Parental Alienation and Children Exhibiting Visitation Refusal Behaviour, Part 1
There are multiple explanations for parental rejection in separated and divorcing families. In this dynamic, children and the parents they reject often struggle over a declining relationship and dissipating contact.
Frequently the child’s parental rejection is mirrored in their pertinacious, visitation refusal behaviour and in extreme cases of parental rejection children have been known to terminate all contact on a permanent basis (Turkat). Management of Visitation Interference, Ira Daniel Turkat, Ph.D., The Judges Journal, Number 36 p.17-47 spring, 1997
In a Canadian legal study exploring parental rejection between 1987– 2009, a correlation was found between gender bias and visitation resistance. (Coleman) Trends Analysis, Gene C. Colman, 2009 CSPAS conference, Metro Toronto Convention Center.
This study examined 74 cases and found fathers to be biased as rejected parents by a statistic of 62%. Another similar, clinical study during 1985–2001 (which included 99 cases), found no bias at all. The gender ratio was closer to 50 - 50. (Gardner).
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS): Sixteen Years Later, Richard A. Gardner, M.D. Published in The Academy Forum, 2001, 45(1): 10-12 A Publication of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis.
Based upon the social science literature it is far more accurate to conclude that both genders share the same degree of high risk in being rejected by their children, and although there is still a substantial amount of public discordance over the issue of gender bias in the courts, the clinical data supports the fact that mother’s and father’s report the loss of child relationships in fairly equal proportion.
There are more than five hundred thousand children every year in divorced and separated families who have parents polarized by the issue of custody, and be - cause of this conflict, many children are psychologically divided by behaviors that have three stages of adjustment. These stages are referred to as: Visitation Resistance, Visitation Pleasure and Visitation Confliction.
The First Stage – Visitation Resistance
This pattern of behavior is acute during pick up and drop off times, but can also be observed during telephonic visitation. The first stage begins when custody is transferred to the rejected parent. This transfer catalyzes the child’s protestations and visitation refusal behavior and every objection is goal oriented to remain in the custody of the aligned parent. Objections may also vary between verbal, and physical acts of resistance and the resistance might be mild, moderate or extreme.
The Second Stage - Visitation Pleasure.
After the child is transferred over to the custody of the rejected parent (far from the influence of the aligned parent), the child demonstrates a favourable attitude about visitation, and a general reversal in animosities towards the rejected parent.
During this stage the child enjoys bonding with the maligned parent. They engage in activities and cooperate, they show respect and at times express love and affection for the parent.
The Third Stage –Visitation Confliction
Shortly after the child is returned to the custody of the aligned parent, the loyalty testing begins. Many aligned parents look upon the child’s visitation pleasure as an act of betrayal and this perceived betrayal triggers a repercussion for the child.
In this reverse pattern of rejection (rejection directed at the child), repercussions may vary. The aligned parent may resort to threats of abandonment, a suspension or cancellation of activities, the silent treatment, criticisms comparing them to the non-favoured parent, and acts of verbal or physical abuse.
As soon as the child learns the connection between visitation pleasure and how it elicits anger and rejection, they realize the need to shunt or eliminate any display of those feelings in front of the aligned parent and in doing so the child learns how to escape negative consequences.
Not all children reach this stage of visitation confliction. Many children never get the time or the opportunity to experience the stage of visitation pleasure, and als a large number of young children do not have the cognitive development to gain an understanding of this linkage and the insight to adjust their behaviour.
This third stage called visitation confliction begins just prior to the child’s transfer back to the aligned parent. During this third and final stage, normally hours before returning home, the child undergoes a dramatic switch in mood, he or she may act despondent, upset, anxious or withdrawn, and not because of any negative inter - action with the rejected parent, rather because it is symptomatic of the child’s great confliction in returning home. These stages of behaviour have also been referred to as “splitting.”(Waldron, Joanis). Understanding and Collaboratively Treating Parental Alienation Syndrome Kenneth H.Waldron, Ph.D and David E. Joanis, JD, American Journal of Family Law, Vol 10, 121- 133 (1996).
Sometimes children have justified reasons for parental rejection. For example, the parent may have a history of being abusive or neglectful. Parents that earn this rejection may have other parenting deficits (e.g. being overly rigid, being overly controlling, overly critical, or disinterested, etc.)
In regard to children who are victims of abuse, many try to cover up their injuries and take blame for the injuries they receive. A study that focused on non-abusive parents, found them to be supportive in helping their children to repair some of the parental estrangement. A term that’s now referred to in the social science literature as realistic estrangement.
The opposite is true of alienating parents. Active or obsessed alienating parents have no interest in seeing a ruptured child - parent relationship repaired and in comparison to children of abuse, alienated children (who are victims of parental programming), have no inhibition talking about their alleged maltreatment, and they vilify the parent they reject. (Darnell) Three Types of Parental Alienatiors, Douglas Darnell, Ph.D., 1997
Clinicians that provide mental health services to children need to understand the etiology of children inculcated with parental programming. Practitioner’s that fail to do so are prone to make diagnostic errors and implement therapeutic interventions that could potentially worsen the child’s condition. This is a big problem for children because very few mental health professionals have the expertise to make this kind of differential diagnosis and even fewer lawyers involved in the custody case know where to find such professionals.
Parental Alienation and Children Exhibiting Visitation Refusal Behaviour
By Joseph Goldberg
Parental Alienation Expert and Family Law Consultant www.ParentalAlienation.ca
Founder of The Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome www.CSPAS.ca