What Therapists Don’t Tell You About Divorcing A High-Conflict Personality

Posted on October 15, 2013. Filed under: story | Tags: , , |

 

Virginia Gilbert, MFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Competent therapists who provide a corrective emotional experience can make it possible for people who never had a voice to find one. Once self-actualized, people generally find the quality of their lives improve: they find the right career, attract the right mate and extricate themselves from toxic relationships.

Unfortunately, this type of personal growth can be disastrous when divorcing a high-conflict personality. When working with a client who is married to, or separating from a narcissist, therapists need to invert the goal of traditional therapy. Instead of encouraging people to be authentic, they need to counsel people to be strategic. Expressing one’s true feelings, admitting vulnerability, and apologizing for one’s missteps can bury a person who is trying to dissolve a marriage with a narcissist — especially when children are involved.

Why Don’t More Therapists Understand How to Treat High-Conflict Divorce?

Graduate psychology programs teach future therapists how to facilitate a client’s personal growth. Students learn what personality disorders look like, and how they develop. But there are no courses in graduate school that train psychology students how to help clients navigate high-conflict divorce.

When treating a client in individual therapy, a therapist doesn’t have the benefit of observing the narcissistic spouse. Even in couples therapy, a therapist might be duped by the high-conflict personality, who often comes across as charming, while the more reasonable spouse, who has spent years being traumatized by crazy-making behavior, can look like the difficult one.

5 Tips for Divorcing a High-Conflict Personality

1. Minimize Contact
High-conflict personalities thrive off of battle. Their agenda, which is often subconscious, is to maintain your relationship by creating drama: bad-mouthing you to everyone under the sun and especially to your children, cyber-bullying, multiple, intrusive phone calls and any other way they can find to keep you from moving on with your life.

While your gut reaction might be to defend yourself, you cannot reason with a terrorist. Anything you say can and will be used against you. To mitigate the chaos caused by a high-conflict personality, you must keep communication to a minimum. Avoid face-to-face contact. Cultivate a “just the facts, ma’am” style of e-mail and text correspondence. When possible, arrange neutral places such as school for the drop-off and pick-up of children.

2. Keep Your Feelings to Yourself
High-conflict personalities are bullies. They like to “win” by making you angry or beating you down. Do not act on your feelings. If you yell, cry, plead, or otherwise tip your emotional hand, you will invite more attacks. Being stuck in the cross-hairs of a narcissist is traumatic, so by all means seek support through safe means: therapy, and online support groups for people with personality-disordered exes are two examples. But whatever you do, don’t let a narcissist know how you really feel — especially if you have a different point-of-view, which will always be interpreted as a threat.

3. Plan for the Worst
Do not listen to conventional wisdom that your ex will “move on” in time. Well-adjusted people move on; high-conflict personalities never quench their thirst for revenge and their desire to feel like “the good one.” Anticipate being dragged into court for minor indiscretions, or worse, total fabrications.

Do not say or write anything that might make you look bad. Respond to even the most frivolous accusations with factual, non-defensive e-mails detailing what actually happened. Document everything; save hostile e-mails, take screen shots of abusive texts, note every violation of your court orders.

You never know if a narcissist will follow through on threats to sue you, so you must be prepared if they do.

4. Never Admit a Mistake
You can, and should be, accountable for your part in the end of the marriage. But be accountable in a safe environment: therapy, 12-step groups, or in the company of trusted family and friends.

Do not admit wrongdoing to your high-conflict ex, especially in writing. Apologizing will not create a more amicable relationship. A high-conflict ex will interpret your apology as proof that you are the mentally ill, incompetent, stupid person she says you are. Even admissions of minor mistakes can be twisted into admissions of heinous acts and spur a high-conflict ex to take you to court, or simply broadcast to everyone with whom they come in contact that you are a terrible person.

5. Stop Trying to Co-Parent
I have written before about the one-size-fits-all co-parenting model. Well-meaning, but misinformed therapists do targets of high-conflict personalities a huge disservice by advising them that they can, and should, co-parent. Certainly, an amicable co-parenting relationship is ideal for children. But attempts to co-parent with a narcissist or a borderline will keep you engaged in battle. You will forever be on the receiving end of intrusive, controlling, chaotic behaviors which will make you and your kids crazy.

Parallel parenting is the only paradigm that should be recommended to people with personality-disordered exes. This means that you give up the fantasy that you can have consistency between homes, or appear as a united front. The more high-conflict your ex is, the more you will need to separate yourself and your parenting. This may mean hosting separate birthday parties, scheduling separate parent-teacher conferences and not sharing what goes on in your house.

While you may feel that you are sending a terrible message to your children by limiting contact with their other parent, you are actually protecting them by minimizing the potential for conflict.

Targets of high-conflict personalities need to accept that it isn’t wise to be “authentic” with their ex. Strategic, limited disclosures and iron-clad boundaries are essential tools in managing a high-conflict divorce. While it may seem paradoxical, true authenticity comes from holding on to one’s sense of self while gracefully disengaging from a narcissist.

Follow Virginia Gilbert, MFT on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@VGilbertMFT

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7 Arguments in Support of Co-Parenting

Posted on September 2, 2013. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , , |

Published on April 16, 2012 by Edward Kruk, Ph.D. in Co-Parenting After Divorce

I have long maintained that a more child-focused approach to resolving parenting disputes after separation and divorce is needed to reduce harm to children and ensure their well-being. Usually, when parents cannot agree on parenting matters, they take their case to a judge for a resolution. The court then applies a “best interests of the child” standard in its decision-making in regard to kids’ future living arrangements. The problem is, however, that this standard is extremely vague and indeterminate, based on projective speculation about which parent might in future be the “better” parent, and thus subject to judicial bias and error. Judges not trained in child development and family dynamics are given unfettered discretion, and this results in unpredictable outcomes based on idiosyncratic biases and subjective value judgments.

Our current system of resolving child custody disputes rarely considers either children’s needs from children’s own perspective, or current research on child custody outcomes. What is needed is a new standard, a “best interests of the child from the perspective of the child” standard, and an approach to child custody determination that is built on a strong foundation of empirical research.

My recent article in the American Journal of Family Therapy, “Arguments for an Equal Parental Responsibility Presumption in Contested Child Custody,” outlines sixteen distinct arguments in support of a shared parental responsibility presumption in contested child custody, which are presented from a child-focused perspective, with clinical and empirical evidence in support of each argument contrasted to the conflicting evidence. The shared parental responsibility alternative addresses the problems associated with judicial bias and error. The seven arguments are as follows:

1. Shared parenting preserves children’s relationships with both parents

2. Shared parenting preserves parents’ relationships with their children

3. Shared parenting decreases parental conflict and prevents family violence

4. Shared parenting enhances the quality of parent-child relationships

5. Shared parenting decreases parental focus on “mathematizing time” and reduces litigation

6. Shared parenting provides a clear and consistent guideline for judicial decision-making

7. Shared parenting reduces the risk and incidence of parental alienation

Many of these findings run counter to now-outdated research and prevailing practice wisdom in the field of divorce. However, there is an emergent consensus within the divorce research community that in the great majority of contested cases of child custody, where family violence is not a factor, children’s needs and interests are best served by preserving meaningful relationships with both of their parents. Children need and want both parents in their lives, beyond the constraints of “visitation” relationships and “primary caregiver” arrangements. Shared parenting is a viable and desirable alternative in this regard, and “in the best interests of the child from the perspective of the child.”

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The impact of parental alienation on parents

Posted on September 2, 2013. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , |

Published on May 2, 2013 by Edward Kruk, Ph.D.

In this second installment of our three-part series on parental alienation, we turn our attention to alienated (targeted) and alienating parents. Parental alienation is the “programming” of a child by one parent to denigrate the other (targeted) parent, in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent, and most often occurs within the context of a child custody conflict. This includes the “legal abuse” of parents who have been disenfranchised from their children’s lives subsequent to sole custody and primary residence judgments. Within an adversarial legal process, non-custodial parents are often subjected to shame and stigma, lack of access to their children, and devaluation of their role as parents. And those who speak about the pain and woundedness in their lives are subjected to a mean-spirited cultural response, where their talk of woundedness is mocked.

Most alienated parents are non-custodial fathers, and engaging these fathers is a significant challenge, as clinical and research literature has described the lack of “fit” between fathers and therapeutic agents as emanating from two sources: the characteristics of men and fathers themselves (their resistance to counseling and therapy), and aspects of the therapeutic process (which have failed to successfully engage fathers). Patterns of traditional gender-role socialization directing men toward self-sufficiency and control, independent problem-solving and emotional restraint have largely worked against fathers being able to acknowledge personal difficulties and request help. A fear of self-disclosure and a feeling of disloyalty to one’s family in exposing family problems are not uncommon; a fear of losing control over one’s life and the need to present an image of control or a “facade of coping” in the form of exterior calm, strength, and rationality, despite considerable inner turmoil, characterize many fathers. Professional service providers do not always consider such psychological obstacles to therapy and thus do not address fathers’ unique needs. The research on divorced fathers is clear about their most pressing need: their continued meaningful involvement with their children, as active parents. The lack of recognition of this primary need is the main reason for therapists’ lack of success in engaging alienated fathers.

Above all, the key to engaging alienated parents is to validate their parental identity, and combine advocacy efforts with counseling focused on enhancing their role as active and responsible parents. Human service professionals have been notably absent in the politics of reform with respect to the issue of legal child custody, yet they are desperately needed as allies in policy reform efforts. An important role of human service professionals in supporting alienated parents is through such advocacy and activism, challenging the custodial/non-custodial and residential/non-residential parent dichotomy and advancing the cause of co-parenting.

An active program of outreach is essential as alienated parents report a lack of effective support services, and they remain a highly vulnerable population. Service providers need to be persistent and proactive, as it takes time to build and sustain engagement in the context of these parents’ feelings of isolation, helplessness, and their tendency to wait until there is a crisis before accessing support. Parents who were highly involved with and attached to their children and suddenly find themselves forcefully removed from their children’s lives experience profound woundedness. The experience of being removed as a loving parent from the life of one’s child via a sole custody order strikes at the heart of one’s being. Suicide rates are reported to be of “epidemic” proportions among alienated parents struggling to maintain a parenting relationship with their children (Kposowa, 2000); and legal abuse has been noted as a key factor in these cases. Being vigilant regarding symptoms of post-traumaticstress and suicidal ideation among non-custodial and alienated fathers and mothers is an essential role for service providers. A strengths-based approach, recognizing alienated parents’ aspirations to their children’s well being and the experience, knowledge and skills that they can contribute to this well being, while maintaining the high road in addressing the alienation, is vital.

And finally, what about the alienating parent, who uses a combination of fear, lies, flattery and gratification of material desires to win over their child, and whose sense of entitlement and desire to control the child is greater than the desire to nurture and care for the child? As Amy Baker writes, parents who try to alienate their child from the other parent subtlely or overtly convey a three-part message to the child: I am the only parent who loves you and you need me to feel good about yourself; the other parent is dangerous and unavailable; and pursuing a relationship with the other parent jeopardizes your relationship with me. Alienating parents are themselves emotionally fragile, often enmeshed with the child, with a “sense of entitlement, needing control, knowing only how to take” (Richardson, 2006). Yet although it is easy to pathologize and blame such parents, it must be remembered that alienating behavior is encouraged in the context of a legal adversarial forum where the goal is to “win” the custody or residence of one’s child. And although some would recommend a solution of removing child custody from alienating parents and placing children in the care of non-alienating parents, it is often very difficult to adjudicate who actually is the alienating and who is the targeted parent. Family law judges are not trained in the finer points of child development and family dynamics, and can be easily swayed by legal arguments made on behalf of disputing parents, including alienating parents.

On the matter of parental alienation, I have come to see that the problem is systemic in nature; that is, the problem lies primarily in the adversarial nature of legal determination of parenting after divorce. Parents are set up to fight in an effort to win “primary residence” or “custody” of their children, and the system tends to reward those skilled in adversarial combat. Parents often win their case by disparaging the other parent as a parent, in effect engaging in alienating behaviors, and the system thereby encourages and produces alienating behavior. A legal presumption of co-parenting, rebuttable in established cases of child abuse and family violence, may in fact be the most effective means of combating parental alienation and curtailing its damaging consequences, while at the same time protecting the safety and well-being of children at risk of abuse.

The final installment of our three-part series on parental alienation will examine programs, services and interventions that combat alienation, and seek to reunite estranged parents and their children while addressing the significant clinical challenges in working with alienating parents.

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Healing Divorced Families One Story At A Time

Posted on September 2, 2013. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , , |

Jontie Hays and Sarah Ulmer have written 12 books (Monkey in the Middle) to help children understand the emotions and feelings that parents experience during divorce.  Jontie talks with Jill Egizii of Family Matters about her book and her work as a social worker.  Click the link below to listen to the show:

monkey-in-the-middle-talks-with-family-matters

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Parental Alienation: When Parents Are Kept From Their Kids

Posted on September 2, 2013. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , |

After divorce or separation, some ex-spouse smack talk is sort of expected. But what if your ex drove a wedge between you and your children and they stopped talking to you?

MEGAN KRUEGER

It’s a Monday morning. The door buzzes and a woman walks in, struggling as she carries a bulky, clear Rubbermaid bin. One of the clips keeping the box shut is barely clasped while the other is broken, leaving the left corner popping open.

It is brimming with documents from her divorce and her ordeal: records of court motions she and her ex-husband endured, emails back and forth from lawyers and a worn book called Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind. It is a paper trail that still elicits tears.

“I have four kids,” says Cindy, 50. She digs through her purse and pulls out a small photo album. She shows me a photo of four children, sitting together. “That’s what they looked like. And now they’re 23, 21, 19 and 15,” she says in a shaky voice, sniffling.

One mom’s story

Cindy, whose real name has been changed to protect her family, struggles every day with something called parental alienation. A byproduct of some divorces, it’s when one parent is literally alienated from his or her child due to badmouthing, disparaging and, as it’s referred to by some professionals, “poisoning” by the other parent.

It’s beyond your garden-variety ex-spouse snarkiness and, according to those who work in the divorce field, it happens more often than you’d think. These professionals familiar with parental alienation believe the adversarial nature of the court system contributes to the problem, pitting co-parents against one another and sending them through programs that often don’t work.

Somewhere in meeting with lawyers and dealing with the anger and sadness, maybe kids find themselves dragged to one side or another – either intentionally or unintentionally. And, unfortunately, it’s not easy to prove, prevent or see coming.

When Cindy’s then-husband filed for divorce in 2000, she was a stay-at-home mom parenting her three daughters and son, who at the time were 10, 8, 6 and 2 years old.

After the divorce, her ex would bribe the kids with no curfews or give them cell phones and, later, cars that they were not allowed to use to see or talk to her, she says. Eventually, they stopped driving with her to family holiday parties. And then they’d “play the mom is invisible game” when she’d come pick them up for her parenting time, often ignoring her knocking on the door. Once, she went to her daughter’s soccer game and her daughter freaked out and stopped playing because she was there.

One by one, Cindy’s children left her side. For more than a decade, she’s been battling with her ex-husband in court. Through all the he-said-she-said stories, motions in court and attempts to get more time with her children, Cindy was still left alone.

“All the things I’ve missed. I didn’t get to see any of my girls get dressed for a dance, you know. I didn’t see my oldest daughter’s graduation from college,” she says. “I wasn’t part of her life because he made it so.”

Inside alienation

Around 1985, Dr. Richard Gardner came up with the term “parental alienation syndrome” to describe what Amy Baker, Ph.D. summarizes as “a child’s unwarranted rejection of one parent in response to the attitudes and actions of the other parent” in a 2008 Social Work Today article.

Psychotherapist Robert Hack, a divorce mediator, parenting coordinator and president ofAssociates in Divorce in Bloomfield Hills, says “hostile aggressive parenting” is another term for it. He calls it “emotional child abuse after divorce.” But as John Langlois, president of Dads and Moms of Michigan, a nonprofit that advocates for children in what they call “bi-nuclear” families, adds, “it gets complex because even the word divorce isn’t right.” He points out, “You don’t have to have a marriage license to conceive a child.

Signs of alienation

The website Moving Forward Through Divorce provides signs of parental alienation on its page titled “Five Key Signs of Parental Alienation.” They include:
-Child viewing the parent causing the alienation as “good” and “honest” and the other as “all bad.”
-Denial of being “coached” by their parent
-Refusing contact with relatives of the “target parent”
-Anger toward the parent is “based on frivolous and unwarranted reasons.”
-Refusing contact with one parent

“The topic is so new that the industry as a whole is still arguing about what the nomenclature for it is going to be. It’s that infant.”

Regardless of the name, the actions are still the same. Hack says parents may do it consciously or subconsciously, and it usually happens in what’s called a “high-conflict” divorce. Some believe they’re doing a good thing for the child, thinking, “I have to let my child know how bad mommy is or daddy is.”

Some, though, see it as a way to hurt and punish their former spouse. Langlois, who conducts supervised parenting time and exchanges at Dads and Moms of Michigan, and Hack, as a parenting coordinator, deal with these issues firsthand. Langlois says he’s seen situations in which parents kept children from seeing the other parent – or felt their ex didn’t deserve to be around their children because of what occurred in the marriage.

“I’ve been in the court and I’ve watched a mother yell and scream at the Friend of the Court that the father lost all rights to the child when he filed for divorce. Believed it. And it’s just not true,” he says.

While this emotional abuse comes in levels ranging from mild to severe, it can have a huge impact on children either way. Kids often think their parents’ split is their fault. Furthermore, when pitted against mom or dad, it can affect their self esteem.

“What (parents) lose track of is the very key fundamental truth in that all children, throughout all time, were a product of both of their parents,” Langlois says. “So all children throughout all time have identified at some level with both of their biological parents.”

 

Educating parents

In ADEPT, or After Divorce: Effective Parenting Together, an eight-week educational program for co-parents in Oakland County, Hack, who is one of the facilitators, cautions parents against saying harmful things to children about their other parent “because you’re destroying half your kids,” he explains.

Over time, Hack says, kids may respond with extremes like dropping out of high school or getting into drugs. They’re also likely to face difficulty in future relationships due to their lack of knowledge on handling conflict.

“The whole thing is about education,” Langlois says. “The one thing all parents will agree on when they walk in is they want the best for their children.”

In Oakland County, when parents of children younger than 18 file for divorce, they meet with a Friend of the Court referee for an “early intervention conference” to discuss things such as custody and child support.

Immediately following, they’re sent to SMILE, or Start Making It Livable for Everyone – a required program through Friend of the Court designed to help the divorcees co-parent successfully. In Wayne County, divorcing parents are required to go to the Kids First program, and in Macomb both parents are required to attend SMILE before their judgment is entered. Macomb and Wayne don’t conduct early intervention conferences.

The SMILE program

Suzanne Hollyer, administrator of Friend of the Court in Oakland County, says that while the term parental alienation “is loaded in the field,” she says “we all agree that parents should not disparage one another, particularly in the presence of their children.” In the SMILE program, they “talk to parents about how much that hurts their children.”

The SMILE program, which is one hour-long session, is about “refocusing on children,” Hollyer says. Its mission is to show parents that rather than discouraging children from seeing their other parent, the “best gift” they can give their children during this time is “permission to love the other parent.”

So why is it that some of the parents who went through programs like SMILE end up in supervised parenting time with Langlois or in ADEPT with Hack?

Sometimes, the material from SMILE doesn’t stick. Langlois says it’s right to send all parents to SMILE, but because the program – at least in Oakland County -– is about 60 days after filing for divorce and is short, “it needs to continue.”

“(Parents) aren’t ready to hear it, and it’s the Reader’s Digest version,” he says. “I know people that I talk to five years later swear to me in Oakland County they never went to that, and I know for sure they did.”

Randall B. Pitler, attorney and mediator at Pitler Family Law and Mediation in Royal Oak, specializes in what’s called amicable or collaborative divorce. He says SMILE “is a good introduction” and a “good first step,” but he, too, suggests maybe it needs to be more frequent – or be taken sooner.

At his divorce practice, he involves mediators and mental health professionals early on before people get “dug in” and are “less likely to compromise.”

“I have this belief that most people, when they decide to get a divorce, their first thought (is) ‘I want to get through this, I want to kind of come to an agreement, I want to do what’s best for my family,'” he says, but, “then the next thought is, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go hire some pit-bull attorney’ – and that’s when things start. So to me, the earlier we can get them into some sort of mediation or a SMILE program or anything before they go down that road,” he says, the better.

The Friend of the Court has the ability to conduct investigations, rearrange parenting time and enforce custody orders. But Hollyer says that if problems persist in a family, she can send people back to SMILE for a “refresher.”

She also refers them to the ADEPT program. This private program costs around $275 per parent. Hollyer says the public probably wouldn’t support requiring parents to go through even more sessions or programs.

“I don’t think people would want us to be able to call up a parent and say, ‘I hear you’ve been talking bad about the other parent,'” she says, because the Friend of the Court is already involved in “very private family matters.”

Hollyer says the information is out there for parents who are ready to make the “difficult transition” into divorced life with children. But with mediation, she notes, “you have to have two willing parents.”

Court system woes

Some divorce professionals argue that certain aspects of the court system contribute to hostility, and in turn fuel parental alienation.

“Because they’re divorced now … the only way to punish the other parent is through the only vehicle they have, (which) is the court system,” Langlois says. He says often people will file motions to do this, “which in essence leads to emotional child abuse, because the children are caught in the middle of these conflicts.”

Pitler agrees. “Once they get in there, they just want to fight.

“The court system, from my point of view, is designed to basically get people into the process, to move them through, and to get them out,” Pitler adds. “It benefits the judges, because it gets cases off their docket; to a large extent it benefits the attorneys, because they gain financially. I don’t think it benefits the parties, the families, the children.”

Pitler says in an amicable divorce, he has all clients and lawyers meet to work out the divorce for as long as it takes. They “work at the pace of the parties” and get therapists – sometimes even for the child – involved.

“(The court system is) not set up to deal with family issues. It’s not set up to deal with children,” he says. “When parties have a conflict, they go to court, they get 10 minutes with a referee who’s going to make a recommendation, then they may get 10 minutes with the judge who’s going to make a decision.”

Pitler says the State Bar of Michigan doesn’t require any special certification to be a family lawyer – they just need to pass the bar.

“So what folks do when they decide to get divorced is they run to an attorney. Sometimes, they’ll pick an attorney that actually knows something about family law. Sometimes they will not,” Langlois explains. “But even if they pick a family law attorney, the likelihood that the person has anywhere close to the understanding of the emotional factors” is “very low.”

Pitler says that the court system almost encourages parental alienation.

“Our system is plaintiff versus defendant, and there’s the perception when somebody files for divorce or files for custody, it’s ‘me versus my spouse’ or ‘me versus the other parent,’ so people are gearing up for a fight,” he says. “It almost encourages behaviors that would have the child align themselves with that particular parent, so they can feel like they’re winning.”

However, Hollyer says the Michigan Supreme Court tested using “non-adversarial” language – i.e., in the matter of “the Smith family” instead of “plaintiff versus defendant” – and they didn’t find a significant decrease in conflict. Hollyer notes that a lot of people do end up in family court – and, she admits, “it is harsh and cold.”

“We have 54,000 cases,” she says. “But they’re real families … going through something devastating.”

That’s why Friend of the Court exists, and programs like SMILE and ADEPT are available, she says, to find the best way to help families in the system.

“I do this for a reason; I believe in it,” she says. “(Friend of the Court is) here, and we may make people angry, but I’d rather them have the ability to be angry at us, an agency, than to be angry at each other, which will spill over into parenting.”

Pitler believes “the people in the system want to do a better job.”

“Most of the people, in my experience – the judges, the referees, the family counselors – they want to do the best job possible, but they’re limited in time, they have a case load, (and) they have deadlines.”

How to stop

Stemming parental alienation means not involving your child in the argument at all – despite how challenging it may be.

“It’s keeping the focus on the kids, and that’s very difficult,” Pitler says. “It’s not putting your interest first. It’s putting the kids’ interest first and doing what’s best – and recognizing that the children need two parents.”

Successfully raising a child in two homes – and with your ex – can be tricky. Learn how to make it work with these seven tips.

Pitler also says getting mental health professionals involved early on can “cut through” emotional issues.

“I emphasize that mom and dad have to be intimately involved with the kids,” Hack says. “If you have a problem with mom, you talk to mom, not through the kids. If you have a problem with dad, talk to dad, not through the kids. No notes go in their backpack.”

And try to recognize the good in your children being with their other parent.

“When the child is with the other parent, you want to encourage that. You want to speak positively about the other parent – you don’t want to undermine what the other parent is doing,” Pitler says.

If problems persist, Hack recommends going to ADEPT “before things fester and the kids really get destroyed.”

Although Hollyer says kids are “resilient” and “different age groups fair differently” in divorce, she encourages parents to love their child and put hatred for their exes aside.

“Just be the best parent you can throughout the process,” she says, “regardless of what the other parent is doing.”

Ultimately, it’s important to remember how much divorce has an impact on children – even when you feel overwhelmed with anger caused by your former spouse.

“Even in the most amicable divorce where the parents are fully supportive and the parents are doing all the right things, the kids suffer,” Pitler says. “So if you take parents who aren’t doing all the right things, the kids have less of a chance.”

Continuing battle

Toward the end of our Monday meeting, Cindy pulls out the small photo album from her purse again to show me a few more pictures.

“It just started like this – innocent, sweet,” she says through tears.

“I would never in a million years have dreamed that my family would have been torn apart like this.”

But she hasn’t given up on patching it back together in some way.

Her oldest daughter, now 23 and graduated from college, has intermittent contact with her. “She called me and said, ‘I feel like I woke up from a bad dream,'” Cindy says.

She still has not spoken with her third daughter in about five years, or her son in more than three years. But she recently had lunch with her second oldest child, now 21.

“Step by step,” she says, “I remain patient and confident that my children will find their ways back to me.”

 

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Insecurity

Posted on September 9, 2012. Filed under: books, story | Tags: , , |

In Dr. Warshak’s book “Divorce Poison”, he talks about insecurity that leads to parental alienation. (I had somewhat thought this was what could have led to my divorce, although I have no proof.) Dr. Warshak says, that some parents fear the child will become more bonded to the other parent so the alienating parent takes action to prevent a bond from developing. Often the alienating parent will leave the child with grandparents, baby sitters, or in daycare instead of letting the targeted parent care for the child. The alienating parent is willing to spend extra money to prevent the targeted parent from developing a bond with his/her child. If the alienating parent sees the targeted parent enjoying  a special activity with the child, he/she will try to steal or duplicate that activity.

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Halle Berry’s Custody Tactics Bring Out Her Dark Side

Posted on August 27, 2012. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , |

August 24, 2012 by Georgialee Lang (Candian Divorce Lawyer)
If ever there was a primer on how parents should not deal with child custody, Halle Berry and her former common-law spouse, Gabriel Aubry, are in the running for first prize, albeit Aubry appears to be a coerced participant in the fight over their four-year-old daughter, Nahla Ariela Aubry.

The obvious question is how can a woman who is so beautiful on the outside, be so scheming and vindictive on the inside? Yes, Halle Berry fans…that’s how it appears to me, and I bet she is just livid that she agreed to use Aubry’s surname for her daughter when they were still in the throes of love.

Halle Berry’s litigation tactics are “classic” in high-conflict custody cases, and that’s part of
her problem. Most judges have not just fallen off the turnip truck, they have seen it all.

At the time of their uncoupling Halle raved that Aubry was as an “amazing” father and the three of them “were going to be together forever”. But since she connected with serial philanderer and sometime actor Olivier Martinez she’s abandoned her earlier sentiment. Or was it Aubry’s short fling with Kim Kardashian that changed her mind?

For someone who says she only wants to protect her daughter, she has an odd way of going about it. She has desperately tried to remove Aubry from Nahla’s life, with little success. She resisted paying him reasonable child support, even though they share custody. In a drawn out court battle, Ms. Berry was ordered to pay Aubry $20,000 per month.

She must have felt happily triumphant when Nahla’s nanny accused Mr. Aubry of pushing her while she held Nahla. Aubry was relegated to supervised access and no overnight parenting time for a while, but after a thorough child protection investigation by California authorities, he was completely cleared.

Her latest ploy is to convince the Court that it is in Nahla’s best interests to move with her to France with her fiance, Olivier Martinez. Her reasons? She says she is being stalked in California. I guess she was really p-o’d when she recently learned that mental patient Robert Dewey Hoskins, who also harassed Madonna, was arrested and recommitted to a locked psychiatric facility.

She is also urging the Court to favourably consider her pending nuptials with Martinez and the new family she has created. As far as any stability as a result of her relationship with Martinez, I am very skeptical.

If Berry actually marries Martinez, it will be her third marriage. Mr. Martinez has never been married and no wonder….His flings usually are of short duration, from one-night hook-ups to four years. He has bedded model Rosie Huntington Whitley, singer Kylie Minogue, model Sara Givati, actress Michelle Rodriguez, actress Mira Sorvino, actress Juliet Binoche and actress Goya Toledo.

But what is going to really sink Halle’s ship is the expert report before the Court that warns the judge that separating Nahla from her very-involved father will be detrimental to her well-being.

I still don’t get it…when will mothers learn they don’t “own” their children?

http://lawdiva.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/halle-berrys-custody-tactics-bring-out-her-darkside/

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Children Should NOT Be Allowed to Drive the Visitation Bus

Posted on August 27, 2012. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , |

 by Linda Gottlieb

To any rational, mature, objective parent or professional, the reason for this declaration could be justified by merely pondering the following question: “How reassured would you feel if you were standing trial for a crime, and your jury was comprised entirely of 18-year-olds?”

 

The reason children should not be empowered to make a decision about visitation with a parent is as obvious as why no one would feel comfortable having only 18 year olds sitting in judgment of us. A child’s judgment, insight, perception, reality testing, and emotions only barely reach maturity by the END of adolescence. One only has to read the epistemological research and studies undertaken by Jean Piaget, philosopher and developmental psychologist, who wrote the “Bible” upon which educators rely to understand the cognitive development of children. Children do not have the emotional and cognitive abilities do evaluate for themselves what is in their best interests; to theorize what it would be like to have a parent eradicated from their lives; to be able to discriminate what is rational, truthful, and moral amidst all the information their parents and other adults impart to them—especially about the malicious, fabricated, and fanciful data from the alienating parent. Children, for example, think very concretely until the age of 8; that is why they actually do believe, “Step on a crack, break my mother’s back.” Not until much older, can they discriminate reality from fantasy, which is why they should not see horror shows until much older.  The ability to think abstractly starts at the beginning of adolescence and is still insufficiently mature by 18. Children lack wisdom! And children further do not have the emotional wherewithal to contradict the alienating parent—-if that parent is the residential parent—-as they are so dependent upon that parent.

 

So to placate the alienated parent regarding the visit refusal, the court sanctions it by making an ineffective order for the child to undergo a course of individual therapy in the hopes of readying the child for a relationship with the alienated parent. Every time I hear the unsubstantiated platitude for the therapist, “to prepare the child for contact with the alienated parent,” I want to erupt.  Because of their immature cognitive and emotional abilities as previously discussed, children do not possess the facility for abstraction. They cannot participate in a theoretical discussion about what an appropriate relationship entails; nor can they comprehend a desire for something in the abstraction. A child, therefore, cannot have a  discussion about desiring a relationship with someone who is in the absentia—-especially a brainwashed child; nor can a child participate in determining what to expect from the relationship with that “someone.”  That “someone” needs to be concrete, in person, in the flesh and blood.  The therapist cannot, therefore, prepare the child through intellectualism and abstraction for the re-building of a relationship with someone else.  To be able to do this is a fantasy perpetuated by an adversarial child custody system in order to appease the parties and deceive one another into believing that the alienation is being addressed. Individual therapy will not be able to resolve this.  To do is also a fantasy perpetuated by the mental health community—-partially out of ignorance, partially out of an opposing belief system from this therapist’s about the power of the therapist and about how people change, and partially to assure our continued employment. I have lost count of the number of preposterous requests I have received asking me to treat a child whom I have never met in order “to ready them to reunite” with a parent, whom I have also never met and know nothing about.  I am being asked to treat a relationship without having observed and examined it!  Would a doctor diagnose for a disease without observing/examining the patient?

 

But why is therapy necessary at all to connect a child to a loving and formally loved parent?  The PAS-aware professional must educate the judicial system that PAS children’s expressed hatred for and refusal to visit with the targeted/alienated parent are not their true feelings—-no more than these were the feelings of the thousands of foster children with whom I had worked with during a period of 24 years: not a single foster child ever expressed a hatred for her/his parents or a refusal to visit. Indeed, the two most frequently asked questions were, “When can I go home?” and “When is my next visit with my mommy and daddy?” You have to be carefully taught to hate and fear—-especially a parent.

 

PAS children are caught and trapped by their feelings and position: on the one hand, these children love and crave their relationship with their targeted/alienated parent; on the other hand, they are terrified of betraying their alienating parent by expressing their true feelings. The professionals which impact child custody—-especially the judge—-must release these children from their trap by relieving them from making the decision about whether to visit or not. The professionals who impact child custody and visitation must assume the responsibilities for which we were charged when we were licensed by our respective professions; that is, we must assume our responsibility of guaranteeing the PAS child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both parents—-that starts with the enforcement of the visitation rights of the non-residential parent.

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The Difference Between Estrangement and Parental Alienation Syndrome

Posted on August 17, 2012. Filed under: story | Tags: , , |

Have your children been alienated or did you behave badly?

By , About.com

Parental Alienation is defined as the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance his/her children from the other parent. An example would be the mother who shares too much information about the father’s affair with the children in a covert attempt to cause the children to harbor ill will toward the father.

A mother or father may wish to alienate the children to pay back for the pain experienced due to an unwanted divorce. They may attempt to alienate the children due to mental illness that keeps the parent from putting her/his children’s best interest before their own. The reasons parents participate in Parental Alienation are numerous and costly.

On the other hand, estrangement follows multiple conflicts and blowouts between parent and child, says relationship expert Irina Firstein. “There are extremely hurt feelings,” she says. “There are feelings of betrayal and of disappointment.”

The father who leaves the family for another woman, neglects time with his children and dismisses the harm done to his children is likely to become “estranged” from them. It is fair to say that no one responds positively to poor treatment, least of all children.

PAS results from a parent actively working at causing hard feelings between a child and parent. Estrangement results from a parent behaving badly toward his/her children which, in return causes the children to cut off contact.

It isn’t uncommon for a parent who is estranged from his/her children to blame the other parent of PAS. It is easier to blame others for bad behavior than to accept and acknowledge bad behavior.

How does one tell the difference between a parent who is a victim of PAS and one that is estranged due to bad behavior? The behavior of the parent during the period of alienation or estrangement is a good indicator of what is truly going on in the parent/child relationship.

Behaviors Common to an Alienated Parent:

A parent who has been alienated from his/her child will continue to pursue a relationship with the child. The parent will attempt to communicate on a regular basis, will send emails and cards. The same parent will use the court system to fight the alienating parent and retain their legal rights to a relationship with their child.

The alienated parent is not a parent who gives up or gives in. David Goldman is a good example of what an alienated parent will do in response to the alienating parent. His son was taken to Brazil by the mother who refused to return to the United States and pursued a divorce in Brazil.

The Brazilian courts gave the mother custody of the son and David’s ex wife remarried and her, her family and new husband used their status and influence to keep David away from his son. David spent five years fighting in the Brazilian courts and finally regained custody of his son. No battle was too big, no expense too great for this father who had been alienated from his child.

Behaviors Common to an Estranged Parent:

The parent who is estranged from a child due to his/her own bad treatment of the child has a “wait and see” attitude. They don’t pursue a relationship with the child because in their mind the child is the one responsible for mending the relationship.

The estranged parent will find it hard or impossible to view the situation from their child’s perspective. They don’t see their own behavior as playing a role in the problem; they feel entitled to behave badly with no repercussions.

More often than not it is the estranged parent that I come into contact with in my business. These are people who go months at a time without contacting their children because they are wrapped up in an affair and spending time with the other man/woman or busy building a new life post divorce. They don’t understand why their children aren’t waiting with open arms when they do find time to fit them into their schedule.

One man in particular comes to mind. He never went to a school function, refused to enter into counseling with his children when the therapist suggested and spent six years with minimal contact with his children. According to him though his ex-wife is guilty of parental alienation.

His words when asked about his children’s anger toward him were, “it is what it is, I can’t change it, I can only hope they come around one day.” The truly alienated parent would be jumping through hoops to try and reconcile with his/her children. The estranged parent can’t do such a thing because doing so would mean admitting and taking responsibility and the relationship with the child is not worth the discomfort that would come from acknowledging the damage they did to the parent/child relationship.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is dangerous to the emotional well-being of children and the continued parental bond with a parent. It is too often used as an excuse by bad parents to justify to themselves the results of that bad parenting and hurtful behaviors toward their children.

In both cases innocent children suffer due to the inability of a parent to put the needs of their children before their own needs and if, as a parent you can’t do that then maybe you don’t deserve a relationship with a child who is only looking for what any child has a right to expect, love, consideration and valuation from a parent.

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Three Types of Parental Alienators

Posted on August 12, 2012. Filed under: story | Tags: , , , , , |

Copyright 1997 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.

 

Alienation and the degree of severity

Parental alienation varies in the degree of severity, as seen in the behaviors and attitudes of both the parents and the children. The severity can be of such little consequence as a parent occasionally calling the other parent a derogatory name; or it could be as overwhelming as the parent’s campaign of consciously destroying the children’s relationship with the other parent. Most children are able to brush off a parent’s offhand comment about the other parent that is made in frustration. On the other hand, children may not be able to resist a parent’s persistent campaign of hatred and alienation.

Parents must be cautioned not to conclude that all parent-child relationship problems are caused by alienating behavior. When there is true abuse, it is natural that a parent will feel protective towards the children. This is not alienation. On the other hand, the parent is expected to cooperate with investigators and consider alternative explanations that would explain the allegation. Alternative explanations explaining a serious parent-child problem can include a failure to bond, punitive punishment, insensitivity to the child’s needs or a failure to understand development issues. Sometime a competent evaluation is needed to determine how alienation may contribute to the problems between the targeted parent and the children. This is a complex process that requires a court order and the participation of both parents and the children.

Who Uses Alienation?

We are frequently asked the question if someone other than a parent can alienate the child? The answer is an emphatic yes. Grandparents, stepparents, family friends and even attorneys and therapists can alienate or contribute to the alienation.

Frequently an alienated parent will surround themselves with people that support alienation, believing that the child needs to be protected or saved from the targeted parent.

Learning to Recognize Types of Alienation

Preventing or stopping alienation must begin with learning how to recognize the three types of alienation because the symptoms and strategies for combating each are different. The three types should not be considered a “diagnosis,” but instead are a heuristic (i.e. considering possibilities) way of understanding alienation.

Three Types of Alienation

Naïve alienators are parents who are passive about the children’s relationship with the other parent but will occasionally do or say something that can alienate. All parents will occasionally be naïve alienators.

Active alienators also know better than to alienate, but their intense hurt or anger causes them to impulsively lose control over their behavior or what they say. Later, they may feel very guilty about how they behaved.

Obsessed alienators have a fervent cause to destroy the targeted parent. Frequently a parent can be a blend between two types of alienators, usually a combination between the naïve and active alienator. Rarely does the obsessed alienator have enough self-control or insight to blend with the other types. These three patterns of alienating behaviors are not intended to be used as a diagnosis. The types have not been validated sufficient for litigation.

Keep in mind that the source of alienating behavior can come from mothers, fathers, stepparents, relatives, and even babysitters, “best friends” of the parent, the parent’s attorney, or a therapist.


Further Information about Each Type of Alienator

Type One: Naïve Alienator
“Tell your father that he has more money than I do, so let him buy your soccer shoes.” 

Most divorced parents have moments when they are naive about their alienating behavior. These parents mean well and recognize the importance of the children having a healthy relationship with the other parent. They rarely have to return to court because of problems with visits or other issues relating to the children. They encourage the relationship between the children and the other parent and their family. Communication between both parents is usually good, though they will have their disagreements, much like they did before the divorce. For the most part, they can work out their differences without bringing the children into it.

Children, whether or not their parents are divorced, know there are times when their parents will argue or disagree about something. They don’t like seeing their parents argue and may feel hurt or frightened by what they hear. Somehow, the children manage to cope; either by talking out their feelings to a receptive parent, ignoring the argument or trusting that the skirmish will pass and all will heal. What they see and hear between their parents does not typically damage the children of the naïve alienator. They trust their parent’s love and protection. The child and the parent have distinct personalities, beliefs and feelings. Neither is threatened by how the other feels towards the targeted parent.

The characteristics of naïve alienators are:

  • Their ability to separate in their minds the children’s needs from their own. They recognize the importance for the children to spend time with the other parent so they can build a mutually loving relationship. They avoid making the other parent a target for their hurt and loss.
  • Their ability to feel secure with the children’s relationship with their grandparents and their mother or father.
  • Their respect for court orders and authority.
  • Their ability to let their anger and hurt heal and not interfere with the children’s relationship with their mother or father.
  • Their ability to be flexible and willing to work with the other parent.
  • Their ability to feel guilty when they acted in a way to hurt the children’s relationship with their mother or father.
  • Their ability to allow the other parent to share in their children’s activities.
  • Their ability to share medical and school records.

Naïve alienators usually don’t need therapy but will benefit from reading “Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children From Parental Alienating,” because of the insight they will gain about how to keep alienation from escalating into something more severe and damaging for all. These parents know they make mistakes but care enough about their children to make things right. They focus on what is good for the children without regret, blame or martyrdom.

 


Type Two: Active Alienators
“I don’t want you to tell your father that I earned this extra money. The miser will take it from his child support check and that will keep us from going to Disneyland. You remember he’s done this before when we wanted to go to Grandma’s for Christmas.”

Many parents returning to court over problems with visitation are active alienators. These parents mean well and believe that the children should have a healthy relationship with the other parent. The problem they have is with controlling their frustration, bitterness or hurt. When something happens to trigger their painful feelings, active alienators lash out in a way to cause or reinforce alienation against the targeted parent. After regaining control, the parent will usually feel guilty or bad about what they did and back off from their alienating tactics. Vacillating between impulsively alienating and then repairing the damage with the children is the trademark of the active alienator. They mean well, but will lose control because the intensity of their feelings overwhelms them.

The characteristics of active alienators are:

    • Lashing out at the other parent in front of the children. Their problem has more to do with loss of self-control when they are upset than with a sinister motivation.
    • After calming down, active alienators realize that they were wrong. They usually try to repair any damage or hurt to the children. During the making up, such parents can be very comforting and supportive of the child’s feelings.
    • Like naïve alienators, they are able to differentiate between their needs and those of the children by supporting the children’s desire to have a relationship with the other parent.
    • Like naïve alienators, active alienators allow the children to have different feelings and beliefs from their own. During the flare-ups of anger, however, the delineation between the child and parent’s beliefs can become very blurry until the parent calms down and regains control. For the most part, older children have their own opinions about both parents based upon personal experience rather than what they are told by others. To keep peace, the older child usually learns to keep their opinions to themselves. Younger and more trusting children become more confused and vulnerable to their parents’ manipulations.
    • They have the ability to respect the court’s authority and, for the most part, comply with court orders. However, they can be very rigid and uncooperative with the other parent. This is usually a passive attempt to strike back at the other parent for some injustice.

    Active alienators are usually willing to accept professional help when they or the children have a problem that does not go away. They are sincerely concerned about their children’s adjustment to the divorce. Harboring old feelings continues to be a struggle, but active alienators continue to hope for a speedy recovery from their pain.


    Type Three: Obsessed Alienator
    “I love my children. If the court can’t protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he’s never abused the children, I know it’s a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don’t want to see him, I’m not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds.” 

    The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause: to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final. The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings won’t heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.

    The characteristics of an obsessed alienator are:

    • They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
    • They having succeeded in enmeshing the children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
    • The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
    • The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
    • Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
    • They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes “us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
    • They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.
    • They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.
    • The court’s authority does not intimidate them.
    • The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.
    • The obsessed alienator will probably not want to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.

    There are no effective treatment protocols that have been validated for either the obsessed alienator or the PAS children. The courts and mental health professionals are sincere in wanting to help these families but their efforts frequently fail.

    The best hope for children affected by an obsessed alienator is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the alienation is entrenched and the children become “true believers” in the parent’s cause, the children may be lost to the other parent for years to come. I realize this is a sad statement, but I have yet to find an effective intervention, by anyone, including the courts that can rehabilitate the alienating parent and child. There can still be hope in that spontaneous reunification can occur, usually in response to a crisis that causes the alienated child to reach out to the rejected parent.

    In the past year, however, I am seeing examples of successful reversal of parental alienation syndrome.  This may not be true, though, for the obsessed alienator.

    If you have a success story about how you were able to overcome the alienation caused by the obsessed alienator and are now reunited with your children, I would love to hear your story. Please send me e-mail so I can learn from your experience. Perhaps you have something important from your story.

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