I’m not a parent. It’s highly unlikely, given my age and goals in life, that I ever will be.
But I fight for parents every day as a family law attorney. Usually the fights are over rather mundane issues, such as what time to pick up Bobby from soccer practice, or whether Susie attends ballet or gymnastics class.
Then there are the cases which have real, sincere, substantial questions about a parent’s fitness. These happen when one parent is diagnosed with a mental disorder or a physical condition that would impact their ability to act in a responsible manner that is in the best interest of the child.
Other cases are where one parent wants to relocate to a new state for a variety of reasons and the court must determine whether the child should be relocated as well. These “move-away” cases are highly charged and emotional. Sometimes they are for valid reasons and other times they are merely a ploy by one parent to separate the child from the other parent.
Perhaps the hardest cases that we handle are the situations where one parent has such a burning hatred of the other parent that they want to eradicate the parent from the child’s life. They engage in a pattern of behavior that can only be described as pathologically diabolical. They are master manipulators in a system this easily manipulated, duped and lied to. The manner in which the manipulation begins is usually innocuous and apparently based on nothing more than parental concerns for the best interests of the child.
This cloak of respectability and concern is used to cover their devious plot to destroy the love and relationship between parent and child. It begins with a campaign to take physical custody of the child, and then escalates to a constant wearing down of the parenting time of the other parent.
Frequently in these cases there is the malicious use of false allegations to obtain a domestic violence restraining order, which has long-term negative effects of the restrained parent’s rights to the child. The next step is to allege some sort of sexual or physical abuse and have Child Protective Services open a case and prevent the parent from any contact whatsoever with the child. The actor in these cases is usually a person with a personality disorder, and the case demands immediate and dramatic action.
These tactics are examples of alienating behavior. In normal cases of breakups or divorces, a little alienation is rather normal and acceptable. People will vent their anger and frustration and make inappropriate comments about their ex such as “your mom’s being difficult” or “your father’s being a jerk.” This is psychologically damaging to a child, but is not considered so damaging that long-term intervention by the courts is warranted. Most kids don’t like it, but they don’t develop a hatred for the targeted parent.
When it escalates to more extreme actions and the child develops a hatred for the targeted parent, this is called “parental alienation.” Depending on how much damage has been done to the parent/child relationship, reunification may or may not be successful.
On Nov. 12 there will the second annual Conference on Parental Alienation put on by the International Support Network of Alienated Families. The conference will be held here in Santa Monica at the Bay Woman’s Club on Fourth Street near Wilshire Boulevard from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I’m a founding board member of this organization and this year we will have another roster of distinguished experts from around the world.
For the parents and children who are experiencing this type of behavior, it is highly traumatic. The children suffer because they must deny their love for a parent and that is a part of who they are, which means they must engage is a certain amount of self hatred that is induced by the targeting parent. The targeted parent is made to suffer and grieve the loss of a child as if there was a death but with the constant hope of reunion. It is a sort of purgatory that my clients have described to me in the most painful and agonizing of terms.
This is not a crime. It is a battle for the love of a child by a pathologically sick individual who will stop at nothing to win. It should be a crime, but because it is waged in the family courts, with the cloak of protecting the children, the courts are unwitting aiders and abettors to the most devious, diabolical and evil of creatures, the parent who would sacrifice a child for their own nefarious psychological needs.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.