The Family Court Review April 2020 Special Issue on Parent Child Contact Problems: Concepts, Controversies, & Conundrums is now available online! Please note that because of interruptions to print operations at Wiley, the publisher of Family Court Review, distribution of the hard copy of this issue will be delayed.
Due to the cancellation of the AFCC 57th Annual Conference, a Special Webinar Series on Parent-Child Contact Problems will be presented from May 12- July 7, 2020.
What you should know:
There are sixteen webinars in the series, scheduled from May 12th – July 7th. Participants must register for each webinar individually. View the full schedule and make plans to attend! View AFCC Webinar Schedule
Registration is limited to 500 attendees for each webinar, so sign up early! You can register now on the AFCC website.
Each webinar is 90 minutes long and is eligible for up to 1.5 hours of continuing education for psychologists.*
The registration fee includes a certificate of attendance. You must attend the live webinar to receive a certificate of attendance. Members: $15 | Non-members: $50
Members who attend all sixteen webinars could receive 24 hours of continuing education credit for just $240, $560 less than the non-member price! Join AFCC to save on continuing education. JOIN AFCC
Recorded webinars will be available online for AFCC members.
* AFCC is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. AFCC maintains responsibility for the program and its content. Lawyers, judges, social workers, counselors, and other professionals seeking continuing education credits may use the AFCC Certificate of Attendance to verify attendance when applying to their state, provincial, or other regulatory or licensing agency.
By Wendy Coughlin, Ph.D. Family Mediator and Parenting Coordinator
We’ve all been there: Mom accuses Dad of being an alcoholic. Dad accuses Mom of being mentally ill. What to do? How can you best protect the children?
Parenting Plans (PP) must consider this issue, whether or not the accusation has been validated. You can best protect the child(ren) by building in safeguards that provide contingencies for if, and when, a parent appears impaired and unable to care for the child(ren). A well-constructed PP can eliminate the need for emergency hearings, temporary cessation of parenting time, and long waits for a judge or magistrate to rule on the obvious (impaired or not). Developing timesharing phases that are based on a parent’s abstinence, or proven capacity accomplishes what would otherwise be left to lengthy (and expensive) court proceedings.
If you ever played the children’s game, Chutes and Ladders, you already have the concept: when you achieve a higher number (or more days of abstinence/capacity), you go up the ladder (more parenting time); when you land on a problem, you go down a chute (less parenting time). Here is a basic outline:
Phase I: Supervised timesharing only.
Phase II: Unsupervised timesharing during the day in a public place.
Phase III: Unsupervised timesharing in the parent’s home during the day.
Phase IV: Unsupervised timesharing including overnights.
Phase V: Optimal timesharing as stipulated in a settlement agreement.
The time it takes for a parent to progress from Phase I to Phase V is negotiable dependent on many factors; for example: degree of past impairment, legal status, age of the children, living environment of the impaired parent, etc. Progress from one phase to the next can be determined simply by calendar time when there is no evidence of impairment or it may be contingent on identified factors supporting capacity (e.g. clean urine drug tests, mental health evaluations, polygraph reports, etc.). Standard in all Chutes and Ladders Parenting Plans is the contingency that any confirmed evidence of relapse results in the parent returning to Phase I and having only supervised timesharing. The advantage to this type of PP is that it immediately protects the child while maintaining the parent/child relationship. There is no need to suspend timesharing until a judge determines that timesharing must be supervised (which could take weeks and sometimes months); supervised timesharing begins immediately.
Determining if an individual is impaired due to alcohol or other drugs is a relatively simple matter for an addiction specialist. Multiple test options are available to check breath, saliva, urine, blood, hair or nails. Medical providers can order the tests to be completed through outside labs, courts often have testing facilities available, or certified addiction professionals may have testing materials in their office. The responsibility for getting the testing done falls on the accused who wishes to maintain parenting time. A best-practice payment strategy requires the accused to pay for the testing up front and absorb the costs if the tests confirm substance use and for the accuser (parent requesting the test) to absorb the costs if the tests are negative. Some of these tests can cost hundreds of dollars; without this stipulation, an innocent parent could go bankrupt simply proving his/her innocence.
Other types of impairments are more difficult to assess and monitor. If the impairment is due to a health-related issue, consultation with the treating healthcare provider is recommended to establish signs and symptoms of parenting capacity or incapacity. With younger children, this is most important as young children do not have the ability to report concerns. Older children may be better able to report; however, they should not be placed in the position of determining whether a parent’s mental health is impaired or another factor is putting them at risk. It is best to provide monitoring details for all children. A healthcare provider can provide updates to both parents, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), or Parenting Coordinator (PC) to confirm a parent’s stabilization from seizures, postpartum depression, mobility factors, etc. A mental health expert can assess recovery from a major depression episode, compulsive gaming, abusive parenting philosophies, etc. Mental health concerns are exceedingly complex and may require longer phases, more specific treatment requirements, and elaborate details to define capacity to parent safely.
The goal in providing a Chutes and Ladders timesharing schedule is to provide everyone involved with a mechanism to insure the safety of the child(ren) while enabling them to enjoy ongoing timesharing with both parents. A Chutes and Ladders Parenting Plan provides a parent legitimately concerned about the co-parent’s parenting, defined tools to monitor the other parent’s capacity. It also provides a parent whose capacity has been challenged defined criteria to continue timesharing and increase parenting time. Everyone benefits from addressing substance abuse and other impairment issues directly in the Parenting Plan.
By Wendy Coughlin, Ph.D. Family Mediator and Parenting Coordinator
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).
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 lawyer’s 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.
References 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
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: http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.fiu.edu/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=7327&sr=cite(39+Fam.+Ct.+Rev.+249)
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.