Mental health professionals and academics are reaching the conclusion that parental alienation is a form of domestic violence. Dr. Craig Childress has written about this aspect of parental alienation:
The “parental alienation” process is most definitely a variant of domestic violence, expressing themes of power, control, and domination. The pathology of “parental alienation” is the manifestation of the narcissistically organized psychopathology of the “alienating” parent who is using the child as the weapon of spousal battery to inflict immense emotional and psychological suffering on the other spouse as revenge for the narcissistic injury of the divorce. The pathology of “parental alienation” is among the most extreme forms of domestic violence, killing the child of the other spouse as a means to inflict suffering on the other spouse for having the effrontery of divorcing them. “How dare you divorce me. I will kill your beloved child as revenge. Aren’t you sorry now that you left me.” The pathology of “parental alienation” is domestic violence in the most extreme."
Dr. Craig Childress, The Domestic Violence of Parental Alienation: The Narcissistic Personality in High-Conflict Divorce (2016).
The trauma of domestic violence can arise from several sources. Many domestic violence survivors describe their experience in family court as another form of domestic violence; the victim is further victimized by the institution that should be there to protect a domestic violence survivor.
I recently experienced this myself. I am an attorney – though I am not a trial attorney nor a family attorney, and I am not admitted in the jurisdiction where my case is pending. I had discussed the alienation with the attorney who had represented me in the divorce, and did not agree with his course of action. After becoming more educated on parental alienation than most attorneys, I decided that I would represent myself in an attempt to regain a relationship with my children.
After a misstep, I filed two petitions – one seeking modification of custody to allow for implementation of a reunification program, the other seeking relief from some of the support obligations. Both petitions are well-grounded in fact and law. You would’ve thought that I was filing a piece of dog poop based on the reaction from the court.
First up – the support magistrate. It was clear that the support magistrate had not even bothered to read any of the material I filed. This included: a petition, a brief in support of the petition with citation to relevant case law and social science literature (particularly stuff from Dr. Childress), an affidavit with the factual allegation and time line, copies of communication with my children and my ex to show the communication, the break in communication and the nonsense from my ex. None of it mattered. The magistrate said to me “you had better do your research.” It was clear that the support magistrate viewed me simply as an ex-husband trying to get out of paying support.
Next up – the family court judge. The judge had my petition for change in custody in front of her. In addition to the petition, I had filed two motions. The judge excoriated me on the motion filings. I had failed to provide the notice of return. My child could be subject to horrendous psychological abuse – but heaven forbid that arcane and picayune rules of procedure were not filed. The judge strongly advised me to retain an attorney and then yelled at me that her staff would not go out of their way to help me. Of course not.
With disdain – as if wiping off the dog poop of a filing off her shoe – she denied outright one of the motions related to appointment of an attorney for the child. She didn’t bother to address any of the substantive merits – not my concern about how an attorney for the child could further cement the alienation, and that it wasn’t even necessary since I was willing to stipulate that the child would oppose anything I asked. Since I hadn’t filed the proper form of the motion, it wasn’t even considered. Denied. Wipe the poop off the shoe while trying not to gag on the smell.
I fared a bit better on the second motion. I still was a very bad boy in failing to have the proper form of the motion (though I had tried hard to do that after my ex’s attorney had complained in a letter about it to the judge). He would have to respond in two weeks – though she was inclined to deny the motion she was quick to add. I’m sure she hadn’t even read it. I guess she would have to endure that piece of poop for the time being.
My ex’s attorney was very quick to point out to both the support magistrate and the family court judge that I was a licensed attorney. The normal allowance made for pro se litigants was not going to be extended to me…nope. I was imputed with knowledge of all of the nuances and technical rules of litigating in family court. A plastic surgeon isn’t expected to do heart surgery; but me – a corporate attorney not licensed in the state - I’d better damn well know the form of the motion that needs to be filed.
The important thing to remember in all of this is that parental alienation is a form of child abuse. Sure, the targeted parent is a victim. Dr. Edward Kruk recently wrote about this in his Psychology Today blog:
"Enduring the experience of parental alienation is also a profound form of psychological trauma experienced by targeted parents. It is both acute and chronic, and externally inflicted. It is thus a type of domestic violence directed at the target parent. The fact that children witness such abuse of a parent also makes alienation a form of child abuse. This is perhaps the principal source of anxiety for the alienated parents, who witness the abuse of their children, and are prevented from protecting them."
And while it is important to acknowledge and deal with the trauma we suffer as an adult, this trauma pales in comparison to the abuse experienced by our children. The most important thing we can do is to keep the focus on our children. Yes, we are supposed to put on our oxygen mask before assisting the child sitting next to us. But as a parent, we will ALWAYS put on the oxygen mask on our child.
What is to be done when the court is so indifferent to both the domestic violence being committed – both against the targeted parent and the child? Where do we get the oxygen mask? The family court is apparently indifferent to this violence. As Dr. Kruk states, we are prevented from protecting them – in large part because of the obtuse machinations of the family court system.
I have reached out to a local organization supporting victims of domestic violence. After explaining my situation, the organization thought I should come in for a screening. Is this risky? To some extent, yes. As noted by Simply Parent, some supporters of domestic violence victims have taken the position that parental alienation doesn’t exist – that it is a fiction used by violent men to perpetrate further violence on women. Perhaps now is the time that people of good will can sort through these issues and recognize that the existence of true parental alienation does not negate the existence of other forms of domestic violence – and that parental alienation is in fact in itself a form of domestic violence.