Children of Divorce

Today, in the Los Angeles Times there’s a short blurb about a Washington State man charged with assault for branding his three children.  Yes, branding…as in what one does to cattle.  Divorced dad Mark Seamand branded all three of his kids with the letters “SK” as in “Seamands Kids.”  His oldest who is 18 gave her consent and the younger sons will testify in their dad’s defense.  They are “proud of their brands.”    Needless to say, Mom was shocked.

In my own practice, I’ve seen a lot.  Only recently, the son of client mater-of-factly disclosed that his mom uses handcuffs on his three year old and eighteen month old brothers to “keep them from touching stuff.”

Another child reports that he smoked “pot” with his dad to be cool.  Yet another was promised new breasts at sixteen if she lived with that parent.

Although the foregoing seems out of the realm of the usual, it’s only a short step from the usual techniques of persuasion by a parent in trying to convince a child to choose one parent over the other.  Parents of divorce get caught up in ownership over their children. 

 Literary research substantiates the detrimental and life long psychological effect.  In 2008 the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) declared a public health crisis and resolved to improve the live of children and families through the resolution of family conflict.

In California the Elkins Family Law Task Force made recommendations to revamp divorce court with a focus on reducing conflict, streamlining the process, and protecting children.  The courts are just now starting to make changes in spite of the severe reduction of financial resources.

Approximately fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. California has about 9.5 million children and half are impacted by their parent’s actions because of divorce, domestic violence or paternity cases.

This new direction will focus on protecting our children and giving them a voice.  Finally.

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Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Parental Alienation

Judges often say that while only 10% of their cases are high conflict custody they take up 90% of the court’s time.  High conflict custody cases are emotionally charged and complex proceedings.   My area of expertise are those 10% cases.   My psych education and work gives me an advantage because those high conflict cases generally involve psych issues.  Often one spouse, or both, will have a personality disorder or engage in parental alienation tactics. 

Parental alienation (PA) is a concept developed by Dr. Richard Gardner who coined the term Parental Alienation Syndrome.  It is a combination of parental programming and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the targeted parent.  If you google parental alienation there’s a plethora of information on the subject too expansive to go into detail here.

 In PA cases, the alienating parent uses denigration, depreciation, and harsh criticism to destroy a child’s affection for the targeted parent.  The parents become polarized and the child is caught in the middle.  This is called “triangulation.”  Oftentimes the child will emotionally detach from the targeted parent and move towards the alienating parent.  The alignment is often out of emotional survival.

Time is the enemy of the targeted parent.  Unfortunately, the courts are bogged down and matters get delayed.  It is important to get an immediate order for a child custody evaluation with a court appointed psychologist.  Every court maintains a list of qualified experts that are appointed by the court to assess the parties and their children and to make recommendations to the court.

The other critical order to get is one for the appointment of a therapist for the child who is trained in and understands parental alienation.  Usually the court approved panel of experts will have the requisite training. 

Most importantly is coaching the targeted parent on how to respond to the child’s brainwashed statements or aggressive behavior.  Children who were once sweet and obedient may become depressed, angry, destructive or refuse to visit.  I advise my clients that under no circumstances can they denigrate or discuss the other parent’s tactics with the child because it only causes the child to defend the alienating parent and to align with him or her further.  There are specific techniques unique to the situation that need to be employed by the targeted parent.  I recommend individual counseling for the parent and reading books that explain the process to coach them through the experience. 

If the parent takes the high road, role models being a great parent and provides unconditional love, the child will be less likely to stay entrenched with the alienator.  Remember, the alienator’s relationship with their child is not founded in love, it’s conditioned on the child’s hatred of the targeted parent.  Over time a child generally will want to be with a loving, authentic parent and not be with an angry, denigrating one.  Denigration of a parent to a child is actually denigration of the child in his or her mind.  It’s emotionally abusive.

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 3:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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