DuPage Divorce Lawyer: Parental Alienation - A Corrosive Legacy
Parental Alienation - A Corrosive Legacy
By Judge Michele Lowrance
I have been a judge on the divorce bench for 16 years, and have watched the wreckage of the corrosive legacy of parental alienation and visitation interference play out over decades. We have no statistics for measuring this group, because the victims are too vast. But the concentric circles include the children, their children and the extended family as well. The declaration of war by one parent on another creates radioactive fallout, which contaminates for generations.
The alienating parent treats the target parent like a disease in the child that must be removed. They make the child's survival contingent upon such removal. So the child must extricate the parent without the privilege of grieving the loss. These are crippling circumstances.
I have witnessed impassioned declarations of love for a child by an alienating parent to masquerade the venom he/she feels for the other parent. Parents who do this are not interested in mere control. Their stakes are higher: total annihilation of the target parent's bond with the child. Little by little, alienation in a divorce case starts to take root. And when it fully takes root, I see the child's boundaries collapse before my eyes. Soon the child forgets how to protect him or herself, and must align with the alienating parent as if life depends on it -- because it does.
Perhaps curing this degenerating influence may, in the future, be addressed by therapy. But for now, we can and must do better. I want to tell you how to be proactive in court, and how to fight against the inclination to give up like so many hurt, alienated parents -- who are, frankly, not always welcomed in the courts.
Why Cases Involving Parent Alienation are so Difficult
Here are some reasons these cases are so difficult, and why judges often have no love for them:
Combative parents present conflicting stories of "he said / she said," and make it very difficult to determine who is telling the truth. Often an alienating parent comes to believe what he or she is saying, and their presentation seems authentic.
When targeted parents present their side of the case, they are often angry and frustrated -- and as a result, they don't present very well in court. Judges often consider attitude as influential as content.
The children often support the alienating parent by telling the judge, their attorney and mental health professionals how they have been treated badly, and of their dislike, for the target parent. The reasoning skills of alienated children are often compromised, as is their ability to choose freely.
Alienated children often won't cooperate with therapeutic intervention, and courts have difficulty enforcing these orders.
Judges like to believe that what they do works and it is the right decision. When their decisions don't work, they often get exasperated with both parties.
What You can Do in Courts
Despite these difficulties there is plenty that you can do. Here are some suggestions for handling parental alienation in the courts:
Parenting plan orders should be entered as soon as possible.
Create an alienation map or chart for the judge, which shows him or her in five minutes what couldn't be said in five hours. This map should include all missed visits, and a list of all the denigrating phrases made by alienating spouse to the children, including the friends and/or extended family of the hated parent (if they are admissible in evidence). If you know how to make a graph, you can show the increase in missed visits in a very compelling and impactful way.
Most judges aren't warm to the phrase Parent Alienation Syndrome. Instead, ask the judge to please keep an eye open for visitation interference, as the case progresses, and describe for him or her the maligning behavior.
Get a court order for parenting therapy as soon as possible.
If orders are violated, go to court on a Rule To Show Cause for violation of the order as soon as possible. If you can't afford an attorney, then do this yourself. Write petition for rule, for visitation violation, for family therapy, or for makeup visitation.
You may be among the many alienated parents I have known, who have grown weary due to the repetitive stress fracture on your heart. Each time your visitation is interfered with, it has a cumulative affect. This can make you hyper sensitive, which easily magnifies your emotional response.
Because your emotions are flooding your ability to reason, writing and rewriting a petition with your attorney is a rational thing to do and gives your thoughts "breathing time." If you immediately act upon your anger, you are just going to make things worse -- and perhaps run the risk that the other parent will get an order of protection against you. Reflect upon the past consequences of your amped up anger. Did you write nasty emails, make hostile phone calls, yell at your child, become overly aggressive, or decide to retreat and do nothing?
The way to tell if your anger serves you is to always ask yourself the following four questions:
Does this anger further my constructive goals?
Does this anger further degenerate my relationship with my children?
In what ways does this anger help me?
In what ways does this anger help my spouse?
If your reactions are based upon what has been done to you, you can only respond with hatred. When you do this, you give the alienating parent the "upper hand," because he or she has provoked you to become the hateful person who they are portraying you to be to the children. Don't let someone else provoke, influence, and therefore control how you behave. You run the risk of actually becoming as miserable and dysfunctional of a person as they're trying to portray you to your children. When you react with hatred, you not only play into their hands, you're letting them steer your ship, letting them determine your present and future.
When Your Children Come Home, Who do You Want Them to Come Home to?
As you read this, you may be on the edge of giving up. You may be starting to feel that nothing can work against your former spouse's devotion to destroy your relationship with your children. Even though you may be physically invisible to your children, you will always be visible to them through stories, gossip and second hand reporting from all sources. When we lose a loved one, we often decide to live the way that the departed person would have wanted us to. In the same spirit, when you lose a child to alienation, you need to live as if he or she is watching you. Your long term goal is to become the person your child wants to come home to.
Michele F. Lowrance has been a domestic-relations judge in the Circuit Court of Illinois since 1995.
DuPage Illinois Divorce: Aggressive Parenting
According to Alan Kemp in his book Abuse in the Family, domestic violence is defined as “A form of maltreatment perpetrated by a person with whom the victim has or had a close personal relationship.”
Says Joan T. Kloth-Zanard, RSS, LC: "This book is just one of many textbooks used to teach students and professionals about psychological maltreatment and the categories that make it up. Whether one believes in the term parental alienation or not, the following criteria helps to show that certain behavior perpetrated by a parent can cause a child to withdraw their love from the other parent. For the sake of this article, we will term this abuse as aggressive parenting.
Nine Signs of Aggressive Parenting:
Denying essential stimulation, emotional responsiveness, or availability
Unreliable and inconsistent parenting
Mental health, medical, or educational neglect
An Explanation of the Nine Signs:
By deliberately isolating the child from other family members and social supports, isolation is occurring. The whole premise of aggressive parenting is to isolate and distance the children from the targeted parent or any other individual who supports the targeted parent.
If the aggressive parent uses threats or denigrating tactics, to force the child to comply, this can be seen as terrorizing. As well, verbal denigration, harassment and exploitation of the targeted parent is very prominent and a key indicator of aggressive parenting.
Thus in aggressive parenting, when the child is used to destroy the targeted parent by denying visitation or a relationship between the other parent. and the child or is used for monetary gains such as excessive expenses beyond child support, they are in affect committing domestic violence. It is for these reasons that aggressive parenting or isolating the children from the Targeted Parent can be considered as a form of domestic violence.
When a parent rejects a child. because the child shows any love or affection for the targeted parent that is a form of abuse. This is not only a form of rejection, but terrorization. In fact, a child’s refusal to come to the targeted parent’s home for fear of losing the aggressive parent’s conditional love is fear and fear is terror.
When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with court orders and tells the child they do not have to either, this is corrupting. It is teaching the child that they are above the law and therefore immune to the courts authority. When a parent files false allegations of abuse and convinces the child to do the same, this is corruption.
Denying Essential Stimulation, Emotional Responsiveness, or Availability:
By refusing to allow the children to have a relationship with the targeted parent, for no reason other than their own need to control the ex-spouse, the aggressive parent is denying them the basic elements of stimulation, emotions and availability with the targeted parent.
Unreliable and Inconsistent Parenting:
Since the children have been denied a relationship with the targeted parent, they have also been denied a reliable and consistent parenting situation and the aggressive parent has proven that they cannot parent consistently and reliably in the supporting of a two-parent relationship with the children.
Mental, Medical and Educational Neglect:
When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with numerous separate court orders for counseling, they are denying their children's mental health.
If, despite numerous court orders or requests and recommendations, the aggressive parent continues to insult, verbally abuse and denigrate the child’s targeted parent in front of the child, this behavior degrades and devalues someone the child once respected and loved and in most cases, secretly wants a relationship with.
This disdain and disrespect for the targeted parent in front of the child is another form of psychological maltreatment as it permanently affects their view of the targeted parent, which transfers to their view of themselves. This creates a distorted sense of reality, of themselves and their ability to trust and accurately judge others.
When a parent deliberately sabotages a relationship with the targeted parent by refusing to allow visits, calls, or any form of healthy communication, with no evidence of abuse, this is called isolation. Furthermore, when a parent has initially allowed continuous contact with the children during the separation and divorce period, but reneges on this and engages in parental alienation, especially when they find out their ex-spouse has a new partner, this is isolation and abuse.
This is also called Remarriage as a Trigger for Parental Alienation Syndrome and can be further reviewed in an article by Dr. Richard Warshak, There is no doubt this is isolation and thus psychological abuse. (http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/warsha00.htm)
When a parent uses the children as pawns to get back at their ex spouse for not loving them anymore or to control them further, this is exploitation. When an aggressive parent uses the children and makes false allegations of abuse, terrorizing the children to state they hate the targeted parent, this is exploitation. When a parent uses the children for monetary gains such as child support, but yet does not allow the children a relationship with the targeted parent, this is exploitation.
When you add all these signs up, it is easy to see how Aggressive Parenting, can be classified as child psychological maltreatment in a divorce situation. When you put it all together, the DSM sums up the aggressive parent quite nicely under Cluster B Personality Disorder or, Antisocial Personality Disorder."
Joan T. Kloth-Zanard, RSS, LC has a BS in Health and Psychology with a Minor in Business and has continued her education with Graduate work in Marriage and Family Therapy as well as Professional Counseling. She is also Certified as a Recovery Support Specialist.
Since 1998, she has been running non-profit online support groups for victims of Psychological Abuse. She recently authored a book called "Where Did I Go Wrong? How Did I Miss The Signs? Dealing with Hostile Parenting and Parental Alienation." This book is a culmination of her research and studies into the world of high conflict divorce.
Can Peace help with Stage I Parental Alienation?
By Kimberly Nichols
It was a glorious Southern California day in the beachside Balboa Park in San Diego as I sat in a flowering position on a yoga mat with 1,000 other people in the grass to hear renowned Buddhist Thich Nat Han deliver a talk on peace. After his discussion, he invited members of the audience to the stage to discuss difficult issues in their lives. One man walked up with trepidation and proceeded to tell us, with pain in his voice, about his current struggles with his ex-wife.
“I only see my son once every two weeks,” he described. “He spends the first full day of our visits locked in his room away from me and finally comes out to engage with me on the second day, at which time he proceeds to interact with me the same way my ex-wife does. It is clear that in his mom’s home, he is constantly fed grief and anger towards me. My wife’s projections onto him about her disappointments in our own relationship are so strong that my son has begun to view me in the same way that she does. By the end of our visit, when he finally warms up to me enough to crack a smile, it’s time for him to go home. What do I do to ease this situation without feeding in to the drama my wife is creating?”
With a big smile on his face, the wise Zen master answered, “Nothing.”
I knew this story all too well because for sixteen years I had been sharing custody of my daughter with a man who, although was a great father, was a notorious control freak; prone to enforce his opinions and influence on anyone malleable enough to easily absorb his iron reign. This included our daughter.
Oftentimes I would find myself frustrated when after staying at his house for a week she would come home spouting snippets of language that I knew had come from him that she couldn’t possibly really understand or believe. She would speak blindly of politics or sexuality or contemporary issues with her father’s tone and I was left feeling helpless and angry, afraid she would be molded in his image instead of adopting my more compassionate and empathic ways. But because I came from a tumultuous home myself, and not wanting her to experience the same, I would bite my tongue rather than counteracting her father’s influence with my own seesaw rage. It wouldn’t help for her to be a ping-pong between two sides when she was merely listening to the more demonstrative of the two of us.
“Nothing?” the father onstage asked clearly baffled.
“Nothing,” Thich Nat Han reiterated. “You merely hold space for your son with loving kindness and live by example knowing that you can fully trust in simply being peace.”
This profound statement stuck with me as I watched my daughter’s teen years unfold into a period of self-individuation. It stuck with me as I watched her father grow less comfortable with the fact that she was becoming an adult. I did what Han said and lived by example, lending my words of wisdom to her only when asked but never enforcing my judgments or way onto her otherwise. I learned to silently have faith in the quiet and safe place I was laying out for her to decide and unfold within like a beautiful lotus flower. I knew that one day, when she was of the age to make up her own mind, she would call upon the things she learned from the both of us and take the bits which worked best for who she would eventually become. For my part, I wanted to provide her a pot of richness to choose from representing the fruits of an ego-less, unconditional acceptance and the unencumbered presence of pure love. A subtle servitude to blind faith was essential in sustaining all of the above.
No, it wasn’t easy and many times I came close to the bone, ready to yell at the top of my lungs or let my will take over where my heart gave grace. I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure I slipped up along the road. But on Mother’s Day when my daughter had turned the ripe, mature age of 21 she actually thanked me for being this way throughout her life and told me that it was something she had learned to appreciate about my mothering ways. She said it was hard enough counteracting her father’s bias while still being a loving daughter to him and she was thankful she didn’t have to so the same with me. She said it had also taught her how to achieve a certain sense of understanding with detachment in her own life instead of what could’ve amounted to confusion and pain.
I could not have asked for a better reward for believing in peace.
Kimberly Nichols is a Venice Beach-based artist and writer.
An Illinois Clinician Comments on Parental Alienation in Custody Disputes
Parental alienation has been a hot-button topic since Richard Gardner's theory and the subsequent debate occurred. While the American Psychological Association never recognized Parental Alienation as a diagnostic label, many Court relied on expert testimony in this area in adjudicating custody disputes. The fact is that children do sometimes experience distance in their relationship with a parent. Recent research (Kelly and Johnson, 2001) confirms that there are many reasons for this distance, ranging from realistic estrangement, where a child is distant or rejects a parent who has abused him, to pathological alienation, where a child is distant or rejects a parent due to the influence of the other parent. The middle ground between these extremes contains children who display an allegiance for one parent over the other - who have not been subject to any dynamics of alienation or abuse. The allegiance shown by these children is often age and developmentally appropriate. Alienation exists but it is not a "one size fits all" label and discerning which type of alienation is present is the basis for determining the relative responsibilities of the parents for causing this alienation and, more importantly, helps to identify the necessary treatments for remedying it. Alienated children suffer (Fidler and Bala, 2010) and the ill effects of the alienation persist into adulthood (Baker 2005a, 2005b, 2007) It is critical for their best interest and safety that the problem be accurately identified and treated.
Credit: Dr. David Finn, Rolling Meadows, Illinois
DuPage County Divorce Attorney: Parent Alienation
With the recent publication of Jill Egizii and Judge Michele Lowrance's workbook "Parental Alienation 911," more attention is being focused in Illinois on parental alienation, it's pathology, and ways to address it.
The Honorable Judge Gomery of Canada once stated, “Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate the other parent represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child.”
So, what are possible causes of Parental Alienation?
Intentions differ from one parent to the next, but psychologists have suggested the following as potential motivators:
An alienating parent may have unresolved anger toward the other parent for perceived wrongs during the relationship and may be unable to separate those issues from parenting issues.
An alienating parent may have unresolved issues from their childhood, particularly in how they related to their own parents, which he or she projects onto the other parent (whether or not it's factually accurate).
An alienating parent may have a personality disorder, such as narcissism or a borderline personality, which makes him or her unable to empathize with the child's feelings or see the way their behavior is harming the child. Such personality disorders may also make the alienating parent more likely to be jealous of the other parent's adjustment to the breakup and cause the alienating parent to have extreme rage toward the other parent.
An alienating parent may be so insecure as to his or her own parenting skills that he or she projects those concerns onto the other parent, regardless of reality.
An alienating parent may be so wrapped up in their child's life that he or she has no separate identity and sees the child's relationship with the other parent as a threat.
DuPage County Divorce Attorney: Custody and Parenting
Helping Children Resist the Pressure to Choose One Parent Over the Other
By Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. in Caught Between Parents, Psychology Today
Some children of divorce naturally feel caught between their parents as they adjust to two homes, two sets of rules, possibly two neighborhoods, and two families. But what children really want and need is to stay out of their parents' conflicts and to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both parents (unless, of course, one parent is abusive to the child).
Unfortunately, some parents take advantage of children's difficulty navigating between two families and dealing with the complexity of parental divorce by creating in their children an expectation that they choose sides. These parents employ a range of strategies, known as parental alienation, in order to foster the child's rejection of the other parent.
Parental alienation strategies can take many forms but usually includes badmouthing the other parent, limiting contact between the child and that parent, and interfering with communication between the child and the parent.
Divorcing parents need to become educated about the primary parental alienation strategies so that they can effectively employ responses that challenge the child's tendency to take sides while maintaining the high road as a parent (see Baker & Fine, 2008 for more details).
Parents concerned about parental alienation also need to help their children develop 4 capacities that will help them resist the pressure to choose sides. These are:
Critical Thinking Skills
When children think critically they are aware of their thoughts, where they came from and are able to examine the reality of them and change them accordingly. This skill will help the child question his or her ideas about each parent (i.e., one is all good, one is all bad; one is always right, one is always wrong). If a child is using critical thinking skills it is not likely that he or she can be programmed or brainwashed into rejecting one parent to please the other.
When placed in a pressured situation in which a child feels compelled to do as one parent asks (i.e., not spend time with the other parent, spy on that parent, and so forth), it is important for the child to slow down, not act right away, and consider his or her options. Doing so can prevent the child from automatically doing what the alienating parent is asking.
Listening to One's Heart
When children learn how to be true to themselves and their values it is not likely that they can be manipulated or convinced to do something that goes against their best interest (i.e., cut off one parent to please the other) or something that betrays the other parent. Children need to be encouraged to identify their core values and to be attuned to when they are going against them.
Using Coping Skills and Getting Support
Children sometimes feel that they are the only ones who are dealing with a problem and that no one can understand what they are going through. Encouraging children to talk to other people such as friends, teachers, and other caring adults can help them feel less alone and can help them benefit from the wisdom and kindness of others. Children also have more internal resources (self talk, relaxation strategies) that they can develop and rely on in times of need.
Kane and DuPage Divorce: Parental Alienation
I correspond with Dr. Amy Baker on the subject of Parental Alienation, and consider her research and work in this area the most cutting edge available. Dr. Baker is a nationally recognized expert in parent child relationships, especially children of divorce, parental alienation syndrome, and emotional abuse of children.
Illinois Divorce and Parental Alienation
Many professionals that work with divorce and custody cases see cases of Parental Alienation. Parental alienation can be defined as a social dynamic, generally occurring due to divorce, when a child expresses unjustified hatred or unreasonably strong dislike of a "target" parent, making access by the rejected parent difficult or impossible.
Dr. Amy Baker is a nationally recognized expert in parent child relationships, especially children of divorce, parental alienation syndrome, and emotional abuse of children. Her book, pictured here, provides answers to many critical questions surrounding parental alienation, and is a valuable resource at understanding this highly damaging process.
One definition: The alienation is triggered by an alienating parent. In its worst and most pathological forms, the alienating parent acts 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.
Parental Alienation: Survivors not Victims
I received a letter from Chrissy, who founded Survivors not Victims of PAS. I asked for her permission to reprint her letter to me. It's a very insightful and heartfelt account of PAS, and its impact on a young woman.
Oh thank you Michael. Yes, I would be happy for you to post it. Im trying to make a diffrence for hurting parents as well as the hurting children. It is my hearts desire to help in the fight against PAS. It effects the children way into adult hood. Im hoping with my story more kids will come forward and share their story as well. If there is anything I can do for you or your parents please let me know. Sometimes hearing or talking is more uplifting than reading it. Im always here.
Thank you for all your hard work and supporting a cause that is dear to my heart. Keep up the life changing work and you have all my support
My name is Chrissy. Im the founder of ~Survivors not
Victims~. I have many chapters to my book of life as you can see on my website.
But this chapter is on PAS and how it effected me.
When I was 3 my mom meet the man we thought would fullfill our dreams
of being a husband and father. This was shatterd shortly after the
courting was over. My mother and I where very much abusied by this man. I
was always without my mom knowing made known by him that I was not his
child. I always wanted his love and approval I hungered after it but
nothing I did was right for him. When he yelled at me pure fear would enter
my mind would I get hit this time and never ever was I allowed to look
him in the eye during these periods. Iwould get flush my ankles would
itch the butterfies in my stomach would be overwelming. I tell you
these things to help you to understand the power someone can have over your
mind even after all this.They eventally had my 2 wonderful brothers.