Collaborative Divorce Parenting

Parental Alienation

Allegations of parental alienation are common in high conflict divorces. They are usually a function of deeper issues in the family including exposure to high intense marital conflict, humiliating separation, and professional mismanagement (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). The concept of family alienation was popularized by Gardner (2002) who describes it as a syndrome. This implies a specific set of symptoms that are displayed by the alienated child. The syndrome has not been validated by empirical research. Rather, alienation is more accurately described as a set of behaviors on the part of a parent which may or may not result in a child becoming alienated (Kelly & Johnston, 2001).

Wade Silverman, PhD
Wade Silverman, PhD

The alienated child is described by Kelly and Johnston (2001) as one who expresses disproportionately negative behavior about the alienated parent that is not consistent with his or her actual experience. Alienation may be expressed in degrees (Paul, 2014). Mild alienation may result in resistance towards visitation. Moderate alienation may involve the degradation of the alienated parent by the child. Severe alienation takes the form of false allegations and/or actual fear of contact with the alienated parent.

In an article by Baker and Darnall (2006), the most frequently reported alienated behaviors included “badmouthing”, interference with parental visitation and contact, limitation of mail and phone contact, interfering with information such as updating school or medical issues, emotional manipulation, unhealthy alliances such as spying and reporting back, and symbolic interferences such as returning Christmas cards.

Two of the major consequences of alienation on the child are fearfulness and low self-esteem (Mone & Biringen, 2006). These consequences can last into adulthood. Alienation has also been found in intact, high conflict marriages. The longer the alienation, the worse the outcome. Parental alienation may be described as a form of propaganda (Gottlieb, 2014) in which the alienated parent is characterized as dangerous, untrustworthy and harassing. The alienating parent expresses these beliefs in the presence of the child.

The treatment for parent alienation is reunification therapy. It should begin as soon as alienation is detected. Jones, Hardy, and Smyth (2015) warn that there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. This writer views parental unification therapy as a developmental process beginning with addressing timesharing issues with the child(ren), and then the child(ren) and alienated parent, and finally if possible, the child(ren) and both parents. Dagan and Ailon (2015) offer a checklist for therapists when consulting with lawyers to set up the process of reunification therapy. ???It includes arranging a conference call with both lawyers at the beginning of the case, reviewing the consent order to treat with emphasis upon the child’s best interests and indemnification of the mental health professional, reviewing the importance of the lawyers assistance, submission of the retainer agreement, review of the limits of confidentiality, reviewing the limitations of psychotherapy, and lastly the agreement of both lawyers to submit any pertinent documents.

Baker, A.J.L. & Darnell, D. (2006). Behaviors and Strategies Employed in Parental Alienation, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45: 1-2, 97-124, doi:10.1300/J087v4n01 06

Dagan H. & Ailon, E. (2015). Workshop 55: It’s All in the Architecture: A Blue Print for Successful Reunification Therapy [PowerPoint slides]. AFCC 52nd Annual Conference, Children in the Court System: Different Doors, Different Responses, Different Outcomes. Retrieved from:

Gardner, R.A. (2002). Parental Alienation Syndrome vs. Parental Alienation: Which Diagnosis Should Evaluators Use in Child-Custody Disputes?, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 30:2, 93-115, doi: 10.1080/019261802753573821

Kelly, J.B, & Johnston J.R. (2001). The Alienated Child: A Reformation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Family Court Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, 249-266. ?Retrieved from: ???????????

Mone, J.G. & Biringen, Z. (2006). Perceived Parent-Child Alienation, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45:3-4, 131-156, doi: 10.1300/J087v45n03 07

Paul, H. A. (2014). The Parent Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration, by L. Gottlieb. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 36(1), 71-79. doi:10.1080/07317107.2014.878199

FLAFCC recognizes the complex scholastic history of child resistance to a parent during a divorce. Specifically, there is ongoing academic discourse over the appropriate terminology, definitions, etiology, prognosis, and interventions for these cases.? For example, in the literature on child resistance, there continues to be an ongoing debate of the use of terms such as parental alienation syndrome (PAS), parental alienation disorder, and parental alienation (Gardner, 1998; Bernet, 2010; Darnell, 2010).? Some scholars have emphasized the importance of identifying background and personal factors that contribute to the child?s resistance to a parent and have adopted the term ?child alienation? or ?alienated child? to emphasize the individual child?s situation (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). Parental gatekeeping has been used to describe the continuum of parental attitudes and behaviors that affect the quality of the co-parent?s relationship with the child.? On this continuum, unjustified restricted gatekeeping can result in the alienation of the child from the resisted parent, but not always (Austin, Fieldstone, Pruett, 2012).? The following article is published to further the discussion and awareness of the restricted gatekeeping behaviors on the part of the parent resulting in the resistance of the child.? Full citations available upon request.

FLAFCC Position Paper


Introduction: The FLAFCC proposal on the development of a family court intake system was presented before the Family Court Committee (FCC) and unanimously approved. We are pleased to present the FLAFCC?s position paper on creating an intake process for family matters.

Authored By: Judge Sandy Karlan and Robert Merlin, Esq.

The Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) believes that it is in the best interest of Florida?s families to create an in-take system for all families to identify issues that they need to address, and should address, before they take action in Family Court to resolve their disputes. ?And to this end, FLAFCC proposes convening a task force of various stake holders, in partnership with The Florida Supreme Court Family Court Committee, to consider the elements necessary for an intake system for families that would be consistent with the Court?s opinion In re Report of the Family Court Steering Committee, 794 So.2d 518 (Fla. 2001), and which can be implemented throughout Florida. The group will consider various pilot projects that are currently in process such as The Out of Court Divorce Project as part of IAALS in Denver, Colorado and various pilot projects on child support promoted by the federal government?s office on child support.

The creation of an intake system was an integral part of the essential elements of a model family court:

4(b) ?Intake and Referral (including Self-help Program). The Florida Supreme Court should require each circuit to establish an intake process to provide information, make referrals to legal or social services, and assist self-represented litigants. Services should be available whether or not the person files a lawsuit and without regard to income.?

Such an intake/referral system that assists litigants who come to the court seeking information, but who are not necessarily ready to file a petition in the family court, is also consistent with the philosophy of the Court?s opinion. In that opinion, the Court recognized that:

?Therapeutic justice should be a key part of the family court process. Therapeutic justice is a process that attempts to address the family’s interrelated legal and nonlegal problems to produce a result that improves the family’s functioning. The process should empower families through skills development, assist them to resolve their own disputes, provide access to appropriate services, and offer a variety of dispute resolution forums where the family can resolve problems without additional emotional trauma.
Whenever possible, parties and their attorneys should be empowered to select processes for addressing issues in their cases that are compatible with the family’s needs, financial circumstances, and legal requirements.?Once a case is filed with the courts, then the coordinated management or differentiated case management by all court personnel can be engaged. ?This means that the family court judges are overseeing both legal and non-legal issues and referring the parties to appropriate services. But what about before the case is filed? Many family members come to the court because they do not know where else to go and they have conflict in their families that they believe must be resolved by the courts. But what if the Court at the intake, in partnership with community providers, could refer the parties to community services that might assist the parties in resolving their issues without the necessity of litigation?

As further described in the Court?s opinion:

Recommendations #4(b), Intake and Referral and #4(c), Case Management: Among other things, the coordinated management model includes a front-end intake process to provide information, make referrals to legal or social services and assist self-represented litigants. See Recommendation #4(b). Effective front-end management allows for litigants to become educated about the system and is crucial to the effective utilization and coordination of both community services and court resources. The services a child receives should be dictated by the individual needs of the child and not the particular door of the courthouse through which the child enters. Effective case management will enable this goal to be realized. To that end, the model recognizes that family division judges must have sufficient case management staff to perform differentiated case management, to coordinate all cases involving a single family, to coordinate and monitor services provided to each family and to collect aggregate data to measure performance of the family division. See Recommendation # 4(c).

Substantial work has been done by the Family Court Committee over the years since 2001 on the issues of related cases and attempts to develop effective case management by additional training of judges, however, little attention has been paid to the pre-filing intake/referral process that is also part of the model. ?This project envisions more than simply providing families with pro se forms and advice at self-help offices. We envision that the intake/referral process would provide needed services to families and would lighten the burden on Florida?s court system, perhaps through a public-private partnership.

FLAFCC is an organization that is suited to convene a task force to make recommendations to create a viable intake system in Florida to help families receive the help they need, rather than the family automatically resorting to filing an action in court. ?FLAFCC believes that the creation and development of an intake system is a project that it can devote the time and energy to developing because of it?s commitment to interdisciplinary professional cooperation and reduction of litigation in families. Further, FLAFCC convenes a conference in partnership with OSCA every year that is dedicated to presenting and discussing innovative practices regarding families and the law, which provides a natural audience of participants for this work.

We are aware of potential hurdles that must be overcome, however, as with all previous initiatives of the Florida Supreme Court regarding the family court process, we believe that with the support of the Family Court Committee we will be able to contribute to the innovative projects of our state that serve our families.

Letter from the FLAFCC President

From the President?s Desk – April 2017

Dear FLAFCC Membership,

This is an exciting season for our organization! Your board and members at large are actively working on a variety of important projects and making great progress. Revamping our website and becoming technologically up-to-date was our priority this year. We have a beautiful new website and a new venue for sending email blasts and for facilitating conference registration. Many thanks to the website committee of Bob Merlin, Jack Moring, Rose Patterson and chaired by Sheba Katz for working overtime to update our online presence as quickly as possible!

Under the direction of Linda Fieldstone and Judge Michelle Morley the Eldercaring Coordination project is expanding primarily through the education and enlistment efforts of these two tireless workers. We are sure that eldercaring coordination will continue to take root as a first line method of assistance to families and the courts. Linda Fieldstone and Judge Morley will be presenting an informative workshop on Eldercaring Coordination at our September conference. Kim Nutter, an attorney based in Boca Raton, will join them with a presentation on late-in-life divorce. These are important family law matters as our aging population expands.
Bob Merlin and Judge Sandy Karlan are spearheading an effort to revamp the family court intake system. The proposal that they presented to the Family Court Committee (FCC) was unanimously accepted and their position paper is published in this newsfeed. They will be conducting a two-part workshop at the September conference to jump start a task force ? please attend if you are interested in learning about and/or helping with this very important project.

Finally, the conference planning committee meets weekly to ensure that this year?s Annual Conference, September 25-27, will be excellent. They have a very exciting list of plenary speakers lined up and are putting together a diverse selection of wonderful workshops. Additionally, we have added four hours of professional track education on the Monday prior to the start of the annual conference on Tuesday morning. Attorneys, mental health professionals, and mediators will be able to obtain up to four hours of mandatory credit (topics required for licensure) for an incredibly low price. Please check out the Save the Date attached to this letter. Registration will be open soon!!!

I thank those of you who work so hard on committees and projects. I thank the entire membership for your involvement and support. With your help FLAFCC continues to lead and innovate in our mission to educate our family law community and assist families in transition.



February 2017 Newsletter

Please click on the link below to view our latest newsletter.

FLAFCC Newsletter February 2017 FINAL

FLAFCC MISSION: The Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) is an organization of judicial, legal, mental health, financial and related professionals utilizing education, research and advocacy to improve the lives of children and families through the collaborative resolution of family conflict.


November 2016 Newletter

Please click on the link below to view our latest newsletter.

FLAFCC Newsletter November 2016

FLAFCC MISSION: The Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) is an organization of judicial, legal, mental health, financial and related professionals utilizing education, research and advocacy to improve the lives of children and families through the collaborative resolution of family conflict.


August 2016 Newsletter

Please click on the link below to view our latest newsletter.

FLAFCC Newsletter August 2016 FINAL

FLAFCC MISSION: The Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) is an organization of judicial, legal, mental health, financial and related professionals utilizing education, research and advocacy to improve the lives of children and families through the collaborative resolution of family conflict.