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Tuesday morning, I, Diane, was watching Good Morning America and the guest being interviewed was Alec Baldwin. He was speaking about his new book, which comes out today, entitled, “A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce.” In this book, Baldwin discusses Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), or one parent turning their child against the other. Although I believe this to be a real issue in today’s society; I will stand by the fact that some people don’t need to have children because they aren’t capable of being good parents. But for most of us, this is not the case, we just need to learn how to reconcile our feelings in order to co-parent effectively, thereby making PAS a non- issue.

 

Everyone knows that with a nasty divorce, more than likely a nasty custody battle follows. Often times the divorcing parties don’t take their child into consideration while engaged in such a battle, and as a result, he or she ends up caught in the middle. This type of behavior can lead to barriers being put up by one party which imposes on the other parent’s relationship with their child. Sometimes, like Baldwin, some almost give up and lose the will to keep fighting for their parental rights and in the end, the child suffers irreparable damage.

 

I, Kela, have watched my stepson suffer from PAS for years now. It is what motivated me to do some thorough research on the topic. Additionally, I want to be absolutely sure that I never alienate my child, even if it’s unintentionally, from his biological father. It is imperative that we understand this phenomenon so that the children caught in the middle don’t continue to suffer.

 

PAS is a complicated concept that historically has been difficult to clearly identify in court. Cases involving PAS are filled with accusations and counter accusations which are eventually dismissed as nothing more than hearsay. However, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals assert that PAS is much more than hearsay and there are signs and symptoms that one can look for in order to identify it. Below are some criteria that you can follow to determine whether or not PAS is an issue for your blended family.

 

Access and Contact Blocking

Access and contact blocking involves the active blocking of access or contact between the child and absent parent. Most mothers will try to defend their actions by claiming that they are just trying to protect the child. She may argue that the absent parent’s parental judgment is substandard and, therefore the child is much worse off from the visit. Access and contact blocking usually occurs when the alienator feels attacked and/or is trying to prove a point. It is a form of control that has nothing to do with protecting the child; but, has more to do with protecting their own ego.

 

In my (Kela) case, if my husband and his ex-wife don’t agree (which is all of the time) on a matter that pertains to their son, the first thing she does is block phone contact and visitation. There is no discussion and my husband has no control. Her claim is ALWAYS that she’s just protecting her son’s mental health. She will also appear to be trying to work towards a solution. But, while they are working towards the solution SHE determines whether or not my husband will see his child. My husband went 6 months without seeing his child and has only seen him 15 hours (5 hours per month) in the last year. Crack heads get more time than this with their children! In her eyes, they are only working together if he agrees with her.

 

Access and contact blocking can also come in the form of the alienator working to limit contact with the parent as well. This is often done when the alienator claims that other events (birthday parties, funerals, weddings, ect.) should take precedence over visitation with the targeted parent. The message to the child when this occurs is that the absent parent is treated less like an important family member and more like an annoying acquaintance that the child must see at times. This type of behavior can have a detrimental effect on the child’s relationship with the absent parent.

 

Emotional Abuse Allegations

False emotional abuse allegations is another very common form of PAS. Often times what actually occurs in a difference in opinion that the alienator frames as “emotionally abusive.” For example, one parent may let the child stay up later than the other. Or one parent might introduce a new significant other to the child before the other parent feels that he or she should. Both examples reflect a difference of parental opinion that is now described as emotional abuse by the alienator. Although these examples may seem insignificant, it is a suggestive theme of how the alienator uses difference of opinion to keep the child away from the absent parent.

 

Deterioration in Relationship Since Separation

The least identified, but one of the most important criteria is the deterioration of the relationship between the non-residential parent and the child since separation. It has to do with the existence of a positive relationship between the minor child and the nonresidential parent, prior to the marital separation; and a considerable deterioration, of it since then. If a father has a good and involved relationship with his child prior to the divorce, and is clearly trying to maintain a positive relationship with their child; but there has been a substantial change in their relationship since the divorce, one can naturally assume that alienation has occurred. Healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. THEY MUST BE ATTACKED! As such, any dramatic change in this area almost always indicates that the alienation process has had some success. If this puzzle piece is left out in court, the court can be easily fooled into thinking that the existing relationship is representative of the true parent-child relationship. It isn’t an easy feat to correct this perception, once it’s been determined by the court. I (Kela) believe that this is the reason why Judges often group all absent fathers into the category of “deadbeat.”

 

I (Diane) was guilty of alienating my son from his father. I was hell bent on trying to prove something to him because he hurt ME, not my son. Sometimes we confuse lashing out because we’re hurt with trying to protect our children. At any rate, I alienated my son from his father for 6 years. When I finally did come to my senses and realized that it wasn’t about ME, my son only got to spend a year and half getting to know his father before he (his father) was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. My son was only 10. I made a HUGE mistake by convincing myself that I was protecting my son when in actuality, I was only trying to protect my own feelings.

 

The above criteria can exist together or independent of each other as well. And, if all or some of the criteria is present, but alienation is unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean that the act of alienation didn’t occur.

 

Parental Alienation is a common phenomenon in which early intervention is essential. If allowed to continue, it can be destructive to your child’s well-being and mental health. Often times, the targeted parent (usually the father) washes his hands of the situation and walks away – gives up, thus greatly increasing the chances of successful alienation.

Side Note: PAS can only occur if the targeted parent is and has been doing everything in his or her power to maintain a relationship with his or her child. Don’t claim that you’re a victim of alienation if you choose to spend a limited amount of time with your child, call him once in a blue moon and try to avoid your responsibilities as a parent.

 

Characteristics of An Alienator

  • They are obsessed with destroying their child’s relationship with the nonresidential parent.
  • They have succeeded in enmeshing the child’s personality and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
  • The child will parrot the alienator rather than express their own experiences from personal experiences with the nonresidential parent.
  • Their (alienator) beliefs often become delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince the alienator that she is wrong, and anyone who tries is the enemy.
  • They will often seek support from family members, friends, co-workers who will share their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent. The alienator’s supporters are often seen in court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
  • They have so much anger because they believe the nonresidential parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the child is justified.
  • They work so hard and sometimes succeed, in getting the court to punish the nonresidential parent with court orders that would interfere or block the parent from seeing his child.
  • The court’s authority DOES NOT intimidate them.
  • The alienator believes that she is protecting the child at all cost.
  • The alienator will not want to read this post because the content will just make her even angrier!

 

REFERENCES: The Florida Bar Journal, VOL. 73, NO. 3, MARCH 1999, p 44-48

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