Do Children Have Rights Against the Psychological Effects of Parental Alienation?
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The psychological affects and treatment of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) has now been studied by such pioneers as Dr Richard Gardner and others. It establishes that children who are alienated from one of their parents by the custodial parent suffer considerably both at the time of the alienation and often for a lifetime unless action is taken to prevent such alienation taking place as soon as possible.
At present the judicial system is still reticent to provide fathers/mothers with the same rights as mothers in connection with having an influence on the rearing of children. As a result of a hostile separation or divorce many parents subtly, or directly, attempt to turn a child/children against one of their parents.
The current situation
There are a number of short and long term problems suffered by children due to the effects of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). The parental alienation syndrome has not been generally recognised in the United Kingdom but there have been a number of court cases, many of which have been attended by the current author to emphasise the PAS condition. There are few psychologists in the United Kingdom that have a great deal of knowledge concerning parental alienation or the syndrome associated with it. It should be recognised that the reaction to PAS in children is not limited to British children. It occurs world-wide in a similar manner.
There still is a great tendency among Judges and Courts in the United Kingdom to virtually always give the benefit of the doubt to one of the parents, usually the mother, when there are disputes between former partners in relation to their children. It appears to go unrecognised that the non-custodial parent frequently suffers from the fact that the custodial parent has turned the child/children against him/her in the process of an unhappy split in the relationship between the partners (Stamps et al, 1997; Stamps, 2002)
The current author has been virtually the only voice in the United Kingdom concerned with the process of repercussions or parental alienation as a syndrome. It is hoped as a result of further court actions that this important syndrome will be recognised and dealt with appropriately by British Courts.
The effect of PAS on children has been investigated by relatively few individuals in the United Kingdom so far. I should like to acknowledge my own gratitude to one researcher, Dr Richard A. Gardner for the work he has done in this area. (Gardner 1992, 1998, 2001), particularly on behalf of those who find themselves in a PAS situation and need some guidance and assistance to convince others that such a phenomenon exists. There are both short term and long term of parental alienation syndrome on children. Whatever one may think, the children become victims, not of their own making, but of their parents, most especially the parent who is carrying out the alienation process.
We hear a great deal about child abuse, increasingly so, especially sexual abuse, but less so about emotional abuse resulting from PAS. Many would consider parental alienation syndrome and the process of indoctrination to be a form of child abuse, since children are being used for the purpose of animosity and even revenge. This animosity being shown toward the alienated parent can have a terrible effect on the child in question. Those children who are participating in the alienation process are often unaware of its impact. They merely feel the consequences or take-on the views of the alienating parent. Such views that the other parent is “evil”, “wicked”, “stupid” or “dangerous” or all of these, can do untold damage to the relationship with the non-custodial parent who is being alienated. Children may be used as “spies” or “saboteurs” in relation to the alienated parent to provide “ammunition” for the alienator or “fuel for the fire” to be used against them. Additionally, the children are encouraged to treat the alienated parent with a lack of respect with the purpose of humiliating him/her. This is often taken up by the immediate family of the alienator. Some children may even be encouraged to behave in a deceitful manner toward the other parent when visiting, by lying, stealing and causing problems with another person with whom the parent may have developed a new relationship. False accusations may also be levelled against the alienated parent on the grounds of false information supplied by the child. Eager misinterpretation of information given to the alienating parent is then grasped to denigrate the other parent with whom they may be having a custody battle. Denial of this will of course be made by the alienator.
Encouraging a child to betray one of the two most important members of the family produces a tendency towards psychopathic behaviour within that child. Once the denigration process has started, the child, due to the pressure of loyalty on him/her and the power wielded by the alienator needs to carry on the process of denigration.
Children who suffer from the syndrome of PAS develop a concept that one parent is the loving parent and hence to be loved back while the other is the hated parent who has done ‘wicked and nasty things’, and abandoned the family. This has been consciously or unconsciously indoctrinated into the child and results in fear as well as hatred for the alienated parent. Virtually all negative indoctrination is carried out by the parent who retains the child in residence.
In cases of PAS in which I have been involved, I have found that the child has developed a hatred for the non-resident parent (usually the father) and there have been attempts to denigrate and vilify the alienated parent. The destruction of one parent can have serious consequences, not immediately recognisable in the short-term, but more so in the long-term. One might say the child has been robbed of the possibility of having a supportive and caring parent. All memories of a good relationship have been destroyed. Additionally, there often has been brainwashing in order to make the child fearful of the alienated parent, very often the father. The animosity created permeates often to the extended family of the alienated parent. This means the child will not merely lose one of his/her parents but also the grandparents.
Another common reaction of children who have been programmed is to pretend to the alienator that they have hatred or dislike for the alienated parent, when in fact they do not feel this way, and do not demonstrate this in the presence of the alienated parent. Hence they have practised deception and a form of lying in order to placate the alienator, while at the same time seeking to form some kind of warm relationship with the absent parent. Such deception is unlikely to lead to an individual who will be truthful and honest in other dealings now or in the future.
Exploitation of the alienated parent either by the child or by the alienator can also be practiced This is done in various ways including seeking money or clothes or other material objects for the children who are then used in this scheme of manipulation. The manipulator may clothe the children in the shabbiest of clothes hoping the alienated parent will be forced to buy new clothes for the child. This teaches the child a strategy that is unlikely to endear him/her to others in the future, and is also likely to be repeated by him/her. Other forms of deception can be carried out over the telephone by saying the child is absent when the other parent calls, when in fact this is not the case. They simply are not allowed to speak to the parent calling. The child who is aware of the conversation learns from this that lying is acceptable. This may also cause confusion with the child and forms a further rift with the alienated parent, especially if they are not informed that the parent has called to ask after them to make an appropriate arrangement for contact.
Lying and deception can become part of the child’s life, especially if he/she wishes to endear himself/herself to the alienating parent. This may be especially so if the other parent has another family or relationship. This deception will develop a power of manipulation through lies and will continue into later life and reflect on the child’s own relationships in the future. In contrast non-PAS homes do not maintain control over the child and the custodial parent does all he/she can to promote a healthy feeling towards the other parent by being truthful and to encourage the child to love and respect that parent. It is important that parents who have been divorced or separated do all they can to enhance the feelings of the child for the parent with whom they are not in residence, and vice-versa.
As the child grows older in a family where PAS takes place, the position often reverses. The child realises he/she is in a position of strength where he/she they may manipulate situations in order to get his/her way. This in turn reduces the capacity of the alienating parent to utilise discipline to create the right type of ethical behaviour. The alienated parent is dependent on the child to continue the process of alienation. The child can use this against the alienating parent and frequently becomes undisciplined as a result. Neither parent can do anything with the child and the child is the loser in the end.
In severe cases of PAS the alienator can create a seriously unhappy situation for the child who will often develop panic reactions when he/she is asked to visit the alienated parent. This in turn can lead to repercussions in his/her attitude to school and his/her capacity to concentrate on education. In some cases, there can be psychotic delusions in the child due to the pressure to passively submit to the alienating parent. In some cases intensive psychological treatment is required to overcome such serious disturbances. Serious indoctrination giving the child warped and worried views of the alienated parent, following therapy, may learn to be able to be more rational and realistic in the way he/she views the alienated parent. This is difficult to resolve in the very young as well as in the older child who may have developed a habit of hatred for the alienated parent.
The most interesting scenario is when the child who has been party to the alienation realises what the alienating parent has done and eventually turns against them. This may be through a falling-out, or merely through the emotional development of the child later in life. Sometimes the child will seek the alienated parent and find out the truth it at least be able to see things from the alienated parent’s perspective.
Do the children of parental alienation have rights?
What follows is a set of rights proposed by Divorce Headquarters on the internet (http://www.divorcehq.com/childrens-bill-of-rights.shtml” which I would like to endorse. It fits in well with the problems encountered in PAS and is in the best interest of the child.
“We the children of the divorcing parents, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish these Bill Of Rights for all children.
I. The right not to be asked to “choose sides” or be put in a situation where I would have to take sides between my parents.
II. The right to be treated as a person and not as a pawn, possession or a negotiating chip.
III. The right to freely and privately communicate with both parents.
IV. The right not to be asked questions by one parent about the other.
V. The right not to be a messenger.
VI. The right to express my feelings.
VII. The right to adequate visitation with the non-custodial parent which will best serve my needs and wishes.
VIII. The right to love and have a relationship with both parents without being made to feel guilty.
IX. The right not to hear either parent say anything bad about the other.
X. The right to the same educational opportunities and economic support that I would have had if my parents did not divorce.
XI. The right to have what is in my best interest protected at all times.
XII. The right to maintain my status as a child and not to take on adult responsibilities for the sake of the parent’s well-being.
XIII. The right to request my parents seek appropriate emotional and social support when needed.
XIV. The right to expect consistent parenting at a time when little in my life seems constant or secure.
XV. The right to expect healthy relationship modelling, despite the recent events.
XVI. The right to expect the utmost support when taking the time and steps needed to secure a healthy adjustment to the current situation.
Please realize that this is NOT law, anywhere.
The “Children’s’ Bill of Rights” is not legally enforceable, but rather suggestions made to keep the best interest of the child a priority.”
All of the above situations I have personally come across when dealing with cases of PAS. Unfortunately there has not been the willingness of the parents to resolve the situations not the backing of the courts to uphold censures against the alienating parent. Also, severe lack of funds for treatment or mediation limit what can be done. Much of the liaison is left to the Court Welfare Officers who do not have the clinical qualifications to carry out the necessary treatment for the children who are, or will be, the victims of the “warring factions”. Expert testimony is sought only if the court is unsure of what direction to take in the case, and also to guide the court as to the character of the alienated parent and the manner in which contact visits should continue, i.e. supervised or unsupervised. If called to assist in a case I take this opportunity to spread the literature on PAS and seed to educate the Judiciary and others of the existence of PAS.