Welcome to End Parental Alienation, a not-for-profit website devoted to providing education about this emotional form of child abuse to those professionals who intervene in the area of child custody, to those who have been victimized by alienation, and to every parent who is in the process of separating from the other parent. The owner of this website is committed to promoting a shared parenting relationship when both parents are fit.
WHAT EVERY PROFESSIONAL WHO INTERVENES IN CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT PARENTAL ALIENATION/PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME by Linda Gottlieb, LMFT, LCSW-r Much controversy surrounds a family interactional pattern first labeled in 1985 by child psychiatrist, Richard Gardner, as the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). This interactional pattern is, specifically, a cross-generational coalition of one parent with the child to the deprecation and rejection of the other parent. But this specific family interactional pattern, characteristic of the PAS, had been noted dating back to the 1950’s by numerous, independently practicing child psychiatrists upon observing their psychiatric child patients on the hospital wards during family visits. These child psychiatrists, Nathan Ackerman (1958, 1961, 1965); Murray Bowen (1971, 1978); Don Jackson (1971); and Salvador Minuchin (1974, 1978, 1981, 1993, 1996; et al.), who later founded the family therapy movement, have observed and written extensively about this family interactional pattern. Murray Bowen (1971, 1978) labeled it the “pathological triangle” and Jay Haley, (1963, 1968, 1973, 1977, 1990) labeled it “the perverse triangle,” which, in the extreme situations, caused a psychosis in the child. This long history of documented triangulation was extensively validated by second generational family therapists (Andolfi 1983, 1989; Angelo, 1983; Boscolo, 1987; Gottlieb, 2012; Nichols, 1992, et al.), although the psychiatrists and therapists in the family therapy movement did not apply the label of parental alienation syndrome to this family interactional pattern. But hey, when there has been 60+ years of observable and scientific supporting data, what’s in a name? And that is the point: it is unnecessary to become side-tracked by and hung-up on a label when there is such extensive empirical evidence for the existence of this dysfunctional family interactional pattern and its adverse effects on children. This cross generational cannot be a good outcome for any child who is caught in it. It empowers them and gives them a sense of entitlement, and it creates a double-bind as they have to reject one half of themselves to satisfy the co-opting parent. Or, if they refuse to join in a coalition, the co-opting parent usually rejects the child. Double-binds are crazy making behaviors that create severe disturbances in those who are victimized by it. I have written a chapter from my book documenting how this coalition, which I will refer to as parental alienation syndrome, is a form of emotional child abuse. Any prudent parent’s perception and any prudent professional’s perception would have to agree with Christopher Barden, PhD., JD., who has received 2 national research awards in psychology and a law degree with honors from Harvard Law school, when he stated, “There can be no credible controversy about the power of parents to influence children.” (The International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome, p. 420.) And we would also have to agree with Barden when he stated that custody cases require “the critical obligation to carefully review the influence of parents, therapists or other adults on the attitudes, beliefs and memories of children.” (pp. 419-432) Given how children are so powerfully influenced by parents and given what Minuchin and the other family therapists described as the negativity on children of triangulation, any prudent person and any prudent professional would also have to agree that, in typical cases of divorce, children are negatively affected even more from triangulation—-or what I would also label “destructive parenting,” “hostile parenting” or simply “crappy parenting.” I would further like to confirm that hatred for and rejection of the parent is anti- instinctual. I have reached this conclusion in part due to my training as a family therapist but primarily as a response to having worked for 24 years with a foster care population numbering in the thousands of children. Not one of these many children, who had been removed from their home due to adjudicated neglect and/or abuse, ever expressed hatred for her/his parents or refusal to visit. Indeed, the two most frequently asked questions were, “When can I go home” and “When is my next visit with my mom/mommy or dad/daddy?” I am therefore unequivocally certain that there is only one explanation as to why a child expresses hatred for and refusal to have contact with a parent: the child has been programmed by the other parent and is receiving sanctioning by that parent to reject the targeted/alienated parent. You have to be carefully taught to hate and fear—- especially a parent. I am quite concerned that our customary professional response to a child’s refusal to have contact with a parent is to support the refusal or at least to sanction it. It is not healthy to conduct one’s life feeling hatred for parent or believing, as in the case of alienation, that one hates a parent. Remedy must be reunification therapy between the child and targeted/alienated parent. Additionally, the programming parent must be made to understand that they are engaging in emotional child abuse by facilitating an alienation, and remedy must be the same as for any form of child abuse—even including transfer of custody for failure to cease the abuse. References in this Article as well as other important readings Ackerman, N. W. (1958). The psychodynamics of family life. New York, NY: Basic Books. Ackerman, N. W. (1961). The emergence of family psychotherapy on the present scene. In M. I. Stein, (Ed.), Contemporary psychotherapies. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Ackerman, N. W., & Franklin, P. (1965). Family dynamics and the reversibility of delusional formation: A case study in family therapy. In I. Boszormenyi-Nagy & J. Baker, A. (2007). Adult children of parental alienation syndrome. New York, NY: Norton. Barden, R. C. (2006) Protecting the fundamental rights of children and families: Parental alienation syndrome and family law reform. In R. Gardner, R. Sauber, & L. Lorandos (Eds.), International handbook of parental alienation syndrome (pp. 419-432). Sringfield, IL: Thomas. Bowen, M. (1971). The use of family theory in clinical practice. In J. Haley (Ed.), Changing families: A family therapy reader (pp. 159-192). New York, NY: Grune & Stratton. Bowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. New York, NY: Jason Aronson. Gottlieb, L. (2012). The parental alienation syndrome: A family therapy and collaborative systems approach to amelioration. Springfield, IL.: Charles. C. Thomas. Gottlieb, L. (2012) The parental alienation syndrome: A family therapy and collaborative systems approach to amelioration. Springfield, IL: Thomas. Haley, J. (1963). Strategies of psychotherapy. (1st ed.) New York, NY: Grune & Stratton. Haley, J., & Hoffman, L. (Eds.). (1968). Techniques of family therapy. New York, NY:Basic Books. Haley, J. (1971). Changing families. New York, New York: Grune & Stratton. Haley, J. (1973). Uncommon therapy. New York, NY: Norton.Haley, J. (1977). Toward a theory of pathological systems. In P. Watzlawick & J.Weakland (Eds.), The interactional view (pp. 37-44). New York, NY: Basic Books. Haley, J. (1990). Strategies of Psychotherapy, Rockville, MD: The Triangle Press. Jackson, D., & Weakland, J. (1971) Conjoint family therapy: Some considerations on theory, technique, and results. In J. Haley (Ed.), Changing families (pp. 13-35). New York, NY: Grune & Stratton. Kopetski, L. (2006). Commentary: Parental alienation syndrome. In R. Gardner, R.Sauber, & D. Lorandos (Eds.), International handbook of parental alienation syndrome (pp. 378-390). Springfield, IL: Thomas. Lorandos, D. (2006). Parental alienation syndrome: Detractors and the junk science vacuum. In R. Gardner, R. Sauber, & D. Lorandos (Eds.), International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome (pp. 397-418). Springfield, IL: Thomas. Lowenstein, L. (2006). The psychological effects and treatment of the parental alienation syndrome. In R. Gardner, R. Sauber, & D. Lorandos (Eds.), International handbook of parental alienation syndrome. Springfield, IL: Thomas. Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Minuchin, S., with Baker, L., & Rosman, B. (1978). Psychosomatic families: Anorexia nervosa in context. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Minuchin, S., with Fishman, C. (1981). Family therapy techniques. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Minuchin, S., with Nichols, M. (1993). Family healing. New York, NY: The Free Press. Minuchin, S., with Lee, W., & Simon, G. (1996). Mastering family therapy. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. Sauber, R. (2006). PAS as a family tragedy: Roles of family members, professionals, and the justice system. In R. Gardner, R. Sauber, & D. Lorandos (Eds.), International Handbook on Parental Alienation Syndrome (pp. 12-32). Springfield, IL: Thomas. Steinberger, C. (2006). Father? What father? Parental alienation and its effect on children. Law Guardian Reporter, 22 (3). New York, NY: Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court of New York. Warshak, R. (2001). Current controversies regarding parental alienation syndrome, American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 19(3), 29-59. Warshak, R. (2006). Social science and parental alienation: Examining the disputes and the evidence. In R. Gardner, R. Sauber, & D. Lorandos (Eds.), International handbook of parental alienation syndrome (pp. 352-371). Springfield, IL: Thomas. Warshak, R. (2010). Divorce poison. New York, NY: Harper.
I encourage all to forward your submissions; opinions, anecdotes, and factual documented cases to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) Task Force investigating whether to include PAD/PAS in the upcoming 5ifth edition.
Specific information on false allegations are highly sought.
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825,
Arlington, Va. 22209-3901
David J. Kupfer, M.D., DSM-5 Task Force Chair
Phone: (412) 624 – 2353
Darrel A. Regier, M.D., M.P.H., DSM-5 Task Force Vice-Chair
Here is my submission from March 2011:
“Dear DSM-V Task Force:
I am writing to you concerning DSM’s consideration of Parental Alienation Disorder (PAD) for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and your recent invitation for the public to respond. I am extremely grateful for your concerted efforts to attack this problem and the problem of child abuse in general and specifically that the Task Force has already listed PAD among the “Conditions Proposed by Outside Sources…that are still under consideration by the work groups.”
This issue is not just about the diagnostic and treatment of this pernicious disordered situation but also about the law. One of the unstated or stated (preferably stated) goals of the DSM should be to provide the jurisprudence arm of each state, forensic guidelines and a way to interpret behaviors that effects the decisions of the Courts. The best treatment for this disorder is to impose legal sanctions on the violators; heavily weighted sanctions to demonstrate to the Courts the heinous nature of these behaviors. One of your recommendation should include the Courts impose injunctive relief from the PAD parent because without it the target parent will be driven to poverty and financially destroyed by continued allegations.
Unfortunately, judges and court administrators do not have the medical savvy to manage these issues appropriately and expeditiously. It is my experience that in the interest of justice, often the courts move too slowly and as they say, “Justice delayed is Justice denied.” During that delay period, more damage is actually done to the child. This is no doubt this is one of the worst forms of child abuse. The scars are hidden and harder to treat once inflicted. It is best to prevent it and the only viable way to hedge off this behavior is through the law.
One of the objections to including PAD is that the behaviors associated with it can be attributed to various personality disorders or are individually included or are attached to a variety of personality disorders. The main problem with this objection is that during the period of time the Axis II diagnosis is being ascertained, (because personality disorders take relatively long periods of time to diagnose, clinically) the damage continues to be done to the child or children during that period of time.
In Arizona, unprincipled, licensed professionals in this field have actually used mental health issues dishonestly. For example, these psychologists were recommending the courts require psycho-sexual evaluations in child custody matters, when they knew the literature and the test developers actually proscribe such applications; pointing out that psycho-sexual evaluations in child custody matters would actually do more damage. Regardless, these individuals recklessly and irresponsibly continued to suggest psycho-sexual evaluations to Family Court Judges, who then ordered the target parents endure this process, based solely upon those recommendations. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Courts hedged off this reprehensible behavior. It is my opinion that a national psychological body, like yours, needs to work closely with each states’ jurisprudence elements to develop specific guidelines to identify and limit the damaging effects of mentally ill parents (PAD is a symptom of mental illness in my opinion), because this is not an innocent disorder. There are victims, younger, smaller, unempowered, defenseless victims in addition to the target victim.
Without specific guidelines, clearly detailed with instructions on how to manage the offending parent, the Courts will flounder. In my experience, if the Courts can’t read it, or hear it, it doesn’t exist. These offending behaviors occur with all too much recurrence, but their is no way to record it, account for it, and explain it; all vital interpretive steps for the Courts, in dealing with PAD.
We must act now. Children are being kept from the love and the fostering care of good parents, through a variety of ploys, including but not limited to last-minute schedule changes, feigned missed messages (passive-aggression is one of the manipulative tools often employed by the PAD parent), fake illnesses, fake medical and dental appointments, repeated false allegations about the other parent (to a whole host of recipients), interference with the other parent’s employment, subornation of perjury, providing fake court orders to schools and hospitals, all in an effort to lock out the other parent from the child(ren).
It should be noted mainly out of spite & vindictiveness. When the offending parent is caught or confronted about these deceptive, they will likely represent that they only did these things to keep the other parent away from they child(ren) to protect them.
It should be explained to the Courts that as these deceptive, manipulative behaviors may be represented to it as protective measures for the child(ren), the vindictiveness and the levels of spite actually represent a willingness to hurt the other parent, even at the expense and the abuse of their children. This is the key. They are willing to abuse their children and use them as tools to accomplish an end. You will recognize this as a behavior in personality disorders, but this is a matter needed by the courts now, in a concise, easily interpreted manner, in the name of justice, and in the name of protection of the innocent. Thank you.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Danny Scalf, CPT (Ret.), US Army
MS, MC, AACR, VSM”
Professor Harry Zeitlin, BSc, MPhil, MD, FRCP, FRCPsych
Emeritus Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry UCL/University of London,
expert witness to the courts since 1974
This paper was given at the Expert Witness Course, 1 November 2007, RSM.
The rate of parental separation or divorce is high in the UK. Official figures indicate that
recently divorce rates have been declining but that the rate of marriages has also declined,
while co-habitations have been on the rise. The effect is an increase of less secure
partnerships with more separations. In some UK counties it is thought that this is about 50%.
Partners may cease to be partners but once a parent always a parent and so the courts are
faced with the subsequent battles over custody and contact.
This paper considers a common problem in contact (or access, in the USA) disputes.
It is usually the father, though there are some mothers, who is the “absent” parent. In brief
following separation the following events are alas common: a) allegations by the mother of
abuse of the child, b) the mother says she fears that the father will remove the child and c)
increasing antipathy in the child towards the absent parent. This is commonly followed by
litigation that goes on “for ever”.
Such cases consume considerable court time and money. Even with the change in regulations
many are still paid from legal aid. Is there net benefit to the child? There is very little research
on long term outcome and the varying opinions. Is the child’s increasing fearfulness of the
absent parent purely malice on the part of the “resident” parent who should therefore be
punished? That appears implicit in the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome, a term
coined by the late Dr Gardner, but there is inadequate research. Is there avoidable harm done
to the child? There is evidence that involvement in a parental dispute does harm but again
long term outcome research is still needed.
This paper does not address these issues but proposes a model of understanding that can
help move away from an adversarial process.
A woman finds a partner – at last? She may have a mother who said that she ought to get
married but also makes demands. The partner turns out not to be what she expected. He does
not understand what she has to do. He is insensitive. He does not help. He gets angry. She
loathes him. They separate. How does a woman handle this? Agree with her mum – good
riddance anyway she never liked him. Have nothing to do with him any more? Get rid of any
trace of him? But she had a child by him. The following is a common pattern – there are
• Parents separate.
• Child remains in the care of the mother (occasionally the situation is reversed).
• Mother initially allows contact.
• Mother begins to resist contact – child unwell/other activities etc.
• Allegation of abuse – this is usually reported by the mother as having been said by the
• Mother may get support from an agency, e.g. Social Services.
• Mother refuses contact.
• Child begins to refuse to go to contact.
• Father goes to court.
• Court makes a finding of no abuse.
• Mother refuses to allow contact. Mother says that abuse will take place even if contact is
closely supervised. Mother’s care of the child is otherwise appropriate.
Research evidence suggests that in general allegations of abuse are valid in about 70% of
cases. Against the background of acrimonious parental dispute the rate is lower, 45%,
possibly less (e.g. Schetky 1986). That was also the rate from my own cases, though recently
it is lower.
The court could:
a) remove the child from mother where there is no other indication to do so;
b) fine or imprison mother;
c) permit this to be the only situation in which a citizen is allowed to overrule a decision of
The nature of the mother’s allegations can be difficult to understand.
Case A: Mother said that father had abused the child – whilst driving using his right hand
on one occasion.
Case B: Mother said that she had visited the father’s flat and there had been a curly hair on
his bed. That proved to her that abuse had taken place. After a finding of no abuse at the court
hearing, she went home, packed a bag and left the country with the children, leaving nearly
Case C: Mother alleged that father had corrupted the child by a 15 second whisper during
contact. She said that abuse would take place even whilst a psychiatrist was present
Case D: Mother said that father was involved in ritual abuse. When Social Services were
cautious she said that they were involved too. She said the same of the church, and the judge.
Case E: Mother alleged that the child had been abducted from her locked home, abused and
returned – repeatedly, whilst she was asleep.
Central to nearly all such cases:
1. Mother states abuse of the child by father.
2. Mother fears that father will remove the child.
3. Mother feels that father wants the pleasure of contact but not the burden of caring for and
raising the child.
(1) relates only to cases where there is not evidence for abuse, the allegation is “illogical” and
not open to argument. (2) and (3) are contradictory
What is striking in all these cases is that the mother’s views are firmly held, illogical, not
open to reasonable argument; the mother has no history of mental illness, the mother’s view is
rigid in content; there is no evidence for thought disorder and mother functions well
otherwise, e.g. at work and running the home.
What Is the Nature of the Mother’s Phenomena?
Various suggestions have been made including
• Delusion: Those delusions which go back to primary pathological experiences and which
demand for their explanation a change in personality.
• Delusion-like ideas: These emerge comprehensively from other psychic events and can be
traced back psychologically to certain affects, drives, desires and fears.
• Overvalued ideas: Those convictions that are strongly toned by affect which is
understandable in terms of the personality and its history.
Possibly the second category is the closest fit.
Father’s behaviour also shows certain patterns including:
• denial of any responsibility for the problem;
• a demand for justice;
• seeking to control and viewing all changes as having to be made by the mother – at times
the behaviour of the fathers may also be bizarre, such as climbing on motorway gantries.
The pattern for the children’s behaviour is more variable but commonly may be as follows:
At first the child seems happy with contact. There is then expression of anger at the father
when they are not together, though observed behaviour at contact suggests no problem in the
relationship. There is next unwillingness to go to contact when asked if he/she wants to.
Contact is stopped with the mother stating that it is at the wish of the child or that she fears
that the child is being abused or will be. The child’s fearfulness then appears to escalate out of
proportion to any event that has been observed. The child may fear any contact and destroys
presents, or fears that “he hides in the bushes outside school”. It is not uncommon for the
child to say that the father will pounce and take them away. The father is “demonised”.
A Model of Understanding
Some children may have been abused, in some cases the mother or father may have
psychiatric illness, but this pattern refers to those cases where the behaviour of all three
appears not to be understandable on the overt facts of the case. Irrational statements and
feelings cannot be argued and the pressure of arguing the rights and wrong of each serves to
strengthen the psychological resistance.
The purpose here is to consider psychological mechanisms that are understandable and that
give an understandable basis for these powerful feelings having been generated. If that is
accepted then it should be possible to move away from a fixed adversarial position, and is in
The question is why adults who show no mental illness, and who are otherwise reasonable
people, act illogically to the severe disadvantage of a child whom they otherwise dearly love.
Psychological Factors in the Mother
a. Fear that the Father Will Take the Child
Mother feels abused and damaged by the relationship with her ex-partner and would like to
get rid of every trace of him. However, to do that she would have to get rid of the child and
that is unthinkable. The father is responsible for this feeling and the mother’s fear is projected
to one of the father wanting to remove the child.
In reality, the father may threaten to seek residence. There is also a possibility that the
father may take the child by stealing the child’s affection from her.
b. Fear of Abuse of the Child
Mother feels abused and damaged by the relationship with her ex-partner. She cannot be
entirely rid of the abusive relationship because of the child, particularly if contact continues.
She continues to feel abused because of the child. The child is in this way responsible now for
her continuing to feel abused. That too is unthinkable. The mother’s feeling of being abused
again is transferred to the father – he is abusing or will abuse the child.
In reality, the child is only in this position because he is the father. He is abusing the child
simply by being the father and putting the child in this invidious position.
There is usually a reason for the mother to have felt abused or damaged by the father from
either actual or perceived behaviour by the father during the relationship.
Psychological Factors in the Father
Fathers show resentment against the allegations (which may be understandable), resistance to
considering their own part in the genesis of the problem, a lack of understanding about the
reasons for the partnership breakdown (perhaps with defensive anger), feelings of
powerlessness and of wanting to regain control, and rigidity in approach, and often make
threats and counter allegations. There is also a curious distortion of reality. What makes men
climb palaces dressed as Batman?
Psychological Factors in the Child
a. “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (So-Called)
Gardner (1998) described the child’s animosity as follows:
“The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises almost exclusively in the
context of child-custody disputes. It is a disorder in which children, programmed by the
allegedly ‘loved’ parent, embark upon a campaign of denigration of the allegedly ‘hated’
parent. The children exhibit little if any ambivalence over their hatred, which often spreads
to the extended family of the allegedly despised parent.”
This puts the primary purpose of the psychological process as one of denigration and the
resolution is given very much as one of enforcement. Gardner (1998) said that most resolve
when there is real threat of enforcement of penalty, especially removal of the child to the
Enforcement included a court appointed therapist plus sanctions which might be to post a
bond, pay a fine, community service, probation, house arrest, and incarceration. In severe
cases there would be transfer of custody to the alienated parent. His follow-up period was
three years but was not detailed. There is little known about the long term outcome. What the
effect is on an already anxious and insecure child is unknown.
b. Alternative Explanation
The child’s apparent reaction to the father is out of proportion to any observed event and
often in contrast to the interaction at previous contacts. An alternative explanation to
intentional vilification is offered.
The child has two parents who are totally opposed to the other. The child cannot adopt the
stance of both and be loyal to both, though each parent may require loyalty to their own
perspective. Stereotyped choice of one side gives resolution to a very high anxiety situation.
There are more cues from the home parent. However the choice is not made on reality based
information and the child has no yard stick on which to judge the fear and hostility. The
statements of fear relate more to the child’s fantasy, reinforced by the mother and her family.
An added complication is that this also gives empowerment to the child’s infantile anger.
Resolution Based on Understanding
The above model offers an explanation of the conflict based on an understanding of the
reasons for feelings and statements that are otherwise not rational on the overt evidence. Once
the impossible dilemmas for the mother and the child are taken into account it becomes
understandable without invoking psychosis or malice. The father’s frustration at trying to
justify himself against an apparent irrationality has also to be taken into account. The previous
conflict cannot be argued rationally and results at times in equally irrational behaviour to deal
The clinical work is based firstly on an examination of the model by each parent. This gives a
non-conflictual rational basis for each parent to examine their own behaviour. Feedback on an
individual case basis is that all of them accept that the presence of a child has prevented them
from moving on from what has been eventually a painful relationship. Most agree that they
have then had powerful, distressing feelings as a result.
It must be clear that the process work is non-adversarial and non-confrontational. It does
not seek to attach blame to one or the other. Both parents need to accept that neither will be
proven right or wrong. Parents should be told outright that they will damage their child if they
continue to involve him/her in their battle. Failing to work on the problem would be
knowingly going against the child’s best interests. Both parents should be told that there are
understandable reasons for their strongly held views. The parents may be distressed when
faced with the reality and be helped by individual work to resolve conflicts to own feelings.
• Mother has to be prepared to consider the possibility of contact.
• Mother has to consider separating her interests from those of the child.
• Mother has to undertake not to take the child into hiding.
• Mother has to accept considering the fears of the father.
• Above all the mother has to be prepared to work on the problem and consider possible
reasons for the strength of her feelings.
• Father has to accept an asymmetrical relationship compared with mother.
I love my father. My father
hates my mother. So I must
hate my mother.
I love my mother. My
mother hates my father. So I
must hate my father
Figure 1: Psychological Factors in the Child – an Impossible Choice
STEREOTYPED ADHERENCE TO ONE SIDE IS A
IS A RESOLUTION TO ANXIETY NOT DENIGRATION
• Father has to be prepared to accept that being a father will impact on his life apart from
just having contact. (Contact may be getting the child to a ballet class.)
• Father has to consider separating his interests from those of the child.
• Father has to be “proactive” in addressing the fears of the mother whether or not he feels
they are valid.
• Fear of abuse: father to be “proactive” in demonstrating openness and offer (rather than
resist) supervision if that is relevant.
• Fear of removal: father should affirm that he does not intend to try to remove the child
• Above all, father has to be prepared to work on the problem and consider possible reasons
for the strength of both his and the mother’s feelings
All sessions alternate between parents, preferably taking place on different days. Otherwise
there is a risk of a fight in the waiting room and there will be no point in proceeding.
In the first session with each parent the model of understanding is examined for its
relevance to their own position and whether it is possible to consider progress to a mutually
agreed contact if their concerns are addressed. If neither parent would see the latter as
possible then there is no value in continuing and the process has to revert to the court.
If change seems possible then the sessions alternate between the parents. Usually adequate
progress can be made with three or four sessions each. During these sessions each parent is
asked to state his or her own fears and what might address them. They are then asked to state
what they feel would be the fears of the other parent and whether justified or not what they
could offer to address those fears. The parents usually find great difficulty in considering that
the other parent has any reason to have concerns. Once through that it is surprising how
ingenious some parents can be in coming up with solutions. Many will seek a means of
supervision that is acceptable to themselves. Permission is then sought to take the list from
each parent to the other and each is asked to offer a means of addressing those irrespective of
whether they feel the fear to be justified.
The two final lists are usually remarkably similar and whilst the parents usually do accept
this most need time to come to terms with it. For a few parents it is then possible to have a
joint session to consolidate the joint plan.
Nothing is done to involve the child until the child can be told that the parents have agreed
a plan. One session with the “resident” parent and the child can be used for that parent to
endorse the fact that there is an agreement, that it is safe, that the child is free to feel towards
the other parent as he/she wishes without disloyalty and that the parent wants the child to
have a satisfactory relationship with the other parent.
The non-resident parent is asked to agree to an agenda for the first meeting with the child.
Much of that reflects the content of the session with the resident parent and child. It is helpful
to be present at that session irrespective of whether there is an agreement for supervision of
Is Such Theory Amenable to Testing and If So How?
The proposed model may be used to help unlock battles that are potentially very damaging to
children and that are essentially unresolvable by argument through the courts. Even if this
explanation is correct there are aspects that need considerable exploration. There are other
patterns that are similar but not the same as the ones described above. Some involve motherchild
relationships that are close but where the mother cannot find any pleasure in her child.
There are cases where the child is in the care of the father and gender differences in
psychological processes may be relevant. Females are more able to allow intrusion of another
into personal identity, a factor important in raising infants. Women are more emotionally
involved in relationships, the child is more part of “self”. The mother has more distortion of
personal space to raise child. How does intergenerational enmeshment enter into this and is
there a difference for male or female children?
Unfortunately research in this area is very limited, partly because of the difficulty in
accessing a suitable cohort where confidentiality of court processes and documents are
Better routine profiling of families where this occurs would help and there is an urgent
need for good long term outcome evaluation of children who have been subjected to this. That
is difficult but possible and the author is currently organising funds for this purpose. Key
questions for long term outcome include that of the child’s relationship to each parent and
whether the person is damaged, particularly with regard to mental health, ability to relate and
to self image. What is it like to be the child of a demonised parent when you are not sure of
the reason for it?
The impression so far is that successful resolution can be achieved in about 50% of cases,
possibly more. That proposition needs to be tested.
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Mediation better than litigation – better outcome for fathers, no difference for mothers.
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long-term physical health correlates for children of divorce. Journal of Family Psychology.
21(2):195–205, 2007 Jun. University students: the more time children spent with fathers
after divorce, the better current relationships with fathers, independent of parent conflict.
The more parental conflict they experienced, the worse their relationships were with their
fathers and the more distress they currently felt about their parents’ divorce, independent of
time with father. Poor father-child relationships and more distress in turn predicted poorer
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separation is closely linked to the probability that father fulfil their financial obligations
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or divorced. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health. (4 Suppl):25–38, 2002. “And
finally, recommendations are made to minimize the detrimental effects of family breakup on
children: (a) allowing children choice and flexibility, (b) exploring the benefits of mediation
for families, (c) promoting parental co-operation, and (d) encouraging an ongoing
relationship with the nonresidential parent.”
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Child Abuse & Neglect. 29(12):1333–45, 2005 Dec. Includes counterallegations “more than
one-third of maltreatment investigations are unsubstantiated, but only 4% of all cases are
considered to be intentionally fabricated. Within the subsample of cases wherein a custody
or access dispute has occurred, the rate of intentionally false allegations is higher: 12%.
Results of this analysis show that neglect is the most common form of intentionally
fabricated maltreatment, while anonymous reporters and noncustodial parents (usually
fathers) most frequently make intentionally false reports.”