The concept of parenting plans is included in section 33 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 and emphasis is placed on professionals that should assist the divorcing family to structure parenting plans when going through a divorce, before seeking the intervention of a court. The appointment of professionals is made to structure parenting plans for divorcing families to construct their lives post-divorce. This paper focuses on the views of mental health professionals (social workers and psychologists) and legal professionals (attorneys and family advocates) (hereafter professionals) about the divorcing family and parenting plans.
A Canberra psychologist has been disciplined for claiming in a report that his client’s children suffered from “parental alienation syndrome“, a condition not formally recognised by psychology bodies.
A tribunal was also critical in its assessment of the psychologist’s report, saying that it went beyond opinion or reasonable inference and “attributes fault and deliberately dishonourable behaviour factually to the [ex-wife]”.
The Obsessed Alienator
“I love my children. If the court can’t protect them from their abusive father, I will.
Even though he’s never abused the children, I know it’s a matter of time. The
children are frightened of their father. If they don’t want to see him, I’m not
going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds.”
The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause: to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed
alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs into their own.
This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the
young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before
the divorce is final. The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by
the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be
justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed
by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings
won’t heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue
the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood.
Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and
triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.
The characteristics of
obsessed alienators are:
· They are obsessed with destroying the
children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
· They having succeeded in enmeshing the
children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
· The children will parrot the obsessed alienator
rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other
· The targeted parent and often the children
cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings. Their beliefs
sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the
court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries
is the enemy.
· They will often seek support from family
members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs
that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes
“us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen
at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
· They have an unquenchable anger because
they believe that they have been victimized by the targeted parent and whatever
they do to protect the children is justified.
· They have a desire for the court to punish
the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted
parent from seeing the children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind
that he or she was right all the time.
· The court’s authority does not intimidate them.
· The obsessed alienator believes in a higher
cause, protecting the children at all cost.
· The obsessed alienator will probably not want
to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.
There are no effective treatments for either the obsessed alienator or the children. The
courts and mental health professionals are helpless. The only hope for these
children is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the
alienation is entrenched and the children become “true believers” in
the parent’s cause, the children are lost to the other parent for years to
come. We realize this is a sad statement, but we have yet to find an effective
intervention, by anyone, including the courts that can rehabilitate the
alienating parent and child.
Stage 3 – A Severely Alienated Child of
Parental Alienation Syndrome
Honorable Judge Gomery of Canada stated, “Hatred is not an
emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught. A parent who
would teach a child to hate the other parent represents a grave and persistent
danger to the mental and emotional health of that child.”
A Severely Alienated
Child of Parental Alienation Syndrome
In severe PAS the child is often fanatic or obsessional in his/her
hatred of the target parent. For this reason alone the PAS-inducing parent no
longer needs to be active, although the PAS–inducing parent will resort to
anything to prevent the child maintaining a relationship with the targeted
parent. The child takes on the PAS-inducing parent’s desires, emotions and
hatreds and verbalises them all as its own. The child views the history of the targeted parent and the targeted parent’s family as all negative and is unable to either remember or express any positive feelings for the target parent.
The child is very likely to refuse Contact, make false allegations of abuse, threaten to run away, threaten to commit suicide or even murder – if forced to see the targeted
parent. The PAS-inducing parent will hold little or no value for the targeted
parent and hatred may be completely overt. The child and the alienating parent
have a pathological bond that is invariably based on shared paranoid fantasies
of the targeted parent, sometimes to the point of folie a deux.
What Does a Severely
Alienated Child look like?
- They have a relentless hatred for towards the
- They parrot the Obsessed Alienator.
- The child does not want to visit or spend any
time with the targeted parent.
- Many of the child’s beliefs are enmeshed with
- The beliefs are delusional and frequently
- They are not intimidated by the court.
- Frequently, their reasons are not based on
personal experiences with the targeted parent but reflect what they are
told by the Obsessed Alienator. They have difficulty making any
differentiate between the two.
- The child has no ambivalence in his feelings;
it’s all hatred with no ability to see the good.
- They have no capacity to feel guilty about how
they behave towards the targeted parent or forgive any past indiscretions.
- They share the Obsessed Alienators cause.
Together, they are in lockstep to denigrate the hated parent.
- The children’s obsessional
hatred extends to the targeted parent’s extended family without any guilt
- They can appear like normal healthy children
until asked about the targeted parent that triggers their hatred.
Children in the severe category are generally quite disturbed and are usually fanatic. They join together with their alienating parent in a folie à deux relationship in which they share her paranoid fantasies about the alienated parent. All eight of the primary symptomatic manifestations are likely to be present to a significant degree, even more
prominent than in the moderate category. Children in this category may become
panic-stricken over the prospect of visiting with their alienated parent. Their
blood-curdling shrieks, panicked states, and rage outbursts may be so severe
that visitation is impossible. If placed in the alienated parent’s home they
may run away, become paralyzed with morbid fear, or may become so continuously
provocative and so destructive that removal becomes necessary. Unlike children
in the moderate and mild categories, their panic and hostility may not be
reduced in the alienated parent’s home, even when separated from their
alienating parents for significant periods. Whereas in the mild and moderate
categories the children’s primary motive is to strengthen the stronger, healthy
psychological bond with the alienating parent, in the severe category the
psychological bond with the alienating parent is pathological (often paranoid)
and the symptoms serve to strengthen this pathological bond.
Symptom’s of Parental
There are various symptoms of alienation, this is by no means an inclusive list.
To prevent the devastating effects of Parental Alienation, you must begin by recognizing the symptoms of Parental Alienation.
After reading the list, don’t get discouraged when you notice that some of your
own behaviors have been alienating. This is normal in even the best of parents.
Instead, let the list help sensitize you to how you are behaving and what you
are saying to your children.
1. Giving children choices when they have no
choice about visits. Allowing the child to decide for themselves
to visit, because when the court order says there is no choice sets up the
child for conflict. The child will usually blame the non-residential parent for
not being able to decide to choose whether or not to visit. The parent is now
victimized regardless of what happens; not being able to see his children or if
he or she sees them, the children are angry.
2. Telling the child “everything”
about the marital relationship or reasons for the divorce is alienating. The
parent usually argues that they are “just wanting to be honest” with
their children. This practice is destructive and painful for the child. The
alienating parent’s motive is for the child to think less of the other parent.
3. Refusing to acknowledge that children have
property and may want to transport their possessions between residences.
4. Resisting or refusing to cooperate by not
allowing the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of
5. A parent blaming the other parent for
financial problems, breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, or having a
6. Refusing to be flexible with the visitation
schedule in order to respond to the child’s needs. The alienating parent may
also schedule the children in so many activities that the other parent is never
given the time to visit. Of course, when the targeted parent protests, they are
described as not caring and selfish.
7. Assuming that if a parent had been
physically abusive with the other parent, it follows that the parent will
assault the child. This assumption is not always true.
8. Asking the child to choose one parent over
another parent causes the child considerable distress. Typically, they do not
want to reject a parent, but instead want to avoid the issue. The child, not
the parent, should initiate any suggestion for change of residence.
9. Children will become angry with a parent.
This is normal, particularly if the parent disciplines or has to say
“no”. If for any reason the anger is not allowed to heal, you can
suspect parental alienation. Trust your own experience as a parent. Children
will forgive and want to be forgiven if given a chance. Be very suspicious when
the child calmly says they can not remember any happy times with you or they
cannot say anything they like about you.
10. Be suspicious
when a parent or stepparent raises the question about changing the child’s name
or suggests an adoption.
11. When children can not give reasons for
being angry towards a parent or their reasons are very vague without any
12. A parent having secrets, special signals,
a private rendezvous, or words with special meanings are very destructive and
reinforce an on-going alienation.
13. When a parent uses a child to spy or
covertly gather information for the parent’s own use, the child receives a
damaging message that demeans the victimized parent.
14. Parents setting up temptations that
interfere with the child’s visitation.
15. A parent suggesting or reacting with hurt
or sadness to their child having a good time with the other parent will cause
the child to withdraw and not communicate. They will frequently feel guilty or
conflicted not knowing that it’s “okay” to have fun with their other
16. The parent asking the child about his or
her other parent’s personal life causes the child considerable tension and
conflict. Children who are not alienated want to be loyal to both parents.
17. When parents physically or psychologically
rescue the children when there is no threat to their safety. This practice
reinforces in the child’s mind the illusion of threat or danger, thereby reinforcing
18. Making demands on the other parent that is
contrary to court orders.
19. Listening in on the children’s phone
conversation they are having with the other parent.
way to cause your own alienation is making a habit of braking promises to your
children. In time, your ex-spouse will get tired of having to make excuses for
Alienation a normal reaction? Maybe, after 1 year. What about 15 years?
As noted by Dr. Bernet, a Vanderbilt University psychiatrist, “We don’t want to label kids unnecessarily, but these kids are not reacting in a normal way.” “We’re talking about kids who have a false belief, a little like a delusion, that the other parent is an evil, dangerous person. To me that looks and sounds like a mental disorder.” Obviously, the alienating parent needs help. But, as pointed out by Jaffe et al. (2010) “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially.” I do not imagine the parents noted by Jaffe et al. would voluntarily seek help nor do they care about stopping the denigration.