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Parental Alienation Syndrome

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hi All,

I'm new to this thread and wondering if anyone has any wisdom to share on this topic?

First, a wee bit of background: DD is 10, her father and I have been sharing 50/50 custody since she was a toddler. I also recently got married, to a partner DD has known for many years and has a harmonious relationship with. DD and I have a strong bond, but she is also very close to her father, and since the age of 5 or 6 she's often exhibited a preference for him over me. He's a doting, loving father but has a history of clinical depression, is in recovery for addiction issues, and has unresolved anger towards me.

The anger recently came to a head and DD's father is now suing for full custody. Based on DD's recent behavior toward me, I also believe that he's begun a campaign to alienate DD from me in the hopes that she will choose to live with him when she's legally able to do so. I've spoken to a lawyer who knows these types of cases quite intimately, and who recognized that DD may be in a co-dependent relationship with her father (and I agree with the assessment). He thinks she needs therapy.

It's heartbreaking to be rejected by my own child, and to feel the grief, fear and panic that come with that. But even more than that, it's just awful to see DD being manipulated and so upset and confused, and know she is slipping into an unhealthy dynamic that will affect her emotional well-being into adulthood. I'm not even thinking about the legal battle ahead... what I'm concerned about now is my daughter's emotional and psychological health. I want to find a good therapist for her to help her untangle this (I know I can't do that for her), but because her father and I share legal as well as physical custody, I need his permission first. Which I'm sure he won't grant.

Does anybody have any experience with this? Either dealing with parental alienation syndrome, or with getting therapy for your child?

Many, many thanks to anyone who can share some wisdom, I truly appreciate it!
post #2 of 10
Sorry to hear you're going through this!

My husband's been dealing with an obsessed alienator, for about a decade. Thankfully, his son never developed full-fledged P.A.S. (which is when the kid completely rejects the targeted parent), but due to his ex-wife's efforts at alienation, DH was given sole custody almost 3 years ago. That solved a lot, just in terms of DSS being able to witness - in everyday life - that DH doesn't "abuse" his wife or any of the kids he lives with, and that his desire to be involved in DSS' life is genuine (not "stalking"). But, if anything, the ex-wife's efforts to influence DSS have become more intense and less subtle, since the custody change.

When I have more time (tomorrow?) I will write back with some good links about P.A.S. Sadly, a lot of what's on the internet about it is just junk. But for the moment, here are some thoughts:

1- Thanks to politics, accusations of "junk science", accidental misuse of the term (such as saying the alientaing parent has P.A.S., rather than the child); and the intentional misuse of the term by genuinely abusive parents who would prefer the court believe their ex is turning their kids against them... there are a lot of courts in the U.S. that simply don't want to discuss P.A. So it might behoove you to research other terms that mean the same thing - or to have your atty. research how "P.A." has been received by the judges in your area. For example, although DH's custodial evaluator did use the term "alienation", the judge who gave my husband custody opted for the term "negative stereotype induction", in her ruling.

2- You must get a custodial evaluation. If at all possible, spend what it takes to get a reputable, experienced evaluator. Petition the court to order the evaulation. Then your ex can't deny permission and he'll also have to pay for half of it (most likely). Sometimes CEs also counsel kids, so maybe that would be a good counselor to choose for your daughter. Investigate your options. If the CE recommended counseling, it would be pretty easy for you to get the court to order it, over any objections your ex might have. A custodial evaluation will involve you, your daughter, your ex and possibly anyone else who lives with you guys meeting with the evaluator, individually and with the child. It will probably also involve you and your ex taking the MMPI (personality test). I've read that parental alienators have a higher tendency than average, to score "paranoid/hysterical" on the MMPI (that corresponds to a numerical score, I just can't remember what it is). If your ex wound up with that result, it might be worth ferreting out that research for yourself, to take to court. But bottom line, it's hard enough getting a court to deal with P.A. issues. You need professional back-up.

3- Be careful, handling your child. Toe the line between correcting misinformation that she's been given and NOT bad-mouthing your ex in the same way you fear he's bad-mouthing you. BOTH of those are important. You don't want to let her believe things about you that aren't true and just hope she'll see the truth for herself, someday. But, if she's already siding with your ex, you don't want to push her away further by making her think you're attacking him. Not to mention, you don't want to mess with her head the same way he does, just to defend yourself... and that's easy to do! You really have to guard against it. For example, you may be forced to tell her something she's heard from her dad isn't true and to tell her what really happened. The next logical step in her mind might be, "Then Daddy LIED?" Well, if he DID lie, then it's not YOU planting that thought in her head, by simply telling her the truth. But you can stop there, and just say, "It must be confusing for you, to hear two different stories from your parents. I don't know what caused your Dad to say what he did, to you. It's OK for you to ask him that, yourself. All I can tell you is what what I truly did and did not do. I love you and I care what you think of me. So I don't want you to believe I did bad things, if I really didn't."

4- One simple, effective way to counter-act P.A. is to take pictures like crazy and spend time making cute, little albums, scrapbooks and slide-shows that your daughter can carry in her pocket, or her overnight bag, or watch on the computer, when she's home OR at her Dad's, to remind her that she really does have fun and feel loved, when she's with you. Of course, that means you need to keep things as positive as possible and get out and DO things with her, even if her behavior hurts your feelings. This is such deeply confusing, difficult stuff for kids. You have to work hard to let it roll off your back. I'm not saying that flippantly! I know exactly how hard it is. I have gone to my bedroom to cry more than once, over something my step-son has said or done that was influenced by his Mom. And he's not even my own child. And the ways that he acts out have been so minor and so few-and-far-between, compared to kids who really have P.A.S. Hang in there!

5- Oh! Also keep in mind that kids don't get to CHOOSE who they want to live with, when they reach a certain age. The court is required to FACTOR THAT IN to the decision, when the kid's old enough. Especially if there's an established history of P.A., a judge certainly has the discretion to conclude that the teen's stated preference is heavily influenced by the chosen parent brainwashing her to reject the other parent and that it's not in her best interest to follow her stated wishes. There are definitely parents out there who have custody of a teenager who swears they want to live with the other parent, but who was overruled by the court.
post #3 of 10
I recently had a similar situation in CA. Have you filed paperwork yet? Do you have a lawyer? I highly suggest getting one if you don't. I had my lawyer request therapy for similar reasons and the court ordered it. Your EX would have to have really compelling reasons why she shouldn't go. At the very least, this custody situation is cause her distress. In addition, I requested counseling for her and him, which was also ordered. The courts here in CA are really into family counseling.
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
Jeannine and FireFrog, thank you both so much for your replies! Jeannine, I really appreciate your sharing such helpful concrete guidance on both legal and interpersonal levels. I'm glad that things are working out better for your family now!

I'm in crisis/crunch mode right now (why do family crises happen when we are on deadline for work?) so can't write any more tonight, but will check in again tomorrow. Thanks again, so much.
post #5 of 10
Evidently, this is the only "free" time I'm going to have this week (with my 2-y-o pulling off his clothes and crying because I won't give him gum...). So here's what reading suggestions I can make:

http://www.divorcesource.com/info/al...ienation.shtml offers several useful articles and links, esp. the ones defining the three types of alienating parents and describing how to identify a child suffering from PAS.

http://www.fact.on.ca/info/pas/gard02a.htm addresses how women's groups who want to deny the existence of PAS (because every child who turns against their father must have a terrible father; it can't possibly be that some mothers brainwash their children...) are actually hurting other women, since - with the rise of joint custody - fathers are increasingly using PA tactics to turn children against their mothers.

http://www.fact.on.ca/info/pas/turkat93.htm has suggestions on how to choose a good custodial evaluator.

http://angiemedia.com/2008/12/29/bpd...ion-campaigns/ may or may not apply to your family, but I found it tremendously interesting, because it sounds like it was written about my husband's ex-wife and all the things that are so difficult to explain to other people, about her, are worded very succinctly and understandably. "Distortion campaigns" waged by people with Borderline Personality Disorder sound identical to severe cases of PA and I've read in other places, too, that many people who engage in severe PA may have BPD. Regardless whether there's a diagnosis or not, reading this makes it so clear that this is mentally ill behavior and emotional child abuse... which should obviously influence decisions about who should have primary custody of a child...

A short article I really like, which definitely does not apply to you, but which you should find thought-provoking, is "Why Are There So Many Women in the Fathers' Movement"? http://www.glensacks.com/why_are_there.htm As you are aware in your own life, the victimization of men Glen Sacks discusses is becoming a problem for women, too.
post #6 of 10
Other useful links can be found through this site here: http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

It also hosts an article on Gardner's views on child sexual abuse. http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/RAG.html It's an eye-opener.

Now, that's not to say that alienating behaviors don't happen. I'm sure they do.

But I would be very wary about brandishing the PAS label.

Instead, I would focus on the specific alienating behaviors in your specific case, rather than on a "syndrome" that has been under considerable (and justifiable) attack given its creator's views on child sexual abuse.
post #7 of 10
I'd also avoid using the term PAS in any kind of formal way - which doesn't mean you shouldn't read up on it or believe in it, just that you should be aware that the way abusers have manipulated the system to get access to their victims has irreparably biased some judges to see "PAS" and think "crazy abuser trying to get/keep access that they shouldn't have." I'm sure a lawyer, who you will doubtless be hiring posthaste to petition the court for counseling, will know exactly how to word things to fit the family court climate you are dealing with.

It's also a good idea to stop talking to your ex about any substantive issues. You are not on the same side. He is trying to hurt you and your DD. Anything he has to say can be put in writing (and the email saved as documentation) or he can tell it to your lawyer. No big-deal discussions without witnesses and a record kept.

Above and beyond all legal considerations, counseling is a necessary thing. Are you SURE that you are not allowed to seek this kind of care for your daughter without your ex's consent?
post #8 of 10
Originally Posted by LitMama View Post
I want to find a good therapist for her to help her untangle this (I know I can't do that for her), but because her father and I share legal as well as physical custody, I need his permission first. Which I'm sure he won't grant.
Originally Posted by Smithie View Post
Are you SURE that you are not allowed to seek this kind of care for your daughter without your ex's consent?
Your custody agreement MIGHT say that you have to advise or notify the other parent of mental health treatment for your child. That is a lot different than having to get his permission or agreement, but that is often how people interpret it. If it says you have to notify him, it would then be up to him to get the court to order you NOT to get counseling for her.

Of course, your agreement might say that you do need his consent, in which case you would either need to get him to agree to it or get a court to order it. One way to get consent for something like that might be to have your lawyer write a letter to his lawyer basically saying that you are seeking his consent and that you will pursue it through the court system if necessary. His lawyer might be able to talk him into giving consent because of how it would look in court to try to keep you from doing it. That was how a lot of things got done between my husband and his ex. It was expensive to pay the lawyer for the time to write the letter and get the response, but a lot less expensive and time consuming than having to go to court to fight over something.
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Sorry for the delay, last week was the week from @#$%&... and since it was a "mom weekend" I spent the weekend focusing on DD and away from my computer.

Thank you ALL so much for your help with this! I really appreciate all the links and look forward to reading the articles. I also appreciate hearing some diverse perspectives... I'm definitely getting the sense that I need to tread lightly with any kind of PAS label.

Things improved for a while... all this week and weekend we focused on being extremely present for DD, having fun together, etc. and DD became affectionate and close (e.g., talking, opening up) with me again. However, things are about to get really bad again... the issue that made DD's father angry with me (has to do with her school) is back on the front burner. I anticipate emotional retaliation all week.

I've made no progress with legal stuff or with pursuing therapy. I did discover that my hospital's Psychiatry unit will see a minor child in a custody situation with permission from only one parent, but only up until the point that the other parent objects. My fear is doing so would generate ill will with DD's father and just make matters worse (because of course DD would tell her father).

I'm trying to come up with strategies... today we started a mediation process at DD's school (with myself, DH and DD's father). The mediator (an administrator) asked if there was anything else they could do to support our process... we didn't grab the opportunity, but I think at our next meeting I will bring up therapy for DD. I'm also thinking of seeing a psychologist myself, one who has expertise in child development, to get support for myself and also learn coping strategies for DD. I also might do an "intake" visit with a child psychologist (without DD present) just to get the ball rolling. Any thoughts on those strategies?

Thank you all for your generosity
post #10 of 10
"I did discover that my hospital's Psychiatry unit will see a minor child in a custody situation with permission from only one parent, but only up until the point that the other parent objects. My fear is doing so would generate ill will with DD's father and just make matters worse (because of course DD would tell her father)."

You are afraid to seek reputable, impartial professional help that you know your child needs because you fear that your ex will take retaliatory action if your child is given a secure open forum to discuss what's going on in her life.

That is an abusive dynamic.

You need a lawyer. Not a school mediator, not a counselor for yourself, a LAWYER experienced in ugly custodial battles to put up an effective barricade against the intimidation/abuse, give you good advice about documentation and other best practices of building a court case, and demonstrate firmly to your ex that you and the child you share are no longer his possessions or his defenseless victims.

Get your daughter into counseling, and when/if your ex attempts to intimidate you into stopping the counseling, refer him to your LAWYER.

This is so far beyond "ill will." Your ex is taking legal action that may result in you losing custody of your child, even though he's had the kind of access all along that most divorced dads only dream of. He is the worst enemy you have ever had and likely will ever have. Treat him as such. Mediation is for people who are susceptible to reason and capable of putting their child's true best interests first. Is that the kind of man you're dealing with? From your posts, it doesn't sound that way.
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