This article discusses the complexity of seeking a
solution to problems associated at times with parental alienation. Two
scenarios are presented. It involves in both cases a child who does not
wish to have contact with an absent parent after the separation of the
parents due to implacable hostility between them. In the first case, the
child had a good relationship with the now absent parent. In the second
case the child never had a close relationship with the absent parent. Each
case needs to be assessed on its own merits. Conclusions are drawn and recommendations
made as to how to deal with such issues.
Contrasting Complex with Highly Complex Contact Disputes Between Parents
has been written after having considered deeply the problems associated
with a parent who has failed to become an effective and valued parent and
has not necessarily bonded with the child.
Most family problems following an acrimonious divorce
leading to conflicts regarding contact disputes are complex. Despite this,
efforts must be made by the expert witness and the courts to resolve issues
which effect children and their parents, in the short as well as the long
Each case must be considered individually and yet it is
of value to have some guidelines. It is the object of this article to
provide such guidelines as well as the limitations of these guidelines. Our
first consideration should always be: what is in the best interest of
children in the short and long term. This on the whole needs to be kept in
the front of one’s thinking. The ideal should always be both parents
working together in harmony in order to provide for the best possible
future of their child. Unfortunately this does not always happen.
The situation of parents in conflict over contact with
children becomes even more complex and difficult to resolve when there are
other issues such as when one of the parents has somehow failed to live up
to what the child considers to be a good parent.
Firstly, it must be said that when one parent (usually the absent parent)
is unable to have good contact with a child, this could be for a number of
reasons. The most common reason is the fact that the parents are and
continue to be in conflict and hence there is much animosity by one parent
towards the other. Frequently the animosity is on the side of both parents.
Children never benefit from such a scenario. Children wish their parents
ideally to be united and in harmony even when they are separated. One
perhaps should add, especially when they are separated.
We will now consider two potential scenarios: 1)
complex issues regarding potential alienation against a parent; 2) dealing
with “highly” complex cases of children who do not wish to have
contact with the natural parent.
1. Complex issues
regarding potential alienation of a child against a parent.
In the case where a child/children at one time had a
warm and loving relationship with the now absent parent, such children
would be expected to continue to seek for regular contact with that parent
after separation of the parents. Due to the conflict however, and the
animosity between the parents, such contact is often made difficult and
even totally prevented by the custodial parent subtly or directly when
opposing such contact. Expert witnesses and the courts are involved in
investigating contact disputes and why they occur or contact fails to
occur. The experts particularly are always seeking solutions to such
When a child claims that he/she fails to wish for
contact with a formerly loved parent, this must be investigated thoroughly
and in depth. It must be reiterated that the child did have at one time a
warm and loving relationship with the absent parent before the dissolution
of the relationship of the parents. The question which must be answered is:
Why has the child changed in the desire to have good contact with the now
More often than not the child has changed their opinion
due to influences from the custodial parent and/or the family of the
custodial parent or has received some other influence. Since there was a
close relationship between the parent and the child in the past, the child
has had a change of mind and the reason for this must be investigated in
depth. The term “parental alienation” may be the reason for the
child’s change of mind. This has undermined the chance of a doting
parent albeit now absent from the home in continuing to have a warm, loving
and guiding relationship with the child.
If the alienation by one parent is the reason for good
contact no longer taking place with the absent parent, the expert witness
working with the courts needs to establish this and to diagnose the
situation, and if possible, make relevant recommendations. The conclusions
and recommendations reached need to be considered by the Court who will
make the ultimate decisions in how to proceed in each case. The expert
witness needs to be highly experienced and rely on a number of tools at his
disposal. These tools include in depth interviews, and the use of objective
and projective psychological tests.
2. Dealing with
“highly” complex cases of children who do not wish to have
contact with a natural parent.
The expert witness in such cases needs to respond to a
very pertinent question: Has the natural parent the right to expect contact
with his/her child when there has been an inappropriate or poor
relationship in the past between the child and that parent.?
To put it another way: “Is there ever justification for a natural
parent not having contact with a child who does not desire contact?
In order to illustrate these two questions and reply to
them, it is important to consider an actual case which has been disguised
sufficiently to prevent recognition. It presents in stark contrast the
difference between the complex issue in the case of parental alienation
where there are two valued parents and a different situation altogether.
The case that follows is much more complicated and
difficult to resolve than the previous case mentioned, where alienation has
caused problems and interfered with good contact between the child and the
In this situation one parent, in this case the mother, had an extremely close and warm relationship
with the child from birth onward and hence bonded firmly with the child,
while the other parent, the father, appeared never to have truly bonded
with the child. Mr X wished to establish contact with his son of 10 after
having left the matrimonial home several years ago. He left in order to
establish a new relationship but also to escape the acrimony which his
partner showed and made life extremely difficult for him whenever he
attempted to have good contact with his child. He did not seek contact with
his son therefore for several years due to such difficulties claiming this
was due to implacable hostility of the other parent towards himself. Father
stated he did not wish his son to be present when his parents were in such
After several years the boy wished to have nothing to
do with the father as he considered the father had in essence abandoned
him. This indeed was not the father’s intention but this was the
impression he created in his son which was reinforced by the mother and her
family. The fact that the father was the natural parent was the reason he
now wished to have good contact with his son. To make matters more complex,
the mother had established a new relationship with a man which whom the boy
had a good relationship. It must be said that the mother had encouraged
this relationship to the point where the child was engaged in calling the
step father his father. In so doing of course the natural parent (the
father) was totally sidelined.
The boy was happy with his new father and wished
totally to forget or even to see his natural father. The expert witness had
a dilemma in seeking to deal with this matter and to advise the court
accordingly. In cases where a parent committed abuse against a child be it sexual, physical or emotional, decisions are more
easy to make, and that is that no direct contact should take place between
the child and such a parent.
In the present case, father had not been abusive
towards the child except by the fact that he had left the home and probably
given the impression to the child that he was rejected. This, it must be
remembered, the father claimed was due to the hostility of the mother towards
him and the constant friction when he was present with the child. He had
decided to leave the home for that reason and considered this best to
prevent the child witnessing ugly scenes and arguments.
The father had never intended to abandon or reject is
son. He did not seek custody of his son because it would have been so
difficult from the point of view of his wife’s hostility. He merely
wished to have some contact with the boy and this was his wish now. The
fact that the boy refused this contact, and was hostile and rude, father
attributed to the influence of the mother and her new partner. The father
felt that although he had been absent this should not have produced a child
who was so opposed to having any contact with him now. He felt this was totally
due to the negative influences of the mother and the stepfather, neither of
whom wanted the father in their lives.
The questions one needs to ask oneself are:
1. Has the father
any right to seek and expect any contact whatsoever with his son, merely
because he was the natural father?
2. Had the son the
right to refuse contact with his natural parent, the father?
3. In respect to
what was in the best interest of the child, is in the long term as well as
the short term there a need for effort to be made to encourage contact
between the child and the natural parent, in this case the father?
4. How should this
As previously mentioned each case needs to be considered
as a individual one with conclusions based on the
particular case. The role of natural parents who have failed to be valued
in the past to live up to their responsibilities would appear to be of
minimal importance in playing any part in the child’s life. There is
however, some evidence that when such a parent seeks to involve himself
with a child they can never be totally obliterated from the child’s
psyche and should not be totally obliterated.
The way forward when such parents seek some kind of contact
with their offspring who is opposed to such contact is:
1. For the
custodial parent and step parent to avoid alienating the child further
towards the natural parent and to encourage and even insist that the child
make some effort to have some good contact with the absent natural parent,
despite the acrimonies of the past.
2. For the absent
natural parent, to be contrite due to the failure of being a better parent
and to speak to the child about this.
3. To seek
forgiveness from the child for past events, and hope the child will accept
4. To make the
child aware of the reason why no contact was made for several years. This
may be due to the acrimony between the parents. To also make the child
aware that despite being absent the natural parent still loved his child
and wished to have good contact with him/her.
5. To be aware
that such contact cannot be merely forced. The child must eventually wish
to bond in some way with the natural parent and this can only be achieved
through encouragement and therapy.
6. To engage in
therapy with the child together and to help the child to understand what
happened in the past to make the absent parent appear to abandon the child
or otherwise to behave inappropriately.
7. To accept
eventually the decision of the child to make or not make an effort of contact with the
8. To not assume
that such natural parents have a undeniable right
to insist on involvement with the child whether the child wishes this or
9. The child needs
to understand that the animosity he/she feels towards the natural parent is
understandable, but that with time the child should be encouraged to follow
the well known adage: “To have erred is human, to forgive is
The child who
can be influenced to adhere to this adage and avoid being hostile towards
the natural parent has the best possible chance of developing into a truly
positive and happy human being.