June 20, 2016

Parental Alienation: Fathers Day

Dr. Amy Baker is a nationally recognized expert in parent child relationships, especially children of divorce, parental alienation syndrome, and emotional abuse of children. One of her books occupies a permanent place on my office bookshelf: The High-Conflict Custody Battle
Protect Yourself and Your Kids from a Toxic Divorce, False Accusations, and Parental Alienation

Dr. Baker helps targeted parents navigate the legal and mental health systems. Topics addressed include:

How to find the right attorney for your case.
How to prepare your documents for your attorney.
How to find the right expert witness for your case.
How to prepare for a custody evaluation.
How to protect yourself from and respond to false allegations of child abuse.

The message on Dad's Day:

Amy J L Baker
Yesterday at 8:15am ·
" My thoughts are with targeted fathers everywhere who will not experience the love and appreciation from their children that they deserve on today, Father's Day. As I continue to research and coach and be an expert witness I am continually reminded how much children need to love and be loved by their parents. Hang in there, dads, your kids need you even though they cannot tell you that themselves."

May 31, 2016

The Dependent Personality: from Illinois Divorce Lawyer

I have always been comfortable meeting with people in broken marriages at any time of stage of the marriage breakdown. Many people know they are ready to end a marriage once they make that first step to talk to an experienced divorce lawyer for advice and strategy. However, some people with a 'dependent personality' arguably stay in bad marriages far too long, and can sometimes become victimized by a marriage partner that is controlling or abusive. Many people with these dependent traits are very good and kind people, who simply do not have a good sense of healthy boundaries. One of my goals is to help coach good people in difficult or abusive situations, and engineer a better life for them and their children.

Here is a fine article on what 9 things people with these traits tend to do:
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There is a temptation in relationship dependency to focus on the relationship itself. But the key to knowing how susceptible you are to relationship dependency is to focus on your part of the equation. You need to ask yourself, “Do I have a dependent personality, or do I tend to display dependent personality traits?” If you do, then it is likely those traits will show up in your relationships.

Following are nine traits associated with a dependent personality. They are not always easy to read and identify with, and it is understandably difficult for people to look so deeply in the mirror. Each person will come to a crossroads where they must decide to continue down the challenging path of self-discovery. Those who find themselves dependent—whether on alcohol or drugs, food, gambling, shopping, or relationships—will come to that crossroads.

1. Dependent people have difficulty making everyday decisions without advice and reassurance.

The key here is everyday decisions. If you’re going to going to make a major life change, of course you would talk over your decision and get opinions from family and friends. But a dependent personality faces everyday decisions from a position of hesitation and fear. The difficulty is the terror of being wrong.

2. They need others to assume responsibility for many major areas of life.

Asking for help from another person in a major area of life is one thing. Expecting that other person to take over responsibility for you is another. People with dependent personalities give up control of major areas of life to another person out of fear.

3. They have difficulty disagreeing with others out of fear.

Have you ever seen that tongue-in-cheek sign that says, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as long as it agrees with mine?” A dependent person has a variation on that sign: “I am entitled to my own opinion, as long as it agrees with yours.” A dependent person does not feel worthy to express or have an opinion that differs from someone else they feel they need.

4. They struggle to start projects or do things on their own.

Dependent people fear exposure because it may cause others to realize how “worthless” they really are. They fear having failures and weaknesses on public display. One way dependent people avoid failure is to avoid taking the initiative. They don’t put themselves out in front of others by taking the initiative or promising results. If they believe they are doomed to fail at a task, they are not motivated to engage in that task; they are motivated to avoid it.

5. They feel anxious or distressed when alone, or when thinking about being alone.

Dependent people often expect the worst. They do not feel competent to live their own lives without others. Being alone means being unprotected and vulnerable. The thought of being alone to cope with whatever “worst” life throws at them is simply overwhelming. Dependent people wholeheartedly believe in Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

6. They make themselves responsible when bad things happen.

Life happens; things happen. Sometimes those things are bad. Dependent people, who do not sufficiently love or trust themselves, are quick to assign themselves blame for those bad things, even if that judgment is unreasonable. They will commandeer the blame from events, circumstances, and even other people.

7. They feel responsible for fulfilling the expectations of others.

In dependency, the dependent person adopts the expectations of the other person as their own. So when the dependent person fails, they fail to meet not only the expectations of the other person but also their own. Each failure strengthens the dependent person’s damaging judgment of self.

8. They have a high need for validation and approval from others.

Dependent people can crave validation and approval as desperately as an alcoholic craves a drink or a gambler craves a jackpot. When validation and approval happen, the planets align and all is right with the person’s universe, at least until insecurity kicks in again. So any “win,” though desperately craved, is suspect as a mistake, at worst, or momentary, at best.

9. They are unable to create or defend personal boundaries.

The only real boundary a dependent person has is to be within the boundary of a desired relationship. Apart from that, all other personal boundaries are fluid and negotiable in order to maintain the desired relationship. A willingness to negotiate personal boundaries for a relationship creates vulnerability. Some personality types look to exploit this type of vulnerability. They are all-too-willing to find out how much a dependent person is willing to give. And that pool of needs is never filled; the dependent person cannot seem to give enough to fill it.

Accepting the truth, though difficult, is the pathway to freedom. The dependent person has spent time and energy trying to hold on to relationships that constantly threaten to slip away. To heal, they must see the value in expending time and energy in establishing relationships based on truth.

Credit to Psychology Today and Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE.

April 25, 2016

Kane County Divorce Lawyer: Parental Alienation

Today is Parental Alienation Awareness Day. My practice has been focused rather intensely on the problem of the pathology of parent alienation for over 20 years. I have seen both Fathers and Mothers the victims of attacks, and targeting for alienation, by the disordered parent that seeks to damage the relationship between the parent and the child(ren). Parental Alienation exacts a terrible toll on both the targeted parent, as well as the child, whose developmental life is always impacted by being removed from a beloved parent's life.

Fortunately, within the court system, guardians ad litem, evaluators and judges are becoming more aware of the traits and symptoms of PAS. It has been my job, for over these 20 years, to identify these pathologies, and do all possible to intervene in the alienation, and to use proper methodologies in the court system to reverse it, and reunify the child with the loving parent.

" April 25th has been declared parental alienation awareness day in municipalities all over the country. The purpose of the awareness day is to shed light on the terrible problem of children being manipulated by one parent to hate the other. Parental alienation awareness organization (PAAO) a Canadian-based international organization created the awareness day as one tool for targeted parents to use to bring attention to parental alienation. Their website is http://www.parental-alienation-awareness.com/" Credit: Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

April 19, 2016

I receive many calls from men and women in toxic relationships with people that have narcissistic personalities. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and often others. It is a DSM cluster B personality disorder.

One important tactic in dealing with a narcissist is proper boundary setting. This must be done carefully, and with skill and training, but it is necessary in order to defuse anger and chaos in the home. Preston Ni has published a set of methods for dealing with a narcissist, one of which includes boundary setting.

Know Your Rights and Set Boundaries:

No matter how charming, persuasive, or coercive the narcissist comes across, be aware of how far the narcissist has absorbed you (physically, emotionally, and/or materially), and where your own identity and individuality need to emerge. Since a narcissist will often see you as a mere extension of him or herself, it’s crucial to remember your own humanity when dealing with them. Importantly, remind yourself of these fundamental human rights:

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You have the right to be treated with respect.

You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.

You have the right to set your own priorities.

You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.

You have the right to get what you pay for.

You have the right to have opinions different than others.

You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.

You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.

If you wish guidance on how to stay in a relationship with a narcissist, this is a helpful article:http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-with-a-Narcissist . If you need help with a divorce from a narcissistic personality, please contact my office for a free initial consultation, and information as to how my firm manages these complex cases with skill and experience.

April 6, 2016

DuPage Divorce: Divorcing the Narcissist

Being in a marriage with a narcissist can be extremely challenging, and a number of my clients have exhibited symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder after years of living with a partner with narcissistic traits. My firm's practice has a focus on divorce and custody issues for clients separating and divorcing a person with toxic narcissism. Dr. Johnson's article, below, highlights some aspects of this pathology.

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Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that the narcissist is someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” This alternate persona to the real self often comes across as grandiose, “above others,” self-absorbed, and highly conceited. In our highly individualistic and externally driven society, mild to severe forms of narcissism are not only pervasive but often encouraged.

Narcissism is often interpreted in popular culture as a person who’s in love with him or herself. It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self. Deep down, most pathological narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling,” even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.

How do you know when you’re dealing with a narcissist? The following are some telltale signs:

1. Conversation Hoarder. The narcissist loves to talk about him or herself, and doesn’t give you a chance to take part in a two-way conversation. You struggle to have your views and feelings heard. When you do get a word in, if it’s not in agreement with the narcissist, your comments are likely to be corrected, dismissed, or ignored.

2. Conversation Interrupter. While many people have the poor communication habit of interrupting others, the narcissist interrupts and quickly switches the focus back to herself. He shows little genuine interest in you.

3. Rule Breaker. The narcissist enjoys getting away with violating rules and social norms, such as cutting in line, chronic under-tipping, stealing office supplies, breaking multiple appointments, or disobeying traffic laws.

4. Boundary Violator. Shows wanton disregard for other people’s thoughts, feelings, possessions, and physical space. Oversteps and uses others without consideration or sensitivity. Borrows items or money without returning. Breaks promises and obligations repeatedly. Shows little remorse and blames the victim for one’s own lack of respect.

“It’s your fault that I forgot because you didn’t remind me”

― Anonymous

5. False Image Projection. Many narcissists like to do things to impress others by making themselves look good externally. This “trophy” complex can exhibit itself physically, romantically, sexually, socially, religiously, financially, materially, professionally, academically, or culturally. In these situations, the narcissist uses people, objects, status, and/or accomplishments to represent the self, substituting for the perceived, inadequate “real” self. These grandstanding “merit badges” are often exaggerated. The underlying message of this type of display is: “I’m better than you!” or “Look at how special I am—I’m worthy of everyone’s love, admiration, and acceptance!”

“I never want to be looked upon as poor. My fiancé and I each drive a Mercedes. The best man at our upcoming wedding also drives a Mercedes.”

― Anonymous

In a big way, these external symbols become pivotal parts of the narcissist’s false identity, replacing the real and injured self.

6. Entitlement. Narcissists often expect preferential treatment from others. They expect others to cater (often instantly) to their needs, without being considerate in return. In their mindset, the world revolves around them.

7. Charmer. Narcissists can be very charismatic and persuasive. When they’re interested in you (for their own gratification), they make you feel very special and wanted. However, once they lose interest in you (most likely after they’ve gotten what they want, or became bored), they may drop you without a second thought. A narcissist can be very engaging and sociable, as long as you’re fulfilling what she desires, and giving her all of your attention.

8. Grandiose Personality. Thinking of oneself as a hero or heroine, a prince or princess, or one of a kind special person. Some narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, believing that others cannot live or survive without his or her magnificent contributions.

“Once again I saved the day—without me, they’re nothing”

― Anonymous

9. Negative Emotions. Many narcissists enjoy spreading and arousing negative emotions to gain attention, feel powerful, and keep you insecure and off-balance. They are easily upset at any real or perceived slights or inattentiveness. They may throw a tantrum if you disagree with their views, or fail to meet their expectations. They are extremely sensitive to criticism, and typically respond with heated argument (fight) or cold detachment (flight). On the other hand, narcissists are often quick to judge, criticize, ridicule, and blame you. Some narcissists are emotionally abusive. By making you feel inferior, they boost their fragile ego, and feel better about themselves.

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others”
— Paramhansa Yogananda

10. Manipulation: Using Others as an Extension of Self. Making decisions for others to suit one’s own needs. The narcissist may use his or her romantic partner, child, friend, or colleague to meet unreasonable self-serving needs, fulfill unrealized dreams, or cover up self-perceived inadequacies and flaws.

Another way narcissists manipulate is through guilt, such as proclaiming, “I’ve given you so much, and you’re so ungrateful,” or, “I’m a victim—you must help me or you’re not a good person.” They hijack your emotions, and beguile you to make unreasonable sacrifices.

April 4, 2016

Kane County Divorce :Mediation

When parents come to court with a dispute over children, such as allocation of parenting time, most of the judges in northern Illinois counties will insist that the parties make an effort at resolution of their issues through mediation. In my experience with high conflict cases, mediation is usually not a useful approach at resolution of cases; the disordered or angry party will often refuse to participate in the mediation appropriately. However, in some cases where the parents are not in a high degree of conflict and are otherwise looking to reach a resolution, versus a court battle, mediation can be effective. So what kind of approach is best to bring to mediation?

1. First, communicate with your attorney beforehand. As a mediator myself, I spend time with my clients coaching them on the mediation process and how to best use mediation to work toward resolution. It’s important for me to hear my client’s concerns, so I can provide clarification, validation, and direction. It’s also important for me to develop an agenda with my client to make sure that mediation is effective, and that goals are set and fully in mind before the mediation begins.

2. Be effective. Only do or say those things which will be effective and help you move forward. Being effective means advancing toward goals which are consistent with your interests and principles.

3. Be respectful. The mediator is not the judge, and is there to help find a middle path or resolution; using mediation to increase conflict will not be of benefit. Try to remember that a divorce is a very difficult transition for both of you, whether it’s emotional, financial, physical, or all of the above. It's unlikely that the two of you will be able to process information the same way and the same time. Trying to rush or malign the other party is not just conflict enhancing, but it’s also counterproductive to problem solving.

4. Listen. One of the areas that I coach my clients on is being as good of a listener in the mediation, as a talker. Being a good listener opens pathways to explore areas of resolution. From a tactical standpoint, being a good listener will allow the other party to more freely put issues or agendas on the table that might have been previously unknown. It is always important in any mediation or negotiation to know your opponent's obvious, and hidden, agendas.

Mediation, in a collaborative or low-conflict case, can be an effective tool toward resolution of disputes,. But, without proper preparation and goal setting, mediation can be a more lengthy or more frustrating process than it need be. To learn more about mediation generally, take a look at mediate.com, and feel free to call my office to discuss your important case and to explore whether mediation is right for the initial stages of your case.

February 12, 2016

Illinois Divorce: High Conflict Emails

The article below was written by the author of "Splitting," the landmark book on divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist. I wrote the foreword to the first edition of "Splitting," and have admired the work that Bill Eddy has done since that time in the field of High Conflict Divorce. Here's an excellent article that discusses high conflict communications, and the BIFF response.

Hostile email, texts and other electronic communications have become much more common over the past decade.When people are involved in a formal conflict (a divorce, a workplace grievance, a homeowners’ association complaint, etc.) there may be more frequent hostile email. There may be more people involved and it may be exposed to others or in court. Therefore, how you respond to hostile communications may impact your relationships or the outcome of a case.

Do you need to respond?

Much of hostile e-communication does not need a response. Letters from (ex-) spouses do not usually have legal significance. The letter itself has no power, unless you give it power. Often, it is emotional venting aimed at relieving the writer’s anxiety.

If you respond with similar emotions and hostility, you will simply escalate things without satisfaction, and just get a new piece of hostile mail back. In most cases, you are better off not responding. However, some letters and emails develop power when copies are filed in a court or complaint process — or simply get sent to other people. In these cases, it may be important to respond to inaccurate statements with accurate statements of fact.

If you need to respond, I recommend a BIFF Response: Be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.

♦◊♦

1) BRIEF

Keep your response brief. This will reduce the chances of a prolonged and angry back and forth. The more you write, the more material the other person has to criticize. Keeping it brief signals that you don’t wish to get into a dialogue. Just make your response and end your letter. Don’t take their statements personally and don’t respond with a personal attack.

2) INFORMATIVE

The main reason to respond to hostile mail is to correct inaccurate statements which might be seen by others. “Just the facts” is a good idea. Focus on the accurate statements you want to make, not on the inaccurate statements the other person made.

For example: “Just to clear things up, I was out of town on February 12th, so I would not have been the person who was making loud noises that day.”

Avoid negative comments. Avoid sarcasm. Avoid threats. Avoid personal remarks about the other’s intelligence, ethics or moral behavior. If the other person has a “high conflict personality,” you will have no success in reducing the conflict with personal attacks. While most people can ignore personal attacks or might think harder about what you are saying, high conflict people feel they have no choice but to respond in anger – and keep the conflict going. Personal attacks rarely lead to insight or positive change.

3) FRIENDLY

While you may be tempted to write in anger, you are more likely to achieve your goals by writing in a friendly manner. If your goal is to end the conflict, then being friendly has the greatest likelihood of success. Don’t give the other person a reason to get defensive and keep responding.

This does not mean that you have to be overly friendly. Just make it sound a little relaxed and non-antagonistic. If appropriate, say you recognize their concerns. Brief comments that show your empathy and respect will generally calm the other person down, even if only for a short time.

FIRM

In a non-threatening way, clearly tell the other person your information or position on an issue. (For example: “That’s all I’m going to say on this issue.”) Be careful not to make comments that invite more discussion, unless you are negotiating an issue or want to keep a dialogue going back and forth. Avoid comments that leave an opening, such as: “I hope you will agree with me that …” This invites the other person to tell you “I don’t agree.”

Sound confident and don’t ask for more information if you want to end the back-and-forth. A confident-sounding person is less likely to be challenged with further emails. If you get further emails, you can ignore them, if you have already sufficiently addressed the inaccurate information. If you need to respond again, keep it even briefer and do not emotionally engage. In fact, it often helps to just repeat the key information using the same words.

Here is an example:

Ex’s email:

“I can’t believe you are so stupid as to think that I’m going to let you take the children to your boss’ birthday party during my parenting time. Have you no memory of the last six conflicts we’ve had about my parenting time? Or are you two having an affair? I always knew you would do anything to get ahead! In fact, I remember coming to your office party witnessing you making a total fool of yourself – including flirting with everyone from the CEO down to the mailroom kid! Are you high on something? Haven’t you gotten your finances together enough to support yourself yet, without flinging yourself at everyone and anyone? …” [And on and on and on.]

Your Response:

“Thank you for responding to my request to take the children to my office party. Just to clarify, the party will be from 3-5 on Friday at the office and there will be approximately 30 people there — including several other parents bringing school-age children. There will be no alcohol, as it is a family-oriented firm and there will be family-oriented activities. I think it will be a good experience for them to see me at my workplace. Since you do not agree, then of course I will respect that and withdraw my request, as I recognize it is your parenting time.” [And that’s the end of her email.]

This response is brief and does not engage in an attempt to defending oneself. Since this was just between them, a response defending accusations was unnecessary. If the initial email copied friends, co-workers or family members (which high conflict people often do), then a response to the larger group with more information would be appropriate, such as the following:


♦◊♦

Whether you are at work, at home or elsewhere, a BIFF Response can save you time and emotional anguish. The more people who handle hostile mail in such a manner, the less hostile mail there will be.

This article by Bill Eddy originally appeared on www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

February 1, 2016

Illinois Divorce Lawyer: Divorce Planning

2016 brings to Illinois a revised and amended Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The new Act brings some substantive changes to the way that divorce and custody is adjudicated in Illinois, but the guideline advice for preparing for a divorce remains steady. If you find yourself headed for divorce, you should consider taking the following steps to protect and prepare yourself:

Know Your Assets & Debts – Make an effort to summarize your important assets and debts, and if you have been kept in the dark about what your marriage holds by way of assets and retirement plans, talk to my firm about the use of discovery at the beginning of your case to get at these items. If you have assets that you owned before the marriage, or that were acquired by way of inheritance or estate plan gifting, be sure to segregate these gifts or bequests from your "marital basket" of accounts.

Maintain Behavioral Balance – In other words, don’t make impulsive changes or purchases, or begin a path of active dating while the divorce is in process. Starting a divorce case puts each party under the view and control of the Court; this can be an advantage in gaining control over, for example, assets being wasted by the other spouse, but this change also puts a premium on good behavior. Don't use social media as a confessional or bully pulpit to bash your spouse. Check the security of your email and social media accounts, and if you have any doubts about the integrity of your email, talk with my firm about steps you can take to prevent keystroke logging ( see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystroke_logging ) or email hacking.

Focus on the Children – the new Illinois Divorce Act now establishes "Allocation of Parental Responsibilities" ... no longer do we contest custody and visitation, but there will be equal, if not more, emphasis in 2016 on evaluating each parent's fitness and ability to have a shared or balanced parenting allocation (time and decision making). Keep the children at the center of your decisions and behaviors. Don't use the home as a forum for fighting or toxic behaviors. If your spouse won't act properly, please speak with my Firm to discuss options to address toxic behavior in the home that affects the wellbeing of the children.

Hire an Experienced Divorce Lawyer – By experience, I mean a lawyer that has actively and successfully invested years of trial and negotiation experience, and a passion for the craft of divorce and custody lawyering. Michael Roe practices only Divorce and Custody law, and has done so at the highest levels of practice. Contact our firm to discuss your important case.

December 31, 2015

Illinois Divorce: 2016 Rings in New Rules for Child Custody

Thoughts from Law Offices of Michael F Roe as 2015 winds to a close:

2015 has been a year of successes for clients, and challenges in Illinois divorce practice, with some of the challenges including managing the maintenance statute (the statutory guideline formula) that caused a radical change in how support is calculated for incomes below a benchmark amount of $250,000.00

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2016 will bring us substantial changes to the practice of divorce and custody law. I use the term "custody" despite the fact that the new IMDMA has done away with the terms "custody" and "visitation" and now instructs the Court to determine "allocation of parental responsibilities," along with allocations of parenting time for the parents and children. Other new rules affect relocation within the state of Illinois; previously, a residential parent could relocate anywhere within the state with the children after a divorce, sometimes wreaking havoc on the nonresidential parent's access to the children.

These new rules will change the terminology of divorce and custody practice in Illinois, but at the same time, controversies will exist between parents as competing parenting plans are negotiated or litigated. Law Offices of Michael Roe is determined to utilize these new changes to further advance our client's goals in the area of child custody and parenting. As always, in cases where there exists parental alienation, or negative behavioral issues with a parent, the liberalization of the parenting laws will not affect our Firm's goal to ensure that all parenting plans serve the interests of both the children and the parent that seeks to protect the healthy developmental lives of their children.

The law has changed, but our Firm's commitment to cutting edge, tenacious and creative solutions in divorce and custody litigation will never waiver. 2015 was a great year for our clients and we look forward to an even better 2016. I wish each reader and their families a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

November 22, 2015

Parental Alienation: Illinois Divorce Lawyer

I am always careful to identify good articles on the emerging clinical science behind Parental Alienation. Here's an excellent review by Dr. Kruk for your consideration.

Credit: Edward Kruk Ph.D.

Recent Advances in Understanding Parental Alienation
Implications of Parental Alienation Research for Family-Based Intervention

Dr. Richard Warshak of the University of Texas has just published a new paper in the journal, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, entitled, “Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies that Compromise Decisions in Court and in Therapy.” Parental alienation is a mental condition in which a child, usually one whose parents have been engaged in a high conflict separation, allies him or herself with an alienating parent and rejects a relationship with the other parent without legitimate justification. Warshak's article is directed not only to researchers but also to mental health professionals, and family lawyers and judges. Its purpose is to identify and correct common misconceptions about research on alienated children, and examine implications for assessment and intervention. The article contains important practice recommendations for both therapists and legal practitioners.

Dr. Warshak's starting point is the assertion is that mistaken beliefs about the genesis of parental alienation and appropriate remedies have shaped both socio-legal policy and therapeutic and legal practice in ways that have failed to meet children’s needs during and after parental separation, and therefore are contrary to the principle of the best interest of the child. The article identifies and examines ten mistaken assumptions, each in detail. Note that there is no empirical evidence to support any of the following assumptions.

Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies:
1. Children never unreasonably reject the parent with whom they spend the most time,
2. Children never unreasonably reject mothers,
3. Each parent contributes equally to a child’s alienation,
4. Alienation is a child’s transient, short-lived response to the parents’ separation,
5. Rejecting a parent is a short-term healthy coping mechanism,
6. Young children living with an alienating parent need no intervention,
7. Alienated adolescents’ stated preferences should dominate custody decisions,
8. Children who appear to function well outside the family need no intervention,
9. Severely alienated children are best treated with traditional therapy techniques while living primarily with their favored parent,
10. Separating children from an alienating parent is traumatic.

The article provides a summary of the research on parental alienation that has emerged over the past decade. As with Warshak's (2014) article, "Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report," it supports shared parental responsibility as in the best interests of most children of divorce, and as a remedy for parental alienation. It is an important contribution to understanding the most common errors in judicial practice and social policy in this arena, as well as in mental health practice. It is the implications for intervention with children and families that should be of special interest to us.

One of the most controversial points is the last, "Separating children from an alienating parent is traumatic." Alienation and isolation by a parent in the absence of a child protection order is damaging to a child, and is itself a child protection concern. The key for children is to reunite with the alienated parent, ideally with the support of the other parent, which necessarily entails temporary separation from that parent. However, complete separation from an alienating parent may be a form of alienation in itself.

Another mistaken assumption that struck me is, "Young children living with an alienating parent need no intervention." It seems difficult to believe that such an assumption still exists, but there has been a widespread and persistent denial by some practitioners and policymakers about the reality of parental alienation. The fact that "parental alienation syndrome" is not identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), for example, does not mean that parental alienation does not exist; as Warshak's consensus statement and other meta-analyses have demonstrated, parental alienation is much more widespread than is commonly assumed.

In addition, as Warshak has written, although the DSM-V has no specific diagnosis of "parental alienation," the DSM-V includes, under the heading “Relational Problems” and the sub-heading “Problems Related to Family Upbringing,” two diagnostic categories that describe children who are irrationally alienated from a parent. The first is “Parent-Child Relational Problem,” which reads, “Typically, the parent-child relational problem is associated with impaired functioning in behavioral, cognitive, or affective domains.” Examples of impaired cognitive functioning include the domain of the alienated child’s relationship to the rejected parent: “negative attributions of the other’s intentions, hostility toward or scapegoating of the other, and unwarranted feelings of estrangement.”

The second DSM-V category descriptive of alienated children is “Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress.” This category is used “when the focus of clinical attention is the negative effects of parental relationship discord (e.g., high levels of conflict, distress, or disparagement) on a child in the family.” Descriptions of the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems of children who unreasonably reject a parent in the shadow of that parent’s disparagement by the other parent clearly fit in this category. The general acceptance of the concept of unreasonable rejection of a parent as indicated in both empirical research and the DSM-V makes it difficult for professionals to maintain credibility while denying the existence of parental alienation.

Yet favored parents’ disavowal of responsibility for their children’s rejection of the other parent continues to find support among advocates who claim that the concept of unjustified parental alienation is harmful to children. They maintain that the concept of parental alienation is a legal strategy used by abusive parents to deflect blame for their children’s fear and hatred of them. In this view, briefly, children who reject parents always have valid reasons and all "hated parents" have no one to blame for their suffering but themselves. Such advocates deny any possibility that children’s rejection of their parents could have predominantly irrational roots.

In contrast to denial of the problem’s existence is the consensus statement on the desirability of shared parenting following parental separation for most children (Warshak, 2014). In alienation situations, favoured parents’ behavior constitutes psychological abuse when they manipulate and influence children to participate in depriving themselves of love, nurturance, and involvement with their other parent. Denial of this form of abuse of children is reminiscent of society’s denial in the early twentieth century, Warshak writes, of the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse of children. The prevalence of such denial has prompted surveys addressing the issues of whether children can reject a parent whose behavior does not warrant such rejection, and whether the rejection can be due in part to the influence of the favored parent. A survey taken at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ annual (2014) conference reported 98% agreement “in support of the basic tenet of parental alienation: children can be manipulated by one parent to reject the other parent who does not deserve to be rejected.”

For the child, the biopsychosocial-spiritual effects of parental alienation are devastating. For both the alienated parent and child, the removal and denial of contact in the absence of neglect or abuse constitute cruel and unusual treatment. Adversarial court processes often add salt to the wound of both parents and children. This new research dispelling parental alienation fallacies thus represents a call to action. As a form of child maltreatment, parental alienation is a serious child protection matter as it undermines a basic principle of social justice for children: the right to know and be cared for by both of one's parents.

Warshak, R. (2015). Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies that Compromise Decisions in Court and in Therapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

Warshak, R. (2014). Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report. Psychology, Public Policy and Law.

November 3, 2015

Illinois Divorce: Fathers and Custody

I represented this year a Father who was facing what is called a "termination of parental rights" in court, due to actions that the Mother of the children had taken. Sometimes, if one parent neglects the child or children, both parents can be found to be jointly responsible and the courts can take action to terminate the rights of the parents.

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I was told at the outset of the case that the State's Attorneys never lose these cases; in a sense, once the boulder starts to roll, there is no way to stop it. A week before the trial, I met my client at the courthouse, and I told him that I wanted to fight this termination case. I felt it was wrong to deprive a good Dad of his rights as a Father, only due to the failures of his partner in parenthood. I had been warned by many, including lawyers watching the case, that the State never loses these kinds of cases.

I told my client at our meeting that I wanted to take the case to trial. I wanted to resist the efforts of the State to terminate his rights. My client, a good man and a good Father, agreed to fight. He knew the downsides if he fought and lost, for at that point the court would adjudicate him as having lost his parental rights. He could agree to sign away his rights, and hope to get some visitation rights, but to go to trial meant adjudication.

My client knew he was a good Dad, and perhaps it was his resilience, and the fact that he did most all that had been asked of him to keep his rights to his kids, that inspired his confidence. But, most of all, he and I agreed together to push back, and to take the case to trial. In the end, the State decided not to fight us...perhaps they saw our resolve to win...the State agreed to suspend its termination case, and allow this good Dad to get his kids back.

Representing parents in difficult cases is what I treasure about this practice. But, without a client with the heart and courage like this man I've described, it's a tougher battle. We were a good team, and a good Dad is getting his kids back.

October 15, 2015

Illinois Divorce Law: Changes in the Law for 2016

I spent some time yesterday in discussion with some other experienced divorce attorneys concerning the changes in the divorce laws in Illinois that become effective as of January 1, 2016. The consensus view is that there is no consensus about how these new provisions to the IMDMA will affect divorce and custody litigants with pending cases as of January 1, and with new cases filed in the new year. Some lawyers see the changes as needed change, and others see the changes as confusing and likely to increase litigation.

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Here are but a few of the key changes that shall become new law as of 2016:

- There will one ground for dissolution of marriage – irreconcilable differences. Gone is the requirement that fault (such as "mental cruelty") be proved in contested cases.

- Instead of the court awarding custody to one parent and 'visitation' to the other, the court will "allocate parental responsibilities" and parenting time. Lawyers for the parties must file within a brief period of the commencement of the case a proposed parenting agreement for the court to consider.

- Parental responsibilities such as education, health, religion and extra-curricular activities will be allocated by the court, and the court can allocate these either jointly or solely to one parent. One parent is to be identified as the primary residential parent.

- Parents from Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties may relocate up to 25 miles from his or her current residence without permission from the court. A parent in other counties may move up to 50 miles without leave of court. Parents can move up to 25 miles across state lines without permission of the court (prior law forbade a parent crossing state lines for a move without court permission).

Other changes in the law affect financial issues, such as a change to the college funding rules such that the U of Illinois' tuition be used as the maximum for college costs, even if the child goes out of state to a private school costing more. In other words, parents no longer will be exposed to contributing to a high cost university unless the parents agree to the private or out-of-state school.

Like many changes to law, the appearance of progress can be deceptive. My sense of these new laws is that they have changed what appeared to be outdated and inequitable concepts (such as "custody" and "visitation") and replaced these terms with rules that may only promote further litigation over parenting allocations. However, parents should now be mindful that expanded parenting allocations are possible, and for some of my clients, this will open doors to more equitable parenting time with the child(ren).

If you have questions about your family issues and concerns about divorce and child custody issues, as well as financial issues that are affected by the new laws, please contact my office. I understand the new rules and I'd like to help you understand how they may affect your important family case.