Spare Children Sophie’s Choice

I have a long-standing interest in how best to address children’s needs in custody decisions while protecting children from harmful involvement in their parents’ disputes and litigation. You can find some of my work on this topic by clicking here.

Today The San Diego Union-Tribune published my Op-ed on proposed legislation that I believe sets up children to be lobbied and intimidated by a parent intent on gaining advantage in the litigation regardless of the impact on the child. Click here to see the column.

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Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies

I am pleased to announce my new paper, published online earlier this month by the American Psychological Association (APA). Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies That Compromise Decisions in Court and in Therapy passed a peer review process and was published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

This article identifies ten prevalent and strongly held assumptions and myths about parental alienation found in reports by therapists, custody evaluators, and child representatives (such as guardians ad litem), in case law, and in professional articles. These false beliefs lead therapists and lawyers to give bad advice to their clients, evaluators to give inadequate recommendations to courts, and judges to reach injudicious decisions.

Drawing on research and experience, the paper sheds light on the arguments and assumptions one often encounters from mental health professionals, lawyers, and judges in cases where professionals’ decisions fail to help children overcome unreasonable rejection of a parent.

Awareness of the evidence exposing these false beliefs should guide decision makers and those who assist them to avoid biases that result in poor outcomes for alienated children. The result will be a better understanding of the needs of alienated children and decisions that are more likely to get needed relief to families who experience this problem.

Click here to purchase the article directly from the publisher. Here is the Abstract with the list of the ten fallacies. Continue reading

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Origins of Batman

Batman's 1st Appearance - May 1939 DC / Bob Kane

In the early 1990s, after completing my first book I was eager to take a break from the world of divorce and custody research in which I had immersed myself for many years. To shift gears I gave myself a fun assignment. I researched and then wrote about the link between Batman and childhood trauma.

I presented my ideas at some psychoanalytic conferences and then let the work languish for more than twenty years. Until January 1, 2014. Having just wrapped up a two-year project working on the most difficult, and possibly most important, scientific article of my career, I greeted the new year with a sense of confidence and freedom. Knowing that May 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Batman’s first appearance, I decided that this would be a good time to dust off my file and try to get it published. I sent it to The Atlantic on January 2. On January 3rd the article was accepted. I am very pleased to announce its publication today.

DC / Bob Kane

Batman’s origin, we know, springs from a trauma in Bruce Wayne’s childhood. I had a hunch that a trauma in Bob Kane’s life inspired the artist’s creation of a traumatized Dark Knight. See if you think my hunch was correct. Read the essay at The Atlantic

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Daddy, Tell Me A Bedtime Story

Mom instilled a love of music in me at an early age. When I was three years old, she gave me a small record player with a couple of small red plastic disks especially for kids, and a few 78 rpm 10” shellac Columbia records. My favorite, a record played so often that I nearly wore out the grooves, was Tell Me A Story, written by Terry Gilkyson and sung by Jimmy Boyd and Frankie Laine. (For the CD and mp3 generations unfamiliar with pre-digital record grooves, read Wikipedia’s entry for Gramophone record).

Junior pleads to his father, “Tell me a story then I’ll go to bed.” Dad relaxing after a hard day, tells his version of events, “Oh worry, worry, weary ends my day/Comes the time to go home, without my raise in pay/Home by the fire where a man can just relax/Slippers there by the chair, not a worry, not a care/Then along comes Junior swinging his little axe.” Junior persists. Eventually Dad relents, only to have Junior interrupt his tale. Dad: “Once upon a time, I remember long ago.” Junior: “Don’t go back in history, your memory’s kinda slow.” Continue reading

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5 Ways to Keep Kids Happy This Season

While other children eagerly anticipate family celebrations and holiday gifts, those being raised by parents in two homes face the holiday season with some trepidation. Will the parents agree on the holiday schedule? Will the transitions between homes go smoothly, or will they be occasions for embarrassing or frightening scenes? Perhaps most important, will your children feel permission to enjoy themselves with the other parent? Or will they feel like the third-grader whose father would not allow any toys that came from Mom to enter his home?

If you want your children to be among those who look forward to the pleasures of holiday celebrations, and not among those who wish they could fast forward past the season, follow these five steps.

1. Make holiday plans now and let your children know what to expect. The biggest source of anxiety and tension is uncertainty regarding the holiday schedule. The parents and the children need to know exactly when the children will be in each home. Once this is determined, often in your divorce decree or court orders, stick to the plan. Disorganized parents, and those who manipulate the holiday schedule in order to get more time than allotted or to interfere with the other parent’s plans, add to children’s stress.

2. Make transitions between homes easier for your children. Have their bags packed and help them anticipate having a good time. Reassure them that although you will miss them, you will do fine and want them to enjoy themselves with their other parent. It is not your child’s job to meet your emotional needs. If you and your ex cannot be civil to each other when delivering the children, let the exchange take place at a neutral site, such as a relative’s home, where both parents do not have to be present at the same time.

3. Encourage relatives to stay focused on the children. If there are step-siblings and half-siblings in the picture, help grandparents understand the importance of making all the children feel included. Don’t tolerate any relatives bad-mouthing your ex. Your children should not have to listen to people they respect putting down their other parent.

4. Have reasonable expectations. If you compare your holiday celebrations to the ones in movies or to your romanticized memories of your childhood, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The holidays can be a very special time for the entire family even when things are not perfect – and they never are.

5. Be flexible and compromise. It is usually best to follow the pre-determined holiday schedule. But in some cases being rigid can deprive your children of important experiences. For instance, if your former in-laws are visiting from far away, agree to accommodate a schedule change to allow your children to see their grandparents.

Years from now, when your adult children reminisce about past holidays, will they resent you for spoiling their joy? Or will they be proud that their parents loved them enough to set aside differences and join forces to create the holiday spirit? It is up to you.

Posted in alienated parents/rejected parents, blended families, coparenting, holidays, parental alienation/parental alienation syndrome | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

What Courts Can Do About Parental Alienation

Last February I was honored to be invited to Victoria, British Columbia to film segments as a guest on the leading talk show produced in Canada: Family Matters. The show is hosted by Justice Harvey Brownstone who is actually a sitting family court judge regularly hearing divorce and custody cases.

Victoria, BC the night before filming

Justice Brownstone obviously cares deeply about the issues that he deals with on a daily basis. One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents whose children are kept from them physically and turned against them emotionally, is that the court is ineffective in protecting children from being used as pawns by a vindictive parent. Courts allow repeated violations of court orders to continue without consequence. Professional custody evaluators and therapists often contribute to the court’s passivity by claiming that nothing can be done when a child refuses to see a parent, or treats the parent with contempt.

In this recently aired episode, Justice Brownstone and I discuss what courts and professionals can do to better protect children’s birthright to two parents. I enjoyed filming this segment and I hope you find it rewarding to watch.

Posted in Overcoming parental alienation, alienated parents/rejected parents, child abuse, child custody litigation, parental alienation/parental alienation syndrome, understanding parental alienation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Teaching Children to Hate

Two common divorce scenarios: You thought your marriage was on solid ground, until you discovered your spouse’s affair. You file for divorce, and blame the end of your marriage on your spouse’s infidelity.

Or, you knew your relationship was fraught with tension, conflict, and unhappiness. But you were unprepared for your spouse to finally call it quits. For any number of reasons your spouse decides to divorce you. You are stunned. You do not want a divorce. And you think your spouse is wrong to break up the family.

In both cases, you lead your children to believe that the divorce is their other parent’s entire fault. You may be a mother who files for divorce (which is the case in more than two out of three divorces) who tells her children all the bad things that Daddy did to hurt you. You may be a father who did not want the divorce who encourages the children to feel sympathy with your hurt while blaming Mommy for uprooting the family. In many cases one parent tells the children that the other parent is leaving “us.” The children quickly get the idea that divorce means choosing sides. Continue reading

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Reaching Out to Young Adults After Years of Estrangement

A therapist’s advice column instructed alienated parents to take the type of proactive stance that I advocate in Divorce Poison to prevent and overcome parental alienation, and concluded by urging rejecting parents to persist in efforts to resolve the problem and “don’t give up.” In a heart-felt response, a father who has lost contact with his two children (now young adults) reminds us that parents can reach a point where they must accept the reality of the estrangement and embrace what is good in their lives. I adapted the following from the comment I posted in my reply.

For some parents it makes sense to accept their children’s estrangement as something they cannot change. The book, Divorce Poison: How To Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, includes a chapter that helps parents decide whether to let go and how best to do so.

Parents need to know, though, that after years of estrangement, it may help to reevaluate the decision. A child’s rejection of one parent, when under the influence of the other parent, can make the rejected parent feel hopeless and helpless about being able to repair the ruptured relationship. But when children mature and move outside the orbit of the parent who manipulated their affections, this may present an opportunity to reestablish contact.

Some young adults are relatively unaware of why they have no contact with one parent and that parent’s extended family. The rejected parent may have stopped reaching out to the child and is unaware that the child, as a young adult, may be more receptive to an overture from the absent parent. Click here for a discussion about reunification with college students.

I have heard from two college professors who show their undergraduates a video that teaches how children come to reject a parent and why it is so important that they reconnect with the parent and claim their birthright to give and receive love from both parents. After seeing Welcome Back, Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental Alienation, many of these college students have an awakening. One professor said: “After watching Pluto, almost a dozen students have contacted their fathers, asking to renew and rebuild their relationships.” The drawback to reaching out to an estranged child is that it reopens old wounds for a parent who may have come to terms with the loss of the child. For many parents, this is a risk worth taking.

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Alienated Trekkies: Star Trek Fans Who Hate (Or Are On Their Way To Hating) Their Parents

Resources for parents whose children are Star Trek fans and are alienated or at risk for becoming alienated from a parent.

Stories, fairy tales, and fables are the age-old ways of communicating life’s important lessons to children. Movies and television shows are two modern ways. Fortunately, both the big screen and the little screen have produced shows that relate directly to many of the ideas that alienated children need to learn. Watching such shows with your children is an entertaining, low-anxiety strategy for introducing important themes. Certain shows will allow you to introduce the topics of mind control, hypnosis, brainwashing, parent-child relationships, even difficult divorces, in a relaxed atmosphere. The same children who would immediately shut down if you attempted to discuss their alienation will actively take part in a conversation about a hypnotized child or a brainwashed assassin.

If your child is a fan of Star Trek, you are in luck because several Star Trek episodes illustrate ideas such as children being influenced by outside forces to turn against a parent, mind-control, and implanting false memories. Continue reading

Posted in Overcoming parental alienation, TV views, alienated parents/rejected parents, cultural references to parental alienation, parental alienation/parental alienation syndrome | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Managing Severe Cases of Parental Alienation

I am pleased to announce my new article: Managing Severe Cases of Parental Alienation. Published by the State Bar of Texas, it includes never-before-published material previously available only through my trial testimony and consultation.

Some of the highlights:
• 3 key lessons for attorneys who represent clients whose children are at risk for becoming alienated.
• 10 drawbacks of the conventional default decision in which the court surrenders attempts to remedy severe alienation and leaves the children in the custody of the favored parent without scheduled contacts with the rejected parent. Continue reading

Posted in Overcoming parental alienation, alienated parents/rejected parents, child custody litigation, parental alienation/parental alienation syndrome, understanding parental alienation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment