Life away from a loving mother. The new norm.

We agree that a shift was needed to make it more likely that fathers would be involved, actively involved, in the lives of their children after divorce. Agreed, it should not be an automatic decision that a mother would have sole custody and all decision-making rights.

What is happening in our culture in the effort to ‘level the playing field’ for fathers is that we’ve gone very far astray in serving the needs of children for the sake of gaming, in some form, what a natural outcome should be when there are two loving, safe parents eager to care for their children. Ensuring that fathers are involved and that shared parenting is supported is a great thing, for sure. The unfortunate reality, though, is that some lawyers are hiding behind “father’s rights” to profit from completely eradicating mothers from the children’s lives.

Children are being taught that it is normal for their mother (or father) to be ‘gone’ from their lives because ‘that’s how it went in court.’ It is often not because the mother or father is ‘unfit’ or unavailable; it is not for lack of interest but rather about what increases the fees in the case. Would you fight back if a disadvantage was created for you and that disadvantage meant being cut out and cut off from parenting your children? Of course, you would!

So, if you’re a loving mother with young children depending on you every day, including around facilitating a pleasant and warm relationship with their father, you are at great risk of not only being undermined and challenged but of losing your children if you do not play along.

The story that circulated about these boys a few years back was disturbing and shocking. Their father paid a psychologist to make false allegations against their mother so that his new wife could incorporate the boys’ residency in the USVI on her application for a tax shelter for her hedge fund. We’re learning more about child trafficking and how much money is paid to help avoid accountability, so this is a story that is finally finding its voice. For now, my point is: assume nothing and figure out what it is that you need to know about litigation, especially when children are involved.

Next, help set the standards higher and don’t be afraid to speak about what makes sense and about what children really need!

This, what we saw done to these boys in Newnan, Georgia, is not what good men do; it is not what good fathers do to their children. Good men (and good women) do not tear apart and isolate their children because it makes financial sense for them. When ‘legal strategy’ is inserted, though, it can change perspective and make people react in ways they otherwise would not react. Parents are distracted and led to believe “this is normal,” and if you want (x) then you have to “play the game.”

Once parents become caught up in this, they lose focus of what makes sense for their children and forget that they previously were leading their children to have strong relationships with the other parent in spite of spousal differences. Winning becomes the priority and the impact on children gets lost.

When this happens, children are deceived. Deprived is the right word. [Please feel free to reverse wording to show it is women forcing good men out of the lives of their children; it works both ways, but always because there is a lawyer or two, and often a custody ‘expert’ aiding in reaching a pre-determined outcome that harms children.]

This is not the time or place for debating alienating tactics but rather calling attention to the shocking number of times a caregiver parent, the parent holding the fort down, handling all the ordinary needs and day to day routines and soothing the upset tummies and listening to the tall tales (and cleaning up after the furry tails) is shoved to the side because of litigation abuse. It’s not about who is more involved or “better,” but about what happens when favors are done in litigation for the purpose of enabling and increasing profits for the professionals controlling the litigation between parents.

I have the authority to talk on this subject this way because I have intervened and advocated for nearly as many fathers as I have mothers, simply because I am focused uniquely on what children need and on what some professionals will do to the entire family when there is no accountability for their actions.

The most simple analogy I can give you is a story in legal news about a car repair shop that took in vehicles for repair and instead of fixing the problem as presented, the man in control took the vehicle and smashed it up a bit more so he could collect more for the repairs. The title of the article about his prosecution read “Bumping up the damages,” and that is exactly what occurs in far too many domestic situations.

What lawyers, guardians and psychologists are ignoring is that this approach is life-threatening to children. Fueling fires to keep parents fighting rather than holding accountable, establishing boundaries and motivating them to stop fighting carries obvious consequences for the parents and for the children, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Not yet anyway.

Will you join me in changing this trend that removes loving parents from children without cause?

The approach of increasing damages to increase profits, like with the car repair shop, is what I refer to as ‘profit over protection,’ a strategy that puts the needs of the children and rights of parents below – way below – the financial interests, the billings and relationships between certain lawyers and guardians and/or psychologists who determine where children should live and which parent should have decision-making. Yes, it’s a tough and often unpopular topic of discussion, but one we need to have if we really want to stabilize children and families and set them up to succeed.

Let’s talk!

Deborah Beacham

Founder, My Advocate Center, Inc.

Follow me on Twitter: @DebBeachamATL or @MyAdvocateCentr

Image take from courtroom video of a judge speaking with parents at the end of a several year dispute over young children. It took two times for the Court of Appeals to reverse a decision and three lawyers for the father to overcome the harsh practices on the other side designed to keep this father out of the lives of the children. I’ve made this photo about the judge and the American flag rather than about the faces of the parents and the grandmother because we saw that day, with the camera rolling, that just and reasonable outcomes are possible. My challenge to you? Do what you can to ensure children do not have to go years without a parent who is available, safe and ready to care for the children.

Solve problems. I dare you.

Grooming. Hedge Fund Style.

Grooming is no longer a word you should use in your budget or financial affidavit for litigation. It is associated with snagging the attention of victims and preparing them for servitude. It is taking away modesty and boundaries that keep children and young women safe. Grooming means to normalize unwanted sexual experiences, including pornography and sexual assault. It is putting children in a position where they must not resist and then they lose inhibitions and the internal call to resist and leave. This is how sex traffickers succeed. Grooming includes desensitizing the child to what is happening, giving it a name that makes it seem acceptable and not an offense that should be reported.

Grooming can include turning children into predators, rewarding them for engaging and being aggressive towards other children. Sometimes children become the recruiters, as is the case with Epstein’s stable of victims.

The seasoned woman attached to Jeffrey Epstein is reported as having fallen off the social scene in New York but what she did to girls should be on our radar and in our minds from now on. We not only need to be on the lookout for those who sexually exploit and abuse children but also those who win them over and groom them for sex acts and slavery. [listen in news reports for titles to books ordered by Epstein]

That is the role Ms. Maxwell appears to have served, at least one of them. Groomer of young girls. The stories about Epstein and Maxwell are tough to stomach, but salacious enough given celebrity status with homes around the globe that media will continue expanding on the details. It’s time.

I believe justice can still be served for the young women reeled in, groomed and exploited by the accomplice, a polished and privileged woman who charmed everyone in her social circles. I believe in not giving up.

I’m proud of my hometown paper for being the driver in the exposure of this sex trafficking enterprise dominated by hedge fund mogul Jeffrey Epstein and I’m grateful to Julie K. Brown for not letting go. The Miami Herald published this scathing story about the leniency given to Epstein despite the number of girls and substantial and overwhelming evidence.

This is going to be a deep dive for media, as seen here on Fox News, and for child sex trafficking authorities for quite some time, but what I hope for you is that you become empowered to speak up and do more in your community to help vulnerable children and teens stay safe and confident enough to avoid those who groom children for the perpetrators of sexual abuse.

Go here for the Timeline of sexual abuse history and prosecution of Epstein according to Fox News.

Next? Be offended at how easy it is for some to avoid serious punishment for harming children. “We were little girls.” This part is easy: get involved.

The harder part is staying with the case and pushing through the politics when people of influence are able “change minds” of prosecutors or judges and circumvent justice for their victims. This is a major problem for society as this happens often, more often than you would like to think.

Thank you to all who are interested in getting out in front of child exploitation and in supporting family stability. The girls talk about how vulnerable they were and reporters talk about family dysfunction as a major factor in making these vulnerable to being tricked and groomed into becoming a part of this world.

We can do better. Visit GaCares.org to learn more about commercialized sexual exploitation of our youth. Be aware of people who blend in but who may be the one creating the most risk.

Keep in mind also that there are other ways children are trafficked and exploited; financial gain is not only derived from sexual abuse when children can be held hostage and silenced. Any time children can be used as commodities by hedge fund owners and their lawyers, we should step in.

What are others saying about his lair in the Virgin Islands?

‘It’s our dark corner’: Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘Pedophile Island’ no secret on St. Thomas

Based on my experience in witnessing how children were used illegally to increase profits in the Virgin Islands, on St. Thomas and with the help of the former governor investigated for misconduct and ousted, I believe there is more to this part of Epstein’s network and story. Were other hedge fund owners and other women involved? It’s worth a closer look. As the headline says, it’s a “dark corner.”

Share cases involving exploitation of youth where the predators are known to the children by using the contact form above.

Deb Beacham

Due Process is a Thing?

Why would I question whether or not due process, fairness protected by law, truly matters to our courts?

My question stems from a critical problem in domestic law, especially in child custody cases, because laws governing fairness and constitutional rights so often are not applied in family conflict. Parents are stunned, many to the point of feeling disabled and hopeless, and left wondering why reasonable notice and the ability to present evidence and defend themselves are rights that seem not to matter during what is called “civil” litigation.

When parents are deprived of basic rights in legal disputes, any sense of civility goes out the window. It is a horrific shock to a loving parent to find out too late that due process, the rights which can easily make or break a parent’s ability to be involved in their children’s lives, seems to not have a place in the trial courts where children are divided much like a 401k.

Fairness to a parent entering family court is like gloss over an attention-grabbing ad campaign to make it seem safe to enter a legal process as a parent. The gloss, however, fades after one makes it far enough in past the storefront for reality to set in. It is not just a disappointment when laws providing for a fair process are not applied, it is traumatic.

In watching the video of the oral argument shown below, you’ll see that the Georgia Court of Appeals panel is quite passionate about this subject.

What I’ve observed in person in many child custody cases makes no sense in light of that passion.

That due process is missing, even unknown to many parents and children, including teens who believed they had a right to choose their primary parent, is one of the reasons I believe in being able to film in courtrooms, which I do often by filing a request to record as permitted by USCR 22 (Rule 22). Even with the revised Rule 22 seeming to encourage more widespread use of recordings, when done properly, there is still much effort in some courts to provide cover for the kind of statements and attitudes revealed in this video of the argument in the Georgia Court of Appeals. In every situation where a lawyer has objected to my request to record, the proceeding yielded an opportunity for that lawyer’s client to benefit from a lack of transparency. In every proceeding where a request to record has been denied in accord with the objection, an injustice, a lack of fairness towards a safe, loving parent, hung in the air like a heavy, mold-laden curtain. This may sound overly dramatic or even unrealistic, but when you watch the Judges’ responses in this video, you’ll understand I’m right on point.

I’ve actually heard lawyers in domestic circles say that due process does not matter or does not exist in family law, even though there are rules and there is plenty of case law that talks about the ramifications if a party is deprived of due process, if a specific civil right is denied. How can lawyers have this attitude that conflicts so dramatically with the beliefs of appellate court judges? How can due process not be “thing” if Judge Dillard and other Judges in the Court of Appeals react as they do in oral argument below?

After years of seeing enormous, life-altering – and in a bad way for children and safe, loving parents – voids (a black hole likely to allow no safe return) when it comes to having opportunity to be heard and having rulings, let alone timely rulings, I was encouraged to see this issue argued so passionately in our Court of Appeals. I saw it because a news media team featured it on The Reveal, a unique show produced by Atlanta’s 11 Alive, and I hope it makes its way to the eyeballs, through the brains and into the hearts of our domestic lawyers and family court judges. Yes, I believe anything is possible.

Grab a seat and be ready to take notes. For sure send your comments through social media or contact me here.

Follow the Court of Appeals online and watch for cases that involve issues of due process, fairness and civil rights that yield family stability and protect mental health. How many more arguments of this kind would you like to see in our appellate courts where you can learn directly from our Judges this way?

I’m especially appreciative of the fact that our appellate courts in Georgia allow filming of oral argument, and I’d like to provide more coverage of such cases in the Court of Appeals to see reactions to similar due process issues.

As a lawyer or judge, ask the tough questions about the case before you; dare to spend extra time checking your work as it applies to due process. If you have a case you believe is heading towards oral argument which involves parental rights, I’d like to know.

What if more arguments like this resulted in relief that restores parent-child bonds and ensures due process in child custody and other domestic matters? Would that be a good thing for our society?

I think we can expect a great impact on our culture and in our communities by paying attention here, so please send me a note with a case number once docketed in the appellate court. If you know of a lawyer who has argued before the Court of Appeals to ensure due process is afforded to parents and children, please make an introduction or share the standout points made and how the Court reacted.

Relief. That is what due process would provide should it be restored to parents and children relying on our laws to protect their right to be together and to be safe from harm.

Thank you for taking time to read and to watch Georgia’s Court of Appeals make trend-changing statements in this case!

Deborah Beacham

Can My Experience with Child Custody Experts Help Others?

Have you faced family conflict in Georgia that resulted in child custody litigation?

If you have, then the chance is pretty high you have something to say about your experience and may even want your experience to be useful in improving the process for others.

If you believe the process is overused and/or can be improved for the sake of increasing safety, peace of mind and availability of nurturing parents for children, your answers are especially important.

Regardless of where you are in the process, what the outcome has been, or even if it is not your experience but that of a family member or friend, your input is valuable in shaping the future of conflict resolution.

Please complete the form below and use the Contact Us form if you have any questions. Thank you!

Thank you, Congress, for Putting Child Safety First!

Important update!

Congress passed House Conc. Resolution 72 on September 24th, late into the evening.

This was a bipartisan effort with tireless support from child advocates, lawyers and legislators from across the country. This was a tremendous first step toward improving safety, mental health and family stability for children!

Watch this video courtesy of C-SPAN to hear what Representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties have to say about this new mandate to states and courts. The video is linked in the previous sentence. To comment on this legislation and story, please use the Contact form here.

My Advocate Center supports Georgia Courts in improving child safety and mental health.

Why did My Advocate Center begin publishing information about this proposed resolution back in April of 2018?  The answer: child safety and emotional well-being should always be the first priority of every legal matter involving children. Always. Most of us, however, could not fathom that this has NOT been the case; in fact, the true needs of children, including protection from an abusive parent, are often ignored.

You’ve seen the news reports, heard the stories and talked about it on social media, or maybe only quietly shared it with your counselor when privately grieving what has happened to you or to your loved ones.

The next step for Georgians is to ask our policy leaders to help create momentum on this issue. Please sign the petition below and get to know your U.S. Representatives by sharing your experience with them.

What is the overall goal?

Keeping our children safe, our families stable and healthy, protecting our rights as parents and grandparents to care for our own children. To do this, we need to improve how our courts and legal professionals manage family disputes that enter the the legal system.

Did you know? We reached over 1000 signatures on our previous petition, so just imagine what we can do now!

What is Stalking and Why is it a Dangerous Crime?

The Fatality Review Annual Report for 2017 addresses misconceptions about stalking and explains why it is a much more dangerous crime, connecting to more deaths of domestic violence victims, than most people realize.

Stalking involves a course of conduct by the perpetrator that is meant to cause fear and uncertainty or an expectation of harm in the victim. It is often an unseen or almost invisible crime, but the danger lurking around the corner or in the shadows is always a sign of trauma and injury to follow.

This course of conduct is also found in civil cases where one party – the aggressor or perpetrator of crimes paying to avoid accountability and block protection for the victim and children involved – uses stalking tactics to destabilize the victim. It is no less of a crime when stalking occurs in the context of a scheme to cause harm during litigation. The intent is provoke the victim into appearing more scared and to the point of looking paranoid than the targeted party would be otherwise. Because stalking can be obscured and sometimes explained away by the perpetrator, the victim may be easily discredited and thereby unable to receive protection. The perpetrator is then free to continue the stalking and harassing behavior. In situations like the one just described, the perpetrator often uses others to stalk and harass by proxy.

This scenario is one seen in many cases reported to My Advocate Center, and it is often the case that professionals being paid by the perpetrator are assisting in the series of crimes by coordinating and covering for the perpetrator. Doing so is profitable because it also helps prolong litigation as the perpetrator will pay to escalate the stress and injury to the victim while avoiding accountability for the criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend in family courts and one that must be addressed now before more lives are lost – including those of the children witnessing this form of domestic or family violence.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Does Alienation of Children from Safe Parents Really Cause Harm?

This is a lot to read, but critical for professionals to get this that it is no small thing to enable this form of abuse to ruin the lives of children when you are in a position to make life better for them.

 

AAML_Alienation of Children and Parents_2015 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Do you know how to recognize harmful behavior in children who have been turned against a parent?

Excerpts found below are borrowed from the above document and may include occasional notes by My Advocate Center as this review is part of a larger study geared toward reducing childhood trauma and improving safety for parents and children.

Page 14:

Good grades in school, excellent performance in sports and performing arts, and polite, compliant behavior in settings apart from the rejected parent comprise only some aspects of healthy psychological functioning. Children who suspend critical thinking and judge parents as either all good or all bad are prone to transfer such cognitive practices to peer relationships, resulting in the rupture of friendships at the first sign of conflict.

Alienated children’s relationships with their favored parents may appear ideal because of the absence of conflict and frustration. In some cases, though, children pay for such harmony by neglecting their own needs.22 Often these children feel responsible for their favored parent’s emotional well-being. They comfort distressed parents, serve as confidantes, and assure parents of their allegiance. Alienated children often sacrifice age-appropriate independent functioning in order to gratify favored parents’ needs to keep the children close at hand and dependent.

Page 15:

The children believe that they have their favored parents’ approval to suspend the usual rules of morality when dealing with the targets of their enmity.

Apart from what may be covert or subtle corruption of character and respect for authority, alienated children suffer overt irrational anxiety or hatred of a parent and declare their wish to completely erase good parents from their lives.

Such irrational feelings represent significant psychological disturbances, regardless of how well these children function in other domains.24 At the very least, unreasonably rejecting a parent is as serious a problem as are other irrational aversions and anxieties, such as avoidance of school, peers, or open spaces. Their obsessive hatred of rejected parents is at least as worrisome as fixed negative stereotypes and irrational prejudice toward members of religious or ethnic minorities.

Severely alienated children suffer significant impairments in their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development.25 They maintain a highly distorted view of a parent. They are unable to give and receive love from a good parent.

What would be a normal response, if the parents were not separated?

If these children were living in an intact family, professionals would not doubt the wisdom of addressing rather than ignoring the problems.

It is not necessary to cite the long-term consequences of parental alienation to justify the importance of addressing the problem. The family’s dysfunction in the present is sufficient justification for intervention.26 In addition to alleviating the child’s obvious impairments, interventions are needed to improve the functioning of both parents. Some mental health professionals and lawyers too readily counsel rejected parents to accept the situation and wait passively for the child’s return. Those who make recommendations and decisions for these families should understand that the family is suffering and should be aware of the immense tragedy for a child to lose a parent and for a parent to lose a child.

It is easier to appreciate what is at stake when parental alienation is seen through the eyes of a parent who is the victim. One mother puts it this way:

It is like your child has died, but you can’t go through the normal grieving process. Instead you are stuck in this Twilight Zone-like nightmare with no end in sight. You know your child is being abused, and this is child abuse pure and simple, but no one will help you save their hijacked souls and you are forced to stand and watch, with your hands tied behind your back. She describes what mental health professionals term ambiguous loss or complicated loss, more difficult to resolve than grief over the death of a child because it defies closure.27 She also identifies the pain of standing by helplessly while her child’s character is corrupted.

Page 17:

In addition to the emotional impact on families, parental alienation is implicated in violence, suicides, and homicides. An example is a father who alienated his children and then conspired with them to kill their mother. Explicitly recognizing the power of the father’s influence, the district attorney charged the man with having “coerced, persuaded and enticed his children to commit this atrocious crime upon their mother.”28

Researchers have limited data on what happens over time.

Researchers can extrapolate long-term outcomes, though, from several well-developed lines of investigation. These include: the impact of exposure to poorly-managed parental conflict, the consequences of intrusive parenting, and the risks to future development associated with parental absence and unresolved conflicts with parents.30

The literature on parenting most relevant to understanding the consequences of parental alienating behavior are studies on parental psychological control, also called intrusive parenting. This is defined as parenting behavior that “constrains, invalidates, and manipulates children’s psychological and emotional experience and expression.”33 Examples of psychological control include: “If I have hurt her feelings, she stops talking to me until I please her again.” “Is less friendly to me if I don’t see things his way.” The concept of intrusive parenting was not created with alienated children in mind. But “manipulating children’s psychological and emotional experience and expression” is precisely how authorities on the psychology of alienated children describe the negative influence of the favored parent.34

This type of manipulative parenting is linked to subsequent higher levels of depression and antisocial behavior.35 Higher risk for depression is also one of the known longterm hazards of parental absence during childhood.36

Some of the dynamics of this elevated risk may not apply to situations where parental absence is caused by the child’s rejection, but most of the identified reasons for the negative impact of parental absence are relevant to the risks faced by an estranged child growing up apart from a parent and without that parent’s psychological contributions to development.

The greater the discrepancy between the amount of nurturing and involvement children received from each parent—and for severely alienated children it is the most extreme—the lower their subsequent self-esteem, life satisfaction, and quality and satisfaction with friendships, and the greater distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents these children experience when they are young adults.37

In addition, children who hold a parent in contempt risk feeling contempt for the aspects of their own personalities that reflect identifications with the rejected parents. The resulting diminished self-esteem may contribute to depression. Children cannot escape the knowledge that each parent is part of them. It is difficult to harbor great contempt for a parent without, at some level, feeling terribly impaired.

In subsequent years many of these children regret missing out on the relationship with the rejected parent. As they mature, many feel ashamed and guilty for having caused so much pain to a loving parent.

Why is it important to take action to prevent such abuse and harm?

Overcoming severe alienation usually involves extensive litigation, multiple failed attempts to modify the behaviors of the alienating parent and child, and sometimes an intensive intervention, all of which take a lot of money and time. The longer the process takes, the more the losses accumulate. The longer the absence of contact between parent and child, the more lost opportunities mount for the creation of family memories. School performances, music and dance recitals, scouting trips, science fair projects, sports events, proms, and graduation ceremonies all create memories marred in future years by the parent missing from the photographs.

Can educational programs help?

The programs teach about the impact of parental conflict on children and the importance of avoiding bad-mouthing and alienating behavior. They offer no guidance, though, on how to respond when the other parent engages in alienating behavior that places the children at risk for joining in a campaign of denigration and rejection. The programs exhort parents to refrain from behaviors that encourage alienation, but they make no suggestions to proactively protect children from succumbing to a parent’s alienating behavior or to stem the tide of alienation before it becomes severe. In short, parents receive no advice on how to respond effectively to the challenges posed by their children’s rejection and provocative, contemptuous behavior. As a result, alienated parents typically make mistakes that compound the problem.43

Therapy?

Page 25:

Counseling is not only ineffective in many cases of moderate and severe alienation. Often it makes things worse. Counselors who lack adequate understanding and competence in dealing with parental alienation may be too quick to accept at face value the favored parent and child’s representations of events.53 This can result in misdiagnosis and misguided treatment.

Detailed and Unambiguous Court Orders are Strongly Recommended

Parenting coordinators and therapists who work with high conflict cases emphasize the importance of the court issuing detailed and clear orders. A parent who is intent on obstructing the child’s contact with the other parent will exploit every loophole and ambiguity in the orders to accomplish this goal. For instance, the parent may claim that the child is coming down with a cold and can’t make the shift between homes. Or the parent will sabotage court-ordered treatment because the orders failed to specify which parent is responsible for getting the child to the therapist. Attorneys who represent rejected parents should anticipate every conceivable excuse to keep children from their clients and then ensure that the orders protect against these contingencies. If this is done at the stage of the initial temporary orders, it could help prevent alienation from taking root and becoming more severe. Attempts to corrupt a child’s view of a parent most effectively crowd out the child’s positive feelings and memories when the child has no reminders of the parent’s love and no time to enjoy that parent.55 The child becomes more dependent on the favored parent and more likely to see the absent parent through the distorting lens of the parent doing the bad-mouthing.

When their parents separate, children have no norms about what to expect. If they have regular contact with both parents from the outset, this becomes the status quo and the norm. If they lose contact with a parent, they come to regard this as normal. The longer children are apart from a parent, the stronger the negative attitudes, the more resistant to change, and the more difficult it is to reunite children with their rejected parent. The longer the children’s will dominates the behavior of adults, the more difficult it will be for the children to appreciate and accept that decisions about contact are not theirs to make.

Can courts do more to safeguard relationships between targeted parents and children?

One provision of many court orders, designed to safeguard children’s welfare, may have undesirable consequences. Parents are admonished to not speak negatively about each other to the children, not involve the children in parental conflicts, and not discuss the litigation with the children. The problem is that alienating parents, either intentionally or inadvertently, regularly violate this provision.

This places parents who are targets of badmouthing and smear campaigns in a bind. If they do not speak to their children and correct misinformation that persuades the children to see them in a bad light, they give their children no help to cope with the bad-mouthing, and may stand idly by as their relationship with their children gradually deteriorates.56 But if they do speak to their children, they risk being seen as criticizing the other parent, involving their children in the parents’ conflicts, or inappropriately exposing the children to litigation matters.

Lawyers and judges should recognize some limitations of court orders that attempt to regulate parent-child communications about the divorce. For example, parents should shield children from most adult-adult issues and not undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child—that is the true intent of such court orders. But a parent who is the target of bad-mouthing may need to defend his or her parent-child relationship by sensitively providing information to counter accusations the child hears from the other parent.

Even the most unambiguous and detailed orders will not help if they are not enforced. A parent who obstructs the children’s contact with the other parent may benefit from the status quo. In In re Miller and Todd, a New Hampshire court awarded custody to a mother who successfully interfered with the father child relationship.57 The court found that the mother alienated the children from their father, but reasoned that the children had spent the majority of their lives with her and that is where they felt most comfortable. This is typical for such cases. The absence of contact establishes a status quo that the court honors in order to spare the children drastic changes.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the award.58 It recognized that the father was denied contact with his children for more than two years, and that awarding custody to the mother because of the lack of father-child contacts rewards the mother for violating court orders.

The decision quoted the Vermont Supreme Court: Although obviously well intended, the court’s decision effectively condoned a parent’s willful alienation of a child from the other parent. Its ruling sends the unacceptable message that others might, with impunity, engage in similar misconduct.

Left undisturbed, the court’s decision would nullify the principle that the best interests of the child are furthered through a healthy and loving relationship with both parents.59 This reasoning gives voice to the most frequent complaint parents make regarding their custody litigation:

Repeated violations of orders go unpunished, with some parents making a mockery of the court’s authority.

Experts agree. Dr. Joan Kelly notes, “[A] significant number of these parents have come to believe . . . that noncompliance with court orders, whether for facilitating contact between the child and rejected parent or attending divorce education classes or therapy, brings no negative consequences.”60

Are some professionals encouraging misconduct and willfully causing psychological harm to children and safe parents?

In some cases a child runs away from the rejected parent’s home into the welcoming arms of a parent intent on driving a wedge between the child and the other parent. Law enforcement authorities can be effective in such situations by retrieving the children, giving them stern lectures, and returning them to the parent from whom they ran away. The police are more likely to do so if the court orders anticipate such an event and direct law enforcement personnel to enforce the parenting plan.

Unfortunately often the police dismiss such incidents as family matters that need to be settled in court and not by police intervention. A parent is less likely to harbor a runaway child if he or she expects swift sanction from the court for violating orders. Instead what often occurs is that the children remain out of touch with their rejected parent as the litigation slogs through a quicksand of legal maneuvering and failed psychotherapeutic attempts to remedy the problem.

Drawbacks of leaving children with the parent using alienating tactics:

Leaving the children with their favored (abusive parent who is manipulating the children and exploiting the court process) parent may be less stressful for some children in the short run, and may be a default option if the court determines that the rejected parent lacks the capacity to assume full-time care of the children. In terms of alleviating alienation, though, this option has significant drawbacks.

It is not recommended when the favored parent has a history of sabotaging treatment (e.g., repeatedly failing to bring children to appointments, or repeatedly terminating treatment until locating a therapist who supports the favored parent’s position in the litigation).

It is not recommended when the favored parent exposes the children to an emotionally toxic environment, such as intimidating the children into rejecting the other parent. The literature on domestic violence describes the manner in which efforts to turn children against a parent sometimes represent a continuation and extension of behaviors by the other parent intended to harass, control, and punish a former spouse or partner.66

Are many court professionals currently getting it wrong?

According to a consensus of studies, treatment of severely alienated children while they remain apart from the rejected parent and with the favored parent is more likely to fail than to succeed and it may make matters worse by further entrenching the child’s distorted perceptions of the rejected parent.67 This is true for all models of treatment of irrationally alienated children proposed in the literature. Extending unsuccessful treatment while the child remains with the favored parent carries the hazards of delaying, and in some cases preventing, the eventual delivery of effective help.

Custody evaluators and guardians ad litem often prefer this option because they believe it is less intrusive and requires less of an adjustment on the children’s part than removing the children from the primary care of the favored parent.

Typically, court orders for treatment under this option are open-ended with vague and non-specific treatment goals (e.g., to reunify the parent and child, or to improve the parent-child relationship).

This is the reality for most parents being pushed out of their children’s lives. Is this intentional?

If treatment fails (which is more likely than not with severely alienated children who have no contact with the rejected parent outside of therapy sessions), the rejected parent wants to return to court as soon as possible (assuming finances allow), while the favored parent delays the process as long as possible. When the case is back before the court, the judge is likely to order an updated evaluation by the original evaluator. The timing of the re-evaluation is subject to the evaluator’s schedule and is usually prolonged by the favored parent’s obstructive and delay tactics.

The longer the delay, the older the children, the more accustomed they become to living estranged from a parent, and the less likely the court will be to overturn the status quo.

Note: in going through this body of work, it seems that there is great incentive for an abusive parent to violate court orders and engage in mental cruelty by manipulating and coercing children as it is so easy to get away with causing harm this way.

To what degree will abusive parents manipulate and collude to avoid intervention?

Collusion to Discourage Interventions and Placement with the Rejected Parent:

When the favored parent worries that an evaluator, guardian ad litem, or the court are likely to hold the favored parent in large measure responsible for the children’s alienation, and may place the children primarily with the rejected parent, often the favored parent encourages the children to pretend that they have overcome their alienation. Cooperative and superficial polite behavior replaces the former avoidance and disrespect. After months and sometimes years of no contact and scornful rejection, the children begin to comply willingly with orders for contact.

In an attempt to obscure the fact that the children had ever been alienated, the favored parent and children rewrite history. In one case, after the court heard evidence about a child’s animosity toward his mother’s extended family, one boy falsely claimed that he had been having weekly phone contact with his maternal uncle. Through texts and emails requesting to meet, greeting cards signed with love, and surreptitious voice recordings, the children fulfill their assignment to create a record that the favored parent subsequently uses to argue in favor of maintaining the status quo. Toward the end of a trial, a teen contacted her mother after months of avoidance to ask to meet for dinner.

The mother was aware that the offer was a ruse. If she refused the invitation the father would claim that the mother was not doing her part toward reconciliation. If she accepted the invitation, the judge would hear that the mother-daughter relationship was on the mend and no additional intervention or custody modification was needed. After hearing the details of the children’s communications during the contact, I advised the mother to be aware that her daughter likely was recording the entire interaction. The mother replied, “Come to think of it, she left her cell phone in the center of the dining room table during the entire meal.”

It exposes the power that the favored parent has wielded all along to remedy the problem and underscores that parent’s role in fomenting, strengthening, and supporting the children’s suffering.

At the same time, it reveals a previously unseen malleability in the behavior of the favored parent and children when sufficiently motivated by the court’s authority.

The sham, intended to convince the court to take a hands-off approach, instead helps the evaluator and the court appreciate that the successful resolution of alienation requires the court’s firm expectations, oversight, and enforcement. When the children believe that, as far as the court is concerned, failure is not an option, they are more likely to engage meaningfully in efforts to repair the damaged relationship.

The fear of getting the favored parent in trouble with the court provides children with a face-saving excuse to “follow the rules” and return to a normal relationship with the other parent. The children then feel relieved to shed the burden of having to disrespect one parent for fear of disappointing the other.

Can the court or professionals expect the abusive parent to do right by the children and other parent after winning?

The parent with whom the children are aligned has carried on a lengthy campaign to support the status quo of no contact between the children and their other parent. It is unlikely that the aligned parent will be inclined to relinquish the campaign in the immediate aftermath of the court’s decision.

Tips for Lawyers Representing a Parent Who is Alienating the Children – page 67.

1. If your clients are aware that they are undermining their children’s relationships with their other parent, impress upon them the damage this is likely to cause the children in the near-term and in the future.

4. Ensure that your clients understand the possible legal consequences for interference with custodial contact and for violating court orders.

The Targeted Family Usually Does Not Recover, but Faith Remains

Despite weathering cruel treatment and untempered hatred that would drive most people away, many rejected parents maintain a steadfast commitment to their children’s welfare and invest considerable resources trying to restore positive relationships. Very often the tragedy extends to an entire half of the children’s family who remain astounded and deeply hurt at the formerly loving children’s complete estrangement.

Challenge to the Legal Community and to Healthcare Professionals

The outcome of cases with severely alienated children spells the difference between elated parents who recapture their identities as parents versus bereft parents who mourn the loss of their children and whose children grow up with parents who may be perpetrators of emotional abuse, who force them to make a child’s version of Sophie’s Choice, and fail to honor their right to love and be loved by two parents.

If they don’t find their way back to their rejected parents when these children grow up and have their own children, the next generation is deprived of a legacy.

Helping these families is challenging and a heavy responsibility.

It is not often that legal and mental health professionals get the chance to alter the course of generations.

Ready, Aim, Fire at Pain and Anguish

Following the grief over the loss of life in school shootings, I started researching and realized that others were doing the same thing, trying to find the root cause for the extreme rage and motivation to harm others. I knew from a couple of situations that what happens to children during escalated and prolonged family conflict had something to do with these rampages.

A few insights shared on Mic.com:

“A parent’s death or divorce also appears to be a commonality among some of the lone shooters — Adam Lanza (Newtown, 2012), Elliot Rodgers (Santa Barbara, 2014) and Nikolas Cruz (Parkland 2018). Research indicates boys appear to be more at risk than girls when their parents divorce, particularly when it comes to higher suicide rates.

“It’s one brick or thread that could set a child up to have more a vulnerability if someone doesn’t step in and raise a child, teaching them to respect the rights of others and that actions have consequences,” said Richard Warshak, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and author of Divorce Poison, which explores acrimonious divorce and the psychological effects on children of parental bad-mouthing.

“Divorce sets in motion a set of changes that put kids at risk for problems in behavior.”

Divorce is not “inherently bad” for every child, he says. But there are risks, especially if it changes the family’s financial situation or parents “bad-mouth” each other.

Several studies over three decades show that divorce — especially an acrimonious one — can increase a child’s risk for developing depression, anxiety and engaging in criminal acts.”

These issues aren’t things we discuss often enough, but we should.

I wish I didn’t have a personal experience to validate these findings, but I do. I witnessed it in my own step-sons, when I was too young and without the authority to help them overcome what had happened to them and their mother. And, I didn’t have the right information at the time. I just knew they were suffering, and it seemed like there had to be a way to help them through it. I wish I could have done more to help them avoid failures in those early years, and the loss of one’s life later on.

No, I can’t go back in time, but I can engage leadership, stakeholders and problem-solves across society to do more with what we know now.