In Dr. T’s recent article about Parental Alienation, she notes that the behaviors of one parent teaching children to hate the other parent have not typically been recognized in courts as a legitimate diagnosis or syndrome. Indeed, much controversy swirls around the very mention of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Since no DSM criteria exists for these behaviors, except in very rare instances, a court will not qualify a behavioral health professional as a PAS expert who can testify in court. Nevertheless, as we’ll discuss in Part 2, if you are the subject of an alienation campaign, you are not without remedies in the court system if you prepare and present your case effectively—it can be extremely tough though.
Perhaps the reluctance for courts and even mental health professionals to attach too much significance to PAS arises from the difficulty for outside observers in recognizing the phenomenon and distinguishing it from legitimate estrangement or a child’s justified fear about divorce.
Below are two scenarios that illustrate how one parent can turn children against their other parent and how parent-child relationships can be irreparably damaged, followed by some suggestions for preventing alienation and reversing the indoctrination of hate and fear.
Gaming the System: False Reports of Physical or Sexual Abuse
In the most extreme instances, the mother may make false claims that the father has physically or sexually abused the children. When presented with an allegation of physical or sexual abuse against the children, it’s not unusual for a judge to remove the kids from the father for a couple of weeks while the children are evaluated by a professional. The rationale is that if the accusations are true, the children need to be protected and if the accusations are false, then the father has only been deprived of his kids for a couple of weeks and he can be given some extra visitation to compensate. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong.
Two weeks is plenty of time to shape the minds of young children and allow the roots of indoctrination to take hold. Until Dad gets his day in court two long weeks later, the children are isolated and their entire reality is shaped by the information they receive from their mother—the person whose purpose is is to teach the children to hate their father.
When Dad calls, Mom does not answer the phone nor will she allow the kids to know that their Dad is trying to reach them. She may be bombarding them with negative messages about how their father abandoned them, that their father is scary and will hurt them, etc. She may even keep them out of school, so that they are completely isolated from any reality other than the one she creates. She also paints herself as a victim who needs to be protected and might parentify her children and rely on them to take care of her emotionally. After two weeks, the kids might think their mother will fall apart or die if they are not there to take care of her. They might feel extremely guilty expressing anything positive toward their father.
If the children are young, they may completely adopt their mother’s warped perception of their father as all bad and scary within two weeks. By the time they go to court, the kids might really be afraid of their father (albeit irrationally and based entirely on lies with which they’ve been saturated). If the judge talks to the kids, they might express a very strong preference to stay with their mother and may reject their father.
The children may be very convincing and the judge may believe that the father has done something very harmful to the children if the judge does not know what signs to look for. Just like that, the stage is set for the remainder of the custody battle. As the case drags on and on, the father’s access to his children is limited while the mother continues her campaign of hatred against the father. It can be nearly impossible to counteract and it can happen that quickly.
Leveraging Mr. Nice Guy’s Decency Against Him
More typically, the indoctrination and alienation are more subtle and may go unnoticed until some damage is already done. Consider the following description of what is all too common in high-conflict divorce and custody cases:
Many courts have non-disparagement orders in place that order parents in a divorce or custody fight not to speak negatively of the other parent and not to discuss the litigation with the children or in their presence.
BPD/NPD’s, who are the likely perpetrators of alienation campaigns, are also the ones who are least likely to follow court orders. On the other hand, assuming the alienated parent is not personality disordered or otherwise impaired—he will be careful to follow the orders and will not speak badly of the children’s mother at all. In fact, he may even speak more positively about her than he actually feels because he recognizes the value of the children having good relationships with both parents. He might initially assume that his wife is following the orders and may not know that he is being smeared and alienated.
By the time he discovers he’s being smeared to his children (perhaps quite by accident), there’s likely already some damage done. Because he is ordered by the court not to talk to the kids about the case and because he is ordered not to disparage their mother, he keeps quiet, does not correct the lies their mother is telling them about him and does not address their uncertainties and anxieties about the lawsuit.
All the while the disordered mother continues to do exactly what she is ordered not to do; she smears Dad and can’t zip her mouth about the litigation. When talking to the children about it, she may well appear distraught, hysterical and overwrought. The kids believe her because the only information they are getting, and indeed they may be getting saturated with a constant dialogue, is about how rotten their father is while she paints herself as a victim of the legal process. Her agitation about it makes her tales of woe that much more believable to young malleable minds.
In this manner, the alienation continues right under the nose of the judge and, most of the time, Dad never even brings it up. He thinks if he keeps behaving well and does everything right, in the end he’ll win. This is a perfect example of a disordered wife leveraging a husband’s decency against him. It seems women in this situation have an instinct that they can get away with it because they know that the husband won’t retaliate or tell the kids the truth of what is happening.
Make no mistake, destroying a child’s relationship with the other parent is very abusive and can cause lifelong distress. If you are preparing to divorce a woman you suspect is high-conflict and or has one of the Cluster B personality disorders and you have young children, you could very well end up facing this situation and you must prepare yourself and your children.
Do not believe that the good guy always wins in the end, because he doesn’t. The good guy wins if he is vigilant and prepared and can prove what is happening with something more than his word against his disordered spouse’s word.
Please check back early next week to read Part 2, which will discuss some guidelines that may help prevent devastating outcomes as well as some suggestions for coping with and reversing the effects of alienation if it has already begun.
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I believe my ex is self-alienating. My kids return from every visit with her with more complaints and increased anxiety about how soon they have to go back and for how long. This presents its own set of issues in terms of attempting to be the decent guy and comply with the non-disparagement orders – I have to listen to them and I should know about what is going on with them when they seem so determined to tell me, but I walk a fine line in doing so. I actually feel bad for her. She could have a positive relationship with her children, but seems to be choosing to sabotage her relationship with them. It will destroy her greatest source of fulfillment and one of the two most important relationships they’ll ever have.
After their last visit with me they did something very troubling. At risk of self-identification I won’t be too detailed, but they started playing a game that involved 3 good characters and a bad character. I asked how this worked, since there were only two of them to play, and they said, somewhat animatedly, that I was one of the good characters too, and it was mommy who was the bad character. (!)
I immediately told them they shouldn’t do that, that that would hurt her feelings and so on. The protested that she is mean to them, and then provided details to justify themselves. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I signed and said, “I’m really sorry. That is rough” and my elder child said, “yeah, I feel sorry for me too.”
No idea how I should be dealing with this.
I had wanted to avoid this by getting custody so when divorcing I attempted to collect evidence to build a case against my ex for her abuse, violence and lack of parental fitness. I actually interpreted it then, and continue to now, as an act of respect:to the the courts, the the evaluator and to her, that I did not go in just saying anything bad about her that I could throw, but explicitly: I restrained myself to accusing her of what I could provide evidence for.
The evaluator took a different view. He seemed to take offense (described it himself that he was “provoked”) that I collected evidence against her and he wrote the evaluation in such a way as to acknowledge (only in the most general and neutralizing terms though) what couldn’t be denied about her because I had evidence, but then to use his authority to provide excuses for her bad behavior. 20 pages of excuses. Incredible. Then he recommended joint-legal/physical, 50/50. She found friends to accuse me of fictions and instead of investigating it, he just entered it into the report, verbatim, “so-and-so, friend of Mother, says so-and-so about father”.
So, now the children suffer with her as she predictably alienates them, they complain to me, and what’s to be done?
Natalie Malonis says
D, that’s rough, and I feel for you. What you describe is not too uncommon either, especially as children get a little older and are more able to recognize manipulation as well as being able to identify when they are not treated well. The fact that they even recognize it is probably a testament to you — it indicates a healthy self awareness and confidence in your children I would think.
I think comments like “I’m sorry that happened, I’m sure that doesn’t feel good” are probably right on the money, and depending on the ages of your children, it might become appropriate at some point to talk to them about behaviors of their mother’s that are inappropriate and discuss with them how to shield themselves from taking it personally and internalizing it.
That could well be the case. It was with me, in my parents’ divorce. It seems, at least in the major details (mom got custody, etc.) that the outcome of your divorce was similar to my parents. For the sake of brevity, I’ll spare you a lengthy chronicle of what life was like for us (I’m the oldest son, and have a sister 16 months younger.), but, put simply, my mother was self-alienating, as was my stepfather (One does not win points by referring to their stepchild’s father as “a piece of shit”.). For lack of a more tactful way to describe it, our father simply treated us better than our mother and stepfather. (As an addendum, I’ll add that, on a daily basis, much of this had to do with our stepfather. He wasn’t a terribly cruel man, just never a nice one; the contrast between how we were treated and how he treated our half sister was further insult. Our mother, on the other hand, was nice most of the time, but absolutely terrifying on her “bad” days, often brought on by conflict with our father, but not exclusively.) This served to make her sermons about how terrible living with our father would be (She would go on these tirades about how terribly our father would treat us, and then threaten to kick us out and make us go live with him.) ring hollow, as our experience with our dad pointed otherwise. Every screaming interrogation (These were absolutely soul crushing, sometimes lasting for hours.), accusation of not loving my mother, threat, assertion about our father that was patently and provably false, etc. served to slowly drive me away from her. For most of my childhood, had I been given the choice, I would have chosen to live with my dad, though I must stress that with other relatives and such, it’s an agonizing choice to make even amid the worst treatment, let alone the fact that children aren’t often given that choice.
As perhaps a demonstration of the impact that alienating behavior has on children, let me say this. My sister(18) was the classic “daddy’s little girl” as a child, now, for the last 2-3 years, she has cut him off, almost completely, not having seen him in over 2 years. I, on the other hand, from what I recall (It’s hard for me to recall my early life; my parents split when I was 5-6.), was closer to my mother, and remember being willing to “toe the party line” from her, but years of being the target of her wrath drove me away from her (Not that my sister was immune from this; in some ways, she may have had it worse.). I love my parents, love my mother in the sense that is expected of a child. Intellectually, I am grateful for the good things she did, but I don’t know if I feel it. Honestly, about to turn 20 years old, I’m not sure if I know what love is, how I’m supposed to feel. I have a mostly cordial relationship with my mom, save for her “bad days”, but that’s about all I can say for it. I left home at 15 for boarding school, and can’t say I ever “missed” her, as I’m told we are supposed to with parents, never felt homesick in the slightest. I can only say that I don’t feel for her in the same way that I feel about, say, my maternal (I like my dad’s parents, but don’t know them as well, didn’t meet my grandfather until I was 14 years old.) grandparents (who are about the best people I’ve met in my life, and for whom I’m grateful to have been blessed with). I’d never dare talk to her about whatever it is people talk to their parents about, like, say, if I weren’t happy. Yet, in admitting this I can all but hear the screams of “ungrateful”, or “you don’t love me”.
As for what to do, as I’m sure you’re acutely aware, there isn’t much you can do. Try not to get dragged down to her level, as your children will respect you for that, and, though it is a “mission impossible”, try not to provoke their mother’s wrath; if she’s like mine was, “round two” occurs when the children get home from your house, or she gets off the phone. Above all, and I must stress this, do not let what your children tell you get back to their mother. They will be all but crucified for their words, so be mindful of that, lest you be tempted to use what you’ve been told as “ammunition” in an argument.
Above all, I wish the best (or, more accurately, the best that can be made of this) for you and your children.
It is rare that any ‘man’ gets a fair shake in the kangaroo family court system. And if if you do (or don’t) it costs ten’s of thousands of dollars. Many sources coach women to claim abuse and attorney’s representing women do so on a regular basis in my opinion.
Men, on the other hand are coached to behave according to the principle:
“He thinks if he keeps behaving well and does everything right, in the end he’ll win. This is a perfect example of a disordered wife leveraging a husband’s decency against him.”
Nothing could be further from the truth – but truth is not one of the kangaroo family court’s objectives.
When my ex flat out chided me that “You should be thankful that I didn’t accuse you of abusing the boys” I knew how the rigged game would end.
People to this day tell me not to give up on the oldest – and most apparently most easily alienated. But I have, even though his younger brothers continue to run and jump in my arms when I pick them up just as they have always done – with the same enthusiasm the oldest once felt. It has been over five years and some still say he’ll wake up one day – but I doubt that will be the case until he has experienced the brutality of the corrupt system first-hand. Then, he’ll be left asking the question “my god, what did I do to my dad” – and no one will be there to answer that . . .
Attorneys, meh – they don’t give a sh@t as long as the checks keep rolling in.
All I can say is, “I’m sorry, friend. I think I know how you feel”. I know how it feels to be excised out of a life you brought into the world. It doesn’t seem real half the time–like a bad dream that you can just “wake up from”, and then you can go into their room and hold them close for a moment, effectively flushing the nightmare away.
It sounds like you have authentically earned your cynicism of the maternal court system. Try Utah County, Utah– District 4. It is somewhat perplexing when your insane X-wife (or Ex-wife to be) solicits gratitude from you for not being more of a beast that she already was. I encountered the same sort of insanity– the name of equanimity and justice. In my divorce trial, my 17-year-old daughter whom I had not seen more than several awkward times in 3 years was going to “testify” against me–I had no idea what she would say. What could she say? We were always tight when she was younger. My attorney argued against it, so she was not placed in that position.
Alienation is a viscous, and I am beginning to believe irreparable hate crime. Somebody give me a little hope that they will come back.
Oddly enough, I refer Dr. Tara’s blog out at least once a week to men I meet who are being shredded by a high conflict X-something or another… A grandmother shared with me today that a granddaughter who was alienated from her 19-years ago, just began showing signs of coming around. I worry, because she has a sizable estate–God, I hate to think that way—-my Mayberry view of the world seems forever gone.
I think the alienation changes everyone. The Cluster B’s wreak a special kind of emotional havoc in such a deep and abiding way. No one is ever the same after it. It is shattering. The only hope is that we talk about it. I grew up with an alcoholic father. I learned that abuse was sort of normal–though I hated it—I hated the unsettled feelings. So my remedy was: I tried to “settle” everything in my life. I became a fixer. But I still haven’t been able to fix my own heart.
I am sorry for what’s up with your oldest. I don’t think you should give up hope. Consistency, constancy, commitment and love, along with the difference in lifestyle and results that you live versus her, those all get through. It will take its own time though.
With the courts, I could write a treatise, but as a generality, I get this incredible sense of being processed. I think it is not an unreasonable expectation that anyone going to court for any circumstance should be able to expect that their case will be heard, in isolation, without reference to all the others that go before.
Unfortunately, it seems like when you walk in, you are a stranger: to the evaluators, the judge, the clerks, etc, and they don’t have much time for you, so they see you and immediately begin assigning characteristics based on stereotypes they’ve developed over their years in the field. It isn’t accurate, or fair, but for them it is efficient. Sadly even attorneys we hire to represent us do the same thing.
It takes much more work to see all of us as individuals and if there’s any hope for this system, I think it lies in a change of expectations, something like the “don’t drink and drive campaign”, that completely transforms attitudes about what is tolerable, and demands of servants of the court that they go the extra mile to treat people as individuals and take steps to neutralize their own prejudice.
Thank you for the kind thoughts – unfortunately, I am a realist and a bit of a history buff. This isn’t the first corrupt government in the history of mankind and probably won’t be the last.
On the issue of giving up all I can say is that at some point you have to for your own sake. Much like death, at some point you have to let it go or you will go insane fighting it. As far as I’m concerned the kangaroo family, and it’s attorney minions, killed my oldest son – I will not forgive that, it is my burden to bear.
As far as the courts go, you are worse than a stranger, you are a number. Faceless and anonymous, just another resource to be exploited.
3DShooter – I really wish the best for you and your family. If this hateful process or my deranged ex turned either of my children against me I think it would eat my soul apart.
There’s an article on the Spearhead about two articles, one by a Jewish scholar and the other by a Catholic scholar, that both essentially move to the gist of “deregulate marriage”. The idea seems to be that it is entirely conceivable to have the state get out of the family-definition business. One guesses the government would still exercise authority to govern, but it would be in a different province, i.e.: religions basically can peddle their own form of marriage – Catholics, Episcopals and Orthodox Christians marrying under their varieties of canon law, protestants under rules pursuant to their traditions, Jews and Muslims alike with Halachic or Sharia law governing, or at least guiding in the marriage contract, and evidently then individuals would be free to craft their own marriage contracts.
The most interesting thing about it isn’t the idea itself – which says a lot because it is a VERY interesting idea – but the interesting thing is the supposition that in the same way that the American “de-regulation” of religion has caused religion to flower in the US, where it was stiffled by government “sponsorship” in Europe, one might expect that this deregulation may actually pump new life into marriage and powerfully strengthen it as an institution.
To my mind, this seems like a strong case. Probably not strong enough by itself to get political will to cast our the marriage-legal-industrial complex, but, no pun intended, if you could get churches, synagogues, etc to “get religion” on the point, there may be some hope because they can organize at the polls.
And there’s a lot in this for religions I think. In 2010, it is getting much harder to sell a religious product. Marriage, with successful and happy families though – that is one helluva product. It really says “results”, i.e.: no matter what disagreements or criticisms you have for our religious practices, failures or dogmas, check it out: we make good families with successful children.
I think religions with a strong marriage and family tradition and with a history of families in their number rising through the economic echelons in practice of the values that they believe in – these have everything to gain and nothing to lose from marriage deregulation. So, who knows, for us personally we have to fight our battles, but for society there may be glimmers of hope.
Thank you again for your thoughts. In fact, the-spearhead.com is how I found this site as a regular reader from early on. A good place for unwashed men’s opinons (though mostly from a younger crowd than myself – that’s ok though, I highly recommend it).
It has long been my position that government has no legitimate authority intervening in interpersonal relationships. Neither marriage nor divorce are in the enumerated powers of government. Like many things government, it has been a ‘progressive’ mission creep that is bringing barbs to bear. Don’t expect Ms. Malonis, or any other family law practitioner, to address this third rail issue.
As an atheist I have no religious argument one way or another – though marriage, by tradition has been a religious institution. Just as many of the religious tenets are viable across religions (most of the ten commandments), and non-religions, the concepts of family once were held as such in my opinion. In fact my belief in family was the last of any beliefs I held to be valid. In the end, government perverts all it touches and now that is mostly lost as well.
This is why I will always be a burr under anY family law attorney’s saddle (I’ve certainly pissed off several of them) – they simply will not force the issue of legitimate authority. To them, legitimate governing authority is a du jur concept not based in any concrete ideal. It is fungible to make ‘the bottom line’.
Your characterization of the ‘marriage-legal-industrial-complex’ is appropriate as, since the last time I searched such data, it is a six billion dollar per year enterprise. And I believe that excludes the Title IV-D largess doled out to states based on child support awards and and the fees accrued by the pseudo-psychiatric evaluator communities.
While we might disagree regarding the role of religion in strong families, we could probably agree that a father figure, as head of household, is a key element. That is what has been undermined and society is in decline as a direct result.
Interesting and provocative, 3DShooter. As a man of faith, I am always delighted when I can so delightedly agree with an atheist. Foxholes…
Wow, talk about hitting the nail on the head! You almost described exactly how my experience has been dealing with my BPD ex, family court services, and the legal system in general. The only difference out here in California, instead of taking two weeks to get in front of a judge, it takes about two and a half months. This is even more time to allow the alienator to do their damage. I am so eagerly awaiting part two of this article as I am currently in the middle of this right now. I have been very frustrated in how the whole system is very reluctant to do anything to stop the alienator, even when evidence is in front of them, including some mental health professionals. I feel at such a disadvantage when I am the only one playing by the rules. What also makes my situation more difficult is that my BPD ex is highly functional. In other words, she knows when to behave and can keep it together when she needs to. She is able to portray herself as the innocent victim when in front of our child’s psychologist and the judge. Meanwhile, her smear campaign only continues to wage on against me. I tend to believe that a big reason why parental alienation exists and is so prevalent is that it’s effective (from the perspective of the alienator) and there are virtually no consequences for this bad behavior. Crime pays. I recognize that this is horrible for our son, but from the alienator’s perspective they often get rewarded with more visitation of the alienated child and perhaps even greater child support! They are also rewarded by very effectively severely punishing the targeted parent. I tend to think that if there were some serious repercussions for this type of parental alienation behavior, it could be greatly reduced. I can’t wait for part 2. I’m on the edge of my chair!
I’ve read in some articles on the web (though I recognise the sources may not be reliable) that in some states in the US, a family law attorney hired by a divorcing mother can actually be successfully sued by said mother for professional misconduct later on if in the early stages the attorney does not inform the mother of the highly likely (read almost certain) strategic gains to be had by means of a timely tactical abuse allegation.
CK in Philly says
What we need to do as fathers is FIGHT. My custody evaluation is coming to an end and hopefully my custody situation will be resolved shortly. The system absolutely does not work in the best interests of OUR children… and frankly, no person, psychologist, evaluator, judge… nobody… should ever have the power to tell us when and how often we see our children. Period. In cases of abuse and/or neglect, absolutely. But guys like many of us – guys who want nothing more than to be fathers to our children and to escape a life of misery with our HCP ex – should never be caught up in this system of doling out custody based on somebody elses “opinion” which, all too often, is based mostly on lies and the malicious intent of our exes.
I have read so many – too many – horror stories about how fathers get mobbed by the “system.” I don’t know how it’s going to pan out for me yet. But whatever happens, I will be joining every father’s rights group I can, and perhaps may start one in my county. THIS IS OUR CHARGE, DADS. It is our responsibility to do what we can not only to defend ourselves, but to defend future dads and kids who find themselves trapped in this corrupt system. We all have to be the William Wallaces of father’s rights – which are also children’s rights.
Right On, CK. Right on!!
“Every father’s rights group” – I think you hit the nail on the head there CK. There are too many, too disparate, reducing the chance for achieveing critical mass and potential lobbying power necessary. Something needs to be done to bring them together.
A good friend of mine discovered this site and shared it with me. I thank God for this website. I thought I was alone on an island, lost and perplexed as to why my kids were rejecting me. My visitation “rights” with my 3 children are every other wknd. I have been divorced for 10 years now. My children were very young – 2,6,9. When my middle child, a girl, was 10, it began. She started showing signs that she simply did not want to see me anymore. She left VM’s, wrote me letters, cried and shook in fear when she was with me. By the time she was 13, I decided to grant her her wish not to see me. I figured she’d come around. I’m her Daddy. I love her! I was very naive and WRONG. It has been 3 years and she refuses to speak or see me. She’s told everyone that she’s changing her last name to her step dad’s name when she turns 18. Yes everyone tells me she’ll come back some day. That gives me no comfort. My youngest (boy) and I have been as tight as you can be in a father son relationship over the last 10 years….Until suddenly 2 months ago he too expressed his desire to never see me again. Hmmm this seems all too familiar. This site has opened my eyes as to what is happening. It is VERY clear that this is a text book case of Parental alienation. There are several examples in the articles that I’ve EXPERIENCED. It’s almost scary how dead on it is. Curiously my oldest (young man) is 18 and never bought into this. We have a good relationship. Parental alienation is abuse at it’s highest level. The most frustrating aspect is the Mother not aware of what she is doing and the courts don’t recognize it.
My Ex-wife would not let me see my boys… At the first 4 way she wanted me to have only 15 minutes of supervised visits.. Even her lawyer said no.. I got to see them for 1 hour the next day. She called and ask me to meet her at McDonalds.. After I got the boys out of the car.. she started a fight and told me I will never see the boys. She started yelling assault and called 911… They did not arrest me but the next day my ex filed a restraining order against me and I lost my boys.
I finally started to get to see them for an hour twice a week a few weeks later.
My youngest boy who was 4 at that time kept running away from me. yelling.. go away stupid we dont want you. You are not are dad anymore Jason is.. Jason loves me.. mama loves jason jason loves mama.. we don’t want you.. I hate you..
after six months my youngest does do that any more but the alienation has turn passive.. He tells that to my friends that I am not his dad.. Jason is his dad but I have to call him dad when I am near him. He does try to call me by my first name but I got him to stop.
I am always fighting my ex wife with something.. She is relentless and I don’t understand why she just can’t let me have a relationship with my sons.
Before I found out about the affair.. she would be telling me she would find a good husband and father for the boys.. I did not know what to do, but I guess she was telling she already did.