Friday, November 27, 2009

Separation, Divorce and Parental Alienation Syndrome | Psychology Today

Splitting up shouldn’t mean splitting the kids.

The term "splitting" refers to a familiar tactic often used by children to manipulate their parents -- if Mommy says, "No.", then go ask Daddy.

For parent couples in the throes of separation or divorce, the adult version of splitting -- largely characterized by one parent vilifying the other in order to manipulate the children into choosing sides and, ultimately, alienating the other parent from them -- can be much more insidious.

The children may, at first, be only pawns -- tools for gaining some sense of leverage or perceived control -- but, in due course, they can become nothing more than weapons of vengeance, unwitting victims of ego and arrogance.

We are not alone in our relationship, nor is our partner. Establishing any relationship is an act of social co-creation in which all parties must be both responsible to, and accountable for, their actions, inactions and the consequences held therein. To that point, a relationship - any relationship -- demands cultivation; it doesn't just happen.

Should a relationship break, it is vital that both parties step back, take a moment to examine their personal role in that break, and hold onto that self-revelation. When the break is something not mutually agreed upon, the "wronged partner" - a term used quite loosely here - in denial and ignorance of their own responsibility, will often attempt to exercise some means for regaining a perceived semblance of control.

When benign, these means can appear as gestures of reconciliation, promises of change, pleas to seek counseling and all manner of self-effacing behavior. In instances more menacing, money is hidden; credit cards cancelled; documents disappear; cell phones are checked; computers scoured and private detectives hired, even when there is nothing to detect. A pattern of latent abuse [1, 2] emerges, escalating from a point somewhat removed from normal, to one that veers dangerously close to pathological.

These efforts to regain control are often fruitless; mostly because they are generally an illusion in the first place. Their abject futility, however, can foster a further, even more ominous, escalation - the co-opting of social connections. Friends, family, co-workers - anyone who will listen to the spinning of fantastical yarns that describe the evils of the other is approached, for good, ill or indifference.

Couched within this drama of social distortion, the saddest moment of all can come when an otherwise reasonable adult utters to a child fateful words that might go something like, "I don't want a divorce. This is all your mother's idea. She's just a selfish bitch." In that moment, in an ego-driven and one way war of wills, the child becomes so much collateral damage.

The mechanism of parental alienation is fueled by a gross failure of emotional intelligence, and further compelled by the anger and resentment of ego. It is roundly destructive to everyone involved; disrupting or destroying familial connections, rending the fabric of the post-marital relationship and effectively compromising any chance at successful co-parenting.

Indeed, the most oppressive aspect of parental alienation is that it creates a false issue -- or set of false issues -- for children whom it is very likely do not have the social or emotional intelligence to discriminate between fact and fancy. The inaccuracies and misinformation proffered by one parent in service of discrediting the other shakes the very foundations of a child's model of the world, leaving them stranded outside the bounds of the very structure and consistency upon which they thrive.

Children caught up in this system of abuse [1, 2] are subject to a campaign of unjustified and unjustifiable denigration focused on one parent and perpetrated by the other. In mild cases, there is some programming fostered on the part of the alienating parent, but, all in all, relationships remain intact.

In moderate cases of parental alienation , the level of programming escalates, introducing two artifacts - firstly, the relationship with the targeted parent is more disrupted, created anxiety for the kids and, second, the children become co-opted into the alienating parent's system of unjustified accusation and begin to believe it, causing a whole separate set of psychosocial issues for them.

In severe cases, the programming has taken hold and the child/children come to develop an irrational and unfounded hatred of the targeted parent, often disrupting the parent/child bond to the point of breaking.

While this all sounds like a horribly Machiavellian system of social pathology - and, at its worst, it is -- some space needs to be held for the unintentional or naïve alienation fostered by simple resentment and frustration. Snarky remarks about financial matters, living arrangements or general behavior not personally directed at the other parent constitute a sort of indirect and somewhat unintentional alienation that a child may or may not take to heart.

A more active, and destructive, form of this is compassed by critical comments that remind a child about past disappointments or situations that had negative outcomes. It might also include more personal attacks on character, or descriptions of alleged (and typically false) activities that would reflect on character.

In severe cases, attempts at alienation are obsessive and irrational. The alienating parent literally subjugates the child, enmeshing them in their own irrational belief system and making it virtually impossible for them to think for themselves. The child is interjected into the social reality of the targeted parent as the mouthpiece of hatred for the alienating parent and, objectified in this way, becomes nothing more - and nothing less - than a weapon of social and emotional destruction.

The take away here is fairly straightforward -- if we can't figure out how to be married, fine, but, with children involved, we need to figure out how to be divorced; and certainly not at the expense of the children's state of mind simply for our own small, petty and vindictive satisfactions.

So, play nice -- and if you see this happening or catch yourself doing it, either speak up, or knock it off. In the end, it serves no one and the only ones who suffer are the kids.


Gardner, R.A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition, Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica , All Rights Reserved

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Separation, Divorce and Parental Alienation Syndrome | Psychology Today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fathers 4 Justice to protest at cathedral - Children Without Dads at Christmas

Fathers 4 Justice to protest at cathedral

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A Fathers for Justice group will be demonstrating at Canterbury Cathedral as part of their campaign to change family law.

New Fathers for Justice are urging all dads who will not be able to see their children this Christmas to join them at 10am on Saturday, December 12 to support their campaign.

The group will be dressed in Santa costumes to put pressure on the church to help them “put the father back into Christmas”.

A spokesman for the group said: “New Fathers for Justice will yet again attempt to get our message across to the church which, like this arrogant Labour government, had ignored the plight of fathers since they have been in office.

“We are urging the church to support us in our fight to change family law and plug dads back into families in time for Christmas.

“We see this as a great necessity as we are now potentially only six months away from the general election. We hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will help us with the plight of dads in Britain this Christmas.”

The group has urged dads to come along with banners and wearing Father Christmas outfits.

Campaigners from father’s rights groups have made a name for themselves using direct action campaigning methods to fight for better rights for fathers who want to see their children.

High profile demonstrations include a campaigner dressed as Batman staging a five-hour protest on a Buckingham Palace ledge and a father dressed as Spiderman protesting on the London Eye for 18 hours, causing it to close.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ninth Circuit Gives Big Victory to Non-Custodial Father

Ninth Circuit Gives Big Victory to Non-Custodial Father

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
By Robert Franklin, Esq.

A case decided November 10, 2009 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could have an enormous impact on fathers' rights to their children. (Note: The case is not yet published, so I can't provide a link to it.) It holds that even a divorced father with no right of physical custody must be given the opportunity to have custody of his child before a child protective agency can place it in foster care. Failure to do so by a county child protective agency can subject the county to a suit for damages by the father under the federal civil law governing deprivation of constitutional rights.

To put it bluntly, this is a huge win for non-custodial parents.

The opinion in Burke, et al vs. County of Alameda California, et al now governs everyone within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit which encompasses California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Montana and the territories of Guam and the Northern Marianna Islands. Unless overturned by the United States Supreme Court, Burke is binding precedent throughout the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth is the largest federal circuit and one of the most influential on the others. Of course the opinion in Burke doesn't govern cases in other circuits, but, given that it was a case of first impression (i.e. a similar case had never been decided before by that circuit) there, it may well be looked to by other circuits in deciding similar cases. It may also be looked to by the Supreme Court should a similar case reach that level.

David and Melissa Burke lived together and apparently were married. Melissa's 14-year-old daughter "B.F." lived with them. She was the natural daughter of Melissa and Clifton Farina who had divorced some years before. David was her stepfather and Clifton was a non-custodial dad. Frustratingly enough, the opinion doesn't tell us whether Clifton had an order of visitation, but it seems that he did not because the opinion says that he had no right of physical custody. Nevertheless, he saw his daughter fairly often even though B.F. testified that his new wife didn't like her and being around her was uncomfortable for the girl. Melissa had sole physical custody of B.F.

When B.F. complained to an Alameda County Sheriff's officer that David hit her repeatedly and often fondled her breasts, the officer, without a warrant, removed her from the Burke home and placed her with the county child protective services agency. CPS in turn placed her in some form of protective care.

David, Melissa and Clifton Farina sued Alameda County and the sheriff's deputy under federal statute 42 U.S.C. 1983 which allows civil suits against municipal and state entities which "under color of law" deprive someone of their constitutional rights. The trial court granted the county's motion for summary judgment, holding that neither the Burkes nor Farina had any claim against the county on which they could prevail at trial. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the Burkes had no claim and that the sheriff's deputy was immune from suit.

But the circuit court reversed the trial court as to Clifton Farina. It said that, even though he had no right of physical custody, Alameda County could not lawfully ignore Clifton as a possible custodian of B.F. Failure by the county to "explore the possibility of putting B.F. in his care" violated his constitutional right to a familial relationship and association with his daughter. His case was returned to the trial court so a jury could hear and decide his claim for damages against the county.

On this blog, both Glenn and I have written about the outrageous preference on the part of CPS agencies for foster care over father care. Those agencies routinely bypass fathers altogther and place children in foster care. I reported on an Urban Institute study that showed that, even though CPS agencies know who the father is in some 88% of cases that come before them, attempts to contact him are made in barely over half those cases. Glenn has written about a girl to whom Orange County, California lied repeatedly over many years, solely to keep her from her father and in foster care.

In short, after this case, CPS agencies can no longer do that without getting sued. The Burke opinion is not clear on exactly what a county must do to comply with it. But as I see it, they'll have to make diligent efforts to locate the father and assess whether his care would be superior to that of a foster home. If it would be, he would get custody. In short, when taking a child from its custodial parent due to abuse or neglect, a state within the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction may no longer simply ignore the non-custodial parent.

Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.

Los Angeles Dads--Free Legal Consultation on Your Case
If you are involved in a divorce, domestic violence, paternity, child custody or support case in the greater Los Angeles area, call Certified Family Law Specialist Stephen A. Gershman to schedule your FREE initial one hour consultation at (888) 295-1756. With 25 years experience, he will competently and aggressively defend you.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Major Announcement from Fathers & Families

A Major Announcement from Fathers & Families

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
By Glenn Sacks, MA for Fathers & Families

In a move that will change the course of the family court reform movement, Fathers & Families has just hired two experienced, accomplished legislative representatives. Soon we will be launching campaigns in support of our family court reform legislation---to get involved, please click here.


Readers of are familiar with Michael Robinson's work in Sacramento on family court reform legislation, and Robinson and I have often worked together. In 2004 and again in 2006, we helped scuttle two bills (SB 730 and SB 1482) that would have led to unrestricted post-divorce move-aways. This was an important victory for California's children of divorce, and one that surprised many Sacramento insiders, including Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.

Robinson and I also worked together to pass family law legislation to help military parents (SB 1082) and on shared parenting and domestic violence reform bills. In 2007 and again this year, Robinson helped build a professional coalition to scuttle AB 612, a bill that would have banned target parents of Parental Alienation from raising PA as an issue in their cases.

Robinson has also been instrumental in passing legislation on paternity fraud (AB 252 and SB 1333), noncustodial parents’ access to school records (AB 164), Collaborative Law (AB 402, AB 189, AB 3051), and protection for disabled veterans with child support obligations (SB 285). He helped create the COAP program, which allows mothers and fathers who are unfairly saddled with inflated, unpayable child support arrearages to settle them for modest cash payments.

Michael Robinson is now Fathers & Families' full-time legislative representative in Sacramento, and we will be introducing several family court reform bills into the California legislature in February. Starting soon, Fathers & Families activists will be meeting with legislators throughout the state. We want your participation--to get involved, please click here.


Enzo Pastore, our new deputy director, has worked on health care reform legislation in Washington DC, Albany, NY, and Boston, MA for 15 years. Pastore designed and promoted model prescription drug legislation that was introduced in 27 states in 2001. He led a successful legislative campaign in New York in 2007 to fund special housing for senior citizens and the disabled. In 2005, he helped defeat a federal Bush initiative that would have drastically cut Medicaid funding and services.

In January, we will launch our campaign to pass HB 1400, the Massachusetts Shared Parenting bill, and Pastore will be spearheading our campaign.

Through Fathers & Families’ efforts, over one-quarter of the Massachusetts Legislature has expressed clear, public support for our Shared Parenting Bill, many of them signing on as co-sponsors. We gathered thousands of signatures to place shared parenting on the 2004 Massachusetts ballot and led a successful campaign for its passage, winning 86% of the vote. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told the Legislature that if they pass Fathers & Families’ Shared Parenting, he will sign it, and F & F recently met with Governor Patrick.

We need volunteers to meet with legislators, do media work, and help build our campaign--to volunteer, please click here.

Federal Legislation, plus Legislation in Texas & Many Other States

Robinson has worked with legislators and staffers in many other states on military parent legislation, and many states have passed bills modeled in part on SB 1082, the military parents bill we passed in California in 2005. These include: Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Mississippi, Alaska, Missouri, and others.

Robinson worked with Texas Senator Jane Nelson to pass SB 279, a bill to protect military parents' custody rights which was signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry earlier this year.

Robinson worked with Mark Sullivan, Committee Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association's Military Committee, on the National Defense Reauthorization Act (HR 2647), which was signed by President Obama last month. The bill mandates that the Secretary of Defense produce a report on child custody litigation involving members of the Armed Forces, as well as international intrafamilial abductions of servicemembers' children.

The Secretary of Defense will submit its report to the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives by the end of March. Robinson says:

"Fathers & Families can play a major role in the implementation of this legislation. We need to make sure that the impact isn't watered down, that it's powerful, not sugar-coated."

This problem affects both fathers and mothers who serve. If you are a military mother or father whose custody rights have been adversely affected due to your service, we want to make sure your story is included in the Secretary of Defense's report. To submit your story for inclusion, please fill out our form here.

Prominent Biotechnology Executive Mark Benedyk, PhD Joins Our Board of Directors

Dr. Benedyk is the head of The Pfizer Incubator, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pfizer, Inc., the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. The Pfizer Incubator was initiated by Pfizer to support life science start-ups and to explore novel approaches to discovering new medicines.

Dr. Benedyk has over 15 years experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, where he has been involved in business development, product management, and corporate fundraising. His business strategy and fundraising skills will be invaluable for Fathers & Families, and we welcome him as our newest national board member.

What You Can Do

Experienced legislative experts like Robinson and Pastore cost money, as does the organizational work we do surrounding their efforts--please make a tax-deductible gift to support our important work by clicking here.

One very affordable way to help build Fathers & Families is to make a monthly gift--to do so, click here and enter an amount under "monthly contribution."

The Family Court Reform Movement will not progress unless we engage in the political process on a professional level, as our opponents do.

Fathers & Families has the largest membership base, the highest media profile, the most funding, and now the best legislative advocates of any family court reform organization. The time to take this movement to a higher level is now, and it takes money to do it--please give generously by clicking here.

To volunteer to help, please click here.

Together with you in the love of our children,

Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families

Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers & Families

Help for Boston Dads
The Law Offices of Nicholas Palermo in every custody and support case, consistently promotes and advances the fundamental, Constitutional, equal right of all involved and fit Fathers, to raise and nurture their children. In case after case, founder Nick Palermo establishes that Fathers are parents, not "visitors", and secures joint, shared custody, and equal parenting rights for both fit parents. In 2008 we celebrate our 22nd year as a downtown Boston trial and full service law firm. LAW OFFICES OF NICHOLAS PALERMO

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