A very troublesome issue in some Custody and Parenting Time disputes and Divorces is when a parent intentionally attempts to alienate the children from the other parent. Trying to prove the alienation can be difficult as often there are vastly different stories and claims made by both parents and oftentimes the parties and the children are the only witnesses to the disputed facts. Most judges are extremely reluctant to allow or have children testify in court and due to budget crunches and other factors it can be very difficult to have the court appoint a guardian ad litem. Custody studies are also becoming more and more expensive.
In these types of cases it is usually critical a competent psychological evaluator and/or custody expert be retained to assess the children and situation, which will require a court Order unless the opposing party or counsel agree to the assessment. Often times the alienation is only discovered, after the fact, when there is Parent Reunification Counseling that is completed.
There can also be disputes whether an alleged abusive parent’s own conduct has caused the alienation instead of the opposing party. To successfully prove alienation claims it is also important to have an experienced divorce attorney who is familiar with these type of unique issues.
Experts recognize the dire tragic impact serious alienation has on children as do some judges. A recent article, by Paul Reitman, discusses the problems it can cause and the need for more study by the courts. I am including the article in this blog as it is important and helpful:
Courts need to study parental alienation
Courts need to study parental alienation
By: Paul Reitman May 19, 2017
I have been doing parental reunification therapy since 1990 up until 2017. Throughout the years I have been extremely frustrated with parental alienation being minimized by the courts and then being allowed to continue. The impact is serious and can have lifelong effects, and children who are alienated are at a higher risk for psychological and psychiatric disorders.
I would like to discuss the major issues that cause parental alienation to be so difficult to confront.
A syndrome, not a diagnosis
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) did not recognize parental alienation as a diagnosis; therefore, the myth has developed that there is no such thing as parental alienation.
Another issue that comes up from time to time is that some courts believe that in any type of adversarial divorce parental alienation is a normal development. This simply is not true. There are many individuals who get divorced who have adversarial feelings towards each other but they are able to discriminate between their own feelings and the need for the child to have a significant relationship with their mother or father.
Parental alienation should not be a diagnosis because it is a syndrome. It is a syndrome that causes children to develop depressive disorders and anxiety disorders, as well as personality disorders, causing severe impairment in the child’s ability to establish future intimate relationships with members of the opposite sex.
Often, courts will simply acknowledge parental alienation and set up a course of action whereby a mental health professional is appointed to do parental reunification. Typically, this will occur once a week, which is totally inadequate to confront the alienating parent. Ideally, there should be a team of mental health professionals who have the appropriate credentials, i.e., training in clinical psychology with respect to child development, attachment theory, and the ability to diagnose individuals and children with mental disorders. They also should be able to assess for parental coaching.
When there are inadequate measures, the alienating parent will typically not discontinue the alienation and the children will typically identify with the alienating parent and create an alliance with that parent. This is not to be unexpected. Children and even adolescents have not matured cognitively to be able to discriminate and understand that they have a right to have a relationship with each parent and because of the psychic conflict and cognitive ambivalence they have, they will identify and ally themselves with one parent.
In my professional experience, it has been the exception when a judge ordered children to be removed from the alienating parent’s home and then participate in deprogramming with a clinical psychologist that has that expertise.
Furthermore, if the alienating parent will not cease his or her activities, then he or she should be required to have supervised visitation.
There is an array of mental health professionals who participate in parental reunification therapy. Competencies and expertise are crucial and once again, as discussed above, the mental health professional should have training in clinical psychology and the ability to diagnose mental disorders in children and adolescents as well as in adults.
Furthermore, comprehensive assessments are required and roles need to be delineated so that the mental health professional is not taking on too many roles. For example, if a psychologist is appointed to do assessments of the entire family to determine if there is in fact parental alienation occurring, then he or she should not be the reunification therapist.
Psychological assessment is an exquisite art that requires comprehensive training in understanding the uses and abuses of psychometric testing. So often I have encountered assessments utilizing the MMPI-II or the MMPI-II-RF as well as the MCMI-III. These tools report to give an assessment of psychopathology and psychopathy (symptoms of mental illness and symptoms of personality disorders).
However, when parents are in an adversarial relationship or an adversarial custody study, it will likely produce elevations on psychometric tools that are transient and not permanent. For example, a father who is being alienated from his children and is not getting any true psychological assistance or relief will likely endorse symptoms of paranoia, mistrust, anxiety and even depression. If this presentation is taken in a vacuum, it produces a false positive assessment of mental illnesses. The examiner must be trained in understanding reliability and validity of psychological testing as well as being able to be at the center of the assessment, often times dismissing elevations based upon transient symptoms.
Additionally, under the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Custody Studies, a psychologist should not make recommendations about parental alienation without seeing the mother, the father and the children. Seeing one parent only and not examining the children and then making recommendations that: a) parental alienation is occurring; b) the children should be removed from one parent’s household; and c) the children should be placed in a different household, is simply not ethical.
First, parental alienation is a pervasive pattern of confusing children, causing them a great deal of distress, depression and anxiety, and typically if they are living with the alienating parent, they are in a role reversal whereby they are becoming little adults taking care of the alienating parent.
Second, when partial interventions are made and the alienating parent is not understood and given the opportunity for therapy to confront the alienation, then it is highly unlikely that it will stop. I have had too many cases whereby a child at 15 was alienated and partial procedures were implemented and it never dented the child’s psychological status. It went on until the child became 18 and then simply terminated the relationship with the parent that has been alienated.
It is quite clear in the clinical literature that children who come from divorce are at higher risk for mental disorders. However, the literature and research is quite clear that children that are able to maintain and sustain a significant relationship with both parents have a much better chance of living normal lives and become productive.
I highly recommend to the judiciary and the Legislature that a study be undertaken to examine this syndrome and to become familiar with the type of interventions that are required in order to discontinue this syndrome that has significant adverse effects on children and adolescents.
Paul M. Reitman, Ph.D., L.P., F.A.C.F.E., has been a forensic and clinical psychologist since 1981. During that time, he has also practiced in the fields of hospital psychology, outpatient psychology, and has always maintained a clinical practice on both an outpatient and inpatient basis. he has always maintained a clinical practice and was a hospital psychologist up until 2017.
It should be clear alienation needs to be stopped as it can have devastating consequences to children. If you face these issues immediately contact an experienced divorce attorney to take prompt steps to combat and prove the claims and seek appropriate relief.