Sometimes it happens that children going through divorce may refuse to have contact with the other parent. The immediate assumption would be that the one parent is somehow influencing the child to refuse contact (Parental Alienation). Before jumping to conclusions it is important to look at different possibilities that exist for the child’s change of heart.
Common things to consider:
A toddler may be having a bout of separation anxiety
- A child may be feeling responsible for the well being of one parent and therefore be anxious to leave that parent alone
- Teenagers may simply want to spend more time with their friends
- Perhaps the parent-child relationship wasn’t all that good before the divorce came into play
- Hostility between the parents at changeovers from one home to the other can cause the children to avoid the changeovers altogether
- Parental estrangement
- Parental alienation
What children want and need while their parents are going through a divorce is to maintain healthy and strong relationships with BOTH of their parents. They need to be shielded from their parents’ conflicts. Some parents, however, create an expectation that children choose sides and this expectation is commonly referred to a parental alienation syndrome.
Parental Alienation can be defined as the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance a child from the other parent . Examples of this would be: badmouthing the other parent to the child, limiting contact with the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, limiting contact with the extended family of the alienated parent, withholding affection or punishing the child for not taking sides. In extreme cases they even foster hate for the other parent in their children. Recent thinking also includes the idea that one parent can alienate a child from the other parent by focusing solely on the faults of the other parent.
There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children (Fidler and Bala, 2010), and it is a largely overlooked form of CHILD ABUSE (Bernet et al, 2010). Every child has a fundamental right and need for an unthreatened and loving relationship with BOTH parents, and to be denied that right by one parent, without sufficient justification such as abuse or neglect, is in itself a form of child abuse.
Parental alienation should not be confused with parental estrangement as there is a huge difference between the two, parental alienation is the result of one parent actively causing hard feelings between a child and his/her other parent, estrangement on the other hand results from one parent behaving badly towards his/her child, this bad behavior of the parent causes the child to cut contact with the parent. It is not uncommon for an estranged parent to accuse the other parent of parental alienation.
Parental alienation is very dangerous to the emotional well being of the children and the continued bond with the alienated parent. It is too often used as an excuse by bad parents to justify their own hurtful behavior against their children.
In both situations the children suffer due to the parents’ inability to put the needs of their children first.
What can be done in situations like these? Apart from family therapy or co-parenting classes, a good start would be for the parents to have a Parenting Plan put in place. The Children’s Act requires that if co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights are experiencing difficulties in exercising those rights , those persons need to engage in drafting a Parenting Plan prior to approaching the court.
BENEFITS OF A PARENTING PLAN
- conflict between the parents will be reduced drastically
- parents agree that they will not speak badly of each other to the children or around the children
- negotiations between the parents are minimized
- the children will be less anxious and will have a routine and structure without the fear of ongoing eruptions that will inevitably take place when the parents see each other
- children will have certainty of consistent contact with the non – residential parent
- parents will have some certainty about their children’s daily routine
- future conflict will be resolved by mediation and approaching the court will not be the first point of departure
- parents who create their own parenting plans are generally more committed to it
- the voice of the child will be heard
A parenting plan must be extremely detailed in order for the parents not to have to negotiate any issues on a daily basis, such daily negotiations can only be a breeding ground for conflict.
CONSEQUENCES OF NOT HAVING A PARENTING PLAN IN PLACE:
- continued conflict between the parents, to which the children are often exposed
- applications for protection orders
- police involvement
- damage to parent-child relationships
- psychological problems