October 5, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In the not too distant past, I’ve commented unflatteringly on the attempts by two different writers to cast aspersions on both the concept of parental alienation and what’s apparently the best effort to date to deal constructively with it, i.e. the Family Bridges workshop.
The animus against the concept of parental alienation is driven almost solely by those who would have us believe that children don’t need fathers in their lives. Of course either parent can alienate children, but PA tends strongly to be an opportunistic phenomenon. The parent who has the most time with the children is best situated to alienate them from the other parent. Since mothers overwhelmingly have primary custody of their children, alienating parents tend to be mothers and their targets fathers. So it’s the anti-dad crowd that tries to get us to believe that PA is simply a clever ruse by fathers to wrest custody from mothers.
By now, I suspect that those people are coming to understand that their pretense that parental alienation doesn’t exist is a losing argument. Far too many mental health professionals, children, parents, lawyers, judges and the like have seen it and far too much has been written about it in scholarly journals for any serious commentator to buy what the anti-dad crowd is selling.
So, at least to an extent, they’re fighting a rear-guard action against sincere efforts to fix what parental alienators have broken, i.e. the relationship between the targeted parent and the alienated kids. Like their attempts to question PA, the anti-father forces’ efforts to attack programs aimed at repairing those relationships are deeply shameful. As countless mental health professionals have pointed out, parental alienation is child abuse; those who attack efforts to assuage the terrible effects of PA implicitly promote that abuse. It doesn’t get much more disgraceful than that.
So I thought I’d provide a disinterested view of parental alienation and the Family Bridges workshop. Both are found in the opinion in the case of McClain vs. McClain decided April 18,2017 by the Knoxville, TN Court of Appeals.
I won’t tax readers’ patience with the details of the alienation. Suffice it to say that Ferryl McClain and Richard McClain were married back in the late 90s and had two children. They first separated in 1999 and have been fighting in court almost ever since. During most of that time, Richard had primary custody of the children, B.M. and C.M. He appears to have actively alienated them from their mother, a fact that the trial court eventually got around to acknowledging and doing something about.
Those who question the reality of parental alienation should read the trial court’s understanding of it.
Alienation and estrangement, as psychological terms of art that may describe some of these family dynamics, are not interchangeable or synonymous concepts.
The difference between estrangement and alienation resides in the presence vs absence of a reasonable objective basis for a child’s severe and persistent rejection and denigration of a parent. Rejection and denigration of a parent with a reasonable objective basis is estrangement; rejection and denigration without such a basis is parental alienation…
As set forth in Bernet et al (2010):
“[T]he essential feature of parental alienation is that a child allies himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification. The primary behavioral symptom is that the child refuses or resists contact with a parent, or has contact with a parent that is characterized either by extreme withdrawal or gross contempt. The primary mental symptom is the child’s irrational anxiety and/or hostility toward the rejected parent. This anxiety and/or hostility may have been brought about by the preferred parent or by other circumstances . . .”[FN]
The phenomena of parental alienation are well recognized internationally and, sadly, are frequently alleged or encountered in custody and visitation litigation. Parental alienation may occur in the absence of any other mental condition. The specific term “parental alienation” does not yet appear as a psychiatric diagnosis in the official classification of the American Psychiatric Association, although its features commonly may be subsumed under one or more other diagnostic categories, such as Parent- Child Relational Problem, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and Shared Delusional Disorder (a/k/a folie a deux).
Those passages should be required to be included in all articles that attempt to cast doubt on parental alienation. They include important concepts routinely misrepresented by those articles.
For example, we hear it claimed that there’s no difference between PA and simple estrangement. Some children simply grow apart from one parent, we’re told, and we shouldn’t second-guess that sometimes-natural part of growing up. But of course the very core of parental alienation is that the child’s rejection of the parent has no basis in the reality of the parent’s behavior. Opponents of recognizing PA never get around to mentioning that.
Then we hear that PA has no basis in science. And yet scores of researchers around the world have studied the phenomenon and written about it as Dr. William Bernet’s hefty tomb on parental alienation amply attests. And of course, courts in many different nations have accepted expert testimony on PA even under the strict standards of Daubert. Again, it’s something the anti-dad crowd doesn’t like to mention.
And finally, yes, while parental alienation isn’t listed as such in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – V, the concept appears under different names.
Both the trial and appellate courts in Tennessee are aware of the realities of parental alienation. Scurrilous “journalists” who misrepresent matters in order to further an agenda that doesn’t balk at child abuse are neither so informed nor so honest.
More on Family Bridges next time.
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