Parental Alienation and Child Contact Disputes in Pakistani families in the UK
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The author of this article is an expert witness in the area of family law and especially contact disputes following the divorce and separation of the parents. He has noted an increase of immigrant families from Pakistan and other Asians in dispute over child contact issues after implacable hostility between the parents. Special consideration and understanding needs to be provided to such immigrant families who have come from a very different culture. Extended families are of especial importance in these societies and they inevitably become embroiled in the hostility between the parents and the effect this is having on the children who are frequently alienated from the absent parent as well as the absent parent’s extended family.
Parental Alienation and Child Contact Disputes With Pakistani Immigrants to the UK
Much has been written about parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome (see Dr Lowenstein website: www.parental-alienation.info). This has occurred mainly in the Western culture, but as an expert witness for the courts in parental alienation cases I am seeing this change. There are numerous people from Asia and particularly from Pakistan living in the UK. Little research has been carried out to indicate how these immigrants are different in relation to parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome when it occurs within their families. Pakistani families as well as most Asian families are close and have a complex and warm extended family atmosphere. They come to the UK and a different culture where extended families are not so much involved with the primary family and their children. Other countries such as Bangladesh and India have a similar closeness between parents and the extended family and the children of parents.
Immigrant families just as western families suffer from problems in relationships. This is becoming more apparent in current times. There are differences between the extended family in the West and those in the East. Divorce and separation is now becoming more apparent among the Asian and Indian cultures when they live in a Western society. Now, following an acrimonious divorce and separation parental alienation frequently occurs among Pakistanis and other Asian societies. This in turn has led to contact disputes. These disputes unless resolved are especially damaging to children and those coming from a different culture such as Pakistan, where the role of the extended family of an alienating family is especially important.
Sometimes there are allegations made, usually by mothers, of domestic violence in Pakistani and Asian families. The Western society in which they live affords them a voice. In such cultures fathers are at greater liberty to practice behaviour which would not be tolerated in the UK and other Western societies. Mothers are frequently aware of the fact that in the UK domestic violence is not tolerated although it does occur. There is also financial support available. On the whole the children are with the mother and the father has left the matrimonial home once allegations of domestic violence have been made. Due to the acrimony between the partners, the custodial parent frequently prevents good access between the absent parent, usually the father, and the children of their relationship. This is despite the fact that Court Orders seek to deal with this problem by granting absent parents good contact.
Mothers from an Asian culture are soon made aware of their rights and “power” in the UK, rights that they did not have in the country they have left. They realize that in the UK fathers are in a much less strong position while mothers tend to be favoured by the courts as far as the control and custody of the children is concerned. This situation must be contrasted with the virtually absolute power of the male in Pakistan in relation to women. Women in the immigrant society are frequently of secondary importance.
A summary table of cases in which I have been personally involved as an expert witness will show the reasons given for lack of contact by absent parents with their children. There will also be a case illustration of an interview with an alienating mother, her alienated father, and the child who is usually in the middle of the complex alienation process.
Mothers who take action against their husbands feel in many ways liberated or emancipated from the yoke of male domination as is the case in Pakistan. The views expressed by an alienated father will also provide information as to his view on the matter. It will be noted that in each of the sixteen cases on which this article is based, mothers had custody and fathers sought good access to their child/children. In all cases, mother failed to co-operate with the court in providing such access to the father. The cause of this was an acrimonious divorce followed by implacable hostility towards the non-resident parent i.e. the father.
Two main aspects, which were inter-related are responsible for the hostility in most cases:
1. Allegations of one-sided domestic abuse frequently denied by the other parent.
2. Seeking for greater power within the relationship.
We will consider each of these most common revelations in turn.
1. Allegations of one-sided domestic violence
This frequently leads to implacable hostility and complaints resulting in some form of separation by the custodial and eventually non-custodial parent. It must however be remembered that in the Asian immigrant society and culture husbands beating their wives is often a significant part of that cultural norm which would not be freely admitted.
2. Seeking greater power within the relationship
Most couples at some time in their relationship vie or compete for power. Asian societies such as Pakistan are more strictly and inflexibly defined. The male member usually considers himself empowered with an authority to do what is thought right and to make ultimate decisions. Wives in Asian society accept their position, on the whole, in being less empowered. This conflicts radically with the norm in Western societies with which some immigrant mothers now identify or replicate to their own advantage.
Reasons given by Pakistani mothers why contact between father and child is prevented (N=16) (Number in brackets represents the number of mothers with this opinion)
- Claiming to having been a victim of domestic violence (13)
- Claiming child cannot be forced to see father. (12)
- Fathers viewed as being a danger to child. (8)
- Animosity towards father due to his loyalty to his family. (6)
- Seeking a new relationship i.e. a new male to play the role of father. (4)
- No longer loving or respecting the father (3)
Now follows three interviews. the first with the mother or alienating parent., the second with the father who is the alienated parent and thirdly with the child.
Illustration of interview with mother
M= Mother; P= Psychologist
P: I am eager to discover why you are so reluctant to allow your child to have good contact with their father especially when the court has ordered you to do so.
M: I have not stopped my child from having contact with the father. She refuses to meet him.
P: You know very well that if you insisted on the child seeing her father she would go.
M: I have done what I can and can’t force the child against her will. That would he cruel.
P: Don’t you feel the child has something to gain by having two parents, a father and a mother, instead of just one parent.
M: Not from a father like him. You can’t understand what he did to me when we were together. He was an evil, cruel man and I want nothing more to do with him.
P: I can understand that and you are better off not being together but was he ever cruel to your child? Your former husband told me that he and his daughter were very close.
M: Maybe a long time ago but what she saw and how he behaved with me made her change her mind.
P: According to your husband, she was never there when you had an argument.
M: Yes, he was very clever the way he behaved when he was there.
P: Would you mind if I had a word with your daughter.
M: Of course you may but you will find that she is very stubborn about not wanting to see her father, but I want to be there when you talk to her.
P: I would prefer to see her on my own, but if you insist on being there I will not prevent you. I think she would be more candid if I could see her on my own. Would you be willing to participate in mediation with your husband in order to resolve this problem?
M: I don’t want anything to do with him and I won’t see him or be in the same room with him and I won’t force my daughter to see him. I can’t force her and I won’t.
End of interview
Interview with Pakistani father
P = Psychologist: F= Father
P: I believe you have a contact dispute and your wife has failed to get your child to meet you in a contact centre.
F: Yes, and there is no reason why I should not be able to see my daughter without supervision.
P: I believe that despite the Court Order you have not as yet had contact with your daughter.
F: My little girl and I have always been close. I have always called her “my princess”. My family has not seen the child either due to the mother’s stubbornness and this has upset them very much.
P: I believe there was much friction between you and your wife when you were together.
F: Yes, in the UK. We never had such problems in Pakistan. She knew what would happen if she behaved the way she does in the UK.
P: Your wife claims that your daughter doesn’t want to see you and your wife cannot insist on making her see you.
F: That is totally untrue. My daughter and I have always been close before I had to leave home. I could not remain at home because of my wife’s bad temper. She would not have been able to get away with her behaviour in Pakistan.
P: Would you be willing to participate in mediation in order to resolve this problem?
F: I will do anything you suggest in order to be with “my princess”.
End of interview
Interview with child
P = Psychologist; C = Child; M = Mother
(Mother insists on being at the interview with the child)
P: Tell me about school. Do you have many friends? How is your school work progressing and how old are you?
C: I have many friends and I am one of the best readers in the class and I am only 7.
P: I have just seen your daddy and mummy.
(Child throws a furtive glance towards the mother while she speaks)
C: I don’t want to see him.
P: Why don’t you want to see your father?
C: Because I hate him!
P: Why do you hate him?
C: Because of what he did to us.
P: Did he do anything bad to you?
C: He used to shout at me sometimes.
P: Did he ever hit you?
(Again the child looks at her mother to consider what answer to give)
C: I only love mummy now.
M: Tell the doctor about the times he shouted at you.
C: That was for not helping to clear the table after lunch.
P: Did he ever cuddle you?
C: When I was little but not now.
P: Well he doesn’t live with you now so he can’t cuddle you or be nice to you.
(Child looks at mother for approval)
C: I now don’t want to be cuddled by him or see him.
P: Your daddy loves you and you know that don’t you?
C: Well, I don’t love him anymore.
(Again child looks at her mother and smiles)
It was clear that there was no way of changing the child’s mind about seeing her father, especially with mother in the room.
The interview especially with the final statement of the mother is typical of the alienator who seeks to have full control of the child. The mother could easily get the child to see the father if she really wanted this to happen. She chooses not to do so for reasons of the implacable hostility she still feels towards her former husband. She knows in the Western society such as the UK she, as a woman, has considerable “power” and the custody of the child indicates this. She is therefore capable of preventing the child from having contact with the father. This she also realizes would not be the case should she still be living in Pakistan. There the father has the greater power and not the mother.
The alienator has been successful in totally turning the child against the father and failing to abide by the court contact decision. This state of affairs would remain so and is likely to remain permanent unless something is done. Only providing access of the father to the child can the alienation process be reversed. At the moment the child feels guilt about wishing to see her father due to the pressures and loyalties she is experiencing from her mother who is implacably hostile to the father. The child feels that she would be unfaithful and unkind towards her mother if she actually saw her father. She is fully aware of her mother’s attitude towards the father and that the mother has “brainwashed” the child to feel similarly to herself.
It may also be noted that while the father welcomes any way forward, including mediation, this is firmly refused by the mother. Sometimes such a parent will pay lip-service to participating in mediation but it will be on an insincere basis in not really wishing to resolve the matter of no contact with the absent parent. This is despite the Court Order that she must co-operate by providing good contact at a contact centre initially and later unsupervised contact.
Contact disputes between Pakistani parents needs to be considered as somewhat similar disputes between non immigrant parents. Many fathers involved have extended family networks just as mothers do. These families, when the father has been alienated, are also likely to be deprived with the father of contact with the child. This causes considerable suffering not only for the father, but grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. It is important to deal with non compliance to Court Orders by mothers. Firm action needs to be taken by the Judiciary to make certain that any absent good parent who has not abuse the child has good contact with the child in question. Good fathers especially and extended families are an important part of the immigrant population living in the West. Hence, such families need special consideration by the Judiciary to provide them also with good contact with the frequently alienated child by the maternal parent and her family.