Parental Alienation
 

Southern England Psychological Services

 

www.parental-alienation.info

Finding a Real Solution to Complex Contact Disputes Due to Implacable Hostility Between Parents

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services

2012

Abstract & Summary


This article considers better, more just and effective ways the expert witness and the Judiciary can work together to resolve complex parental alienation cases. These cases tend to result from the implacable hostility between two parents and most especially the custodial parent.First discussed are the problems and reactions of the alienated child, especially the severely alienated child. The author seeks solutions to such problems and delineates three scenarios. The third scenario considers rectifying such disputes by promoting a co-operative relationship between the expert witness and the Judiciary. Some time is spent considering the change of residence of a child who has suffered severe alienation towards once loved parent.

Finding a Real Solution to Complex Contact Disputes Due to Implacable Hostility Between Parents

Introduction

No-one doubts the obvious, that implacable hostility between parents, following divorce and separation has severe implications for the security of children. The edifice or foundation of the family is in danger when two parents live in disharmony with one another. The result is the suffering of at least one parent and the creation of anxiety, fear and sometimes depression in children. Due to the increase in divorce and separation of parents this outcome in on the increase.

Children, especially very young children are totally dependent on a secure relationship with at least one, but even better, both parents. Children do not welcome disharmony in the form of parents in turmoil. Children do not welcome the hostility which results between parents following an acrimonious separation. It makes them feel vulnerable and insecure to see those upon whom they so much depend being hostile or even violent towards each other.

Once the parents have separated, whoever has custody, (usually the mother), may seek to alienate the children from the now absent parent, who is usually the father. It can however, be the other way around, and is increasingly so. As an expert witness dealing with family issues, I am finding an increase over the years of mothers being alienated from their children when fathers are given custody or control over the children, especially when a new partner comes on the scene.

Those involved in seeking to find a remedy to both the implacable hostility leading to parental alienation, are expert witnesses, the Court, Social Services, CAFCASS, Guardians ad Litem and others. The Judiciary very much depends on others to provide them with ideas and directions to follow in order to deal with the problems that follow after alienation or “brain washing” of children has occurred against another parent.

In what follows we will consider the problems of parents engaged in implacable hostilityand how this affects that child. We will then consider dealing with the problems of the severely alienated child and the three possible reactions to this situation: i.e. to do nothing, following the apparent wishes of the child/children, or examining in depth and explaining contact disputes and rectifying these. Finally, we will consider the most severe and therefore controversial solution to parental disputes i.e. changing the child’s residence and living with the alienated parent. Let us finally consider the problems of the severely alienated child and how this affects the child’s attitude and behavior towards the absent parent

 

1. The problems of the severely alienated child

The problems of the severely alienated child originate from the influence or the alienating parent and the fact that the alienated parent is now absent. This alienating parent tends to seek and have custody or control of the child and this provides the opportunity to inculcate certain attitudes and behaviours which is inimical to the child seeking to have a good relationship with the now absent parent. Hence, the child echoes the alienating parent’s sentiments, prejudices and hostility. Such children show:

 

(i)†††††† implacable hostility towards the now absent parent;

 

(ii)††††††† imitate the feelings and behaviour of the alienating parent;

 

(iii)†††††† have an irrational animosity towards the absent parent;

 

(iv)†††††† consider the need for court action involved to be a direct attack upon the alienating parent whose side they have taken in the conflict between the parents;

 

(v) †††††† negative attitudes and demeanour towards the absent parent;

 

(vi)†††††† no ambivalence or guilt about the fact that one parent has been considered all “bad, vicious, evil, unworthy” etc. They are as fanatical as the parent who alienates them about this view point.

 

(vii) †††† feel no sense of conscience about the attitudes and behaviour they have adopted where once they felt love and affection for that now absent parent;

 

(viii)††††† much as the alienating parent, show hostility and denigrate the absent parent without considering reasons for such blind and obsessive hostility;

 

(ix)†††††† the same attitude and behaviour towards the extended family of the alienated parent where in the past there has been a close relationship between themselves and their grandparents, uncles, aunts etc.;

 

(x)††††††† no sadness in the fact that they have lost the alienated other parent, and the immediate extended family of that parent have all been rejected.

 

The Honourable Judge Gomery working in the Canadian courts, states this wisely and succinctly:[i]

“Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate the other parent, represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child. “

One cannot help but agree with this Judge but unfortunately like many in the Judiciary, they do not provide an answer or a solution to this problem which is workable just and effective.

 

If such children are forced be in the company of the alienated parent, they will rebel knowing what the alienating parent expects them to do. They are in a “folie a deux”[1] situation sharing everything with the alienating parent especially the paranoid delusions of the brain washing alienator. The bond of love and affection they once felt for the absent parent has been totally destroyed in extreme cases of parental alienation. Changing this pattern is fraught with difficulties but efforts will be made by the current author to seek a solution to this tremendous problem in society today.

 

Those who would seek to change such ingrained attitudes and behaviour, face tremendous obstacles. Therapists seeking to change such fanatical beliefs of total hatred for one parent, and fanatical loyalty to the other, will be viewed by the child as an “enemy”.Their efforts will be staunchly resisted. In the end, such efforts will not prevail unless very particular approaches are taken which are not currently being used. This is due to the reluctance of both the Judiciary and expert witnesses to take drastic action where it is needed.

Dealing with the problems of the severely alienated child

There are several courses of options being followed today by expert witnesses and the courts in dealing with contact disputes or obstacles. The first approach is one that is unfortunately followed more often than not and that is to do nothing to interfere with the course of events. This would seem to be the least desirable course of action. The second is to consider, somewhat blindly, the actions which favour what is the wish of the child and most especially the older child. This constitutes ignoring what has come before which has influenced the child’s expressed wishes. The third approach is one favoured by the author of this paper, but unfortunately it is also the most controversial.

 

Let us look more closely at each of these alternative approaches.

1.†††††††† To do nothing

Many instances of parental alienation do not come to the attention of expert witnesses or the courts. Such parental alienation situations die “a natural death” with one parent opting out or being pushed out of the lives of his/her children, in many cases for ever. The example which follows illustrates this.

 

“Mr X and his wife parted after considerable disharmony resulting in numerous arguments which were unfortunately witnessed by three young children. After leaving the matrimonial home, Mr X lived on his own and continued to provide financially for his family which he felt was his responsibility to do. Eventually he met someone else, obtained a divorce and remarried.

 

His former wife as always made it difficult for him to be with his children, most especially to be with his children on his own. If she countenanced contact for him to be with the children it was on her terms and with her always being present. This led Mr X to start a new family and to see less and less of his former wife and children. It is difficult to know how the children experienced this. They might have felt that they were being rejected by their now absent parent. On the other hand they might have felt that it is in the best interest to have peace in the home even if only with one parent present.

 

Here the children of the first marriage saw less and less of their former devoted father. The children themselves were, apparently outwardly at least, content with the infrequent visits of their father. In some ways, they were happier not to be witnessing the unpleasant scenes between the parents. Mr X’s former wife appeared also to be happier on her own with the children and being in total control of the home and the children. She considered her former husband’s presence to be superfluous.

 

Mr X, while regretting the quasi loss of the children he loved, had a good relationship with this new wife and eventually focused his attention on his new family. Mr X did not believe it sensible to fight what was likely to be a losing battle with his ex wife with whom he found it difficult to reside and to relate to. He neither had the money for a protracted court battle nor did he wish to put his children through this. He also had a distinct lack of trust in the justice of the court in helping him to gain contact with his children.”

Dealing with the problems of the severely alienated child

There are several courses of options being followed today by expert witnesses and the courts in dealing with contact disputes or obstacles. The first approach is one that is unfortunately followed more often than not and that is to do nothing to interfere with the course of events. This would seem to be the least desirable course of action. The second is to consider, somewhat blindly, the actions which favour what is the wish of the child and most especially the older child. This constitutes ignoring what has come before which has influenced the child’s expressed wishes. The third approach is one favoured by the author of this paper, but unfortunately it is also the most controversial.

 

Let us look more closely at each of these alternative approaches.

1.†††††††† To do nothing

Many instances of parental alienation do not come to the attention of expert witnesses or the courts. Such parental alienation situations die “a natural death” with one parent opting out or being pushed out of the lives of his/her children, in many cases for ever. The example which follows illustrates this.

 

“Mr X and his wife parted after considerable disharmony resulting in numerous arguments which were unfortunately witnessed by three young children. After leaving the matrimonial home, Mr X lived on his own and continued to provide financially for his family which he felt was his responsibility to do. Eventually he met someone else, obtained a divorce and remarried.

 

His former wife as always made it difficult for him to be with his children, most especially to be with his children on his own. If she countenanced contact for him to be with the children it was on her terms and with her always being present. This led Mr X to start a new family and to see less and less of his former wife and children. It is difficult to know how the children experienced this. They might have felt that they were being rejected by their now absent parent. On the other hand they might have felt that it is in the best interest to have peace in the home even if only with one parent present.

 

Here the children of the first marriage saw less and less of their former devoted father. The children themselves were, apparently outwardly at least, content with the infrequent visits of their father. In some ways, they were happier not to be witnessing the unpleasant scenes between the parents. Mr X’s former wife appeared also to be happier on her own with the children and being in total control of the home and the children. She considered her former husband’s presence to be superfluous.

 

Mr X, while regretting the quasi loss of the children he loved, had a good relationship with this new wife and eventually focused his attention on his new family. Mr X did not believe it sensible to fight what was likely to be a losing battle with his ex wife with whom he found it difficult to reside and to relate to. He neither had the money for a protracted court battle nor did he wish to put his children through this. He also had a distinct lack of trust in the justice of the court in helping him to gain contact with his children.”

2.†††††††† Following the apparent wishes of the children

In many cases that come before the Courts of Law, it is the children who ultimately determine how much, if any contact they have with a now absent parent. This is especially the case for older children. Frequently expert witnesses adopt a similar stance: “What can one do when the child states and behaves in a way which indicates he/she does not want contact with the absent parent?” This is despite the fact that before the break-up of the parents, the child had a warm and loving relationship with the now absent parent.

 

The Court appear to see no need to explore further why a child who was once so close to a parent in the past now rejects that parent. The attitude of the Court is: “What can one do when the child refuses contact with a parent?” This scenario is illustrated by Butler-Sloss LJ , an alleged expert in cases of families in turmoil, when she speaks about two children aged 11 and 13.[ii]

In Re S (Minors) )Access: Religious Upbringing) [1992] 2 FLR 313

“ Nobody should dictate to children of this age, because one is dealing with their emotions, their lives and they are not packages to be moved around. They are people entitled to be treated with respect.”

 

This statement must be treated as naÔve, lacking in depth and fundamental understanding. It completely neglects the fact that children are susceptible to powerful influences such as the process of deliberate and vicious alienation. The “packages” referred to in the quotation of Butler Sloss are indeed human beings with emotions, but these emotions have often been “manipulated” by one parent in order to eliminate the other parent from the child’s life. This results in that often innocent, absent parent, with whom the child has had a close relationship in the past,having none or poor contact. This appears to be totally ignored by Butler Sloss and those who follow her views.

 

Hence the possible impact of alienation has not been raised, instead of such important aspects being investigated, the process and result of alienation has been ignored. The child resisting contact with a now absent parent has been taken at face value, instead of being thoroughly assessed, investigated and reported back to the court.

 

The Children’s Act of 1989 again suggests that the views of children, especially older children, need to be taken into consideration without adding to this after a full and thorough in-depth investigation has taken place. What must be investigated especially is why a child has an attitude such as not wishing to have contact with a once close, loving and now absent parent, and why the child expresses such hostility towards the now absent parent.

3.†††††††† Explaining contact disputes and rectifying these via expert witness and Judge working together.

The third approach favoured by the author, an expert witness who had been involved in many cases of contact disputes, is an intensive investigation of why a child refuses contact with a parent. Once cannot reiterated often enough that many children caught up in the trauma of implacable hostility between parents have more often than not enjoyed a close relationship with both parents in the past.

 

If it can be established that the child has been alienated or “brainwashed “ against the absent parent, then the parent who does this is responsible for the child’s decision to avoid or sabotage contact with the now absent parent. In fact it is not at all the child’s true decision or wish, but that of the resident alienating parent. It cannot be emphasised too strongly, that the resident parent has a duty in respect to a child having good contact with the now absent parent.

 

The parent will often claim to have encouraged the child to have contact and states “but I can’t force him/her”. Such excuses cannot be countenanced. Having created the problem of antipathy in the child’s mind, the alienator now steps back claiming that it is the child’s decision not to make contact with the absent parent, and that it has nothing to do with themselves. Having done the damage by destroying the image of a good parent in the child’s mind, this alienating, deceitful parent now claims no responsibility for the resulting emotionally abused child. Such deceit is common but is so often overlooked by both experts and the Judiciary.

 

Such parents can be interpreted by the child as saying one thing yet meaning another. The dialogue goes something like this:

 

Parent: “I think you should go and see your mother/father otherwise I will get into trouble.”

Child: “But I don’t want to see him/her….I have nothing good to say to him/her. I feel the same as you do.”

Parent: “I can’t force you , but you should go.”

Child: “If I don’t have to go, I won’t go.”

Parent: “Then I will have problems with the Court.”

Child: “If I go, I will only be angry and will show this to him/her so he/she will never again force

me to see him/her.”

 

The child then verbally and sometimes physically attacks the once loved parent during direct or supervised contact. The observer or supervisor after warning the child from desisting from such insults towards the absent parent finally curtails the contact. This scenario is reported after some delay back to the Court. This is a very common scenario. It leads in most cases to no further attempts of encouraging direct contact between the child and the absent parent.

 

††††††††††† Not many members of the Judiciary respond as they should respond after a report from an expert witness psychologist/psychiatrist has been presented detailing the true reason for the child’s poor behaviour during contact. This report essentially states that the child’s inimical behaviour towards the now absent parent is based on the influence of the alienating parent, leading to the child having suffered from emotional abuse. Furthermore, it is stated, that very frequently that such vilification of the absent parent by the alienator is likely to continue and worsen and have poor short term and long term repercussions on the child.

 

††††††††††† There is therefore no likelihood that the matter will be resolved by good contact developing between the child and the now vilified absent parent. Some experts will then recommend family therapy, mediation or some form of therapy for the child and/or the alienator. This ‘softly softly’ approach is rarely successful but needs to be attempted. Judges on the whole prefer this approach as they do not like being branded “heavy handed” or being accused of causing further emotional harm or distress to the child, by taking more drastic measures.

 

††††††††††† In all truth, the emotional harm has already been done and will continue to be done unless the child is removed from the continuing and pathological influences of the alienator. The alienator will never desist from continuing to poison the child’s mind against the absent parent. Therapy with the alienator may be tried but is likely to be unsuccessful in the case where there is such severe implacable hostility.

 

††††††††††† Warning such alienators about sanctions that can be applied, i.e. fines, imprisonment, is sometimes effective but also likely to add to the hostility the child feels towards the alienated parent and the Courts. For this reason this approach of threats to be successful the child needs to be coerced to not only have contact but good contact with the absent parent. In order to achieve this, the alienating parent will need to put much pressure on the child.

 

††††††††††† The attitude of the child will not necessarily change towards the alienated parent. Being forced to make contact, providing such contact is good, could result sometime in the child not feeling so disloyal towards the custodial parent and engaging with the absent parent. This is due to the child often being able to claim that he/she is making good contact due to the Order of the Courtrather than his/her own wishes!

 

††††††††††† During such contact sessions, finally there can be a breakthrough, especially if contact is resumed on a number of occasions. The child could eventually come to the conclusion that the parent who has been vilified is after all not a bad person but rather a good person with whom to engage.

 

††††††††††† Gradually through initially supervised and observed contact, non supervised contact can follow leading the resuming of a good relationship with that absent parent. This can only happen in less severe cases of parental alienation. It has to be faced however, that this approach could also fail mainly due to the continued relentless influence of the alienator and the child feelings of being disloyal to the custodial parent by enjoying good contact with the absent parent. This leads us essentially in the direction of the ultimate and only solution when nothing else is working effectively.

††††††††††† Changing the child’s residence in living with the alienated parent

Ultimately, what must be considered is the removal of the child/children from the emotionally abusing home. This should only be done after warnings have been given to the abuser and what will happen if the child fails to develop good contact and resumes a warm relationship with the absent parent. The warning must be unmistakably direct:

 

“You must insist that the child has good regular contact with the absent parent. This you can only achieve by reversing your previous ways in how you speak about the alienated parent. You need to speak well of that parent in the presence of the child. What you say must be sincere.You must explain to the child that you were wrong to speak badly about the absent parent and that you regret doing so. The child must accept that you have a true change of opinion and that the previous opinion was wrong.

You must tell the child that although you are no longer in love with the other parent; that this parent is a good parent who should receive love and respect from you (the child).”

If this fails to achieve the desired objective, the child must be removed from the home and placed in an independent centre. This includes a foster home or some other placement such as with a member of the extended family of the alienated parent. Here the child can be treated, or “debriefed” in preparation for regular visits to, and ultimately living with, the previously alienated parent. At no time should the alienator have contact with the child during this process of therapeutic intervention and debriefing.

 

Once the child accepts that he/she has a good parent who has been unfairly dismissed and treated. It is likely to be a long process to convince the child that the now absent, vilified and alienated parent can speak well also of the other parent, and that both parents can speak well of one another in the presence of the child. This provides the child with the opportunity of re-establishing a relationship with the absent parent while not losing a good relationship with the former alienating parent who now desists from this alienation.

 

The goal for those involved in the therapeutic rehabilitation is inculcating in both parents the view that each parent is of value and that the child needs not to give all love, affection and loyalty to one parent only, but to both. The child can be loyal to both parents without affronting the other. It is this which is in the best interest of the child in the short and long term. This should also be gratifying to both parents. In time it may be possible for them to establish a better relationship based on mutual responsibility towards their child/children rather than conducting a vendetta against one another.

 

Let us receive a final word froma Judge, Justice Hedley:[iii]

In Re E (A Child) [2011] EWHC3521 (Fam):

“It is extremely important both for the courts and advisors, to spot at an early stage those cases which have the hallmarks of difficulty, let alone intractability about them…..it is extremely important that the parties at a relatively early stage have the opportunity to give evidence, not against each other, as happens in the fact finding hearings, but in respect of the interests of the child which are all too easily lost in the maelstrom of allegations.”

††††††††††† It is unfortunate that family law cases so often appear to go on and on without any resolution in most cases, especially those that involve severe parental alienation problems. In order to have greater success in obtaining true justice and doing what is in the best interest of the child it is vital that there be a close partnership and co-operation between the assessing expert witnesses and the Judiciary who make final decisions.

 

 

1.†††††††† Stage 3 – A severely alienated child of parental alienation syndrome. http://www.paskids.com/pas/stage3.php

2.†††††††† Clayton, H. (2012) Parental alienation and intractable contact disputes: an update. Family Law Week. http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed98218

3.†††††††† Clayton, H. (2012) Parental alienation and intractable contact disputes: an update. Family Law Week. http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed98218

 

www.parental-alienation.info 

eXTReMe Tracker



[1] See author’s article “Parental Alienationdue to a shared psychotic disorder (Folie a deux)” (2006) available on website www.parental-alienation.info