A divorce or separation can be a bitter experience. Many fathers have to fight every inch of the way to keep contact with their children, which may involve expensive court proceedings, mediation and many months of angst and heartache. All this happens against a backdrop of other turmoil too, with estranged partners having to cope with financial difficulties and other personal problems, such as having to find a new place to live, often with circumstances less than ideal for approaching mortgage providers. The angst doesn’t end after the legal battles either. Even if a court has granted a parent regular contact with his or her children, parental alienation syndrome commonly rears its head, resulting in loss of contact due to the children claiming they no longer want to see their father.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is only recognized in a few states in America (and not acknowledged at all in the UK); however, it is very real and is one of the reasons why so many absent fathers lose permanent contact with their children, which is both emotionally damaging to the parent and the children.
What is Parental Alienation Syndrome
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is when one, or sometimes both parents, alienates the other by continuous and relentless poisoning of the children’s mind. At its simplest, PAS is a type of brainwashing, but it can also be classed as child abuse as PAS plays havoc with children’s emotions.
PAS can take many forms, it can be as blatant as constant verbal denigration of the parent’s character to more subtle methods such as disposing of birthday or Christmas presents and telling the child nothing was sent. Here are some of the most common ways a parent tries to alienate the other parent:
* Last minute refusal of contact, claiming the child is ill or doesn’t want to see the parent
* Telling lies about the parent
* Making false allegations of abuse against the parent
* Refusing to a allow the parent to speak to the children on the phone
* Continuous badmouthing of the parent either to the child or in front of the child
* Bombarding the child with the message that the other parent is no longer needed
PAS can be extremely damaging both emotionally to the child and to their relationship with the parent, and if left unchecked, PAS can lead to irreparable damage and even lead to permanent loss of contact.
Dealing with PAS
When parents first separate, it can be very easy for the absent parent to become paranoid that the other parent is trying to alienate them. This in turn can lead to tensions that generate PAS, so it is important not to make assumptions. Often, by maintaining a cordial relationship with the other parent, as difficult as this may be, PAS may not occur. However, when PAS does start, it is normally abundantly clear and it is then time to take measures to limit the problem and prevent it from escalating.
The first thing to remember is no matter how difficult it becomes, always make sure you are keeping your contact appointments. Even if every time you turn up, the door is slammed in your face, missing an appointment can lead the other parent to claim you are not interested. When it comes to birthdays and Christmases, even if your gifts are being returned, or you believe they are not being given to the child, continue to send them. Keep any gifts or letters that are returned to you, as there will probably be an opportunity in the future to give them the child, which may help the child realise what has been going on. If the parent refuses to allow the child to speak to you over the phone, keep trying, but avoid any actions that the other parent could claim amounts to harassment.
Keeping a journal of your contact experiences can help if you have to return to court. Make a note of every attempt that you make to contact the child and log every time you are refused access. Make a note of the things the child may say that could indicate that the other parent is trying to alienate you. Ask the child where he or she heard such a thing, but be careful not to retaliate with your own attempts at badmouthing the other parent; this will not help matters.
Never take any attempts at alienation out on the child. The last thing a child needs is for you to shout at them because they are relaying something they heard about you. Just calmly and reasonably explain it is not true, and always reinforce the point that you still love the child and they are important in your life. Even if a child says hurtful things or is trying to avoid you, or treats you with disdain, it is not their fault, so never take it out on them, just write everything down.
If things become too bad, make a claim in court. It may well be that if you can prove the other parent is trying to alienate you, the judge may grant a change of custody, but if even if this doesn’t happen, having documented evidence of what is going on may help your case and lead to the other parent being censured for their actions. The court may also appoint a mediator or counsellor to speak to both parents and the child, which will go some way to convince the child you are not the monster the other parent has been making you out to be.