Families in Turmoil
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Justice of the
Peace, Vol 166, N 23, June 8-2002 p 4442-224, ISSN 1351 5756
Mr and Mrs X had been married for 14 years. They were
strict Catholics. Despite this however, they .were divorced as each
accused the other of being unfaithful. Mr X also accused his wife
of not keeping the house tidy. He had always said, however, that
she was a good mother. She, in her turn, accused her husband of
being bad-tempered especially in relation to the children and sometimes
being "physical" with them.
Mr X had, for six years, attempted through the courts,
to gain contact with his four children. Such contact had been denied
by the mother, rather than the courts. The court appointed the present
psychologist on the recommendation of the Judge. The Judge had read
some of the articles written by the psychologist on mediation involving
families in conflict. These articles are listed in the Appendix
of this article.
Mrs X and her four children, aged six, eight, ten
and twelve, were adamant in not wishing to have any contact with
the father. The reasons given by all, who seemed to be in total
agreement, were that:
- Father had a bad temper.
- He sometimes smacked them when they were naughty.
- He did not give them much of his time when they had been with
him after the parents separated.
- He failed to provide financially for them after the divorce
when contact had been denied, according to the mother.
Mrs X, when interviewed first with the psychologist,
stated that she had always encouraged the children to be with their
natural father. It was the children who refused to see him for the
reasons already mentioned. "What could I do? Should I force
the children to be with their father against their wishes?"
She had, in the meantime, developed a relationship with a partner,
who the children, after six years, regarded as "their father".
At this point it was explained to the mother, after
accepting her version of events, that considerable harm could result
to the children, if they failed to have some kind of relationship
with their natural parent. When she requested to know what harm
could occur, the psychologist told her in some detail and gave her
one of his articles on this subject, which involved dealing with
children who had been alienated and who suffered as a consequence
now and in the future. Finally, the remainder of the session sought
to establish a good relationship with her and through her, with
the children. She was encouraged to do all she could to get the
children to have some kind of contact with their father, but only
after the psychologist had counselled the father on how hè
should behave towards the children. The meeting went extremely well,
both by showing warmth and using understanding and humour to break
down some of Mrs X's defensiveness and antipathy towards her former
spouse. She also indicated that she was tired of, time after time,
having to appear in court.
Additionally, she complied in taking two personality
tests; one an objective test, the Eysenck Personality Inventory,
and the other a projective technique, the Rorschach Test. The psychologist
promised to let her know the result of these tests in due course.
She became increasingly co-operative, especially when it was indicated
by the psychologist that he did not anticipate at this time, recommending
unsupervised contact with the children by their father. Perhaps
three to six months afterwards this may be considered, but not at
the present time. This reassured the mother considerably. She was
also informed that as a result of such contact, which was initially
supervised, he would need to agree to provide some funding for her
to deal with her children.
The next step was to see the children. It was vital
to establish a good relationship with them as quickly as possible
and also to depend to some degree on the mother talking to the children
about co-operating. The children were then interviewed individually
to ascertain their feelings in relation to possible contact with
their father after so many years. They were not at all well disposed
to any contact initially with their father. They were encouraged
to say why they felt that way. They were also provided with an objective
personality test, the Junior version of the Eysenck Personality
Inventory, and a projective personality test. The projective test
consisted of them drawing a picture of themselves and their family
doing something. This established their position in the family,
their relationship with their mother and their step-father. As was
expected, the children drew a picture of their mother and partner
and then labelled the male in the group, their "dad".
They also indicated verbally that they now regarded the partner
as their "father". The man played a fairly passive role,
according to the children. He never disciplined them. He very wisely
left that to the mother. The children saw this father as a "kind"
person. In direct contrast, they viewed their natural father (from
their memory of him), as strict, with a bad temper.
Each child, following several short meetings on the
same day, was encouraged by the psychologist, as well as by the
mother, to regard the natural father as deserving of another chance
for contact. They ultimately accepted that they would co-operate
with supervised contact. Later it was decided that such supervised
contact would occur on alternate Sundays. It was also to be carried
out during the afternoon under the supervision of the catholic priest
of the church where they attended.
The personality testing was important to ascertain
the mental and psychological state of the children at the present
time. Prior to making any decision, the father had been interviewed
and counselled on three occasions during the day for short periods.
He was also submitted to the objective and projective personality
testing, identical to his ex-wife. The result of this testing was
duly explained to him. He was made aware of his problems and also
why his children wished to avoid having contact with him and how
this could be reversed by changes in his own attitude and behaviour
The full facts of why the children no longer desired
contact with him had a most salutary effect on him. At first he
denied that he was or had been overly strict with them, but gradually
accepted this. He, however, took notice of what would be required
of him should he wish the supervised contact to work and to lead
eventually to all he desired, i.e., unsupervised contact and the
children being able to visit his own parents.
The final session was between the psychologist and
the couple "in conflict". This could only be carried out
after the initial sessions had led to an agreement between them
on certain issues. This agreement was written down for each individual.
One agreement was then put forward to them, to make certain that
they both agreed once again with the arrangements which would lead
to unsupervised contact. They were then asked to sign the statement.
Mother even agreed to let father write down the actual agreement,
obviously checking it afterwards to see it was correct.
There was a need for silence from time to time, when
one or other of the parties brought up past grievances. It was then
emphasized, and they agreed, to consider only those aspects which
could be viewed at present and in the future, and which ultimately
would improve their relationship regarding the children. The firm
handling of this final interview showed each party what they had
to gain by sitting down together and agreeing on areas of financial
and emotional support for the children and both parents being involved
in the parenting role.
The case went forward with a full report and the
Judge made orders based on the agreement which had been reached
between the adult parties and also involving the children. Further
progress was contemplated, including eventually unsupervised contact
if all worked well with the supervised contact.
The initial success achieved may be attributable
to three important aspects working together:
- The role of the psychologist in leading the adults and the
children, towards co-operating with each other.
- The "court weariness" experienced by both parties.
- The pressure of the court eventually backing the mediation
process of the psychologist.
Summary of Similar Cases
A summary of cases which involved mediation, where
there had been no contact between the parents and the children for
six months - six years was carried out involving 24 males seeking
contact and nine females seeking such contact. The table which now
follows summarizes the result which followed the process of mediation
previously analyzed through the case study.
Expatiation of Tables
Although the result of IMM is not perfect, it must
be noted that no contact whatsoever had been accepted or achieved
by the non-custodial parent, despite numerous appearances in court
before the intervention of the mediator. In the case where no contact
was achieved (in seven cases) between parents and children, this
was due to the inaction of the courts in failing to deal effectively
with the non-co-operating custodial parent.
Table 1 - Number of cases assessed and treated ant their outcome
Table 2 - Type of contact
Led to indirect contact
It may be noted that the figures in Table 2 showed
the changes from indirect contact to supervised and unsupervised
contact. Hence, among fathers there was eventually a shift from
six who had indirect contact to two; with supervised contact increasing
from nine to 11. This again was due to mediation procedures. Unsupervised
contact was eventually increased from five to seven in the case
of fathers. In the case of mothers, the number with indirect contact
was reduced from three to one. The others had supervised contact.
Mothers also had more unsupervised contact with their child/children
after a period of time, this being from two mothers having unsupervised
contact to three mothers having unsupervised contact. Unfortunately,
no changes could be achieved in the no contact group where, in tour
cases, fathers never had any contact with their children and equally
so for mothers., as already stated, due to the failure of the court
to ensure that the custodial parent co-operated with the mediator.
Articles and Books Published in the Area of Parental Alienation
Syndrome (PAS) and Mediation
- "Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Two Step Approach Toward
a Solution". Contemporary Family Therapy, December 1998,
Vol 20 (4), pp.505-520.
- Paedophilia (Book) - "Parent Alienation Syndrome",
ch.20, Lowenstein 1998 Able Publishers, Hertfordshire.
"Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS)". (1999) 163 JPN 47-50.
- "Parent Alienation Syndrome: What the Legal Profession
Should Know". Medico-Legal Journal, Vol 66 (4) 1999, pp.151-161.
- Mediation - The Way Forward. Unpublished at present.
- "Mediation in the Legal Profession". (1999) 163 JPN
- "Parent Alienation and the Judiciary". Medico-Legal
Journal (1999), Vol. 67, Part 3, pp.121-123.
- "The Role of Mediation in Child Custody Disputes".
(2000) 164 JPN 258-262.
- "Tackling Parental Alienation". (2001) 165 JPN 102.