The End of Strife

Sunday, June 18, 2006

An alienator alienates

One characteristic of a child who has been subjected to parental alienation syndrome is the "Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent." The child becomes alienated from other people in the target parent's life. Those people might give the child a different perspective. They might the alienated parent to fight back. And they might give information about the child to the alienated parent, as well.

It makes sense, I suppose, if one is trying to eradicate the other parent from a child's life, to ensure that the ripples of alienation spread as widely as possible.

I haven't read any hard studies about this, but from conversations I've had with many, many people, I notice that men who embark on a campaign to alienate their children from their mother have almost always been emotionally and psychologically abusive towards their children's mother when the two parents were still together as a couple.

I was the one who had friends
That was certainly true in my case. I'm the one who had a good circle of friends when we met. I was popular, not in a flamboyant way, but generally well-liked by most people I knew, and I know that people found me to be steady, trustworthy, generous, responsible, and willing to listen or lend a hand whenever possible. But we were in grad school, and after grad school is over, people do go their separate ways. In our case, most of our colleagues were scattered across the country, and we, too, moved into another part of the province before moving farther away.

He didn't support relationships with others
S was never supportive of me having friends after we'd moved. It was never convenient, somehow. I'd meet someone, make plans for lunch or coffee, and things would start to move along nicely. Then S would find excuses for me to break a date, cancel plans, or be very late for a meeting. Telephone messages for me wouldn't get delivered. He told people I was very busy, or not well, sometimes. Just as often, he said that he'd given me the message, and couldn't imagine why I hadn't called (not true, of course).

After awhile, there simply were no other people in my life outside the family. I met my colleagues when we gathered a few times each year, and I counted on those meetings as a social outlet as well as working events. Other than those meetings, I rarely left home for longer than it took to pick up a child at school, run a few errands, or something like that. If I went out to do non-specific shopping, my cell phone would ring within half an hour. Something had happened, I needed to go home. S had to go out suddenly.

Not a coincidence
At first, I thought that my isolation was just a coincidence, not that it was intentional. Later, I thought that it was partly the product of working at home while raising children—there's never enough time for everything. But in the last couple of years that we were together, it was very clear to me that S simply wouldn't tolerate me going out, meeting with people, or being "unaccounted-for." When I tried to talk about it with him, he said that he thought I needed to get my priorities straight. My family had to come first, as long as the children were small. Maybe later, he said, there'd be time for me to have friends.

But later never came.

Leaving meant being just as isolated
And so, when I left him, I left alone, with no one nearby to talk to, or spend time with. He'd long since alienated my family&#8212not difficult to do, it was never an easy relationship.

I often think that the isolation I lived in helped S alienate D, and has given him quite a bit of success with J, as well.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My story 13: aftermath of the rulings

A judge's decision includes reasons as well as orders. After the judge releases the decision, the lawyer who made the application to the court drafts the rulings into a document which is then signed by the judge and put into effect. Until that happens, for example, the Family Responsibility Office does not change the amount of child support it collects from someone's employer.

There were several details that the lawyers were supposed to resolve, but S and his lawyer refused to settle them. Then they refused to agree to the draft of the orders.

S appeals
Almost eight weeks after the December decision, S filed an appeal, claiming that the judge had made a decision four weeks earlier (not eight), and that he was within the 30-day period allowed to launch an appeal. He wanted the whole thing overturned.

He couldn't appeal then, however. He'd filed false information in his application when he said that the judge had made a decision on a particular date but that wasn't true at all.

The Court of Appeal wants to have a copy of the signed orders. S had blocked the signing of the orders, and continued to disagree about them right up until April when we went back to court, again, to get this resolved.

Meanwhile, legal costs
The judge issued his decision about legal costs in March. He awarded costs to me, and told S that he had to pay a large amount of money to my lawyer, in full, in 60 days. S didn't pay the money, and hasn't appealed the costs order as of today. It's too late to begin an appeal about that, now, and I understand he can't appeal it, anyway, unless he's paid the money in the first place or asked the court to grant him permission not to pay it until the appeal is heard. He hasn't done that, either.

In court in April
In April, we went to court, again, and the judge heard from both sides about the drafted orders and a couple of other matters, which the lawyers ended up agreeing about in the judge's presence. The judge released his decision from this attendance in early May, and again agreed with what Ms. C had presented.

Still no signed orders
The orders were drafted, again, and again, S has opposed them. We're scheduled to be back in court at the end of June. Maybe the judge will settle this once and for all at that time! I hope that he'll recognize that every time he gives S any leeway, S takes it, and that he acts to his own advantage, and to my detriment.

S plans further action
S has also scheduled another appearance in July, this time to have the judge's decision changed on the basis that S can't afford to pay his arrears. He's consulted a financial advisor who has assured him that his lifestyle is moderate and appropriate, and that he can't take on any additional debt. Moreover, he shouldn't be paying so much spousal support. S is also hoping to have me chaged with contempt of court because, he says, my e-mail to D last November "disparages" him, which is contrary to the custody order. He hopes that I will either be jailed or that I will be severely fined, and unable to pay the fine, and then be jailed; and he hopes that he won't have to pay his arrears because of my disparaging remarks.

In the first place, Ms. C assures me that S won't be able to get out of paying his arrears. The financial advisor isn't important. The question that needs to be asked is about the lifestyle that's appropriate for someone who owes a vast amount of unpaid child support, not whether his lifestyle is appropriate for a middle-aged professional.

Secondly, Ms. C says that my e-mail was not disparaging, and that I sent it just a few days before D's 18th birthday. It did not cause the deterioration in her relationship with her father. S has already acknowledged that he frequently discusses his legal troubles with the children, which is grounds for contempt. Finally, she says, the court does not put single mothers in jail for writing e-mail like this. It shows more about S than anything else, she says.

Third, and best of all, this motion will probably not be heard in any case. S hasn't paid his legal costs. He's in breach of a court order, and won't be allowed to bring another action until he's paid his costs. The Court of Appeal will hear about his application for an appeal just before we're to appear in the lower court on his motion to change the arrears and ongoing support. Whether they allow his appeal to go forward or not, they won't let him proceed without paying his legal costs outstanding, and Ms. C will also ask them to order him to pay "security for costs". That is, to pay a sum, into her trust account, to be held against any future costs award he has to pay, to ensure that he can, indeed, pay the expenses of litigating. She will also ask the lower court to require him to pay security for costs there, too. She's had great success with this in the past, and is confident that it will succeed again. S won't be able to do anything, anywhere, until he's paid his legal costs and his securities.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

My story 12: D moves away

Things I learned while buying groceries
In early November, I was in a grocery store where I rarely shop. A woman came up to me and started talking, as though we knew each other. I have no idea to this day who she was. She said that she'd seen my sons, and they were growing so tall, looking so good, and so on. I nodded and smiled, and kept wracking my mind, trying to figure out who she was.

Then she said that I must be feeling concerned about D's plans to move to the States in a couple of weeks. A baby was in a shopping cart nearby, and started to cry at that moment. I used the interruption as an excuse to have the woman repeat what she'd said. Then I replied that D was about to turn 18, and if she wants to leave, she's entitled to do that. I was sure she would be all right, I said.

T confirms it: D is moving
Later that day, I told T about the conversation in the store. He was relieved. He'd just found out a few days earlier, and S and D had made him promise not to tell me about D's plans. She would do it herself, they said. Since then, he'd worried that she might not tell me, after all, and that I'd be hurt, and he would have been part of that. I told him not to worry, that it was okay.

I go to see D
The next day, I bought a book that I thought D would like, and took it to her house. She was glad to have it. I told her about my chat with the woman in the grocery store, and she became agitated. She said that no one was supposed to know about her move, but she'd had enough, she couldn't take it anymore in her father's house, and she was going. She had planned to leave on the day of her 18th birthday, without telling the family until that morning. She was going to stay with friends in the States. The father teaches at a university—teaches the very thing that D wants to study—and she was going to live with them until she started university. When she told her school that she was moving, they insisted that she tell her father, or they would do it. So she had to tell him, she said, and "all hell broke loose after that."

D said that S was very angry, and that L, his girlfriend, wouldn't even speak to her. They wanted her to stay in Ontario, and were trying to pressure her into doing it, but it wasn't going to work.

I asked her when she was going to tell me, and she said, "I wasn't. You'd find out sooner or later. I didn't want anyone to know, and I had to tell Dad. I didn't have to tell you, so I wasn't going to."

I asked her if we could spend some time together before she left, and she said no. She said she couldn't trust me. She couldn't trust how she felt when she was with me. I'm a great person, and a terrific Mom, in person, but she knows that's not how I really am at all. I'm really trying to make everyone unhappy, especially S, and that just makes life hard for all of them. So, while part of her wants to be with me, she has to be wise, she has to stick with what she knows is really true about me.

She closed the door in my face.

A few days later, I e-mailed D, trying again to reconnect with her. She replied, saying that she wouldn't have anything more to do with me until there had been at least a year without court appearances and legal documents going back and forth between S and me. She said that all the litigation made S abusive and angry. He treats everyone very badly because he's worried about what the court will do, and he takes his upset and hostility out on the family. If I wanted her to feel better about me, then I would ensure that there was no more litigation of any sort, I'd just do whatever he wanted, and then he'd be happier and easier to be with. If I didn't do it, then it was clear that I didn't really care what life was like for anyone other than myself.

I wrote back to her, saying that I hadn't started this litigation, that I wanted it all over, too, and that I couldn't see a reason to continue on with it, except that S wasn't happy with what the judge had done. I'm not responsible for S's behaviour, I said.

D replied and said that she didn't care what was true. She just knew that her father was impossible to be with and that I could make it stop if I wanted to, and she thought he would be better then. Those were her terms.

On her 18th birthday, a friend from the States came to get D and take her to be with the family she was planning to live with.

I sent e-mail to her a week or so later, but she didn't reply. However, when I offered to send her some money so that she could come back to Ontario for Christmas, she accepted it. I didn't see her or hear from her over the holiday.

D returned at the beginning of June, to work here until mid-August. Then she's entering a university in the States.

My story 11: Working things out with J

A couple of days after J left, I called S. I said that we needed to find a way to work things out, and that J needed to be at home with his brother and me. S said that there were no problems to resolve, and that J was at home, with him. I shouldn't expect to see him again, anytime soon, he said. "It's all going according to plan," he said. "I told you what would happen when this whole thing started. I haven't changed my mind. I never will."

J agreed to come over for dinner about three weeks later. I tried to talk with him, but it didn't go well. He wanted to come home, he said, but he just couldn't.

He did start coming for dinner about once a week or so, and when he was here he'd ask for help with his homework, and he'd tell me about school, his writing, and so on. We started to feel closer. He came for a weekend at the beginning of December, and was supposed to come for another weekend before Christmas, but S refused to let him.

He came for the second week of the Christmas holiday, and said that he wanted to stay on after that. He said that things were going as before. At first, S paid a lot of attention to him, but after awhile that stopped, and he was feeling lonely, and under a lot of criticism when S was at home.

In January, S told J that he was causing huge financial problems for him, and that if he was in my house, he wasn't welcome at S's house more than every second weekend. S couldn't afford to keep him, he said, because I was draining him dry. (The truth is that S wasn't paying any of what he owed.) J said that he thought he was just a "big pile of money" to his father, and that he didn't want to go back there again.

My story 10: aftermath of the ruling

J uses his father's language
The children were with S for the first half of August—on summer holiday—when the judge's decision was released. When J returned home in the middle of the month, he was hostile, withdrawn, easily irritated, and difficult to be with. He kept saying that he needed "to figure things out," but didn't say what he was trying to understand. "I just have to trust what I know, and not what I think I see," he said.

I was worried; I'd heard the same words innumerable times from S during our marriage. What one "knows" was never what one actually knew, or discovered, or realized, but what S had lectured and insisted on. He could turn the real world on its head, and demand agreement that A was B, X was Y, grass is blue, sky is green, badgering and refusing to allow me to get away, take a break, or do anything, including go to sleep, until I had said what he'd wanted to hear, using the exact words he insisted on, and often making promises not to argue with him, or to think differently.

My birthday and D's rejection
My birthday is in late August. Because things had been going well with D, I'd invited her to spend some time with her brothers and me. The night before my birthday, she sent e-mail saying that she wouldn't be seeing us the next day, or at any time in the near future. She agreed that she'd enjoyed talking with me, but said that she found it confusing. I seemed so warm and caring, genuinely interested in her, and supportive of her hopes and dreams, but she had to trust what she knew (catch the wording!), which was that I was not actually at all as I appeared to be.

She said that I was a vindictive, hostile woman who was determined to make S's life miserable at every turn while he was a wonderful man who was just trying to get on with his life and do the best he could, but he was beset by my endless demands and constant litigation.

J describes what his father has been telling him
That night, J had a talk with my partner, who was in town for a few days. J explained that D was right, on the whole. He'd spent a lot of time with D and S over the holiday, and particularly in the last week of their time together (which was after the judge's decision came out). He was appalled to find that I'd been dragging his father back to court over and over again until the judge had finally had enough, and had decided that there must be some merit to the long list of lies I'd uttered, and had given in to me. The result was that S was going to be ruined, once and for all, and may not even be able to afford to pay the mortgage on his girlfriend's house, or buy groceries to feed them. Virtually everything he earned would have to be handed over to me. To make things worse, S had explained that the level of child support he was paying was particularly crippling. If J stopped living in my house, and went to live with S instead, that would make a difference. Otherwise, S might not be able to survive.

J said that he didn't think I was a liar, in general, but that when it came to the relationship between his parents, I was a very different person. He said that what was most telling, for him, was the fact that I didn't discuss any of the legal issues with him at all. He didn't even know if or when I'd been at court until a few days earlier. He took this as a sign that I was really up to something underhanded. S had pointed out that I might not be able to get away with lying to J—he knows me too well, and would figure it all out right away—and so that's why I wasn't saying anything. It was the only way I could hide from him.

J goes to stay at his father's house
J decided to spend my birthday with a friend, instead of at home with us. He said that his needs were more important. He came home the next day, but left a day later, after having said no more than a few dozen words to me or his brother. He left an angry note for me, saying that he'd decided to "go and live with the enemy" because he couldn't take living with someone who seemed to be something she is not.

S's views about retaliation
During our marriage, S had told me many times that one must always prepare for retaliation. "If you win, you've got to be ready for the backlash," he said. "People always retaliate. It's natural. When they really do get even, you'll wish you'd never tried to win at all."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

My story 10: the court decides in my favour

On the legal front, things had been moving along slowly. S didn't want to co-operate, wouldn't accept any proposals I made, and made none of his own. My lawyer brought a motion to the court in February 2005 to change the amount of child and spousal support S was paying on the basis of the significant difference in his income from his claims at the trial two years before. We needed more information from him about his sources of income, including the option of interviewing a company for whom he does a lot of freelance work. That company, as well as S and his new lawyer, Mr. H., had all been served the proper documentation and given adequate notice about the court appearance. Ms. C. had d tried to work out a mutually-acceptable date for this motion with Mr. H, but he had ignored all of her correspondence and telephone messages.

The first court appearance
When he received our documents, Mr. H announced that he wasn't available to attend at court on the date announced, and that he wouldn't be available until sometime in May—three months away. We didn't agree to adjourn the motion since he had not responded to Ms. C's letters. This was just another delaying tactic.

S's freelance contractor had contacted Ms. C, enraged. He wanted nothing to do with this. He felt that this was a private matter and that his company should not be involved, even though his staff had provided evidence at the original trial which he agreed had not been accurate. S had assured him that this was going to blow over, and that he didn't need to pay any attention to the matter, and that's what he was going to do. Ms. C advised him that he should read the documents, particularly noting that the court could made decisions against him if he didn't show up, and she suggested he consult his own legal counsel.

We went to court, as planned. S arrived, greatly agitated and full of hostility. The contract employer did not attend. In court, S demanded that the matter be set aside since Mr. H. was not there to represent him, and the contract employer also was not in attendance. The judge noted that Mr. H had apparently ignored correspondence attempting to set up this date, and that everyone had been given generous notice. Inexplicably, the contract employer had also elected not to attend, and the judge was not pleased about that, either. He noted that we were there to determine whether S's income had been greater than he had originally testified, and whether there was good reason for Ms. C to be provided with the information she had asked for, as well as the right to formally question the contract employer.

S admitted that his income was "somewhat" higher than he had testified, and named a figure about $8,000 greater than his original claim. The judge noted that, and immediately ordered an increase in his child and spousal support payments. He then went on to grant us the documents we'd asked for, and also gave leave to question the contract employer.

S was nearly apoplectic. His delaying tactics had failed, and his child support had increased, already.

The second court appearance
The documents were produced, and the contract employer had to provide a lengthy and detailed account of S's work with them for the last three years. We went over it in detail and decided not to go through the formal questioning process. The employer's affidavit acknowledged that they had not given an honest statement of S's earnings at any time in the past. In addition, from examining cancelled cheques that had been issued to S, I was able to identify the bank accounts into which he had deposited his earnings, one of which belonged to his girlfriend, and another of which he had never acknowledged.

We returned to court in June for a day and a half as we went through S's financial statements, bank records, and sources of income, showing that he had earned significantly more than he had claimed, and that a portion of his income which was considered to be "tax free" was worth a great deal more than had been claimed at the trial. We also examined the expenses I'd had to carry for the children, to which S had not contributed. S's defense was that our calculations were not correct, that we had not understood his bank records, that there was no difference in his income at all, and that my expenses were not legitimate.

Ms. C had made a claim for increased spousal support on the grounds that the work I had been doing was in a very limited field in which there were no prospects of full-time employment any longer (I had lost my last contract when I couldn't meet deadlines shortly after S abducted the children). I had been doing piecemeal freelance work, but was not able to build that up into something stable, and my income was being supplemented by social assistance.

Mr. H tried to depict me as a person who was full of spite, obsessed with revenge, and determined to retaliate against S for having won at trial two and a half years earlier. He said that I was lying about the amount of work I'd been doing, and about my job search, and that I had even managed to dupe the welfare office into believing that my job search reports were legitimate. S was an honest man who was being pursued aggressively and unfairly by a vindictive woman who needed to be told to get on with her life and leave him alone.

The first ruling
The judge released his decision in early August. He found that S's income was, indeed, considerably greater than he'd said it was. He also found that my income was truly less than had been attributed to me by the trial judge, and that it was not likely to increase unless I was able to upgrade my skills or education. He doubled the amount of spousal support I was to receive. He noted that S would owe considerable arrears, and should make arrangements accordingly, and he directed the lawyers to resolve the final details about S's income, giving them a number to work with from which child support and arrears would be calculated.

Giving options doesn't work
It was clear that my financial position was going to change substantially. I would not end up with a windfall, by any means, but S was going to have to bear his fair share of the children's expenses at last, and I was going to be able to keep a roof over our heads while I did some re-training to increase my employment options.

The problem was that telling S to work something out never achieves anything. He simply refuses to do it. That's what happened over the next three and a half months. He and Mr. H would not co-operate in any way in resolving the details of S's income. That meant that the arrears could not be worked out, and the child support could not be increased. We had to go back to court.

The third court appearance
The judge was irritable. Our file was over 40 volumes long, and had to be brought into the court on a cart. This conflict had gone on for a long, long time, and needed to be put to rest. Mr. H claimed that there was no way to achieve a resolution to the income question. He simply didn't accept Ms. C's figures at all; he couldn't understand them, he said. Ms. C provided calculations using the same software program used by the judge, and walked everyone through them.

The judge took a break and went to his chambers where he made his own calculations using the software package. He returned and distributed printouts, showing that he had determined S's income to be higher than Ms. C had presented, and asking everyone to agree that his calculations were accurate and appropriate.

The second ruling
The judge released his second ruling two weeks later. He noted that we had all agreed about the income calculations, and said that S's arrears could at last be determined. He noted that the amount owing was considerable, but also fair. He directed that S should pay his arrears in full no later than May 30, 2007. He also made decisions about the children's expenses, accepting everything I had documented. He directed that S should pay his share of these expenses to me immediately.

I was very happy. At last, I was going to be able to get out of debt, and put my household back on an even keel. The children would be supported by both parents, and we would have a level of security that we'd lacked for over four years.

As I write this, on June 14, 2006, I haven't received any of the money I'm owed, however. S has managed to delay things for over six months, and the delay will probably continue into the fall. More about that later.


My story 9: time with my daughter

I took heart a year ago when things between D and me began to improve. I'd seen her at a school concert at the end of May. She'd said she was having trouble with a paper she was writing about environmental policy—she couldn't find resources and up-to-date information. Well, I research things for a living, so after the concert, I came home and spent about 20 minutes on the Internet, pulled together a list of links to resources, and e-mailed it to D.

D replied, thanking me for the info which she hadn't been able to find. We exchanged a bit of e-mail in which I commiserated with her about the paper topic and the lack of support from her instructor. When she finished the paper, she e-mailed it to me. It was very good.

Discussing her education
A week or so later, we talked on the telephone briefly. Afterward, I went and picked out a small potted flowering plant, and took it over to her father's house. She answered the door and seemed genuinely pleased about the little gift. I invited her to go out for lunch, but she said she couldn't—she had to go to work in a little while. We stood on the doorstep for almost an hour, talking about her future plans. I'd asked about what she wanted to do at university, where she wanted to go, and so on, and she became quite animated. I kept expecting her to bring the chat to an end, but she kept on bringing up new subjects and deepening the conversation.

D wanted to go to university away from home, but S wanted her to stay here. She felt it was time to leave, and I agreed with her. She felt her father wasn't supporting her interests—she wanted to study a very challenging science—but S didn't think she was up to it, wasn't sure she could cope with the math. I told her that I was sure she could do anything she put her mind to. While the math might be a big challenge, if it was part of pursuing her passion, she'd find a way. As for leaving home to go to university, that made sense to me, I said. And since she was probably going to have to arrange for student loans and other funding options, I thought she should be the person who decided what level of debt she was willing to shoulder. She was excited about her proposed major, and I told her that I thought it was important for her to follow her heart, and to pay attention to her dreams.

More conversations
We had one or two more conversations like that over the next couple of months. I'd found some articles that I thought would interest her, and I took them over to her one day. Another time, I'd gone to pick up T at S's house. D came out the door, on her way to her part-time job. When T and I left, we drove past D, walking along the road. I offered her a ride to work on the basis that it was a very hot day, and the car was air conditioned, and wonder of wonders, she accepted! T, D and I spent 40 wonderful minutes together—she'd never been in my car, and she'd never spent any time with T and me in five years.

Private meetings
These meetings were completely private. They weren't scheduled. I didn't tell anyone about them, and I was sure D hadn't told anyone, either. T was delighted to have time alone with his sister and me, and he later told me that he didn't think he would say anything about that ride in the car because he didn't want his father to say something that might cloud his happy memory of that time.

I began to feel hope that D and I might find a way to be together again.

Divorce-related "Fulsome Father" Syndrome

As I noted earlier, it's difficult to talk about Parental Alienation Syndrome. Some feminists consider it to be an inherently anti-woman attribution which has been zealously adopted by the so-called "father's rights" groups in their attempts to disprove allegations of child abuse. I find the fathers' groups online and offline to be highly misogynistic, reactionary, and generally intolerant of many things I hold dear.

However, I also consider myself to be a feminist, and I believe that my children have been subjected to PAS, and that it describes perfectly what has happened to my daughter, and to my older son, as well.

That said, the Womansavers blog has a very interesting article, dated Monday, June 12, about what they are calling the "Divorce-Related 'Fulsome Father' Syndrome." It's a very good description of the kind of alienating behaviour fathers, like my ex-spouse, sometimes visit on their former partners and children. Kudos to liz for her energy and determination to name what she sees!

This is a very good site for anyone looking for information and resources about domestic abuse, divorce, custody, and related issues—the links list is terrific. I would be happier if their site design had better text-to-background contrast and avoided neon altogether, though! ;)


Monday, June 12, 2006

My story 8: my new lawyer

The day I'd gone to get an order for J to come home, I ran into one of the court's staff lawyers (called "duty counsel"). We'd spoken a few times before, and he'd been helpful when I needed to know how to draft something, or what the procedures were. He'd seen me at court the day before, and wanted to know why I was back. I told him that S had prevented J from returning, and that I was there to see if the judge would enforce the custody order.

A woman seated across the aisle from me heard what I'd said, and broke into the conversation. She asked who the judge was, and what, exactly, the custody order said. I gave her my drafted motion to read. She was impressed with what I'd written, and assured me that this judge would, indeed, enforce the order. She said that I was doing the right thing by coming to the court that day.

The duty counsel lawyer said, "Do you know Ms. C? She's one of the most senior family lawyers in this region. You can trust her opinion."

Legal representation
Ms. C asked if she could keep in touch with me. She said she was very concerned about cases like mine, which weren't common, but were very unpleasant. She called me every few weeks after that, just to check in.

A couple of weeks after my lunch meeting with S, Ms. C called and asked if things had, at last, settled down. I outlined what S had said at lunch. She asked me to call her assistant the next day and make an appointment to come in. I called, reluctantly, because I knew I couldn't afford Ms. C's rates. Her assistant said that Ms. C. wanted to book a 1 1/2 hour meeting, and that she wanted to make it very clear that I was not being billed for her time.

At the meeting, we went over everything in detail. At the end, Ms. C asked me if I wanted to handle sorting things out on my own, or if I would like her to represent me. I said I'd love to have her representation, but I couldn't afford it. She said, "You don't need to worry about that. He's brought this on, not you. He will be paying your costs, in full. I can't stand to see you have to go through this on your own. I'd like to help you, whether I ever get paid or not."

A huge gift
It's been almost two years since that meeting. Ms. C has been an enormous blessing to me. Her years of experience and high level of credibility with the court have made a great difference. She's known for mediation, and she works hard to settle matters instead of going to court. She has a reputation for representing "nice" people who are faced with unreasonable or implacable opposition. I'm convinced these things make a difference.

S has done everything possible to drag things out. Not surprisingly, he retreated from his admission when he learned that Ms. C was my lawyer. He refused to co-operate, balked at providing documents, and resisted every step along the way. We're not finished, yet, but we're getting close.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Parents who have successfully fought parental alienation

A good article by Dr. Jayne Major about parents who have successfully fought parental alienation appeared a few days ago in the Adoption Blogs. The article gives an overview of Richard Gardner's description of PAS, as well as an outline of some characteristics of parents who were able to fight back and be reunited with their children.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I'm back

I started this blog, hoping that it would help me feel better if I told my story, and hoping that someone else might feel, if not encouraged, at least less alone in similar circumstances.

But maybe I wasn't really ready to write.

For quite awhile, I've struggled with depression and the sense of being trapped. I've been determined to keep going, one day at a time, not to think too far ahead, or too far back, and to focus on what I really can do, what I really can change or improve, what I really can celebrate.

Trying to step back a bit and say what has happened to us was making me feel worse. I saw how long this conflict has been going on, and how hard it's been to make the kinds of changes I know need to be made. Instead of giving me some objective distance, writing was pulling me down into a place I don't want to go, and cannot allow myself to enter if I'm to be a good--I mean available, warm, present--mother to my sons.

I've received private e-mail from a number of readers, and I want to thank you all for your words of concern and especially your encouragement. It has helped me to know that you're out there, even though I couldn't reply in a way that felt adequate to me.

I'm happy to say that I'm feeling much better now, and I'm going to start writing here again. Some things have changed. Some possibilities have opened up. I'm feeling connected to parts of myself that I had to set aside sometime ago, and that has given me new energy and hope. In other ways, critical things have not changed very much, but they have not worsened, either, and there is good reason to believe that a resolution is on the horizon.

I'll say more about all of this in the next few days.


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