W5 investigates: Children on the frontlines of divorce
W5 - CTV TV network, by W5 Staff, aired Nov. 7, 2009 - 20 Minutes
The world of divorce is scary for any child. Even when spouses split amicably children can be forced to balance their love and time between two parents.
But when a divorce becomes especially toxic children can become the target of an unrelenting crusade by one parent to destroy the child's relationship with the other. Experts call it parental alienation, a persistent campaign by one parent to poison a child's relationship with the other parent.
Typical tactics include lying or making false allegations about the targeted parent, refusing to let the child see the other parent, even punishing the child for showing affection for the other parent. Experts claim, in its more extreme forms, it is child abuse.
For almost 12 years, Pamela Richardson rarely saw her son Dash because of the campaign her ex-husband waged against her.
According to Richardson, after her marriage dissolved her ex-husband, who had custody of the then-four-year-old, did everything he could to alienate Dash from his mother - fabricating illness, booking activities for Dash to prevent visits; he even arranged to have Richardson banned from Dash's school.
"I wouldn't see Dash for, you know, a number of months and not without me trying, not without me doing all the classic things that alienated parents do -- cookies on the doorstop, faxes, phone calls, notes, trying to see him at friends' houses -- everything you possibly can to keep that thread of a relationship alive," said Richardson.
Despite a court order giving her regular visits with Dash, Richardson said her ex-husband did everything he could to keep them apart and to convince their son that she was a bad and uncaring mother.
"There was period of two years, and I added up the hours (with Dash) and it came to 24 - in two years," Richardson lamented.
Richardson said she wasn't the only one suffering as a result of the alienation - Dash was suffering too. Alienated from his mother, the once happy little boy turned into an isolated, depressed and angry teenager.
On January 1, 2001, Dash, then 16, jumped off Vancouver's Granville Street bridge, in the middle of the night, to his death. While Richardson blames her ex-husband, she also blames a court system that she insists did little to intervene and help.
"This is extreme and this was something that was in the courts many, many times...they had an opportunity to do something and they didn't," said Richardson.
Parental Alienation and the Courts
Courts are paying more attention. Family court judges are increasingly considering issues of parental alienation in deciding custody.
Justice Harvey Brownstone is a family court judge in Toronto and the author of a book on the bitter realities of divorce court.
"Parents who are on a campaign to destroy the child's relationship with the other parent could lose custody and, in extreme cases, courts have changed custody to the other parent," said Brownstone.
He encourages divorcing couples to focus on parenting together rather than using children as a tool of revenge, dragging them through protracted, bitter family feuds.
"While there may be some therapeutic benefits to coming to court and venting and telling a judge how much you were hurt by the other parent's infidelities or bad conduct, at the end of the day, we are looking at parenting capacity, parenting skills," he said. "We need to look at how couples are going to reinvent themselves from ex-partners to co-parents."
The concept of divorced parents co-parenting isn't new for psychologists Peggie Ward and Robin Deutsch. They bring bad-mouthing alienating parents, targeted parents, and their children to a camp in Vermont in an effort to help these broken families learn new ways to properly raise their children.
Eight-year-old Tori Cercone knows first hand how it feels to be caught in the middle of a high conflict divorce. "What is so painful is that your mom and dad get separated and they don't like each other but you like both. And it's kind of like a contest who you like better"
Two years ago Tori's parents Fran Beecy and Chris Cercone couldn't stand to be in the same room after Beecy made abuse allegations against her ex-husband.
"Oh my God, he hated me," said Beecy. "I was like the big mother bear guarding the door, not letting my ex-husband near my kids...I just wanted to protect them, to keep them safe. And yet he, on the other hand, was just like 'these are my kids, I want to see them. I have every right to see them.'"
Divorce camp in Vermont changed everything. Today, they visit together, gather for family dinners, and get along.
As Cercone explained, "whichever side you're on, whether you're the alienated or the alienator, you've got to come to grips that it can't be about how I feel or getting back at the other one."
"I think I'm a better mom because I'm happier," said Beecy. "I'm not trying to create any wedges between my kids and their dad."
Psychiatric disorder may have led boy to fatally shoot father
Rick James Lohstroh, a doctor at UTMB, was fatally shot this summer, apparently by his 10-year-old son.
ABC13 Eyewitness News, Houston, Texas, U.S.A.
Dec. 29, 2004
The 10-year-old Katy boy accused of murdering his father this summer is now the face of an unofficial psychiatric disorder that may have lead to his father's death.
Some psychiatrists call it Parental Alienation Syndrome and they say that's why the son killed Doctor Rick Lohstroh last summer. The syndrome is basically caused by a bitter parent who poisons a child against the other parent, usually in cases of divorce.
Divorced Parents Move, and Custody Gets Trickier
The New York Times, New York city, U.S.A. August 8, 2004
Not too long ago, Jacqueline Scott Sheid was a pretty typical Upper East Side mother. Divorced and with a young daughter, she had quickly remarried, borne a son, and interrupted her career to stay home with the children while her husband, Xavier Sheid, worked on Wall Street.
Early last year, Mr. Sheid lost his job and saw his only career opportunity in California. But Ms. Sheid's ex-husband, who shares joint legal custody of their daughter, refused to allow the girl to move away. So Ms. Sheid has spent much of the last year using JetBlue to shuttle between her son and husband on the West Coast and her daughter (and ex) on the East.
The New York court system, which she hoped would help her family to resolve the problem, has cost her tens of thousands of dollars in fees for court-appointed experts, she said, and has helped to prolong the process by objecting to her choice of lawyers.
A Kidnapped Mind
What does Parental Alienation Syndrome mean? In my case, it meant losing a child. When Dash was 4 1/2 years old his father and I broke up. I dealt with the death of our marriage and moved on but Peter stayed angry, eventually turning it toward his own house, teaching our son, day by day, bit by bit, to reject me. Parental Alienation Syndrome typically means one parent's pathological hatred, the other's passivity and a child used as a weapon of war. When Dash's wonderful raw materials were taken and shaken and melted down, he was recast as a foot soldier in a war against me.
Custody judges rule on vengeance
Courts criticized for recognizing 'parental alienation'
March 27, 2009
Toronto -- The scope of the courts' reach into family affairs has long been contentious, but a recent trend in Canada's legal system has brought a new controversy that has some onlookers praising judges and others condemning them for accepting what they call "voodoo science."
More than ever before, Canada's judges are recognizing that some children of divorced and warring parents are not simply living an unfortunate predicament, but rather are victims of child abuse and suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome. Read More ..
Parenting: Baldwin Speaks Up
May 7, 2007
Many celebrities would shrink from view after a PR nightmare like Alec Baldwin's leaked voice mail in which he calls his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, a "rude, thoughtless little pig." But Baldwin wants to use the media scrutiny to give exposure to parental alienation, the controversial "syndrome" caused by one parent's systematically damaging a child's relationship with the other parent.
B.C. judge bars mother from seeing daughter
Court orders one-year ban after 'unfounded' abuse allegations made about teenager's father
THE CANADIAN PRESS
March 10, 2009
VANCOUVER - In a case of extreme parental alienation, a mother has been banned by a B.C. Supreme Court judge from seeing her teenage daughter for more than a year.
Because of the urgency of the matter, Justice Donna Martinson issued the terse, two-page ruling outlining 15 conditions the parents must follow, including that the mother, known only as Ms. A, not see her daughter until at least March 31, 2010.
The decision came after the mother alleged extreme emotional abuse by the father, which she claimed was putting the teenager's safety at risk.
"I am satisfied that Ms. A's allegations are unfounded," Martinson wrote.
"I am further satisfied that she has continued to undermine the relationship between M and her father and has acted in ways that are detrimental to M's psychological healing."
Names have been stripped from the court ruling to protect the girl's identity.
The judge has ordered that both the mother and maternal grandmother have no contact with the girl, which would be enforced by police if necessary.
PSYCHOLOGY: MIND GAMES
The family Pandora's Box
Some victims of parental alienation syndrome don't realize until adulthood that one parent turned them against the other
The Globe and Mail
March 24, 2009
After Joe Rabiega's parents divorced, when he was an adolescent, his father repeatedly told him his mother had abandoned him. The boy had to return any gifts that came from his mother's side of the family and, twice daily, he had to pledge his allegiance to his father.
"I was never allowed to have anything to do with her," he says from his home in Raleigh, N.C. "The consequences were dire if I did. He said I would have nobody."
Even though Mr. Rabiega, now 33, had witnessed ugly behaviour by his father toward his mother and knew his dad to be an erratic alcoholic, it wasn't until he sought counselling for personal problems in his early 20s that his past snapped into focus: He had been the victim of parental alienation syndrome - his father had systematically turned him against his mother.
The phenomenon, coined by psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner in 1985, has gained traction recently due to a number of recent high-profile divorce cases in Canada - not to mention the very public case of movie star Alec Baldwin, who accused his former wife, Kim Basinger, of parental alienation. Read More ..
A GUIDE TO THE PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME
WHAT IS IT?
The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the systematic denigration by one parent by the other with the intent of alienating the child against the other parent. The purpose of alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the non-custodial parent (NCP) The alienation usually extends to the NCP's family and friends as well. Though this document is written with the father in mind, it must be clear that there are many cases of PAS where the NCP is the mother, and PAS from the non-custodial mothers' viewpoint will be discussed later.
Dr. Richard Gardner in his book 'The Parental Alienation Syndrome' states (p. 74) "Many of these children proudly state that their decision to reject their fathers is their own.";
They deny any contribution from their mothers. And the mothers often support this vehemently. In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit with the father and recognise the importance of such involvement, yet such a mothers every act indicates otherwise.
Such children appreciate that, by stating the decision is their own, they assuage mother's guilt and protect her from criticism. Such professions of independent thinking are supported by the mother who will often praise these children for being the kind of people who have minds of their own and are forthright and brave enough to express overtly their opinions.
Frequently, such mothers will exhort their children to tell them the truth regarding whether or not they really want to see their fathers. The child will usually appreciate that "the truth" is the profession that they hate the father and do not want to see him ever again. They thereby provide that answer - couched as "the truth" - which will protect them from their mother's anger if they were to state what they really wanted to do, which is to see their fathers.
It is important for the reader to appreciate that after a period of programming the child may not know what is the truth any Read More ..d come to actually believe that the father deserves the vilification being directed against him. The end point of the brainwashing process has then been achieved. Read More ..
THE CANADIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
L'ASSOCIATION DU BARREAU CANADIEN
Parental Alienation Syndrome: A 'Hidden' Facet of Custody Disputes
Parental alienation cases draining court resources
Study says such cases should be moved out of court system, handled by individual judges
The Globe and Mail
May 13, 2009
An escalation in parental alienation allegations is draining valuable courtroom resources, a major study of 145 alienation cases between 1989-2008 concludes.
"Access problems and alienation cases - especially those which are more severe - take up a disproportionate amount of judicial time and energy," said the study, conducted by Queen's University law professor Nicholas Bala, a respected family law expert.
"One can ask whether the courts should even be trying to deal with these very challenging cases." Read More ..