What Can be Done With an Uncooperative Alienator?

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services


Abstract & Summary

What follows concerns a father who had had no contact with his son for some considerable time. Mother was totally opposed to the boy having contact of any kind with his father. The boy’s responses concerning contact  with the father was identical to that of the mother. The boy refused to answer telephone calls, letters or event to accept presents  from the father. Father co-operated well  and the psychologist found no good reason why father should not have contact with his son. Mother’s new partner was given the function of being the child’s new and only “dad”, while the natural father was to be called by his first name. The psychologist felt that the boy should have good contact and to establish a relationship with his father. Mother’s failure to cooperate in this the psychologist considered to be an abuse of custodial power. It warranted one or more of the following after warning the mother: 1) change of residence of the boy; or 2) removal of the boy to a neutral place where the father could develop a relationship with his son.

What Can be Done With an Uncooperative Alienator?

Introduction and case summary

Many cases of  families in turmoil following divorce and separation are complex and rarely straight forward. The case which is presented in what follows is one of those which leads to difficult decisions having to be made by an expert witness for the Judiciary who always make the final decisions. In this case a decision needed to be made whether a natural father should have access and be allowed to develop a good relationship with his child despite the fact that he had not had any contact for some considerable time with that child. The father in the past had a drug problem but had overcome this.

Mother was totally opposed to such contact and failed to cooperate with the Judiciary seeking for her and the child to be assessed by an expert witness. The objective was to interview and psychologically assess the mother in order to determine why she was so vehemently opposed to the natural father having any contact with his son. The son, a boy of 10 was also to be interviewed and psychologically tested in order to assess why he so vehemently refused to see his father even under supervised conditions. Mother claimed the boy refused even to read father’s letters or return his telephone calls, or accept presents sent to him on his birthdays and at Christmas.

This was the situation when the Judge asked the expert witness to investigate the matter and report back to the Court why the mother and the boy felt as they did and whether the father was in fact an appropriate individual to have contact with his son. The father readily cooperated in seeing the psychologist and being assessed through interview and psychological tests. Several attempts were made at various venues to accommodate the mother and the child to attend for assessment.  The mother refrained from attending interview and assessment, despite the fact that she had eventually selected the date and the time for this assessment..

A Case Illustration

Parental alienation, of which I have seen hundreds of cases are renowned for being difficult to resolve. The current mother in the case to be related, was reluctant to be psychologically assessed, despite an order from the Court for this to occur and a report to be written for the Court to assist their decision making about the future of the child and contact with the father.

Mrs X had left her previous partner, who was the natural father to the child in question, after what she deemed was an unhappy relationship In which she sought to dominate and which Mr X, her former husband did not allow. Mr X suffered from an illness neuro-fibromyalagia which did not respond to orthodox treatment, and the use of normal pain killers. Mr X therefore turned to the use of marijuana. This appeared to more effective in curtailing some of his symptoms.

Mrs X used the excuse that her partner had a drug problem and she claimed that she was worried how this might affect their son if he had contact with his natural father. The real reason for leaving her partner was that she had met another man whom she was grooming to take over the paternal role. She went so far as to change the boy’s last name without permission of the natural father. She changed the name to the new partner. The natural father, realizing this, deemed it was time to take action. He found it impossible to have any communication with Mrs X or the son.

All phone calls and letters to the son were intercepted by the mother. Only later did it become clear when the son was interviewed that the boy had been told by his mother that father had no interest in having communications with or cared about his son. This of course was totally untrue. The boy believed his mother who had inculcated this idea in the child’s head. There was therefore no contact with the father for some considerable time. The mother’s new partner also failed to see the injustice which was being perpetrated and accepted his role as “dad” in the child’s’ life while sidelining the natural father who was called by his first name.

When father went to Court the Judge appointed an expert witness (the current psychologist) to see what could be done to unravel the controversy between the former partners and ascertain whether father might have some good contact with his son. First there was the need to assess both parents as to their position and most importantly to assess the natural father’s personality and whether he was suitable in playing a positive role in his son’s life.

The father, as it turned out, had a personality which was stable and although he suffered from a physical illness and had been on drugs in the past, this was no longer the case, with the exception of marijuana for medicinal purposes to help with his symptoms from fibromyalgia. He did not appear to have any disturbing psychological or behavioural problems. The psychologist found he was unlikely to be harmful in any way or an abuser of his son as indicated by the mother. The psychologist’s report was presented to the Court minus the assessment of the child and the mother as the mother unfortunately refused or failed to attend an appointment for assessment. The mother continued to claim that father was a drug addict, although he was no longer taking any other drug but marijuana and this for medicinal purposes. The father underwent hair follicle tests to determine this.

The mother did not come for an assessment, despite having been given numerous dates and venues. This meant that the Judge would need to decide the next step to take. Mother had clearly failed to adhere to the Court Order to attend for assessment. She herself had eventually determined a date when she would come, as well as the time and the venue, but did not attend on that occasion either. She did not even send any reason or excuse for not attending.

The expert witness considered this a reflection of the mother’s attitude and personality to undermine the legal process, hoping that by denying attending for assessment she could still have total control over the child and sideline the potential role of the father to have contact with his son. It was the view of the expert witness that the mother had neither respect for the Judiciary or the expert who had been appointed by the Court. The expert witness felt the mother had no right to prevent the boy from having good contact with the father or to change the boy’s name without permission of the natural father to that of her new partner..

What might be done in this case

1. Mother should be warned by the court to cooperate. The court should state what the likely consequences could be if she failed to do so.

2. If the child failed to have good contact with the father appropriate decisions should to be made by the Court. These decisions can include one or more of the following:

(a) fining mother for her lack of cooperation;

(b) removing the child from the mother to a neutral setting such as a children’s home with father having direct contact with his son. There should be no contact between the child and the mother until contact with the father has been strongly reestablished;

(c) removing child and placing the child with the father or one of his relatives, grandparents, sisters etc.;

(d) providing therapy for the boy to facilitate good contact with his father.