Ever since the term “Parental Alienation” was defined by Richard Gardner in the 80's, and it began being used in child custody disputes, advocates for Domestic Violence and women’s groups and some family lawyers purport that Parental Alienation is junk science and is damaging to the family court cases.
Father’s rights groups on the other hand, advocate for its existence and claim that women are the majority of perpetrators.
Who is right, and who is wrong?
According to Statistics Canada it is currently estimated that the divorce rate is at almost 39% with 40% of children under the age of 18 residing in non-traditional family forms, such as, one parent, step parent, blended family homes, etc.
Also according with Statistics Canada, 47% of all family related homicides are committed by a spouse. Between 2000 and 2009, 26% of female victims and 11% of male victims were killed by a partner from whom they were separated.
Undoubtedly, research shows that Parental Alienation is as real as Domestic Violence and both-women and men’s groups-are right to a certain extent; despite their arguments they are in fact saying the same thing only expressing it in different ways.
Courts wouldn’t hand an angry man a gun. Yet innocent children are taken from a loving parent and sent to an abuser on daily bases by our family courts, due to false accusations of Parental Alienation and Domestic Violence. Why is this happening in today’s society, where we have all sorts of technology and access to information on a variety of media sites?
It is a very fine line between Domestic Violence and Parental Alienation; in fact in divorced and separating families, the bridge between Domestic Violence and Parental Alienation, is Hostile-Aggressive Parenting and it can be easily crossed either way.
Abusive husbands obsessively pursue control over their partner by alienating the children from their ex-wife. Angry, vindictive mothers who act out on their abandonment rage, are systematically alienating their children from a father with no history of poor parenting.
Both will bend and twist facts, to avoid accountability and shift blame. Accordingly, claims of Parental Alienation and Domestic Abuse become high powered weapons for them in family courts.
What can we, as a society do to prevent this from happening?
An old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” applies to these cases.
Professionals in the field and in the legal department have to be trained to recognize and differentiate between the story of a friendly parent who has suffered years of domestic violence and is now trying to protect herself/himself and the children from an extension of control and abuse from her/his former partner, and the story of a parent who screams Parental Alienation to cover up his/her violent behavior. In contrast false claims of Domestic Violence could cast a shadow over a genuine Parental Alienation case.
The only way of preventing children from being hurt by an angry parent is if everyone gets involved and sends a strong message of disapproval to such hostile parents.
Hostile parents try hard to keep their behavior from being noticed by friends, family, and others in the community. Deep down they know that their behavior is wrong, but they want to be seen as the better parent. Members of the community can play an important role in eliminating the harm done by hostile parents to their children, by learning to identify the behavior and refusing to participate in the hostile parent’s campaign against the other parent.
Schools and child care agencies are on the front line when dealing with issues associated with families, divorce and chronic conflict. Many teachers, daycare providers and other officials will undoubtedly have to deal with children coming from broken homes, where chronic conflict is noticeable. They most likely have to deal with a hostile parent who attempts to drag the school in the midst of his campaign against the other parent. The most common situation is when the hostile parent attempts to restrict the other parent from participating in their child’s school activities.
They should also make parents aware that hostile behavior is not accepted and that there will be no discrimination against the other parent unless a court order states otherwise.
For, extended family and friends to support a loved one through divorce, is a natural thing to do. Unfortunately far too often, many families and friends support an unfriendly parent. Most often they offer their support without ever questioning how their support may affect the children involved. Hostile parents are typically good at hiding the truth, therefore they are often mistaken for a “caring and concerned parent “.
One sure sign of hostile parenting is when a parent who never before complained about the other's parenting during marriage, but after separation he/she doesn’t seem to agree or like anything that the other parent do.
Doctors and nurses, social workers and police officers, are also in the front line when it comes to hostile parenting and chronic conflict. They should be careful that they don’t get involved in the hostilities between parents. Hostile parents present themselves quite well before authority figures such as doctors, police officers, nurses, parenting coordinators, etc.
Hostile parents will often feed these front-liners misleading, one sided stories with the sole purpose to extract information, opinion, and recommendation, which will be later used to block the friendly parent’s access time.
Failure by police officers and child protective workers to identify the signs of hostile parenting, could have devastating consequences for the children involved. The most common tool used by the hostile parent is to claim abuse on the child, as well as various unfounded allegations against the other parent.
High degrees of conflict during custody settlements and litigation are also sure signs in these affected families.
Another red flag should be raised when a parent with no history of bad parenting is accused left and right of bad parenting, abuse, etc., soon after separation.
One thing proven by various experts is that Hostile-Aggressive Parents are unable to separate their acrimonious feelings for their former spouses from their parental responsibilities and they will not appreciate the needs of their child.