“Mr. Beaver, several years ago you wrote a story about a family going through a divorce where the mother and her lawyer did all they could to destroy the children’s relationship with their father. I kept it, fearful that something like this could happen to me.
“In your article, the brother and sister wanted to live with their father, but from age 12 to the time they left the house, mom cut off all contact with dad. They never received his birthday cards or Christmas presents.
“It was only when they grew up and discovered mom’s evil behavior that they realized dad loved them and mom deprived them of that love and his presence in their lives.
“Your story ended with the brother and sister visiting your office the day before Thanksgiving and thanking you for trying to get them visitation with dad. I had to grab a box of Kleenex with the story’s ending. The kids–now young adults–told you they would be spending this Thanksgiving with him as it will be his last. He was terminally ill with cancer.
“My greatest fears are coming true, as my ex is doing the same thing with our three children, all under 13 years of age. She is manipulative and is poisoning them against me. Is there a legal term for this and what should any parent in my situation do to save their relationship with the kids? Thanks, Tony.”
It is Called Parental Alienation
I ran Tony’s question by Ann Arbor, Michigan-based family law attorney Ashish S. Joshi, and asked, “Is there a legal term to describe this type of behavior by one parent who is trying to sabotage the children’s relationship with the other?”
Joshi is recognized as an expert litigator in dealing with these kinds of sick-parenting cases and immediately replied, “Your reader is describing what the courts refer to as parental alienation. Regardless of what you call it —brainwashing, programming, or pathological parenting—American family courts understand that parental alienation exists.
“In far too many divorces it becomes ‘open season’ for manipulating children’s feeling towards the other parent which risks the creation of emotionally disabled adults down the road,” he stressed.
Spectrum of Post-Divorce Parental Relationships
“Ideally, a divorcing couple wants a healthy closure of the marriage, and for the children to have a positive relationship with both parents. Fortunately, most post-divorce children fit into that category, which is the healthy end of that spectrum,” Joshi observes.
But at the other end?
“It is an unhealthy, pathological situation where a child is groomed to reject a parent. The rejection is unequivocal, absolute and without justification. When there is no rational basis for the children to erase the other parent from their lives–we are then facing the phenomenon known as ‘parental alienation,’ where they have been poisoned against the non-custodial parent,” he points out, adding, “It is a declaration of war by one parent against the other.
“The goal is clear: complete and utter annihilation of the target parent’s relationship with the child. For litigants who are caught up in the tentacles of the alienation monster and attempt to seek relief from the family court system, the words of actor Alex Baldwin ring true:
‘To be pulled into the American family law system in most states is like being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel road late at night. No one can hear your cries and complaints. And it is not over until they say it is over.’
What are the Remedies a Parent can Seek?
I learned from Joshi that the alienated parent must:
(1) Research the topic to become familiar with the concepts and be aware that it is considered as child abuse.“There is a great deal of information online that will help a parent understand and articulate what is happening.”
(2) Find a lawyer specialized in this area. “Most family law attorneys are neither knowledgeable nor trained to handle these cases. You need a lawyer who gets the right kind of scientific evidence before the court.”
(3) Be aware that the number one mistake made by both parents and lawyers is to deny the severity of the issue, for example, being told, “Teenagers do it all the time.” No, they do not unless put up to slamming the door shut in the face of the other parent.
(4) Realize that many lawyers do not understand parental alienation and recommend therapy. “So often, the wronged parent is not listened to. Therapy is not the solution. Often, contempt of court is.”
Concluding our interview, Joshi pointed out that, “Even kids who do well in school suffer severe psychological damage from losing contact with a parent.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.