the acrimony or implacable hostility of the custodial
parent will do all they can, however subtly or directly to influence the child
to avoid having good contact with the now absent parent No expert witness,
CAFCASS officer or Judge should ignore that possibility and need to deal
with the matter decisively and as fairly and justly possible. This could
mean the removal of the child from the bad influence of the custodial
parent and placing him with the unfairly treated absent parent i.e. a
change of residence. Often the child is allowed to become rude and abusive
toward the non custodial parent which is not good
for the child. This is often encouraged by the hostile custodial parent.
This can also carry over to other authority figures including the expert
witness and the Court officials.
Perhaps it is this final stage of dealing with parental
alienation which has made me considered to be “controversial”.
I too do not like to make decisions such as I have advocated this unless it
is absolutely necessary for the benefit of the child who is being
brainwashed and who will suffer in the short and long term from having been
deprived of a now worthy absent parent. It is the view of this particular
expert witness that removing a child from emotional abuse is fair and just.
Hence the Judiciary also should is fair and just and all should consider
the importance of making very difficult and unpopular decisions when they
are required to be made.
One must add before taking such a drastic step all
efforts should be made for there to be a voluntary change of behaviour in the alienator and that this is followed up
and tested through the fact that the child has good contact with the absent
parent. If this can be achieved without the drastic action of removing a
child from an emotionally abusing parent then this is always the preference
of the present expert witness and it should be the preference to all those
who deal with families in turmoil, and the lack of good access for a worthy
It is almost certain that suggesting the removal of a child from a
custodial parent, will lead to abundant criticism for expert witnesses and
the Judiciary. The current expert believes however that such a course of
action is to the long term benefit of children. Sometimes the threat of
this happening will change the insidious behaviour of alienation in the
custodial vengeful parent.