I have met and heard the tragic stories of many parents. PA is a function, by and large, of a custodial ex-partner, although some alienation can start while the couple is still together.

This blog is a story of experiences and observations of dysfunctional Family Law (FLAW), an arena pitting parent against parent, with children as the prize. Due to the gender bias in Family Law, that I have observed, this Blog has evolved from a focus solely on PA to one of the broader Family/Children's Rights area and the impact of Feminist mythology on Canadian Jurisprudence and the Divorce Industry.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In Australia ~ Anti-violence campaign hails attitude shift on violence against males

03 Dec 2009 7:38 AM

One in Three Victims of Family Violence is Male

Media release - for immediate release - Thursday December 3rd 2009

Anti-violence campaign hails attitude shift on violence against males

More than twice as many people now think women are just as likely to commit domestic violence as men.

Over the past fourteen years, the number has risen from 9 to 22 percent of the population and a further 46 percent now accept women also commit acts of domestic violence, although this group still believes men commit the majority of abuse.

The findings come from a survey of more than 10,000 Australians commissioned by the Federal Government and released last week by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to mark White Ribbon Day.

The survey also found that 38 per cent of males and 46 per cent of females thought the level of fear experienced by domestic violence victims was the same for males and females.

One in Three Campaign spokesperson Greg Andresen said he was very pleased to see that Australian community beliefs about violence were falling into line with the research statistics on the issue.

"All the major recent community surveys, as well as crime, homicide, hospital and violence-order statistics reflect the fact that up to one in three victims of sexual assault and at least one in three victims of family violence and abuse are male. It's very pleasing to see that attitudes held by Australians are finally acknowledging that family violence is a two-way street," Mr Andresen said.

Male victims of family violence are much less likely than women to report their abuse. One of the barriers to disclosing often faced by men is the fact that they are frequently disbelieved, ridiculed or blamed when they finally summon up the courage to talk to the police, health professionals, friends or family members.

"With two out of three Australians now acknowledging that males can be victims of family violence, men are more likely to find a sympathetic, believing ear when they talk about their experiences of being abused by a woman in their life," said Mr Andresen.

"This of course is incredibly supporting and validating for the men themselves and will hopefully mean that more men in the future will report their abuse. Ideally this would lead to the establishment of more services for male victims of family violence which are practically non-existent at present."

The limited qualitative Australian research available on male victims shows that "perpetual fear and being 'on guard' were experienced by most [battered men surveyed]". A large recent Canadian study found that victimisation by repeated, severe, fear-inducing, instrumental violence was reported by 2.6% of men and 4.2% of women in the last five years.

International research shows that the overall physical and psychological effects of domestic violence are similar for men and women. Women and men who use violence hurt their partners in similar ways (kicking, biting, punching, choking, stabbing, burning), however men are as likely or significantly more likely than women to experience assaults using a weapon. Perhaps because of this, male victims are more likely to suffer serious injuries, while female victims are more likely to suffer minor injuries.

The One in Three Campaign aims to raise public awareness of the existence and needs of male victims of family violence and abuse; to work with government and non-government services alike to provide assistance to male victims; and to reduce the incidence and impacts of family violence on Australian men, women and children.


Greg Andresen, One in Three spokesperson and senior researcher, 0403 813 925, info@oneinthree.com.au

In the UK ~ He stole my son, now I'm alone in hell

Abduction is clearly a part of the alienation process and does happen all too frequently. It is beyond the ken of mere mortals to try and understand why one parent is so bent on destroying the relationship of a child with the other parent. Some astute judges, like Gomery, can see this most do not. Gomery also had the benefit of expert witnesses which most of us cannot afford. It is easily discerned the alienator's hatred or jealousy of their former partner is far greater than the love of the child. Dr. Amy Baker's research has found adult children who were alienated are never the same emotionally. Think about it. The child is made to believe 50% of their heritage is somehow inferior. What does just that alone do to their self esteem let alone their relationships with others.MJM

Hundreds of children in the UK are abducted and taken abroad each year, often by an ex-partner. Why can’t the law get them back?

Young boy at the airport

I used to be a mother. And now I’m not. I am nothing.

My son Joe, aged 12, went overseas to visit his father in the US for the summer of 2007 and never came back. The day he left we had breakfast, went for a swim, played cards, ordered a pizza. He is a talented child and had won a scholarship to a new school. “September can’t come fast enough,” he said. Halfway into the holiday, e-mail, phone and Skype contact stopped.

Weeks later, I had a call from his father to say that he wasn’t coming back.

This afternoon, in the grimly festive setting of Town Hall Square in Leicester, 1,000 balloons will be released to remember my son and 999 other children who won’t be home this Christmas. It is an annual event organised by the strong but optimistically named Reunite, the UK charity that specialises in international parental child abduction.

The day starts with discussions with case officers and experts from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice, and ends with mince pies and a lonely journey home. There are success stories, thank god — the return from Morocco of Carene and Shelby Crofts to their grandmother in Blackpool this week after three and a half months shows how effective the legal mechanism can be. However, there are also a lot of familiar faces: people I now know, with children somewhere in — they think — Germany, China, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and the US. For most of us, this bleak state of life suspended, this turbulent, frustrating, nightmare existence, came out of the blue.

My case was registered as an international child abduction by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. I filed for my son’s return and waited. After ten weeks without contact, I flew over. During those weeks, it transpired, Joe had been suffering from nightmares and stomach pains, so his father had engaged and briefed a child psychologist to help him to settle into his “new life”, a new school and new routine. His father had “explained” to the psychologist that I was the cause of Joe’s pain and, without meeting me or contacting me, the psychologist began what became an irreversible, irreparable process by advising the lawyers acting for both sides that, as my son had this apparent fear of me, access — if any — should be short and supervised. Accordingly, I saw Joe for an hour and a quarter in a cafĂ©. His father sat by the exit, within earshot, on guard. Afterwards I sat, crying, on the edge of the bed in my hotel room, where I paced around alone for a week, waiting for the chance to see him again.

Each night I was told that he had homework, a martial arts class, a film to see, band practice — something that took precedence. I felt desperate and humiliated. On the last day I was allowed to take him to a baseball game; his father waited by the turnstiles and reassured him, theatrically, that he’d be safe. I would give my life to protect my son, yet here he was being “protected” from the fabricated danger that I presented. I longed to hug him. He was anxious, distrustful, wouldn’t meet my eye.

Alienation had begun.

The alienation of child from parent, a tool in many bitter custody battles, is often part and parcel of abduction, the severing of the emotional bond compounding and reinforcing the physical loss, the silence, the emptiness, to a point where it is too, too hard to bear.

Once you lose your child, things work against you — specifically, time. The longer an abductor manages to keep a child, the less likely a judge is to uproot that child, even to right a wrong.

So began an experience that was both typical and Kafkaesque: A passport “lost” before the court-ordered visit, agreements for access ignored, tickets for a visit to England unused, the submission of false affidavits, allegations of abuse (these, at least, quickly withdrawn), hearings adjourned because of this and that. Each time I felt that I had reached the bottom, there was a further drop — and through it all I never saw my son or spoke to him, never had e-mails answered or my calls picked up. Time allows an abducting parent the space to alienate a child, and after six months Joe didn’t want to see me anyway because things were too difficult, too fraught. Job done. “And I’m not going to force him to,” said his father.

Working with the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, Reunite International Child Abduction Centre is the leading UK charity for international parental child abduction. Between January and October this year, its advice line handled 269 abduction cases involving 386 children.

In the balloon launch at Reunite’s December event, each balloon disappears into the ether with a heartbreaking message (“To my beautiful girls, it has been two years, I love you so much, Mummy”; “I think of you every minute of every day”; and mine: “Merry Christmas, my darling boy”) attached. Some people go every year.

Unless your child has been taken to a country that has not ratified the Hague Convention — Bangladesh, say, or Iraq — the Ministry of Justice has a system in place that in theory should ensure his or her swift return. In practice it is riddled with loopholes and easily sabotaged.

You will be wondering what I had done. The answer, honestly, is nothing. My partner and I split up when Joe was 3. He went abroad to live with the person with whom he was having an affair. It wasn’t easy between us and he didn’t support us, although in other ways he was a good and loving father.

We had quickly established and stuck to a routine. I had sole custody; Joe lived with me but spent holidays with his father and was free to call him whenever he wanted. He was an enormously affectionate child. He would look forward to seeing his father and then, after his visit, say how happy he was to be home. I thought that this was how it should be: no conflict, no tug of war. An achievement.

My relationship with Joe broke down in my absence, thousands of miles away in a place where I couldn’t reach him.

The late Dr Richard Gardner, who coined the phrase “parental alienation” in 1985, described it as the programming of a child by one parent to denigrate the other. In other words, your child is turned into a weapon against you, corrupted into sharing the abducting parent’s psychosis and suppressing their feelings in favour of that parent’s perspective, so as to please them and — having lost the other parent — keep them.

“Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) children often add their own scenarios to the campaign of denigration, from a recognition that their contributions are desired by the programmer,” said Dr Gardner. “The result is a spiralling campaign. The child is taught to disrespect, disagree with and even act antagonistically to the targeted parent. In extreme cases, they appear to forget all positive, loving experiences that they have had with the targeted parent.”

It is a series of devious and destructive manoeuvres. One parent has to be idealised, the other has to be hateful. No ambivalence is possible. For Joe to accept his new life without question or stress, it was easiest for him to cut me — and his grandparents, cousins and friends — out of it.

I understand how it works but it is difficult to endure. I sit in his room, I look at his books and posters, touch his clothes — now all too small. I look at the pictures of him, me, his father, on the wall, and I listen to the absence of my son.

Says one parent: “The effects of PA have been likened to bereavement without end. Every day is a new loss. The parent is barred from every milestone, every experience, every special occasion. It is a life sentence of overwhelming sadness.”

I began to read case briefs and reports and realised that, regardless of the age of the child and the sex and nationality of the alienating parent, every case sounded like mine, from the tactics and excuses used to things that Joe had said to me.

Like a disease, alienation has an incubation period and symptoms. Dr Gardner listed these, from the campaign of denigration to absurd rationalisations for refusing contact, lack of ambivalence, absence of guilt, borrowed scenarios and so forth. Not only was parental alienation a syndrome, he said, but one with “a consistency [that] results in PAS children resembling one another”. His view, now commonly held, is that PAS can be diagnosed quite easily. You’d think it would be possible to find a cure.

Without intervention, the impact on a child can be dire. “Hatred does not come naturally to a child. It has to be taught,” says the Canadian judge Justice John Gomery. “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.”

Dr Ludwig Lowenstein, a UK-based forensic psychologist and expert on PAS, says: “Children are encouraged to treat the alienated parent with a lack of respect. Commonly, they will pretend to hate that parent when in fact they do not — so they have practised deception to placate the alienator. This can create such an unhappy situation for the child that he or she panics when asked to visit the alienated parent.”

The child feels guilty because, deep down, he or she knows that the parent who has been ostracised has done nothing to deserve unkind treatment.

Despite such testimony from experts, PAS has not yet been accepted as a “condition” by the American Psychological Association or the British Psychological Society. Until it is, few family courts will issue orders for mediation, therapy or the removal of a child. The problem is exacerbated because British courts attach great importance to the views of children deemed mature enough to hold them — or, as Tony Coe, of the Equal Parenting Council, says, “they abdicate responsibility to children”.

“British courts are way behind American courts in this respect,” says Dr Lowenstein. “They take the child’s statement as final and there’s no going back to find out why the child feels that way.

“Most judges have no understanding of parental alienation. They act on decisions that the child has made based on the indoctrination that he or she has received, when that child should actually be treated for abuse.”

To know that your child is suffering, yet have no legal recourse to remove that suffering, is torturous. Frustrated parents are powerless to do right. One psychologist talks of a woman who presents herself to the court in a way that suggests she is mentally disturbed — but that disturbance, he says, is largely because she has had no contact with her children. A rational, calm parent is often seen as calculating or manipulative. Attempt to contact your child and you risk an accusation of causing guilt; stop trying to make contact and you will be cited in court for abandonment.

If the abuse was physical or sexual, courts would act quickly to award primary custody to the non-abusing parent. Emotional abuse is more difficult to assess, but there is consensus that PAS is easily identified and the damage it causes extreme, yet few judges will issue court orders with “teeth”.

The problem is that when a parent is recalcitrant, the legal solution seems draconian. Although courts, mainly in the US and Canada, are increasingly ordering the removal of children, such rulings are deemed extreme. When, as is more usual, mediation or therapy is ordered — as it was for my son — there is no means of enforcing it. Brief hope withers.

Writing in the journal Family Law in 1998, Dr Susan Maidment, a barrister, said: “If parental alienation syndrome continues to be unrecognised ... the worthy spirit of the law will fail those whom it is beholden to protect.”

There is increasing pressure on the judiciary to adopt a firmer approach — but, in the meantime, childhoods pass quickly and there is no second chance to make them happy. One father describes being “held hostage by our legal system, forced to sit back and watch the relationship with my daughter be destroyed”.

For the first eight months or so I was told to never give up, that Joe would come home. Now I am told there is a good chance that when he has grown up, he will understand what happened and seek me out. Stories of children finding drawers full of old plane tickets and unopened letters from parents who they thought no longer loved them are commonplace — but it’s not enough, is it?

In 19 months, the son I raised alone and I have spent a total of four days together. We have had two phone conversations in ten months. I encouraged him to have a relationship with his father because I believed — still believe — that a child has the right to love both parents wholeheartedly. I wanted him to be stable, confident, happy, carefree and morally grounded, to have no regrets and a clear run at whatever his ambition would turn out to be. I was doing a good job but I hadn’t finished. I had a responsibility to keep him safe and I have failed.

I hate myself for having subdued every natural instinct in me by following the legal process. The law has loopholes and we have fallen through them. I heard about parents who showed up with police at the doors of ex-partners and removed their children forcibly. I should have done that. I had a legal right to do that. But I was frightened of causing a scene, of the effect on my son, of being rejected.

From a purely selfish perspective, I have no one now who wants or needs me to advise, soothe or comfort them; to rein them in or big them up, to offer unconditional love, the benefit of experience, guidance, that sort of thing. And I don’t know what to do with all that superfluous care.

I realise that Joe and I would have pulled our separate ways soon enough and got on with our separate futures, but we could have met up on the common ground of a shared, untroubled past. The abduction and alienation destroyed our home, our relationship, our plans for the immediate future — and our past life, which has been wiped from memory.

We had laid a foundation together, the tamped-down sediment of small things: fears conquered, milestone achievements, silly jokes and inconsequential moments. That was our common ground, our safe place, a tie that binds, the place where we would meet whenever, forever, in life. And it’s gone.

Reunite International Child Abduction Centre: www.reunite.org Reunite advice line: 01162 556234 Two UK support groups that help parents to cope with PAS are MATCH (www.matchmothers.org ) and FNF (www.fnf.org.uk)

Who are the child stealers?

798 offences of child abduction were found between 2002 and 2003 by a study of every police force in England and Wales — although the true figure may be much higher. Of these, nearly a quarter were by a natural parent or guardian. Almost half the children taken were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

336 children were illegally abducted from the UK and taken abroad last year. Their most common destination was Pakistan (30 cases), then the US (23), Ireland (22) and Spain (21).

93 per cent has been the rise in the number of child abductions from Britain since 1995, reflecting a rise in transnational marriages, more people working abroad on short-term contracts and more changing their country of residence.

40 per cent of cases last year involved children being taken to countries that have not signed up to the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires abductors to return children to their country of residence.

Japan is the only G7 country not to have signed the 1980 Hague Convention. Its courts do not recognise parental child abduction as a crime and routinely rule in favour of the Japanese parent and against the “left-behind parent”. Since 2003 there have been 37 cases in Japan involving British nationals: none has been resolved.

Islamic countries with Sharia law, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, prioritise male parental rights, making it nearly impossible for mothers to get their abducted children back.

Russia is another abduction hotspot. It also has not signed the 1980 treaty.

Chloe Lambert

Sources: FCO, Reunite, PACT


A Feminist Rant from McGill University ~ OFF THE BOARD: The fight for men's rights

My response to a Feminist rant in the McGill University Newspaper is below the article.MJM

Carolyn Gregoire | Published: 12/1/09

Discrimination against men has, understandably perhaps, never occupied a prominent position on the feminist agenda. Recently, however, the rise of the men's rights movement has led men's rights groups and feminists alike to call issues specific to male identity into question. A recent article on Slate's women-oriented webzine DoubleX entitled "Men's Rights Groups are Becoming Frighteningly Effective" has spurred contentious debate extending beyond the feminist blogosphere as to whether feminism should encompass issues of men's rights. The article was triggered by the actions of men's activist group RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) who gathered in Washington this October to lobby against issues such as false allegations of rape and domestic violence, unrecognized domestic violence against men, and child custody rights for divorced fathers. Many women, and not only those who identify as feminists, are outraged by the measures these groups have taken. Rather than addressing the negative impact that patriarchy and gender stereotypes have on men and calling for change, RADAR chooses instead to undermine the prevalence of rape and domestic violence against women. Relying on hyperbolic claims and sensationalism - suggesting, for instance, that domestic violence laws represent "the largest regression in civil rights since the Jim Crow era" - RADAR succeeded in blocking the passage of several domestic violence bills, such as the Violence Against Women act. It is also worth noting that many of the movement's leaders are themselves accused batterers. Though issues of men's rights and injustice towards men deserve attention, the anti-feminist approach employed by RADAR and many other men's rights groups in battling these issues is counterproductive and alarmingly reactionary. RADAR's attempt to take funding away from "discriminatory" women's-only shelters, rather than fighting for resources for male victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment, epitomizes this ineffectual methodology. While it's true that all human rights are men's rights and that history is essentially a men's rights movement, discrimination against men should be a feminist concern because male and female rights are inextricably intertwined. Though a patriarchal society operates for male benefit, societal standards of masculinity are also harmful to men in real ways which deserve to be acknowledged. Rigid definitions of masculinity which narrowly cast men into aggressive, machismo, bread-winning roles are damaging to men, and further, they are damaging to men in ways that are also damaging to women. Following this line of reasoning, many feminists fight for fathers' rights as a means of countering the socially sanctioned notion that nurturer or caregiver must be a female-occupied role. A central objective of the feminist movement is debunking gender stereotypes, even when they apply only to men. Male victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape deserve to be recognized and taken seriously, mothers should not be unjustly favoured over fathers in child custody proceedings, and individuals of both genders do not deserve to be systemically limited and harmed by rigid social definitions of masculinity. Feminist concerns and men's rights are not mutually exclusive, and should meet on the common ground of seeking gender equality - the irony of it all is that we're both fighting the same battle. As feminist Gloria Anzaldua suggests, "Men, even more than women, are fettered to gender roles … We need a new masculinity and the new man needs a movement. While it's true that all human rights are men's rights and that history is essentially a men's rights movement, discrimination against men should be a feminist concern because male and female rights are inextricably intertwined. Though a patriarchal society operates for male benefit, societal standards of masculinity are also harmful to men in real ways which deserve to be acknowledged. Rigid definitions of masculinity which narrowly cast men into aggressive, machismo, bread-winning roles are damaging to men, and further, they are damaging to men in ways that are also damaging to women. Following this line of reasoning, many feminists fight for fathers' rights as a means of countering the socially sanctioned notion that nurturer or caregiver must be a female-occupied role. A central objective of the feminist movement is debunking gender stereotypes, even when they apply only to men. Male victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape deserve to be recognized and taken seriously, mothers should not be unjustly favoured over fathers in child custody proceedings, and individuals of both genders do not deserve to be systemically limited and harmed by rigid social definitions of masculinity. Feminist concerns and men's rights are not mutually exclusive, and should meet on the common ground of seeking gender equality - the irony of it all is that we're both fighting the same battle. As feminist Gloria Anzaldua suggests, "Men, even more than women, are fettered to gender roles … We need a new masculinity and the new man needs a movement." http://www.mcgilltribune.com/home/index.cfm?event=displayArticle&ustory_id=6ae2c632-12be-4a4c-9c7c-842b184b7297 ….feminism should encompass issues of men's rights. Several flavours of feminism have been identified over the years and the movement seems somewhat splintered and indeed incoherent. The current flavour encompassing Victimization is the loudest and most pervasive. This version is narcissistic, propagandist, mendacious, and not entirely adult in its approach. After all if the premise women are always victims at the hands of the patriarchy strikes me that you are mere children in adult bodies requiring the nanny state to be your new “patriarch”. You have simply requested a new protector of a collective sort which is in keeping with the Marxist roots of feminism. In short your narcissistic notion that any flavour of feminism could encompass men’s rights issues is “dreaming” out loud. Here are a few samples of today’s flavours of Feminism: Victim Feminism: – the 3rd wave relying on the psycho babble of the Duluth Wheel that all men (patriarchy) are oppressors and all women victims. Maternalist: A virulent strain of feminist supremacy specializing in custody by moms only and in some cases as a lunatic fringe of moms who lost custody and cannot get over it. These tend to be the ones who will quickly slime anyone, male or female, who disagree with their premise and will spend inordinate amounts of time, using taxpayer resources, to research their foe and create hate websites vilifying these enemies. If you visit their blogs you will understand better why they lost custody. Lifeboat Feminist: If on a boat and it starts sinking they will rationalize they are more than equal to or greater than men. The men will give up their lives as they always have but the LBF rationalizes someone has to raise the children and they are more qualified. Equality isn't really their goal it is supremacy. They cannot walk the walk but can spin a good yarn to try and talk the talk about equality. This term has its roots from a brave Irish Independence newspaper columnist named Kevin Myers. Gender Feminist: This appears to be the author’s category. It is clear there are no gender roles with exceptions of course, one of which is related to custody of children, where women are supreme and men incompetent. They are full of contradictions, one of which was just described, and a most confusing breed of female. Equalist Feminist: The original flavour which few will disagree with. The rest are Real Women: The vast majority who need no ideology to know they are equal and go through life unfettered by any ideology and some even decide to be stay-at-home parents . In other words until you get your act together in the feminist movement platitudinous statements about encompassing men’s rights are blather. “… RADAR succeeded in blocking the passage of several domestic violence bills, such as the Violence Against Women act.” Last time I checked this regressive and blatantly discriminatory act still exists. Your lack of research is typical, however, of feminist rants which are much adieu about nothing. It is one of the most regressive acts in the modern history of a western democracy. It is built on feminist mendacity some of which is evident in this article based on nothing but supposition such as: “It is also worth noting that many of the movement's leaders are themselves accused batterers. .” Your credibility sits at Zero but then what else is new when we see feminism doing its “dirty work.” “…the anti-feminist approach employed by RADAR and many other men's rights groups in battling these issues is counterproductive and alarmingly reactionary." Here is a quote from one of your predecessors and please absorb its meaning in the context of this silly and naive remark of yours. "Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women's movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage." Sheila Cronin, prominent member of NOW What was that you were saying about hyperbole? “RADAR's attempt to take funding away from "discriminatory" women's-only shelters, rather than fighting for resources for male victims” So the way forward is to hoard your resources even if you recognize a need for someone else needing help. A very feminist approach but not very “motherly” don’t you think. As a movement you need to get your act together and lobby with the men. More resources would likely flow without taking from the other. “While it's true that all human rights are men's rights and that history is essentially a men's rights movement, discrimination against men should be a feminist concern because male and female rights are inextricably intertwined.” Next time try not to get overly intellectual and you might actually be understandable. The last 7 words are the only thing that makes sense. “…patriarchal society operates for male benefit, societal standards of masculinity are also harmful to men in real ways which deserve to be acknowledged” Oh please! Is this mythical patriarchy that rules all our lives similar to SPECTRE that James Bond used to fight? What in heaven’s name is “societal standards of masculinity” other than inane and effete attempts at pseudo-intellectual babbling. “Rigid definitions of masculinity which narrowly cast men into aggressive, machismo, bread-winning roles are damaging to men in ways that are also damaging to women.” You have seen far too many Hollywood movies or been hanging out in too many bars listening to too many narcissistic pick up lines by hormonally induced and imbibing males. Since when is bread winning machismo? What does that make all those women who are earning a living? “…We need a new masculinity and the new man needs a movement." Please get over yourself. Masculinity is one of the finest forms of human kind on the face of the earth. It’s the men who run into burning buildings to save lives and give theirs up in the bargain. How quickly we overlook the firefighters and police officers, pretty much exclusively male, who went into the world trade Towers knowing they might not ever get out alive. If you are a victim trapped in a place imperiling your life you may feel better knowing that out there is a burly man who is rushing to find you and if he does he will lift you up over his shoulder and carry you to safety or die trying. I’m paraphrasing a well known Canadian female journalist who witnessed the aftermath of 9/1/1. It’s the gender who has invented almost everything useful, explored the earth, risked and lost life and limb fighting oppressors (was that the patriarchy) in major wars and men like me who spent 10 years as a stay-at-home father raising two girls from infancy who can put their nurturing capabilities up against any woman in the world. We need no lessons in masculinity from feminists nor do we necessarily think highly of men whose only apparent way to show their notion of equality is give up their masculinity to declare they are feminists. Feminism is derived from female and I am no female, therefore I am no feminist. Having said that I don’t know any man of sound mind who would disagree with the notion both genders are equal and different.

Parental Alienation ~ Children torn by divorce

Parental Alienation is the term in common usage and the focus with that term is on the parent poisoning the child's mind against the other parent who is called the target. It is indescribably agonizing for a target parent to go through and terribly damaging emotionally for the child over the long term. Thanks for writing about it as the behaviour needs greater awareness.MJM Vernon Morning Star

Children torn by divorce

NewS.35.20091201164706_20091202.jpg photo illustration by Lisa Vandervelde Children of divorce can often be caught in the middle of a dispute between parents.
By Cara Brady - Vernon Morning Star
Published: December 01, 2009 7:00 PM

Editor’s note: Parental alienation is a complex emotional and legal issue and while these articles cannot cover every aspect, they are intended for awareness and general information only. People in this situation should seek legal and counseling advice as each situation varies. Part one of a continuing series.

Most people would agree with the old saying that family breakdown is hardest on the children. Now the phenomenon has a new name, parental alienation or alienation of the child, and families and professionals are trying to agree on how to make things better.

Parental alienation or alienation of the child — the experts disagree on a name — means that one parent will do anything within their power to make the child or children hate the other parent, including telling lies, denying access or even abduction. This goes far beyond the normal negative words spoken in moments of anger and frustration to the alienating parent consistently putting their own feelings ahead of the good of the children.

The Counselors

Dr. Gordon Davidson is a registered psychologist who works with families and children, including doing court-ordered family evaluations. He looks at parental alienation not as a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis but as an interpersonal process within a family. It may happen in intact families as well, with one parent intentionally or unintentionally seeking to align a child or children with themselves, thereby diminishing the role of the other parent in the child’s life.

“Any existing parental alienation may escalate at the time of a divorce or parental alienation may begin then,” said Davidson.

In mild cases, it may go no further than a parent slipping up and saying things they later regret. In moderate cases there is more of a conscious attempt on the part of one parent — this can be either the mother or father — to draw the child in to the conflict, causing the child to be confused and anxious with a dilemma of loyalties. This usually resolves when decisions are made and time passes.

Severe parental alienation happens when one parent makes a deliberate and on-going attempt to withhold contact with the other parent and cause the child to fear or hate the other parent. This can cause the child to reject the targeted parent without really understanding why and to be depressed, have behaviour and learning disorders.

“The parent doing the alienation is acting in anger and retaliation while the parent who is rejected will be angry and have a sense of loss,” said Davidson.

His concern as a counselor is that parents who are acting out of revenge or struggling for power will not be able to focus on the best interests of the child.

“Any adversarial methods of solution can increase the level of acrimony and increase levels of alienation behaviour. I like to see alternate methods of dispute resolution, like mediation and collaborative family law with professionals acting in the interests of the children, if possible,” he said.

He sometimes does the court-ordered Custody and Access Evaluations used to help courts make decisions. In this case, each parent is assessed as to their mental health and parenting capacity and the child/children are also assessed. This can lead to solutions like supervised visitation.

Davidson sees two outcomes to parental alienation. One, that the alienating parent’s attempts to have the child reject the other parent do not succeed and the child retains loyalty to the other parent. The alienating parent may achieve what they call success in alienating the child by threats or rewards, subtle or exaggerated. Severe cases can lead to a child, or later adult, having a variety of social and mental disorders, including instability in their own relationships and perpetuating parental alienation in their own families.

Davidson said prevention, with parents educating themselves and being willing to talk before, during and after divorce, and early intervention are the best ways to help the children.

“You’re playing with such a fundamental thing, the foundation of a child’s life is their loyalty and bonding with their parents. Parental alienation affects not only the family but spreads to a multi-family level with grandparents, other family members and community members affected,” said Davidson.

His advice to parents who feel they are the targets of parental alienation is to not respond in kind, thereby sending contradicting messages to the child and causing them to lose respect for both parents. This can make children feel they have lost both parents.

“The outcomes are difficult to reverse, so early intervention and professional assistance are critical,” said Davidson, adding that children who do the best post-divorce have parents who have cordial, respectful communication.

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Registered clinical counselor Barb Belfie said parental alienation happens during a hostile divorce when one parent makes a conscious, deliberate and long-term attempt to turn the child against the other parent, sometimes called the target parent.

“This is more than the odd negative comment, it’s the goal, the conscious violation of the rights of parenthood,” she said.

In extreme cases there is complete denial of access or communication and may include false accusations and using every opportunity to make the absent parent look irresponsible or even evil, telling the child that the custodial parent is the one who really loves the child.

Belfie noted that it is the parent who was left who is more likely to be bitter and make attempts at alienation, including bribery and coercion or telling the children they need to choose between the parents. The alienating parent can push things to the point where it is easier for the child and/or target parent to give up and not try to see each other.

“If the parent and child have a happy and established relationship, that does not easily erode and while the divorce is a huge change, children need to know that they are still allowed to love both parents,” she said. “When I counsel children, I reinforce to them that their parents love them and they do have a voice and you can tell your parents what you want.”

Belfie’s advice to parents is not to talk about adult things in the presence of the children, even when they think they are not listening or sleeping; to develop a business-like relationship with the other parent and make decisions that put the children first, including practical things like where to go to school; and not to ask them to make adult decisions.

“Say to them something like, ‘We loved each other but it didn’t work out. It’s not your fault. We will still take care of you.’ Children need security,” she said.

Some of the warning signs that a child may be in an alienating situation are: lowered performance at school, acting out behaviour, loss of interest in former activities, sleeplessness, and developing various forms of illness which do not seem to have a physical cause.

“Parental alienation can be subtle and gradual and can draw in other people and is something people should consider when they or family members are divorcing,” said Belfie. “A healthy, normal person will want their children to have a good relationship with both parents.”

lawyer said the best time for parents to think about what is best for the children and their own rights and obligations is the moment they even start talking about the possibility of separation or divorce.

“In my experience, most parents try to do the best for their children but parental alienation, is very much real in the family court system. These cases are usually drawn out and require legal assistance with numerous court appearances over months or years,” he said. He added that true parental alienation is rare and may occur in about two of the 300 cases he deals with each year.

Divorce settlements specify custody, visitation and maintenance issues and the trouble starts when one parent violates the orders.

“They will try to deprive the other parent of contact with the children and manifest hatred for the other parent, based on their own belief and fear that the other parent will cause disruption and disturbance for the children,” said Clarke, who speaks to schools, clubs and community groups about family law.

He noted that even when a parent has been abusive to a spouse, it does not necessarily follow that parent will be abusive to the children.

The parent who is the target of alienation has to live with it or hire a lawyer to regain and retain their visitation and any other rights.

“The law is a slow procedure for getting these issues dealt with and parents who make false accusations may end up losing custody to the person they accuse,” said Clarke.

Cases may have involvement by the Ministry of Family and Child Development, the police in cases of alleged sexual misconduct or of counselors.

“It is rare to settle without court. It is so deep-seated in someone’s mind that the other party is completely to blame that they will go forward recklessly. If anyone has any questions about how their children are being treated, they should seek legal advice and find out what their rights are,” said Clarke.

He suggest that anyone with any concerns about access or other issues not wait too long before seeking advice and to try to solve problems out of court because the court procedure is damaging to the children.

Most people will abide by the court decision with 89 per cent ending at the hearing stage and 20 per cent coming back to court within six months.

“People are people and they will continue to act on emotion and everyone when they are in the middle of a situation will lose some objectivity. This happens in every part of society and change is slow.”

He hopes that awareness of the issue of parental alienation will help parents keep the interests of the child first with custody and visitation agreements.

No parents currently involved in a parental alienation situation were available for interviews.

Parent of Grown-up Children

Sylvia (not her real name) was divorced in the early 1970s and raised her two daughters alone.

“Not as many people got divorced then so it was a real stigma and my first reaction was that I was going to make him pay for doing this to me and the children,” she said. “There was nowhere to turn for advice about how to handle things and no one wanted to talk about it.”

She found the answers to the questions she couldn’t ask in a wise older woman, who had been divorced 20 years before that and brought up her son by herself.

“She told me not to try to keep the children from their father because I would regret it later if they accused me of not letting them get to know him, that they might hate me for it. That was tough advice to swallow when he had left me with a baby a few weeks old and a two-year-old and we were living in poverty and while he and his girlfriends were living the good life.”

Sylvia forced herself to agreed to generous visitation rights and what she still remembers as inadequate maintenance for the children. Slowly, she built a new life, found work she liked and made new friends. When the children were older, she was careful to explain to them that it was not their fault that their father did not live with them and to let them visit their father as agreed.

“Sometimes, I’d cry and cry after they went with him because I didn’t know what kind of situation he was taking them into. I didn’t know anything about parental alienation then but I think I was guilty of doing it sometimes. I’d make remarks about him being too busy and important, in a sarcastic way, when he would miss a visit, or I’d complain about money. I’m sure they picked up that I didn’t think much of him,” she said.

The visits became less frequent but the girls kept in touch with their father, got to know their grandparents and their cousins on that side of the family, and later on, their half-sister.

“Their father always made a big deal of doing expensive things for them, like clothes and trips when they were in their teens and he didn’t see them much. I don’t know if I could have, or would have, done anything different but they never accused me of keeping them from their father,” she said.

“I suppose it was the right thing to do even though it seems like I did all the work and made the sacrifices and he took all the credit for them. He died in an accident when they were in their 20s but they did know him and he saw that they were married and he saw his grandchildren. It’s a pretty impossible situation and I sure don’t envy anyone who has to be in it.”

The Grandparents

Grandparents get left out when parents are in a custody battle.

“We feel helpless, we don’t know what to do. We love the children but now we are not allowed to see them,” said Carole (not her real name).

“We always had a good time together but now they’re lost to us. They’re not even allowed to see their cousins. There’s no way to communicate, even to phone or email. It seems like so many people are losing so much.”

While the access to the children for the non-custodial parent is part of a court order, the order is repeatedly disobeyed and there are no consequences. The non-custodial parent must take the custodial parent to court which may take months since family court is held for only three hours every two weeks and there are many cases to be heard. Family court may also be put aside for criminal cases, giving even less opportunity for issues to be resolved.

“The whole situation is so sad. It seems like the children are just pawns,” said Carole.

“The failure of the marriage doesn’t have to mean that the children are alienated from one parent and all that side of the family.”

She is concerned about what it will be like for the children when they are older and may have a low self-image because they have been told that one parent is all bad, implying that they are bad as well. She thinks it will also be difficult for the children to re-establish relationships if they want to when they are older and can make that decision for themselves.

“We see other grandparents out with their grandchildren and we really envy them,” said Carole.

“I don’t know what will happen. We bought the children T-shirts while we were on holiday but we haven’t seen them for so long that we don’t know if they will fit now. We might never see the children again. We try not to even think about that.”

The Community

Like most people, Jen and Trevor (not their real names), know families where the parents are divorced.

What they didn’t realize was how much another family’s issues could affect their own children.

“We were casually acquainted with the parents of our son’s friend, through school activities and sports, and we knew that one of the parents had custody and the other visited,” said Jen.

“Then one day our son’s friend didn’t show up for hockey practice and then for school and nobody had any idea what had happened or where he went.”

It later came out that the custodial parent was not allowing the non-custodial parent any access to the child, to the point of removing him from school. When the boy did come back to school, he was not allowed to play with his friends because the custodial parent seemed to fear that he might pass on information to the non-cusotidal parent. The couple found it difficult to explain to their son what was happening to his friend because his parents couldn’t agree on visiting.

“It was cruel, but we had to tell our son to make new friends, that this was an adult issue and something he couldn’t do anything about,” said Jen.

She and Trevor don’t know many of the details of the situation but they assume it is what is called parental alienation or alienation of the child. They recalled a time when some friends were in a similar situation.

“He spent almost $100,000 with going to court and fighting false accusations. It hurts the children because they love both parents and want to see them. We hate to see it but we have to be careful about getting involved. We have to think of our own children,” said Trevor.

“It seems like the parents want to punish each other through the children and are only thinking of themselves. The poor kids, it causes a lot of stress for them and they carry the burden. Hopefully the children are smart enough to figure out what is going on later on.”

He recalled other friends who were able to put the child first when they divorced and work out custody and visiting arrangements that were the best possible for everyone even though things were difficult at first.