Behavior by one divorced parent that attempts to undermine a child’s relationship with the other parent—what I call “divorce poison”—has been denounced as child abuse by the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) in the United Kingdom.
Cafcass is an independent agency that serves a role roughly equivalent to court-appointed child custody evaluators in the U.S. In disputed custody cases the court orders Cafcass to conduct an investigation and write a Section 7 report offering recommendations for the outcome of the case.
According to its website, Cafcass works with more than 116,000 children each year. Cafcass plays a significant role in family law in the United Kingdom and Douglas’ public statements about parental alienation may reverberate beyond UK’s borders.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Cafcass believes that “parental alienation is responsible for around 80 per cent of the most difficult cases that come before the family courts.”
The article quotes Joanna Abrahams, a UK family law specialist: “The amount of enquiries we are getting about this type of behaviour is growing all the time. At the moment we get about three calls a day about this – and that’s a lot.”
And these are inquiries received by just one law firm.
Abrahams continues, “It’s always been there but people are now beginning to understand more about it and how harmful it can be. You can run into the tens of thousands on cases like these.”
The widespread prevalence of alienated children is something I am reminded of every morning when I awaken to my email Inbox filled with laments from parents who have been erased from their children’s lives.
With parental alienation being recognized throughout the world’s legal and mental health communities, and especially with the recognition that many mothers and their children have been harmed by an ex-spouse’s alienating behaviors, it is becoming increasingly ludicrous for advocates to dismiss the concept of parental alienation as merely a ploy by abusive fathers to gain custody of their children. Just as claims of physical and sexual abuse merit careful investigation rather than automatic acceptance or rejection, claims of parental alienation warrant the same level of scrutiny.
As I wrote in a 2015 paper published in a journal of the American Psychological Association, “Evaluators and therapists should keep an open mind about the possibility that children’s rejection of their mother or their father is not warranted by the rejected parent’s behavior.”
[Source: Richard A. Warshak, “Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies That Compromise Decisions in Court and in Therapy.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2015, Vol 46, No. 4, 235-249.]
[Downloadable manuscript available from my e-LIBE. The typeset published article can be purchased directly from the American Psychological Association.