The Alienation & Alignment of Children
by Dr. Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D.
excerpts- continued from the homepage
Most of the children in these moderate cases
are filled w/conflict. They show many of the symptoms, including:
- distortion, etc.
They often express their own frustrated views
about the alienated parent, some of which mirror the allegations made by the alienating parent & some of which are borne
from their own relationship w/the alienating parent.
They tend to view the alienating
parent as "the good parent," & the alienated parent as "the bad parent."
Yet, they are able to integrate
& discuss some good traits about the hated parent & some negative traits about the preferred parent. These children
can enjoy a limited relationship w/the alienated parent.
....When children are brought into the tug of war between
the parents, they have a diminished ability to maintain healthy boundaries & relationships....
The effect of this alienation is dramatic
on children. They suggest that children are most susceptible to alienation
when they're passive & dependent & feel a strong need to psychologically care for the alienating
parent. In both the child & alienating parent, there's a sense of moral outrage at the alienated parent & there's
typically a fusion of feelings between the alienating parent & child such that they talk about the alienated parents as
having hurt "us."
The general view is that children in such
families are likely to develop a variety of pathological symptoms. These include, but are not limited to:
- splittings in their relationships
- difficulties in forming intimate relationships
- a lack of ability to tolerate anger or hostility
- psychosomatic symptoms
- sleep or eating disorders
- psychological vulnerability & dependency
- conflicts w/authority figures
- an unhealthy sense of entitlement for one's
rage that leads to social alienation in general
Some children tell very moving stories of
how they haven't liked or have been fearful of the alienated parent for a long time. They can give specific details of abuse,
angry behavior, etc. prior to separation.
These children often feel relieved when their
parents divorce because they are now free of those problems. The differential understanding will come from the child's clear
account of inappropriate behavior, detachment in the relationship & a convincing sense of real problems (as opposed
to the moral indignation of the alienated child).
When we listen to these children
in those cases where the child is detached from the alienated parent, there is little evidence that these children are put
in the middle by the alienating parent.
there is a sadness to these children who wish (or may have wished in the past) for a different quality
to the relationship w/the alienated parent.
For many of these
children, they have observed significant spousal abuse during the marriage or have observed one parent being controlling &
hostile to the other parent.
It's the sadness
& ambivalence about the lack of a relationship that is one of the key differential indicators that these children,
while certainly aligned with one parent, are not being alienated.
Expletives & Bad-mouthing:
The child denigrates the alienated
parent with foul language & severe oppositional behavior.
Excuses without Foundation: The child offers weak, absurd or frivolous reasons for his or her anger.
Consistently Negative: The child is sure of him or herself, never swaying from a negative connotation. He/she doesn't
demonstrate confused emotions (i.e. love and hate) for the alienated parent, only the negative hate.
The child exhorts that he or she alone came
up with ideas of denigration. The "independent-thinker" phenomenon is where the child asserts that no one told him to do this.
Protective: supports and feels a need to protect the alienating parent.
Lack of Empathy:
the child does not demonstrate
guilt over cruelty towards the
& Embellishing: the child uses borrowed scenarios or vividly describes situations that he or she could not have
Animosity is spread
to the friends and/or
extended family of the alienated parent.
The targeted parent needs to understand what
has happened to what as once an affectionate & loving
child who is now unexplainably hostile.
Remember Gardners definition stated earlier,
"the disorder wasn't only brainwashing or programming by a parent, but was confounded by what he calls "self-created
contributions by the child in support of the alienating parents campaign of denigration against the targeted parent."
It isn't PAS in the severe form of this disorder, unless
the child has crossed over & joined up w/the alienating parent. The child shares the alienating parents psychosis.
How does this happen?
At birth, children are totally reliant on a parent, usually the mother, for having all of their needs met. It's part of normal
child development to be enmeshed w/their primary caregiver & very young children do not have a separate identity from
One of the mother's roles is to help the child develop as a separate person, therefore, infancy & childhood become a series
of tasks of learning how to become independent. e.g., learning to putting oneself back to sleep, eating, toilet training &
caring for one's hygiene.
Instead of promoting this independence, the alienating parent encourages continued dependence.
The parent may insist on sleeping w/the child, feeding the child ("It's easier if I do it"), & taking
care of these rites of passage longer than normal child development calls for. This "spoiling" may not feel right to the child,
but they do not have enough ego strength to do anything about it.
A PAS mother can't imagine that the father is capable of planning the child's time while in his care. Therefore, she arranges
several things for the child to do while at the father's house. One of the most common ways of doing this is to sign the child
up for on-going lessons w/out permission from the father.
The parent may even decree whom the child can & can't see, particularly specific members of the child's extended family
on the father's side. The mother desperately wants control over the time when the child isn't w/her.
One of the most unusual situations that I ran into was the father who picked up his sons at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday for the
weekend. He discovered that his very excited boys had their hearts set on going to Disneyland for the day, when this idea
had never crossed his mind.
One theory about why a mother will act this way is that when a father takes his share of joint custody, it's like asking her to give away part of her body. One mother said, "He's going to remove my right arm & take it for the weekend." It feels like the mother has lost
a profound part of who she is as a person. She feels fractured, pulled apart.
Why is PAS a double bind
for the child?
When children spend time w/the father & enjoy it, they're put into a double bind. Clearly, they can't tell the mother
that dad treats them well or that they had fun together.
to bond w/the father, but don't dare. They figure out on which side the bread is buttered (who has the power), &
their survival needs tug at them. Therefore, children will tell the mother about everything they didn't enjoy about time spent
w/the father, which will add to her belief that they don't like to be w/him.
children feel that they must protect the mother. The same is true when the alienator is the father. The child will avoid expressing
their affectionate feelings for the mother to him.
What are the long term effects on children who
have been alienated from one parent?
"...prolonged alienation of the
child may trigger other forms of mental illness..."
The effects of parental alienation
- long-term depression
- inability to function in a normal psycho-social
- ego & identify dysfunction
- uncontrollable guilt
- personality "splitting"
- even suicide
Research also shows that adult children of alienation
are prone to:
- drug abuse
- other symptoms of internal distress
In severe cases of parent alienation, the child
is utterly brainwashed against the alienated parent.
The alienator can truthfully say that the
child doesn't want to spend any time with this parent, regardless of court orders or the parents desire. The alienator typically
"There isn't anything that I can do
about it. I'm not telling him that he can't see you. He doesn't want to."
Harm to the Child
All litigation concerning children
can effect their healthy growth & development negatively. The greater the acrimony; the greater the part that the
children need or are asked to play in the litigation; thus the greater the potential for harm.
To judges & lawyers involved in severely acrimonious cases, this is
obvious. It is less apparent to the legal system that, when the parents are divorced or separated, parental conflict concerning
the children in the presence of children also causes harm.
The persistent quality of the conflict-combined w/its enduring nature seriously
endangers the mental health of the parents & the psychological development of the children.
"Under the guise of fighting for the child, the parents may succeed in
inflicting severe emotional suffering on the very person whose protection & well-being is the presumed rationale
for the battle."
psychologically harmful to children to be deprived of a healthy relationship w/one parent.
Family Wars: Parental Alienation
see Resource page
"Visitation agreements must insure that the emotional bond of the child w/both parents is protected.
There is substantial research that indicates that children need contact w/adults of both sexes
for balanced development"
W/the exception of abuse, there's no good reason why a child should not want
to spend some time w/each of her parents, &, even w/abuse, most children still want to
maintain some relationship w/the abusive parent. It is the job of the parents, the professionals & the
courts to see that such contact is possible under safe circumstances.
While alienating messages & behavior affect
a child negatively & impact upon the child's growth & development, the impact on the child may not vary w/the parent's
intentions. The effect will be to place the child in a severe loyalty bind, a position wherein
the child believes she\he must chose which of her 2 parents she\he will "love" more.
have to choose between parents is itself damaging to the child, &, if the end result is the exclusion of a parent from
the child's life, the injury is irreparable.
is a continuum of alienating parental behaviors which cause harm to children & all positions on this continuum need be
of concern to the professionals & the Courts.
Some of the behavior is scarcely detectable w/the
result that attorneys & the court system a loss over the alienation as a "normal " part of the divorce or litigation process.
QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER
- (QDRO) a court ruling stating that a portion of one spouse's pension be awarded to the other spouse as part of
the equitable distribution of the marital assets. ( see QDRO section in your state).
QUIT CLAIM - to release
legal claim. It is a document relinquishing claim, as in a quit claim to the deed to the marital house.
RANGE OF VALUE - the
range, or confidence interval, in which the final estimate of a property's value may lie.
REAL ESTATE - physical
land and appurtenances affixed to the land: land.
REAL PROPERTY - all interests, benefits, and rights inherent
in the ownership of physical real estate.
REBUTTAL - an introduction of evidence in response to a matter raised
by the opposing party.
RECIPROCITY - the process of cooperation between states and countries to establish and
enforce child support orders. Laws and court orders of each jurisdiction are recognized and enforced.
all of the testimony and evidence that is used in court to decide a case. What is on record is what the Judge will use to
make his or her decision.
RECROSS - the second round of cross - examination that occurs after redirect in a
REDIRECT - the second round of direct examination that occurs in the trial after cross-examination.
- the entity through which the court receives and disburses money, as in child support payments.
ALIMONY - alimony intended to help the exspouse become financial self sufficient.
REIMBURSEMENT - a fixed
amount stated in a judgment which would order the defendant to pay back to the government welfare which the government paid
on behalf of the child.
RELEASE - a document that frees up a person's right or claimed right to something. It
is usually given in exchange for something else, typically another release or money.
REMAND - the act of sending
a case back to the judge to be retried because of a significant mistake made by the judge during the first trial.
COST - the estimated cost of construct, at current prices, a building with utility equivalent to the building being appraised,
using modern materials and current standards, design, and layout, and quality of workmanship, and embodying all the subject's
deficiencies, superadquacies, and obsolescence.
REPRODUCTION COST - the estimated cost to construct, at current
prices, a building with utility equivalent to the building being appraised, using modern materials and current standards,
design, and layout, and quality of workmanship, and embodying all the subject's deficiencies, superadquacies, and obsolescence.
FOR PRODUCTION - part of the Discovery process. One attorney asks that the other side produce financial documents he or
she feels are necessary to the case.
RESIDENCE - the place where a spouse lives.
the defendant in a divorce.
RESPONSE - the formal document filed by the defendant (respondent) to answer the
complaint or summons.
RESTRAINING ORDER - a court order restricting a persons actions. They are sometimes issued
by one spouse to try to deter the other spouse from committing violent acts.
RETAINER - a fee paid to an attorney
to work on a case.
RETAINER AGREEMENT - a written contract between lawyer and client delineating their responsibilities
to each other.
RIGHT OF SURVIVORSHIP - the right of joint owners to receive the other's share of property upon
the death of the other owner.
RULES OF EVIDENCE - the rules that pertain to the deliverance of evidence in hearings
RURESA - Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, an act facilitating interstate
enforcement of support orders.
SALES COMPARISON APPROACH - a set of procedures in which an appraiser derives a value indication
by comparing the property being appraised to similar properties that have been sold recently, applying appropriate units of
comparison, and making adjustments, based on the elements of comparison, to the sale prices of the comparables.
- court-ordered punishment.
SEPARATE MAINTENANCE - an action filed for support between two spouses not living
together even though the spouse's are not actively seeking a divorce.
SEPARATE PROPERTY - property considered
to be owned by one spouse prior to marriage, which in most states in not up for distribution upon divorce.
- when spouses no long co - habitate or live together.
SEPARATION AGREEMENT - an agreement on support, child
care and property covering the period before divorce but after separation.
SERVICE OF PROCESS - the act of presenting
the complaint or summons to the defendant or respondent.
SET ASIDE - to cancel, annul, or revoke a prior judgment
of a court.
SETOFF - a debt or financial obligation of one spouse that the court weighs against a debt or financial
obligation of the other spouse.
SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT - the written version of the settlement.
- the understanding that one clause in a contract is independent of the others.
SOLE CUSTODY - a form of
custody in which one parent is awarded both physical and legal custody.
SPLIT CUSTODY - a form of custody in
which the actual time of physical custody is split between both parents, which gives both parents the right to make decisions.
SUPPORT - money paid from one spouse to the other in one lump sum or in installments for a period of time. There are many
factors considered. (see spousal support section in your state).
SPOUSE - husband or wife.
- an agreement between the parties or their counsel.
SUBPOENA - a document that is delivered to a person
who is not directly involved in the action filed, but is in need for testimony.
SUMMONS - a written notification
to the defendant or respondent that an action has been filed against him or her.
SUPPORT - payment for housing,
food, clothing etc.
SURREBUTAL - evidence the defendant can present to counter rebuttal evidence.
TAX INTERCEPT - the process
by which a child support judgment debtor's federal and state income tax refunds are diverted to pay a support arrearage.
CUSTODY - a spouse's right to have parenting time with his or her child. It includes extended stays and overnights.
RESTRAINING ORDER - an order of the court prohibiting a party from acting - for example, threatening, harassing, or physically
abusing the other spouse and/or the children; selling personal property; taking money out of accounts; denying the other spouse
a motor vehicle.
TESTIMONY - statements delivered under oath at a hearing or deposition.
- a written presentation of testimony given at a trial or at a deposition.
TRANSFER - to switch ownership
from one person to another.
TRANSITIONAL CHILDCARE - a welfare program by which welfare recipients who stop
receiving AFDC due to employment, but who can't afford to pay childcare costs, receive subsidized childcare assistance, usually
for one year.
TRIAL - a formal court hearing to decide the disputed issues filed in the complaint or summons.