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High Conflict Custody Cases and PAS

It has been my experience that roughly 10-20 percent of divorce cases involve a high conflict custody issue. A percentage of these cases involve a very serious and negative phenomenon: Parental Alienation. What is Parental Alienation?

The authors below describe PA in terms of an alienating mother, though I have had cases involving an alienating father, as well. Co-morbid with the PAS has been the possibility of an Axis 2 Personality Disorder, and these disorders present in both men and women. I have written in the field of Axis Two disorders and issues concerning PAS. My friend Bill Eddy’s book, Splitting, is the best resource that I know of for divorcing parents dealing with PAS.

The information below came from an article describing Dr. Gardner’s observations about PAS in divorce cases. Are you a nonresidential parent experiencing PA? Help is available.

A campaign of denigration is described by these authors where the father is cast into the role of the villain, with the mother playing the victim role and the child instructed to fear and reject the father. Gardner describes the “programming mother” as angry, critical, and distant. Elements of projection, overprotectiveness, reaction formation, and fury are outlined as underlying factors. Programming of the child may be very overt or very subtle. Name calling, innuendo, and nonverbal forms of hostility may emerge in the course of the alienation process. Destruction of remnants of the father (including gifts given to the child by the father) may be part of a pattern of programming. More subtle forms may include baring the father from coming to the door.

“A common maneuver is to require the visiting father to park his car in front of the house and blow the horn when he arrives. He is not permitted to come to the doorstep, let alone, ring the bell. Although not stated, the implication here is that this very act might somehow contaminate the whole household (Gardner, 1987, p.86).”

The answering machine is commonly used to screen calls, and the father’s messages may be lost or erased. Father is clearly on the unacceptable list of callers. Rigid adherence to a visitation schedule and threats of calling the police are also seen by Gardner as forms of programming and manipulation. “Visitation obstructionism is a very powerful vengeance maneuver…[as is] …withholding the children (Gardner, 1987, p.93.).”

Gardner goes on to note how the mother will imply that father is ill-equipped to care for the child by preventing him access to the child when minor illness is present in the child. Sarcasm, criticism, and efforts to align with the children against the father are also noted.

Credit: Parental Alienation And Enmeshment Issues In Child Custody Cases
by Daniel J. Rybicki, Psy.D., DAPBS

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