Mistaken beliefs about the genesis of parental alienation and appropriate remedies have shaped both socio-legal policy and therapeutic and legal practice in ways that have failed to meet children’s needs during and after parental separation, and therefore are contrary to the principle of the best interest of the child.
When parents are asked about the essential needs of their children during and after parental separation, children’s emotional, psychological, social, moral and spiritual needs are seen to be of paramount importance. But what exactly are these “metaphysical” needs?
A truly child-focused approach positions children’s needs at the forefront of “best interests” considerations, along with corresponding parental and social institutional responsibilities to these needs.
Many children firmly believe that they are the reason for the divorce. Further, most children secretly believe their parents will get back together, or wish that they would, and try to “fix” things and figure out ways of keeping them together.
These principles are offered in the spirit that parents have the strengths, capacities and abilities to help children through the difficult transitions attendant to divorce, and will be able do the best for their children with concrete, practical support.
These conclusions are seen to be groundbreaking as a consensus statement was produced by the world's leading researchers and practitioners in the field of co-parenting after divorce, which is intended to serve as a guide for family lawmakers, policymakers, and practitioners around the globe.
Just as we encourage parents in intact families to share care of their children, the social science evidence on the development of healthy parent–child relationships, and the long-term benefits of healthy parent–child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for post-divorce parenting plans for children of all ages, including infants.
A paradigm shift is needed: the well-being of children as they define it must take precedence over judicial biases and preferences, professional self-interest, gender politics, the desire of a parent to remove the other from the child’s life, and the wishes of a parent who is found to be a danger to the child.
To the extent that relocation threatens children’s relationships with a parent, and their existing social network, the potential adverse effects of relocation should be at the forefront of decision-making about the residential arrangements of children after divorce.
Rather than the children having to adapt to the parents’ needs and living in two separate dwellings, they remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, like birds alighting and departing the “nest.”
Children and parents who have undergone forced separation from each other in the absence of abuse, including cases of parental alienation, are highly subject to post-traumatic stress, and reunification efforts in these cases should proceed carefully and with sensitivity.
The failure to recognize the depth of children’s attachments to both of their parents is the most significant omission of traditional attachment theorists. In those families in which children are securely attached to two parents who have been integrally involved as caregivers, co-parenting after divorce is vital to infants' and young children's well-being.
Equal parental responsibility provides a context and climate for the continuation or development of high quality parent-child relationships, allowing both parents to remain authoritative, responsible, involved, attached, emotionally available, supportive, and focused on children’s day-to-day lives.
Children’s needs for protection from parental conflict must be addressed before the establishment of any co-parenting arrangement after separation, and a full range of supports must be made available to parents in high conflict situations. Within these programs, children’s needs become a means of connecting the parents in a positive direction.
When it comes to the resolution of co-parenting-related matters, programs and services such as divorce education and therapeutic family mediation are much more than dispute resolution devices. More than anything else, these are vital interventions that should serve primarily to increase parents’ attunement to their children’s needs and “best interests.”