I Have A New Parent!
(The ensuing problem leading to parental alienation scenarios)
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The current author considers the role of the natural parent while living to have rights and responsibilities for the child/children he/she has brought into this world. The name given to the child by the natural parent should be considered sacrosanct. This normally occurs when a custodial parent, usually the mother, has a new partner and seeks a change in the child’s name to that of the new partner. It is the view of the expert witness that unless there are very special circumstances, a child’s surname should not be changed to the name of the step-father or any other name while the natural father is alive. The courts should support this by ruling accordingly.
I have a new Parent!
(The ensuing problem leading to parental alienation scenarios)
The title represents what the child expresses when a stranger comes into the family of mother/father who had previously been absent. The expression “I have a new parent” sometimes occurs and causes confusion in the child about the new individual coming into his life and living with mummy/daddy.
As an expert witness in the courts I am increasingly faced with the following ongoing developing scenarios:
1) Couples with children who have separated due to an acrimonious relationship;.
2) Couples where one or both feel and express serious problems based on the implacable hostility towards each other.
3) The hostility and its effects are especially powerful when expressed by the parent who has custody of the children and thereby has total power and control over the child. Such parents, frequently use such powers to restrict or totally disallow contact between the child and the now absent parent for no valid reason.
4) The result is not in the best interest of the child. The child is now in an unfair conflict situation and needs to balance his/her love for the absent parent and pressure from the custodial parent who seeks to prevent contact between the child and the absent parent.
5) An expert psychological consultant is needed at this point working with solicitors, barristers and the courts to seek a solution which will be in the best interest of the child and secondarily, the parents.
6) To achieve this the hostility between the parents requires a changing of their attitudes and behaviour. Initially this may be via the courts recommending mediation. If the hostility, however, is so implacable that mediation is unsuccessful then the court will need to make decisions with the help of the expert witness.
7) Expert witnesses are supposed to be “independent” in their judgement and the advice they give. Experts, however, differ in how they interpret their role. They also have certain views or principles which guide them in what advice they give.
8) Impartiality is important but so are also guidelines in how best to deal with the implacable hostility between the parents. Most custodial parents are mothers, while most absent parents are fathers. The roles of course can be reversed.
9) The main principle of the writer is that both parent should have good (positive, valued) contact with their child preferably on a 50:50 basis. The exception is when both or either parent is accused and it is proven that abuse of the child has, or is likely to occur.
10) Any parent who prevents contact between a good parent and a child is not behaving in the best interests of the child and may be said to be practicing a form of “emotional abuse” involving the child based on parental alienation.
11) On the whole, the family courts in the UK are indecisive about what to do when contact orders are established by the Court between the child and the absent parent and the custodial parent fails to abide by such rulings. This is frequently due to claiming that the child in question does not “wish” contact with the absent parent for no valid reason.
12) When this occurs, there may be the need to remove that child after due warnings to the custodial parent has been given. If the warning to the custodial parent has been ignored it could end with the result of change of custody for the child. The alternative to this is placing the child in a neutral environment where the alienated parents is assured of having regular good contact with the child.
13) For a specified time the custodial parent who has been alienating should have no contact with the child until the alienated parent has had the opportunity of re-establishing a positive relationship with the child who has been emotionally abused by the custodial parent.
14) Matters are compounded, as the title suggests, when the child has been encouraged to regard the new partner of the mother/father as a substitute for the absent parent.
15) Such alienating tactics practiced by either parent are wrong. The child needs to be made aware that there are only two natural parents in his/her life. These should provide the optimum care of the child and the child must consider the natural parents as their real parents..
16) Step fathers/mothers frequently find it difficult to know what is their role in the new family. They should never assume that their role is to be a “substitute” for the absent, natural parent. They should never be addressed as “mummy/daddy”. They are not and should never be considered an intimate part of the natural family from whom the child springs. At best they should be regarded as step-parents and called by their first name.
17) Step parents are in a difficult position vis a vis the child. They should never involve themselves in disciplining the child. That should be left to the natural parent/s to do when the child is in their care.
18) Failure to adhere to this rule should mean the child no longer being placed with the parent who encourages, or even insists, that the new partner has the right to take the place of the natural parent by being called “mummy/daddy”, or “father/mother”
19) Step parents must be aware of the limiting function they can play in their contact with the step child/children. The step-father/mother must accept their role as being peripheral to the natural family. This will prevent much animosity between the natural parents, who fear being displaced bv a stranger in the form of the new partner.
The role of the court
It is important that the role of the court supports the view of the independent expert witness in the matter of name changing following a break-up of a relationship based on hostility. The court should forbid the change of name of a child/children from that of the living natural parent, the father, to that of the name of the new partner who is normally the step-father.
In parental alienation cases frequently such change in name is sought by a mother who seeks to obliterate the role of the natural parent, that is the birth father. Such an alienating parent will claim that the new step-parent’s name should prevail rather than the natural father’s name. Usually such action by the mother is based on implacable hostility leading to a divorce or separation from the natural father of the child.
Changing of the name in parental alienation cases is ultimately an illustration of the alienation of the natural parent.
The paternity of a child in such a case should be considered as only being the natural still living parent.
Following the death of the natural parent such a ruling could well be reversed.
However, while the natural parent is alive the child should bear the name of that parent unless there are very good reasons for obliterating the name of the natural parent