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Allison Williams Williams Law Group Family Law, Divorce, Custody & Support
As an attorney, it has always been, and will always be, about helping people. I'm passionate about my clients and I aggressively represent them. The Williams Law Group uses ethical means to create winning strategies. If you have a legal issue, we’d like to hear your message!
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Defining Success on Your Own Terms and Working Towards It

In this chapter, we touched on common practices that parents and therapists can use to reverse or at least stop the damage caused by parental alienation. We also explored some common obstacles that confront families going through this process. Frustratingly, research science remains in its infancy in terms of being able to explain how and why parental alienation occurs and what strategies and tactics should be deployed, under what conditions, to fix things. The good news is that some programs – specifically, Dr. Warshak’s Family Bridges – have shown promise in reversing damage from even severe alienation. Nevertheless, identifying and solving the knot of problems is neither simple, nor intuitive. Strategies that seem like they should make the situations better – such as cooperating as much as possible with the other parent or “telling the truth and nothing but the truth” to your child can prove surprisingly anemic or even make the situation worse. The following principles emerge from this discussion: • Educate yourself. Read blogs, articles and books (like this one) on the topic of parental alienation, so you understand the background and the relevant science and approaches. • Find great people to support you. For instance, experienced attorneys and therapists who have a successful track record helping targeted parents can offer critical insight and step-by-step ways of engaging your problems. • Self-manage as well as you can. Believe it or not, you can emerge from this experience feeling hopeful about the future and content about your relationship with your child. In our next section, we will explore strategies that you can use immediately to make your life better, while you are working to resolve your alienation case. For skillful, experienced assistance handling your Parental Alienation case, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908)...

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What If the Alienating Parent Is Obsessed? [Part 2]

Here are some more insights – continuing from where we left off in the last post: • Use the court to protect your rights and force compliance, if necessary. Under certain conditions, the court can require an appointed staff member to review the other parent’s compliance with any orders. It can also establish what’s known as a Guardian Ad Litem to factfind for the court and figure out what’s actually going on with your child. The court can also choose to “sanction” the other parent and increase your parenting time. • Recognize that you may face an uphill battle in court, even if the facts are on your side. For instance, courts generally tend to be reluctant to ignore a child’s request to stay with an alienating parent (and/or to minimized time with a targeted parent), even if evidence of alienation has been presented. Likewise, the court may be loath to punish the alienating parent with a severe penalty, like jail time. • To the extent that you can, strive to empathize with both the other parent and the child. When another person is behaving monstrously towards you, it is quite challenging to listen to what’s being said and to hear the humanness underneath the message. Let’s say that your ex-wife, for instance, blatantly lied about what happened one afternoon when you fought at a restaurant. She claimed that you threw a newspaper at her in the parking lot during an argument. You did no such thing. Rather than focusing on her wrongness (the lying, the besmirching of your character, etc.), turn your attention on what you think might have been going on with her at that moment. Obviously, you can’t say for sure what her internal state was (or is), but you can probably guess. Maybe she felt afraid because several things in her life have gone badly since the divorce. She worries about losing control over yet another element in her life (her child) and thus lashes out at you in a misguided attempt to establish boundaries that she can control. Trying to see things from her side is not an exercise in neglecting your own feelings, nor is it an opportunity to diagnose her. Rather, it’s an attempt to help yourself through the process. Just by attempting to get a handle on what’s motivating her actions and beliefs and by attempting to see the universal human...

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What If the Alienating Parent Is Obsessed? [Part 1]

As we discussed earlier, psychologists generally recognize three “classes” of alienators. The most challenging type of parent is known as the obsessed alienator. Typically, the parent views his or her quest in moral, absolute terms, invests tremendous energy into the manipulation of the child, recruits others (such as relatives, friends or even credulous therapists) into the crusade, often refuses to go along with court decisions and orders and remains entrenched in negative beliefs about the targeted parent, even after being presented with contrary evidence. So what should you, as a targeted parent, do to neutralize the obsessed alienator’s behavior? Dr. Douglas Darnell, a respected academic who’s studied this topic in depth, recommends the following strategies: • Journal what happens in your relationships as much as possible. Save emails the parent sends you. Write down the details of any awkward conversations you have with him or her immediately after they occur, including time and date stamps. You might even want to journal or record what goes on in a typical visit when your child comes over. The more objective, concrete documentation you have, the better. • Avoid retaliating against the obsessed parent. When you’re angry, frustrated, depressed or feeling lost, find a productive, safe outlet to vent those emotions. Do not send angry emails or leave mean messages. Talk to a therapist. Go to the gym. Scream into a pillow, if you have to let out the feelings. But avoid any tit-for-tat behavior. • Avoid alienating the child in kind; stay positive and supportive. Along the lines of the previous point, you may find it quite tempting to “give as you get.” Resist that urge and be the bigger person. • Consider seeking a court order mandating therapy to heal what’s happening with the family. Reversing the brainwashing can be a complicated, delicate task. Discuss how to handle this process with your family law attorney. • Keep going to pick up your children at the appointed time. It can be painful and humiliating to be rejected by the child or for the other parent to show up late, if at all. But unless the court changes its order, stick by the plan, and document what happens. Unless you stand accused of abuse or neglect, in general, the other parent must cooperate and honor your parenting time. Keep compliant with court orders; ideally, you want the court to be sympathetic to...

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Evidence for Alienation As Child Abuse

As the target of unacceptable behavior, the targeted parent may feel helpless, frustrated and depressed. However, in addition to addressing these feelings and the needs underlying them, the targeted parent has another, more selfless reason to find a resolution to the issue. Alienation can have devastating long term effects on the child himself or herself. In other words, even though your child may seem “fine” now or even appear to be part of the problem because he or she is colluding with the other parent, recognize that the experience can be detrimental. In their 2010 article, Children Resisting Postseparation Contact With A Parent: Concepts, Controversies, And Conundrums, published in Family Court Review, authors Fidler and Bala argue that severe cases of alienation can damage children, psychologically. They acknowledge that “these are complex cases” and admit that “a significant portion of the cases in which alienation is alleged are not in fact alienation cases.” They also say that “for those where alienation is present, interventions will vary depending on the degree of the alienation.” After an exhaustive review of the relevant scientific literature, they echo other scholars in saying that “More severe alienation cases are unlikely to be responsive to therapeutic or psycho-educational interventions in the absence of either a temporary interruption of contact between the child and the alienating parent or a more permanent custody reversal.” Taking this line of analysis a step further, in 2010, Bernet et. al, writing in The American Journal of Family Therapy, argue in their article, Parental Alienation, DSM-V, and ICD-11 that “[approximately] 1% of children and adolescents in the U.S. experience parental alienation.” Citing an analysis of “professional publications from 27 countries on six continents,” they found that many independent professional researchers, clinicians and academics had come to the conclusion that alienation constitutes a form of abuse. For instance (our emphasis below): • “Marie Helene Gagne, Ph.D., and Sylvie Drapeau, Ph.D., psychologists at Laval University, Quebec, published “L’alienation parentale est-elle une forme de maltraitance psychologique?” (“Is parental alienation a form of psychological abuse?”). The authors proposed to use the conceptual and theoretical frame of psychological abuse to study parental alienation.” (pg 109) • “The First International Congress of Families was held in Mexico City in August 2006. The congress participants…noted that the manipulation and brainwashing of children should be considered a form of child abuse.” (pg 116) • “In Germany, mental health and...

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When Serious Health Or Financial Problems Afflict Either Parent

Parental alienation obviously doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Financial, emotional or personal stresses can lead to bad behavior from everyone involved and create negative feedback loops. For instance, let’s say that you’ve been weakened and fatigued from Type 2 diabetes and blood sugar issues. Thanks to your ill health, you might be prone to make more intemperate remarks or engage lazy behavior around your children, which could in turn lead to false accusations of abuse or neglect, as the other parent and/or the child observes those less than ideal behaviors and blows them out of proportion. Likewise, when we are not in good shape – when we’re tired, worried about debt or struggling with depression or anxiety – we tend to be less capable of strategically dealing with the problems on our plate. Instead of calling a therapist or an attorney after an infuriating email from the instigating parent, for instance, you might make matters worse by writing an unhinged email. Part of surviving this process and stopping the downward spiral involves paying attention to what is going on in your life and getting help to deal with what’s happening. Accept that you’re in a stressful situation, and find people to help you manage it. Even if you have your own health, finances and psychology in good order, the other parent’s problems or the child’s problems can redound to create a more complex legal situation. For instance, perhaps the other parent didn’t work during your marriage, and now he or she is struggling, financially and career-wise. That stress over money may be a principle driver of the alienating behavior. The other parent may desperately need control over life and may be manipulating the child just to exert autonomy. Alternatively, perhaps your child needs special medical care to manage a disease, like Type I diabetes, a scary food allergy, or a neurological or developmental issue, like autism. The child’s problems – and the extra pressure they create on both parents, logistically, psychologically and financially – can in turn ratchet up everyone’s impulsiveness, anger and desperation. Appreciate that you only have limited control over what the other parent and the child do and that you cannot solve everyone’s problems. Reflect on the following wisdom from author, Steven Covey, from his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have...

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When Exaggerated or Untrue Accusations of Abuse Enter the Picture

In previous works, we’ve discussed the horrendous problems that can be unleashed when you’re falsely accused of abusing or neglecting your child. Even if you clear your name and reputation – and salvage your relationship with your child – the sting of the fight over the allegations can last for years and damage or negatively alter many relationships in your life. In the case of alienation, a desperate instigating parent may make up allegations, exaggerate problems, and persist in inventing claims even after you have been cleared of any wrongdoing. Here’s the basic problem. Once the instigating parent gets the notion that abuse or neglect is occurring (or might be occurring), it’s very hard to unring that bell. Meanwhile, if the child is prone to listening to the instigating parent, things can get even more out of control and lead not only to problems with the relationship but also to legal problems for you that could lead to job loss, fines and possibly jail time. Even if you can disprove any allegations in court, the child may still come to believe the narrative constructed by the instigating parent. The fact that you will have “evaded justice” may only stoke the child’s righteous indignation, leading to a vicious cycle that can make unwinding the damage to the relationship almost impossible. Small incidences can be blown out of proportion to paint a misleading picture. For instance, let’s say that one night, you are too tired from fighting in court to cook a fresh dinner, so you order pizza. The instigating parent discovers this decision and, because she views everything you do in a harsh light, concludes that you have “malnourished” your child and put him or her at risk of diabetes. Stern words said over unfinished homework can be twisted to make it sound like you’re verbally abusive in general. A child’s cell phone video taken of you losing your temper over the dog making a mess in the kitchen can suddenly become evidence of your “violent personality.” Correcting these distortions can feel like a game of plugging a bursting dam with your fingers. There’s only so much you can do to keep things from crashing in on you. Again, the key is to develop a robust but flexible strategy for counteracting these accusations (and/or dealing with their legal and custody related implications, if it’s gone that far) by working with...

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When a Parent Breaks Visitation, Custody or Spousal Support Rules

Just because a couple has developed a parenting plan or the court has imposed rules regarding time sharing or financial support doesn’t mean that everyone will abide by those terms. What happens then? As we’ve discussed previously, the alienating parent may flout visitation rules by inventing excuses or by pretending that the child is sick or overwhelmed by homework or sports. The goal – often subconscious – is to shorten visits with the targeted parent. Calling out these rule violations and getting them to stop can be tricky, to say the least, particularly if the slights are small and incremental. It’s one thing for a parent to abscond to Quebec for a two-week vacation with a child without telling the other parent. But many times, the rule violations are quite subtle. For instance, can you prove that your child wasn’t actually sick on some day, particularly if the child believes that you’re the problem and is in collusion with the alienating parent? Without access to vehicle and shop records, how can you prove that the other parent didn’t actually have a flat tire on the day she claimed that she couldn’t drop the child off at your apartment for the weekend? Documenting, investigating and ultimately ending this “nickel-and-diming” behavior can take patience as well as keen observation. An attorney experienced with handling complex child custody and Parental Alienation cases can help you develop a plan for how to regain control. For skillful, experienced assistance handling your Parental Alienation case, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908)...

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Core Principles to Bear in Mind for Handling Parental Alienation

Scholars and practitioners recommend the following principles for resolving alienation: • Document what happens, and pay attention to people’s actions. Writing down comments, behaviors and reactions from family members – as well as strategies tried to stop or unwind the damage – can be quite useful. An objective record of what has happened can help those caught up in destructive patterns to identify and change them. As Marilyn Vos Savant once said, “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” • Be patient. Especially as a victim of alienating behavior, you may yearn to reverse the damage done and “get your child back” as soon as possible. However, trying to rush the process could make the situation worse. Your child was not brainwashed overnight; even if he or she wants to repair your relationship, unwinding the damage and rebuilding trust will take time. • Set expectations that will inspire motivation. Setting “reasonable” expectations doesn’t mean giving up your faith and conviction that you will succeed. If your 15-year-old daughter just yelled at you over the phone, saying that she hates you and never wants to see you again, you shouldn’t give up on the relationship. However, it’s essential that you remain aware and accepting of what’s actually happening in the relationship, as opposed to what you wish was happening. Appreciate that the path ahead will likely be rocky, beset by setbacks and confusion, but never surrender faith in a positive outcome. • Care for yourself and manage yourself. Even with court intervention and therapeutic help, you can never force a child to love you or compel the instigating parent to behave in a civil or even reasonable manner. However, what you can do is monitor your own thoughts, behaviors, habits and attitudes. You can strive to be as resourceful as possible, given the realities of your situation. Recognize your needs that have gone unmet as a result of the alienation, and strive to meet them in spite of the circumstances. For instance, let’s say that you lost custody of your 8-year-old and 4-year-old. You’re feeling lonely, because the house is empty and because your 8-year-old yells at your every time you get on the phone together. Recognize that you have needs for love and companionship that are going unmet. Then work to meet those needs by, for instance, conscientiously reaching out to friends. No...

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The Appropriateness of an Intervention for Parental Alienation

This can depend on a constellation of factors, such as: • How long has the alienation been happening? • Does the alienating parent acknowledge that he or she has been doing something wrong? Does that parent want to change? • How severe has the alienation been? • How has the child’s behavior or disposition changed toward the targeted parent? • What is the state of the relationship between the alienating and targeted parents? For instance, are there other legal issues at play that could influence the situation, such as a contentious divorce, allegations of child abuse or neglect, or a fight over paternity? • Does either parent have a criminal history or history of mental illness? • Are there other children involved, including step-children? • Have other trusted adults (including family members, therapists, older siblings, etc.) played a role in the alienation? • What interventions have been tried already? If so, what happened and why? Even when the situation is relatively simple — for instance, there are no counter allegations of abuse or neglect; or the instigating parent feels embarrassed and wants to get control of his or her behavior — unwinding the damage can take time and care. In some ways, you can think of the situation as like a tangled ball of colored yarn. The yellow strand of yarn might represent the rejected parent’s feelings. The green strand might represent the instigating parent’s backstory. The blue string might represent the child’s story. “Pulling” on one strand inevitably creates friction on the other stands. Unskillful work can make the messy knot even tighter and more intractable. It takes patience, experience and an informed sense of the family and its root conflicts to create a strategic plan. For skillful, experienced assistance handling your Parental Alienation case, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908)...

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Picking Up the Pieces After Parental Alienation

How, exactly, should a family repair itself after the trauma of alienation? In previous posts, we discussed Dr. Richard Warshak’s Family Bridges program, which is designed to help families reconcile after severe parental alienation. Different scholars and practitioners who specialize in this area have developed other solutions, however, often based on conflicting philosophies. Gardner’s Transitional Sites Dr. Richard Gardner, perhaps the most famous academic in the field of PA, originally thought that the child should be taken from the home of the alienating parent and forcibly placed with the other parent. From a practical standpoint, however, this could create difficulties. The child might rebel further, run away, or become resentful and brooding. To that end, Dr. Gardner later advocated for the idea of so called “transitional sites” — neutral spaces, like parks or coffee shops, where the targeted parent and the child could meet to chat and reconcile. Darnall’s Focus on Parental Behavior, Rather Than on the Child Dr. Douglas Darnall offered a different solution in his now classic 1997 article, “New definition of parental alienation – What is the difference between Parental Alienation (PA) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)?” Dr. Darnall wanted to focus “more on the parent’s behavior and less on the child’s role in denigrating the victimized parent … by the time the children have come to agree with the alienating parent’s propaganda, it can be too late to prevent the significant damaging effects of the alienation.” Therapists Unwittingly Becoming Part of the Problem Frustratingly, therapists and other advocates who are supposed to be neutral can get caught up in the drama and pick sides, despite their best intentions. In 1995, Mary Lunn wrote that “therapists, especially individual child therapists, can unwittingly become part of the system maintaining [PA], because very few therapists know about [what alienation is, why it happens and what can be done to stop it].” A social worker or family psychologist working with a family may have little to no understanding of parental alienation, for instance, and thus little insight into its triggers or possible solution. For skillful, experienced assistance handling your Parental Alienation case, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908)...

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