The End of Strife

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Parental alienation syndrome: symptoms & characteristics

Parental alienation symptoms in children

According to Richard Gardner, PAS is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that usually appear together in the child, especially in the moderate and severe types. These include:

  1. A campaign of denigration
  2. Weak, absurd, or frivolous rationalizations for the deprecation
  3. Lack of ambivalence
  4. The "independent-thinker" phenomenon
  5. Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict
  6. Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent
  7. The presence of borrowed scenarios
  8. Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent

Characteristics of alienating parents
Gardener also identified characteristics of alienating parents. Some of these are psychiatric diagnoses, while the frequency of programming thoughts and verbalizations are usually recognized by alienators themselves, or by evaluators, based on lengthy interviews. The rest of the list, however, is usually objectively identifiable.

  1. Presence of severe psychopathology prior to the separation

  2. such as shared psychotic disorder, delusional disorder, paranoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcisistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder

  3. Frequency of programming thoughts

  4. Frequency of programming verbalizations

  5. Frequency of exclusionary maneuvers

  6. such as visitation obstruction, blocking of telephone access, failure to provide information regarding school, medical care, and psychological treatment

  7. Frequency of complaints to the police and child protection services

  8. Litigiousness

  9. Episodes of hysteria

  10. such as emotional outbursts, overreaction, assumption of danger when it does not exist, dramatization, attention-getting behavior, impairment of judgement, release of anger with scapegoatism, capacity for spread, and intensification of symptoms in the context of lawsuits

  11. Frequency of violation of court orders

  12. Success in manipulating the legal system to enhance the programming.

  13. The alienator can rely on court delays and court reluctance and even refusal to penalize the alienator with such measures as posting a bond, fines, community service, probation, house arrest, incarceration, and custodial change.

  14. Risk of intensification of programming if granted primary custody.

Discussing parental alienation syndrome--some problems

It is difficult to discuss parental alienation syndrome (PAS) because of its early association with pejorative terms and traits which were attributed solely to mothers, and the zeal with which so-called “fathers' rights” groups have used the term not only to deny allegations of child abuse, but also to promote changes to divorce and child support laws.

The earliest significant attempts to describe what happens when one parent tries to turn a child against the other parent first appeared in psychological and psychiatric literature in the 1980s. At that time, it was not common for divorced parents to have joint physical custody of their children: the children usually lived with their mothers.

In the early descriptions, alienating parents were designated “embittered-chaotic” parents by a leading psychologist (1), who went on to describe “Medea syndrome” (2). Another psychologist later coined the term “divorce-related malicious mother syndrome” (3, 4). Many researchers and critics have taken issue both with these terms' misogynist language and with the unfair ascription of characteristics and behaviour to women alone when there is abundant evidence of identical male behviour.

Richard Gardner's work
Richard Gardner first published an article about “parental alienation syndrome” in 1985, followed by books in 1987, 1992 (rev. 1998), and 2001. Perhaps because his terminology is gender-neutral, and because he has written extensively about PAS, this is the term used most often to refer to the phenomenon.

Much of Gardner's early work cites cases where mothers are portrayed as actively alienating children from their fathers. Gardner, a forensic psychiatrist, had been involved with numerous cases where fathers had been falsely accused of sexual abusing their children. Gardner noted that, while in the 1980s 80-90% of the cases he saw involved mothers who had alienated their children from their fathers, by the 1990s fathers were increasingly alienating their children to the extent that in 2001 Gardner believed that the ratio of alienating mothers to fathers was 50:50 (5, 6).

Some feminist responses
Some feminst critics have proposed that Gardner's work is anti-mother, while fathers' rights groups have championed Gardner in their assertions that there is no foundation for the claims that some women have made that their children have been sexually abused by their fathers.

False claims and all-or-nothing theories
I do not want to get caught up in the argument about whether mothers make false claims about fathers as part of a PAS campaign, other than to say that I am sure this happens occasionally. I am also certain that some fathers knowingly make false claims about mothers' fitness as parents. I cannot accept any theory about human behaviour which imputes negative characteristics exclusively to one group, nor will I accept a theory which allocates laudable traits solely to another group.

"Fathers' rights" groups
I am concerned about so-called "fathers' rights" groups which promote legislative changes which would make it much more difficult for anyone to obtain a divorce. I am also wary of those groups which demand legislation to reduce or deny the payment of child support when fathers do not have access to their children, or when fathers do not agree with how support money is used. I don't see how such things serve the genuine well-being of men, women, or children.

PAS describes my experience
For me, what is important about Gardner's outline of PAS is that it accords with my experience. It helps me understand what has happened, and continues to happen, in my family. No other explanations or rationales I have encountered fit what I know about my children, their father, and myself.

  1. Wallerstein J.S. and Kelly, J.B. Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce.
  1. New York: Basic Books, 1980.

  2. Wallerstein J.S. and Blakeslee, S. Second Chances. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989.

  3. Turkat, I.D. “Child Visitation Interference in Divorce.” Clinical Psychology Review 14 (8): 737-742.

  4. Turkat, I.D. “Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.” Journal of Family Violence, 10 (3): 253-264.

  5. Gardner, R. A. “The recent gender shift in PAS indoctrinators.” News for Women in Psychiatry, 19 (4): 11-13.

  6. Gardner, R. A. “Denial of the Parental Alienation Syndrome Also Harms Women.” American Journal of Family Therapy, 30 (3):191-202

Monday, October 17, 2005

My story 7: the third year

My story 7: the third year

April: S's income increases
In April, S reported that his 2003 income was higher than the year before. He wouldn't talk about increasing his child support payments, though. I asked for a “case conference” with our judge, to see if we could work this out somehow. The judge was supportive, and suggested I put together a motion on the matter and bring it back for another conference in June. S was not happy.

S keeps J from returning home
We were in court on a Monday. The boys had spent the weekend with S, and were to return home after dinner on Monday night. T arrived on time, but said that he didn't think J was going to return at all. At 10:15, J called, saying that he'd decided not to come home because there was “too much hassle.” He didn't know when he'd be back, he said, but that he thought “this was for the best.”

Because S had taken the children away from me 18 months earlier, and because he had later attempted to prevent J from returning, the custody order explicitly allows me to walk into court immediately and see a judge if S tries to do it again. And so, the next morning, I drafted a motion and took it to the court. I saw “our” judge, whom we'd seen the day before. He'd read my affidavit outlining what had happened: that we'd been in court the day before, that the outcome had not been to S's liking, and that he was now attempting to keep J from coming home. The judge ordered J to return home immediately, and also ordered the children's lawyer to return to the case.

J returns
S wasn't at court with me—-he didn't know I'd gone until he received the court order that afternoon. He called J at school, taking him out of class, and tried to pressure him into ignoring the court order. J was in a panic. The school office called the CAS, worried that J was so upset about being in trouble with his father. The CAS worker told J to do what the judge had said.

I picked up J at school and brought him home. He said he was relieved that I'd gotten him out of his dad's house. He continued in his usual residence pattern. The children's lawyer came back into the case in mid-August, and worked with J, and T, and the parents, until the spring of 2005.

S withdraws D from high school
In May, J told me that D had withdrawn from high school. I went to the school, and was told that S had withdrawn her. She'd missed an enormous amount of school, and wasn't doing well. S blamed the school for D's performance

At a subsequent court appearance, the judge told S that he couldn't make unilateral decisions like this about any of the children. He had no right to withdraw D from school without my knowledge or agreement, and if he continued to act on his own, then D was not “a child of the marriage,” meaning he shouldn't receive child support for her. S appeared to take this very seriously, but it actually didn't make any difference at all.

June: financial headway
We returned to court in June, as the judge had instructed us in April. I provided the documentation required for a motion to get all of S's financial information in order to make appropriate adjustments to his child support. S resisted this very strongly. He didn't want to make an adjustment, and he very strongly opposed having to provide bank records and so on. He said that I was being vindictive and trying to cause harm. The judge said that if I could prove that S had not given accurate information about his income at the trial, the trial decisions related to income could be changed. If S had earned more than he had claimed since then, then his support payments should be adjusted accordingly. He urged us to settle this between us, saying that it was pretty clear what had happened. It shouldn't be too complicated, he said. We could make a new agreement, and the court would file and enforce it.

S tells the truth
S invited me to have lunch with him. We hadn't done anything like that since we'd separated. He said he owed me an aplogy. I was intrigued. S had never, ever apologized to me for anything. I accepted the invitation.

At lunch, he told me that he was very intrigued that the judge had seemed willing to order him to provide the information I'd asked for, and he really didn't want to go back to court ever again. He wanted me to know that I was right: he had, in fact, lied about his income throughout the trial, in every respect. He'd gotten his employer's affiliate to write letters on his behalf about his additional income which were also false, he said. I had been right all along, he said: he hadn't told the truth about anything related to his income or our money. He had been over-zealous, he said, and got his priorities screwed up, wanting to make sure he didn't lose any more than he had to.

Surprised to win an unfair trial
S said that he knew the trial decision had been very unfair to me. That he was shocked that I had been so badly treated in the outcome. That he never expected he'd be able to get away with everything, but once he had, there wasn't a reason to go back, was there? It was all about shades of grey, he thought, anyway. But now, well, I'd made my point, and things would have to change.

He seemed positively jolly. He acted like it had been a big joke, originally intended for me, but which turned out to be a joke on him. I'd figured it out, clever thing that I am, and he couldn't avoid it any longer, darn it! But he was willing to come clean, and resolve things properly. He just didn't want to go to court again. So, he said he would provide all of the bank records, and credit card statements, and so on that I'd been asking for, and we could each go over them, and work out a settlement.

My new best friend (not)
S wanted us to make a “new start,” he said. He thought that, now that the air was cleared between us, we should be able to get along well together. No more need for conflict. We could be real partners in raising our children, with no bad blood left over from his over-exuberance at trial.

He was warm. He was expansive. Gone was the hostility I'd had from him for almost four years. Gone was the suspicion, the doubting, the apparent interest in skewering me on any inconsistency he could fine. He was friendly, concerned for me, wanting to make peace.

He was sickening to me. I felt dirty. I knew I was being subjected to an even bigger con than before. I was non-committal. I suggested he provide the documents, and we'd go from there. I didn't agree to anything.

My story 5: the second year

I'm going to try to write more briefly now that I've set down the overall background to the situation.

More financial problems
After the trial decision came out, S filed his 2003 income tax return, reporting a significantly greater income than he had sworn he'd earned at the trial three months earlier. He refused to make adjustments to his child support payment, on the basis that if the judge said he earned $XX, that's what he earned, period.

I didn't have the energy to fight about this. I was putting everything I had into finding more work, but there wasn't a lot available.

Working out of town
I was asked to go to the States to do some work for an acquaintance. The invitation coincided with the boys' week-long spring break. S had just moved into a house around the corner from me (I hadn't known that his girlfriend lived there when I rented my house. I wouldn't have taken the place if I had known!). S and I agreed that the boys would spend the week with him, come home every day to look after the cats, and that I would call the kids every evening. The day after I arrived in the city 2,000 miles from home, unbeknownst to me, S sent the boys to be with his parents who live about 100 miles away from us. S's mother won't take calls from me, so I couldn't call the boys.

S took the boys' key to my house, saying he would go and feed the cats. The situation was upsetting enough, and this really unnerved me. I didn't want S having the free run of the house. I couldn't make an issue of it, though, because he would probably decide not to tend to the animals. I could see that it wasn't going to be easy for me to accept work away from home in the future.

However, I worked hard, and was very well-paid for it, which kept our heads above water for a few more months.

The custody order
S ignored the custody order by and large. He told D not to see me on Mother's Day, during the summer holiday, for my birthday, or at Christmas. I e-mailed her brief, cheerful notes about once every three or four weeks but she never replied.

The custody order requires the parents to provide a complete, detailed itinerary two weeks prior to taking the children away overnight, or away on holiday. S decided to take the children camping for their three-week vacation, but refused to give me the itinerary. He said he wanted to play things by ear, so he didn't know where they would be. He couldn't promise that I would be able to contact them; he thought he would be out of range for his cell phone. I knew that he was deliberately trying to upset me because the children's lawyer had explained at length that, whether he liked it or not, I had a right to know where the children were at all times, and he was obligated to give me accurate information.

I had to go back to court to get the custody order enforced. The judge agreed with me, and ordered him to give the information immediately. S told them that I was trying hard to ruin their vacation time with him. When they asked me about it (I hadn't said anything to them about it), I said that I really wanted them to have a good vacation, and I wanted the rules about the parents being in contact with the chidlren to apply to both of us, all the time. They went on the holiday, S didn't follow the itinerary exactly, but they did come home.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My story 4: the judgment

Many lawyers have told me that it's very hard to know what to expect from a judge, particularly in a case like ours. As far as the court is concerned, “it's only money.”

Where I went wrong
The major mistake I made at the trial, and probably throughout out legal entanglements, was in not fully understanding the kind of authority people would almost automatically give to anything S had to say. His profession lends him a kind of credibility that he wouldn't have otherwise. My assumption from the beginning had been that judges are used to seeing public figures, politicians, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, and affluent people in the court, and that they could see past the public veneer and recognize that, regardless of one's profession or financial resources, people are people, prone to the same kinds of desires, for good and for ill.

My assumption made me blind to the difficulty in convincing someone who does not know us and who has had little contact with our case that S is not honest and is determined to do whatever he can to harm me. Remember: he has told me many times that he intends to take the children away from me, ruin me financially, and make it impossible for me ever to see the children again. This horrifying threat may mirror things many people feel at times (who hasn't fantasized about the demise of an opponent?), yet very few people actually take steps to turn their threats into reality. While we know that people can behave differently in private than they do in public, we also assume that there is continuity between our public and private selves.

That's not always the case, however. When we learn that some public figure, such as an entertainer, while being admired by fans has also been abusing their spouse and/or children, we are shocked by the discontinuity between their public and private selves. Just as we may overlook an error a musician might make in performing a difficult piece, we frequently ignore, discount, or simply do not hear clues of dischord when we expect only to hear harmony from those who are in positions of public trust.

I had given very little thought to this dilemma. I had expected that as long as I told the truth, and made my case plainly and carefully without asking for more than the divorce laws of Canada seem to guarantee, if I didn't try to shirk my responsibilities, and made concessions and compromises when things were in doubt, all would be well.

S's attacks on me and my case were spirited and vicious. He jeered at me and ridiculed my analysis of even simple bank statements. He did his utmost to confuse me by confusing documents and proposing that we must have made such-and-such a decision to do X because A + B = Q. I had expected that the judge would see how the contempt with which he was treating me, and that she would question what motivated his assault, and where his enthusiasm came from.

The outcome
In the end, although it took her nearly three months to issue her decision, it was plain that she trusted his public persona mirrored exactly who he is, and that I was grasping, dishonest, and manipulative. She awarded him everything and in some cases more than he had asked for. She determined his income to be more than $20,000 less than was the case, and that I my gross and net income was the same. The resulting child support he had to pay me was less than I paid him. (The two amounts are offset, with the lower amount being deducted from the higher, such that only the lower-earning parent pays full child support, while the higher-earning parent pays only partial support.) She decided that the matter of the “loan” from S's parents was ambiguous, but went with his claims in the end. At the end of it all, I came away with massive debt and no assets, while he had almost no debts, a fully-intact pension, and very low child support obligations.

S was jubilant. He positively crowed with delight, saying the judge had given him far more than he had ever imagined. He had not expected me to be wiped out by the judgment. He said that after this, the rest of his plan would simply fall into place.

My story 3: the trial

For the last half of our marriage, I was an editor for a project that produced a large annual resource. I was on a full-time annual contract, working from home. Part of my contract income covered required expenses, including some travel expenses, payment to sub-contract freelance writers, courier fees, and long-distance calls, which were always expensive. For the last four years, in addition to this project, I also edited a professional journal, which increased my workload by 30-50%, depending on publications deadlines. While I knew what my gross income was, I didn't always know exactly what my business expenses cost.

S had, and continues to have, a significant professional position for which he was paid a comfortable salary. Part of his work involves doing a type of short-term counselling service for people who are associated with his employer. He also provides the same kind of services through an affiliate of his employer, for which he is paid separately, on a case-by-case basis. (I apologize for being both vague and wordy, here! It would be much simpler if I could simply say what his job is, but I can't give out that kind of information.) One part of his income is stable, and the other part is significant, but may vary from year to year. I didn't know what S's total income was. I had a general idea about his salary, but I didn't know exactly how much he earned from his additional work, other than that he was paid at a much higher rate, and the number of clients he worked with varied.

S handled our finances
When we were married, S took charge of all of our finances. I rarely saw cheques that arrived for me. He did all the banking, paid the bills, and compiled our income tax returns. It was very important to him. He was almost obsessed with money, and it seemed that we never had enough money for things, despite living a fairly modest life. We didn't take vacations. We didn't eat out, go to movies or the theatre. I didn't need much in the way of a wardrobe because I worked from home. S needed to dress appropriately, but he wasn't extravagant about his expenses. Because money was so tight, when S worked on our tax returns each year, he didn't declare all of his outside, non-salary income. I was never comfortable about this, but he felt very strongly that this additional income would mostly be lost to us because it would put him in a higher tax bracket and would reduce most of the benefits we received in terms of tax credits and so on. This additional income fluctuated, and there wasn't an easy way to trace it.

In the last few years of the marriage, I had a fairly decent income, I thought. I was working about 60 hours a week as a contract editor, full-time for one publication, and about half-time for another. The work was demanding, but I enjoyed it. I couldn't understand why we still had so little money, though.

I didn't control my own money
I had to ask S before I bought groceries and things for the children. If I didn't ask him first, I would find that my credit card or debit card were overdrawn when I went to pay for something. I had to ask him before I could purchase things for my own office, such as boxes of paper, ink for my printer, reference materials or software upgrades. He would often tell me I had to wait a week, two weeks, or a month before I could do something that wasn't absolutely essential. Near the end, I was supposed to go out of town for some meetings but S talked me into cancelling my trip because I honestly didn't have anything appropriate to wear and he said we couldn't afford for me to buy two dresses and a pair of shoes.

The trial
The divorce trial lasted over a week. I had no idea what to expect S would do, or exactly how to prepare for the surprises I was sure he would try to spring on me. I had reviewed our bank records and credit card statements, and tracked everything through an accounting program on my computer. I was confident that I could show what we had earned, and how the money had been spent. I focused on the objective records, and on our tax returns, pointing out that S had not declared his full income in the last three years. I tried to present as clear a picture as possible, knowing that the judge would use the information to make decisions about child support and how some expenses from the previous year should be divided between us.

S presented our finances as a very complex, highly convoluted series of transactions, transfers between accounts, expenses and irregular deposits. There were three parts to his argument. First, that his income was far lower than the bank records showed. Second, that my income was significantly greater than I had admitted because my business expenses were heavily padded and largely unnecessary. Third, he was intent on proving that he had arranged a loan from his parents so that we could buy our house, whether I knew it or not, that the money had to be repaid, and that I was obligated to pay half of the debt. His submissions to the court plus his cross-examination of me and the material I had presented, took him more than four days.

My story 2: the first year

The court
About a month after S took the children away, T declared that he wanted to live with me full-time and to see S on alternating weekends. His brother, J, decided that he wanted to live with both of his parents, and began a pattern of living a week at a time in each house. At our first court appearance, the judge admonished S to ensure that D and I were reunited immediately, and that all of the children should get counselling. The judge also appointed a “children's lawyer” to work with the children. (Note: in Ontario, the Office of the Children's Lawyer functions much the way a guardian ad litem does in other places.)

D and the children's lawyer
The children's lawyer made the first report four months after S had abducted the children. He said that the boys were content with their residential arrangements. However, D had decided not to resume contact with me until she had received a written “apology” from me.

I wrote a letter to D, telling her that I loved her, that I missed her, and that I hoped we would be able to resolve things between us together. I said that I was willing to hear her concerns and that I would do my best to respond to them. I suggested that we find a counsellor who could work with us.

D rejects my letter and makes demands for her father
D rejected my letter. She sent a list of things she wanted me to apologize for, all of which S had told her were from conversations he and I had had, in private. None of the children were present for any of the conversations, some of which had taken place outside the house. What S had told D was completely untrue. If I had written the apology she was asking for, I would have been involving her in things that didn't concern her at all, and I would have been saying that I was completely responsible for everything that had gone wrong in our marriage, and for all of the turmoil that had occurred since we separated.

My lawyer brought the matter up with the judge, who agreed that D's “request” was inappropriate, and ordered that neither parent should, on any account, discuss any aspect of the divorce with the children. The judge was explicit that she was making this order so that nothing would be standing in the way of reuniting me with D, and hopefully getting some counselling together immediately.

I was relieved that D and I would be able to reconnect, and that counselling could finally take place. However, the children's lawyer didn't tell D what the judge had said. He thought that S or I would do it (although I hadn't even had telephone contact with D in six months at that point). S didn't tell D what the judge had said, either, claiming that the judge's order prevented him from saying anything to her, including suggesting D contact the children's lawyer to find out what had happened.

The sale of our house
I had hoped that, after I moved out of our house, he and the children would return to it. I couldn't afford to pay the mortgage and other costs myself, but he could. Instead, S defaulted on the mortgage without telling me. S had been returning to the house regularly, and had basically trashed the place. I was shocked when the bank contacted me about foreclosure. I couldn't cover the unpaid mortgage payments myself. I had to have the house cleaned up, and I listed it for sale.

Once the house was on the market, S told me that he had planned to force the sale because the losses we would take (the unpaid mortgage payments, the mortgage pre-payment penalty, the real estate and legal fees) would be so large that he would not have to make any further financial settlement with me.

S's financial plan
We had equity in the house. S's parents had given us money which we had used for the downpayment. However, S was now claiming that the downpayment had not been a gift, after all, but that he had made a loan agreement with his parents. His parents had to be re-paid in full, as did the mortgage company, he said. In the end, he said, I was going to owe his parents a considerable amount of money in addition to my half of the costs of the sale. He would walk away with his pension intact. His pension and the house were our only significant assets.

When the house sold a couple of weeks later, S was very happy. He wanted to know whether I would concede now, and save us a lot of trouble, or whether I was going to insist on seeing his plan play out to the end. The end was that I would be completely ruined financially, and unable to afford to live in the community, while he would succeed in his action for full custody of all of the children. Once I moved out of the area, he promised that I would never see any of the children again.

Concerns about the summer
S wanted to take the children away on holiday for three weeks that summer. I was worried about this. He wanted to go out of province, and I was afraid that he wouldn't return, or that the children wouldn't return with him. A year before we had separated, S had taken the two older children across the country to see his parents. While he was gone, we had an argument in which he threatened to leave the children with his parents if I didn't do what he wanted.

My lawyer felt that I couldn't withhold consent to S's vacation plans because the children's final custody had not been decided yet, and she thought the court might think I was being unreasonable and attempting to deny the children access to their father as a way to retaliate against him for alienating D. She got an agreement about S's travel arrangements. He didn't keep it.

S attempts to alienate J
The night before the boys were to return home to spend vacation time with me, S and I spoke on the phone. We were scheduled to appear in court in three weeks to set a date for the divorce trial if things couldn't be resolved. S said that he expected I would have recognized that I had no alternative but to do what he wanted. When I said that I wasn't going to accept his terms, he was enraged.

The next day, T came home, but J did not. J and I had spoken the evening before. He was excited about our holiday together, and said that he missed me and couldn't wait to see me. Two hours after S's angry attack on the telephone, J sent me e-mail saying that he wasn't coming back to my house the next day.

J returns
Three weeks later, the judge ordered that J return to his half-time residence arrangement, and instructed the children's lawyer to explain the order to J in no uncertain terms. Outside the courtroom, S tried to talk the children's lawyer into including in his explanation the fact that there would be no consequences to J or anyone if J defied the court order. Naturally, the children's lawyer refused.

J did return, saying that he didn't want to find out what a judge might do if he didn't follow the order.

Ready for trial
In October, we appeared at court anticipating the beginning of a divorce trial on the custody of the children, child support, spousal support, and the division of property. Neither of us had a lawyer at this point. My former attorney didn't do custody trials (many lawyers don't.) I couldn't afford a lawyer who did them, and so I was forced to represent myself. S's lawyer stepped down from the case formally, so taht S could represent himself, but his lawyer was available by telephone.

The judge asked for a report about the children. I expressed my dismay over D's estrangement. The judge was seriously troubled by it, too. I told the court that D had been away from me for 11 months at that point, and had gained 100 pounds. S would not consult with me about her health care, and denied that she had any problem at all. I was very concerned about D's well-being. S did, indeed, deny that there was anything wrong with D. He said she was healthy and well, and that he was powerless to do anything about getting her to see me.

A custody order
The judge was adamant that this case should not go to trial. He insisted that the custody issue should be settled. S argued that he would not settle it until the financial matters were resolved. The judge told him that he would not allow S to force me to a trial over money unless the children's custody was settled first. He said that the court would ensure that the children's custody was resolved before figuring out how to pay for it.

The children's lawyer met with us separately, and we hammered out a custody agreement that day. The children's lawyer told me that he thought I had good reason to be concerned about what S might do with the children, and that he had refused to include most of S's demands in the drafts of the agreement.

Attempt to settle finances fails
We were later sent to meet with another judge to see if the financial matters could be resolved. That judge urged S to settle things fairly, and advised that the tack he was taking was not likely to succeed before very many judges. The courts, she said, are not interested in enriching one party and impoverishing the other, even if that's what one of the parties would prefer. She suggested a settlement amount, which was acceptable to me, but not to S. He insisted on having a trial, and since I could not afford to accept his terms, I had no choice.


For obvious reasons, I'm not using my real name, the names of my children, or their father in this blog. Not only is it important to protect my children, but I find that identifying information can get in the way of the discussion. In this blog, I will refer to my daughter as D, my older son as J, and my younger son as T. Their father is S, and I am M.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Why I've started this blog

I decided to start this blog as a way to connect with others who are, or have been, in a high-conflict divorce, or who have been the targets of parental alienation. In particular, I hope to connect with other mothers who have been alienated from some or all of their children.

High-conflict cases misunderstood
The last four years have taught me how little is understood about high-conflict divorces. Many professionals assume that these couples simply won't stop fighting, even though it's harmful to their children. Those professionals rarely recognize that many high-conflict divorces were abusive relationships: there is conflict after the marriage ends because the woman ended it. She's trying to get away, but he'll only let her go on his terms, if he'll let go of her at all.

Alienated mothers
I have also learned how little is understood about mothers who have lost their children because the other parent has deliberately and systematically poisoned their minds, often with the help of friends and extended family members. Fathers who have been alienated from their children have become very active in many arenas, but alienated mothers have not. I'd like to explore some of the reasons for the difference.

Finally, I am determined to find ways to turn the struggle I've lived with into something positive, encouraging and life-giving. I hope this blog will be part of that process.

My story 1: separation and abduction

We had been married for 14 years; we had three children, a house and two dogs.

It had not been an easy marriage. It felt like there wasn't any room for me in it. I was working 60 hours a week or more, and I was becoming cynical, irritated with writers and their manuscripts. While I was doing well in my work, I felt I was suffocating personally. I wanted to have some friends. I wanted to write. I wanted to leave the house for something more than a trip to the grocery store. I was unbearably over-worked and desperately lonely

After working with a marriage counsellor for four months, I recognized that while I was willing to put a lot into the marriage, my husband was not. He was happy with the way things were, and didn't see a reason to change things. We separated.

Separations aren't easy. I knew that. We began amicably, but it didn't stay that way. He was obsessed with money and wanted to control our separation and divorce, just as he had our marriage. I expected that if I just gave it some time, things would start to resolve. I thought that we'd start to see what mattered and what didn't, and we'd work things out fairly.

Children abducted
S moved out of the house very suddenly, without notice, which upset the children terribly. A few days later, he took them out for the evening, and refused to return them. He wouldn't tell me where they were. He wouldn't let me talk to them, or let them talk to me. A few weeks earlier, we'd met together with our lawyers and agreed that I would stay in the house and I would have custody of the kids, but there were still some details to work out. He said he wasn't going to follow through on it. He had the children, he said, and I wasn't going to get them back.

His plan
He said that because I had wanted out of the marriage, I had no genuine right to make any demands. He would be making all of the decisions, and I would have to do as I was told. He told me he would make sure that I didn't receive any part of what we owned, and I wouldn't receive any kind of financial settlement. I would pay full child support to him. He said I wouldn't be able to continue to live in our town—I wouldn't be able to afford it—and so I would have to move far away. He said that once that happened, he would make sure I never saw the children again.

A web of lies
S told the children that they hadn't known what had “really” been going on, but he had to protect them. He said that I was deranged, and they weren't safe with me. He told them to wait and see if I called them, first. He said I might not. It was a real shame, but I might not call them for a long time. It was better for them to wait, he said, until I had “calmed down.”

He went to their schools and told the principals that I had frightened the children—he said I was crazy-- and that the children didn't want to see me. If I showed up, he said, it would be best if I didn't see the children. It would upset them. School should be a haven from family problems, he said.

Breaking into the house
He moved the three children into a one-bedroom apartment with him. He started breaking into the house—I'd changed the locks—and taking things. He wouldn't work through the lawyers. He said he would come to the house at any hour of the day or night, and he would take whatever he wanted from it, and do whatever he liked to the property, because it was his, and he could. I called the police when he was there. They came and told him not to come back unless they were with him. He called the children on his cell phone and said that Mom had called the police and was trying to have him arrested. He told them he was glad they weren't there to see it. He said that the police weren't going to arrest him because he hadn't done anything wrong, but they could see that I was very, very disturbed, he said.

I move out
I didn't feel safe. I knew that he wouldn't stay away from the house, even though he'd been told to do so. I rented a small house about a mile away, and moved into it.

Children's Aid gets involved
Someone made a complaint to the local Children's Aid Society, on the basis that they were concerned that there was a 40 year-old man living in a one-bedroom apartment with three children, including a 14 year-old girl, and a labrador retriever. Children's Aid investigated, and called me. They told me where the children were, and how to contact them. They said that my youngest child, a 7 year-old boy, didn't want to live with his father. He wanted to live with me. They said that I should have time with all of the children at Christmas, which was in a few days.

Sons return; daughter doesn't
My youngest arrived the day after Christmas. He said he wasn't going back to his father's house again. His older brother, who was 12, came with him. He said he wanted to live with me, too, but maybe just half time. My daughter, who was 14, didn't come. That was almost four years ago. I've hardly seen her since then.