Fathers have a difficult time staying involved in their children’s lives. The courts usually keep the children with mom when dad moves out. The courts and mom expect dad to continue working as much as he did, for two reasons; the courts want him to make as much money as he has been, and some moms want to keep him busy so he doesn’t have time for the kids, which she then uses against him to increase her child support.
Certainly this is not all mothers, probably not even most. But it is a large percentage of the cases that I see on a regular basis. I frequently hear from dads that mom is “cutting me out of my kids lives” and to varying degrees this is called a child support strategy by some lawyers, but in extreme cases it can be called Parental Alienation (“PA”). There is much debate about whether it’s a psychological syndrome or not. But to men who are fighting it, they don’t care. They just know it hurts and it’s a very difficult battle to wage.
I have a case now where dad is a member of the local police force and mom has done all that she can to keep him from seeing his kids. She has denied visitation so we had to get a court order. She has demanded that he continue earning the same income, even though his department has limited the amount of overtime they have available, so he had to get a second job just to keep up with his child support payments and be able to keep a roof over his own head.
There are three main categories of PA: mild, moderate and severe. The severe category requires its own article.
All of them are abusive to the alienated parent, but more so to the child. Harming or destroying one parent’s relationship with their child in my opinion is, and should be treated as, child abuse.
According to www.KeepingFamiliesConnected.org, a website devoted to the topic of parental alienation, Mild Parental Alienation is: “Parents who lose control, make negative comments or exhibit negative behavior toward the other parent in front of the child, but feel bad about it later. Most parents going through a divorce engage in this level of Parental Alienation at some point. But they recognize they are wrong, worry about the effects on the child (or children), and take steps to stop inappropriate actions directed at the other parent. They understand that their child needs to have a healthy and loving relationship with both of their parents, to have the best chance of developing into a healthy adult someday.”
The harder cases are the Moderate Parental Alienation: “These parents are similar to the first parent in that for the most part they mean well. They also understand that their child needs to have a healthy and loving relationship with the other parent in order to develop in a healthy way. Where they differ is they believe that the relationship with the other parent should never cost them anything, interfere with or inconvenience their life. These parents operate in the emotional, selfish realm, and are very defensive. They have a hard time controlling their emotions and take everything personally. These parents are very willing to use the family court system during a child custody battle to achieve their goals of control and retribution over the ‘targeted’ (rejected) parent whenever necessary to ‘win’ a battle or prove a point.”
As family law attorneys, we see this type of behavior often. It’s the parent who wants to change times to her convenience, or never wants to share the transportation of the children. This type of parent is harder to deal with because her needs always “seem reasonable” until you look at the big picture. It’s the “Big Picture” that lets you see you’re dealing with a damaged personality in the alienating parent. Unfortunately, you can only see the big picture over time, and when you step back. But the damage has been done to the relationship between parent and child, and repairing it may take years.
My law firm has fought these battles for years, they are nasty and difficult. Many times it looks like one parent is just being protective, but if you’re in this fight, you need to know that it’s a long war, not just a one day event.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.