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Available April, 2016

Keeping Kids Out of the Middle

Revised for re-release April, 2015

"In the last 25 years, the concept of alienation
has become a banner under which
disenfranchised fathers march,
a curse that angry parents hurl at their ex-partners,
an exculpatory rationalization for sexual abuse allegations to some and an excuse for selfish indifference to others.
It is the raison d’etre of a generation of
family law professionals
and the worst nightmare of  most family courts,
an allegation that amounts to abuse yet carries with it
the aura of medical illness.

For all of this controversy,
for all of the millions of dollars invested
in allegations and counterallegations,
for all of the lives ruined or rescued
... alienation is seldom understood for what it is
—a necessary and natural family--
systems tool that is sometimes used as a weapon."

Dervelopmental Psychology For
                                    Family Law Professionals

Developmental Psychology
For Family Law Professionals

(Garber, 2009, pp. 263-264)

Order now Order here

What is
                              "hybrid" alienation? What are parentification,
                              adultification and infantilization?
What is alienation?Alienation and psychotherapy (Garber,
                            2004)Alienation and attachment (Garber,
                            2004)Alternatives to Attachment (Garber,
                            1996)Visitation resistance and refusal
                            (Garber, 2007)
Alienation is NOT
                            a syndromeIs alienation abuse?A select
                            bibliography on alienationHow can allegations of alienation be
                            evaluated?How might
                            alienation be remedied?

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Developmental Psychology For Family Law

Ten Child-Centered Forensic Family
                            Evaluation Tools

The Parenting Plan Workbook

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Parentification, adultification and
Read about
and infantilization

What is alienation?

Put aside all the emotions likely to have brought you here. Chances are you're living a nightmare (or representing someone who is living a nightmare) and you're desperately searching for answers. Now is not the time to take a course in child and family development, but here you are, nonetheless.
Look at the world through the child's eyes.
Responsible caregivers routinely tell their children who to trust and who not to trust. "Don't talk to strangers" and "Stay away from that man in the overcoat" and "you're right, Uncle George is kind of creepy." These are messages that undermine trust in a healthy (or adaptive) way. Change the words a bit and the messages the opposite occurs. Words can enable a child's trust: "Yes, Uncle George is a very kind man, sweetie."
These messages, spoken and unspoken, help families determine membership. These are the tools of affililiation. When a child's security with a targeted figure ("Uncle George") is decreased, alienation has occurred. When a child's security with a targeted figure is increased, alignment has occurred.
These messages are necessary and natural. We each communicate who is "in" and who is "out" constantly at work and among friends, on the basketball court, in church and elsewhere. Teenage cliques are the best examples because the messages and the resulting "in" and "out" groups are so obvious.
When these same tools are used by rageful adults within an otherwise secure family system to win selfish alliances,  they become weapons of abuse.

Read more here  Read about alienation and attachment

November, 2009, US NEWS and WORLD REPORT article

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Alienation seldom occurs alone

The empirical research that is available strongly suggests that alienation seldom occurs alone. In almost every instance studied, there are concurrent and mutually compatible elements of ESTRANGEMENT and ENMESHMENT to various degrees.

For example:

Johnston, J. R., Walters, M. G., & Olesen, N. W. (2005). Is it alienating parenting, role
reversal, or child abuse? A study of children's rejection of a parent in child custody disputes. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5(4).
Friedlander, S., & Walters, M. (2010). When a child rejects a parent: Tailoring the
intervention to fit the problem. Family Court Review, 48

ESTRANGEMENT is used in this field in a very specific manner to describe a child's resistance to or refusal of contact with a  caregiver for objectively valid reasons. For example, when a child resists seeing a violent and abusive mother, the dynamic is referred to as estrangement. In this instance, the child's resistance is warranted and appropriate to her experience of the parent.

By contrast, if the same child resists or refuses contact with a parent in a manner disproportionate to that parent's genuine sensitive, responsive caregiving, (co-parental) alienation may be occurring.

Contrast alienation, estrangement
and related dynamics here
Read more here

ENMESHMENT describes a relationship that is lacking in healthy interpersonal boundaries. Enmeshment between a parent and child must be understood as a function of the child's development, understanding that healthy boundaries between parent and infant are quite different than the healthy boundaries for the same parent-child pair one or ten or twenty years later.

In some enmeshed parent-child pairs, the child is prematurely promoted to serve as a peer or even as the adult's caregiver. These are adultification and parentification, respectively. In other parent-child pairs, the adult cannot allow the child to grow toward healthy independence. This is known as infantilization.

Read more here  Read about the enmeshed dyad

To what degree alienation, estrangement and enmeshment are at work in a given family will determine the best combination of psychotherapeutic and court-ordered remedies. Child-Centered Family Evaluation (CCFE) is the only means of making this determination.

Read more here  Read about CCFE

Alienation and
                    estrangment are two among many dynamics
Click the image to
view a summary table

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Alienation is NOT a syndrome.

October, 2012: After heated debate, The American Psychiatric Association
chose NOT to include alienation either as a syndrome or a disorder in DSM-5.
Read more here Read more here

Many people hear this controversy as a pointless matter of semantics. In fact, its quite important:

Some very well-known professionals argue that alienation is a syndrome that is instilled in a child by a malicious parent. Richard Gardner referred to this as Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS Read more here.

Search Dr. Gardner's publications Read more

A syndrome is a diagnosable constellation of symptoms within an individual (cf.., Down's Syndrome). Were alienation a syndrome (as in PAS), then it would be possible to confirm or disconfirm its existence by assessing the individual him- or herself. It is not.

But see Gardner's argument for inclusion of PAS in the DSM Read more here

Think of alienation as a verb, as in "to alienate a child from a caregiver" rather than as a noun. Alienation can (and often does) contribute to diagnosable symptoms  (e.g., anxiety, depression) and/or behaviors (e.g., resisting contact with one parent) within a child, but itself remains a dynamic that exists in the relationships, not in an individual. Be clear that the reverse is not true: Although it is possible to diagnosis anxiety or depression and/or to observe contact resistance within a child, these are never sufficient cause from which to therefore conclude that alienation is afoot.

The American Psychological Association agrees Read more here

"While it may be that in some divorces, children become estranged from their non-custodial parent for a variety of reasons, there is no evidence within the psychological literature
of a diagnosable parental alienation syndrome."

Read Joan Meier (2009) on PAS versus alienation Read more here
The National Coalition of Juvenile and Family Court Judges speaks out Read more here
Read more here
Read more here

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Evaluating allegations of
alienation in the family courts.

Alienation cannot be "diagnosed" in a child.

Because alienation is a dynamic (a verb) that occurs within a family system, it can only be inferred with more or less certainty by a neutral, child-centered mental health professional who has conducted a comprehensive family systems assessment or CCFE Read more here

Can alienation be inferred from
a review of records without a CCFE?

Dad believes that Mom is alienating 10 year old Billy. Dad hasn't seen Billy in 12 months because Billy completely refuses to go with him. Dad takes Mom to court, claiming that she is in contempt of  the standing visitation (contact) orders. Dad is motivated to participate in a CCFE hoping to resume contact with his son, but Mom refuses. The court won't endorse it. Dad calls Dr. Garber asking for expert opinion in an effort to educate the court.

Read about expert opinion Read
                        more here

Dr. Garber can interview Dad, review pounds of court documents, psych evals and treatment records. He might even speak with references, but in the end these data are not sufficient grounds with which to conclude that alienation has occurred. In this (all too familiar) situation, the strongest statement possible is that the available data are consistent with the suggestion of alienation.

Inevitably, an expert's observation that data are consistent with (rather than conclusive or dispositive of) will be criticized as incomplete: The same data may simultaneously be consistent with other outcomes and additional data that the expert was not given access to (interviewing Mom and Billy? What about the several other pounds of documents?) might prove otherwise.

Does this mean that expert opinion derived in this manner is not useful. No. In many cases, it may be the best option possible and it can make a critical difference in the child's life, but it must be understood for its necessary and inherent limits.

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Is alienation abuse?

Yes. But as of this writing, there are no known case law precedents or child protective service (CPS) standards of practice.

In New Hampshire, for example, the law states that, "children do best when both parents have a stable and meaningful involvement in their lives" (RSA 461-A:2) Read more here

This may be interpreted to suggest that anything which interferes with a child's opportunity to enjoy "stable and meaningful" contact with a parent is counter to the law. Thus, one caregiver's efforts to undermine a child's relationship with another should be a matter of dire importance. Unfortunately, it apparently does not rise to the level of constituting abuse.

Under NH RSA 169-C:3II:
"Abused child'' means any child who has been:
       (a) Sexually abused; or
       (b) Intentionally physically injured; or
       (c) Psychologically injured so that said child exhibits symptoms of
emotional problems generally recognized to result from consistent mistreatment or neglect; or
       (d) Physically injured by other than accidental means.
Read moreRead more here

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What are the best remedies
when alienation occurs?

From the child's point of view, there are only two healthy outcomes: Each parent supports the child's opportunity to make and maintain the healthiest relationship possible with the other parent and each parent him- or herself is the best parent he or she can be.

Courts cannot mandate these outcomes.

When courts become involved, the label "alienation" seems to take on a life of its own. Lawyers and litigants alike commonly talk about alienation as if it were a crowbar with which the court might wrench a child out of one home and into the other.

Indeed, Gardner did recommend that in cases of severe and entrenched alienation, the child should be forcibly transferred out of the alienating home so as to live with the despised and rejected caregiver. Such a radical "parentectomy" is intended to correct the emotional abuse imposed by the alienating parent.

Although there are some cases in which such a move may, indeed, serve the child's best interests, this choice must be reached with tremendous care, with special attention to the impact that the family dynamic is having on the child's social, emotional, physical health, and academic functioning and often after exhausting all other solutions.

Dr. Garber has proposed a cautious, step-wise approach to the problem Read more here
Will the courts switch custody? Read more here
Read Stahl (1999) on alienation remedies Read more here
Feinberg & Loeb on remedies (1994) Read more here
Canadian court changes custody (Rogerson v. Tessario 2006) Read more here

Case precedent exists,
but outcomes are still unknown:

Consider "...the case of A.A. v S.N.A., where the court, reversing the trial decision,
ordered that custody of a 10-year-old girl be
transferred from her alienating mother to her rejected father, with a suspension of access to the mother and maternal grandmother, including telephone access, until otherwise recommended by the
court-appointed professional, or by a court order ...."

(Fidler & Bala, FCR 2010 p. 30; see A.A. v. S.N.A., [2007] B.C.J. 870 (B.C.S.C.) per Preston J., reversed by A.A. v. S.N.A., [2007] B.C.J. No. 1474 (B.C. C.A.).

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