Caught Between Parents

Supporting children through the challenges of divorce

Training Family Court Judges About Parental Alienation: A Lot to Think About

What information do family court judges need about parental alienation?

I have been asked to develop and give a one-hour training to family court judges and I am thrilled at the prospect of have an opportunity to speak directly to them about this issue that is near and dear to my and their hearts. My main areas of focus in the training will be on (1) dispelling myths about parental alienation (i.e., it is not in the DSM so it cannot be real), (2) educating them about the difference between alienation and estrangement, (3) cautioning them about the limits to credibility of children's statements, (4) explaining how individual therapy and dyadic therapy can backfire in cases of alienation, (5) urging them to fast track these cases because time is the enemy of the targeted parent, (6) and urging them to not reward the alienating/favored parent with the new "status quo". By that I mean that when an alienating parent takes more time with the child than he or she is supposed to, that new parenting schedule should not be used as the starting place, a given, because in doing so the parent who disobeyed the court order is being given the message that the order doesn't matter and that whatever they take, they can keep. To me that is like saying that since the bank robber has the money, there is no point in asking for it back. I understand that children are not money and that their comfort level with a situation is an important factor (unlike dollar bills which do not have feelings) but think about the message that the children are getting when the favored parent is not even made to behave by the court. How is the child supposed to stand up to that parent and say "I want to see my other parent" when the judge cannot set limits or rein that parent in? The judges must be made to understand that to go with the status quo may seem like a safe choice but in reality the judge is condoning and participating in the abuse of a child. To do nothing is a choice that has far reaching consequences for the child and his/her relationship with the other parent. I hope that I can convey these ideas with passion, integrity, and clarity when I finally have the opportunity to speak to the judges who have so much power in the lives of families affected by parental alienation.   

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., researches parental alienation and children of divorce.

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