parental alienation syndrome

Parental Alienation Syndrome and Collaborative Approach in Family Law Cases

Parental alienation seems to be increasing, according to a lot of family law solicitors in Australia.

Meaning of Parental Alienation Syndrome

What is parental alienation syndrome (PAS)? Essentially, it occurs when one parent influences the child against the other parent, by emotionally manipulating the child. Usually, the child (of any age from a toddler to teen) is initially not aware this is happening, but they start to behave in a hostile manner towards the other parent (or could be avoidance behaviour).

Parental alienation takes many forms from subtle statements to the child to deliberate and obvious “campaigns” against the other parent.

It can also be unintentional.

In difficult separations, the parents are distressed and often can’t cope with their own emotions, let alone monitor how their children will end up reacting to their behaviour. “Innocent ” alienation, unfortunately, is still a destructive by-product of the parent’s behaviour.

Origins of the term Parental Alienation  Syndrome

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), originated in the United States in the mid-1980s. Although this syndrome is not formally recognised in psychological manuals, the Australian Family Law Courts, therapists and mediators widely recognise it as a syndrome that operates in family disputes.

Many Family Dispute Resolution practitioners believe that the best approach to parental alienation cases come from a collaborative approach.  Having the best interests of the child as the primary focus (both short term and long term) is important. But also important is looking at how realistic different types of agreements are for the parents to be able to cope with and comply with the terms of any finalised agreement.

Family Therapy when no agreement looks possible

Sometimes, arguments, distress and anger between the parties prevent any reasonable agreements from being reached. Family therapy may help especially if the threat of mediation and ultimately a Court hearing is removed from the equation. For some parties, therapy with no time constraints is a more effective long-term solution to addressing issues and how they and their children can move forward. Agreements can later be made with their lawyers’ involvement to help guide them and offer legal security and safety to both parties.

Family Dispute Resolution  vs Family Therapy

FDR is usually only a 3 session process, one with each parent and one joint session.  Sometimes, Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), does not solve the problem of parental alienation. The parents might agree, say, on how to share the responsibilities and time with the children or how to better communicate.  But this might not fix the underlying emotions and the alienation continues. The role of FDR is not to finely examine past and present relationships in the same way as Family Therapy does.    FDR is more of a collaborative approach to reach some resolution on the issue, rather than therapeutic.

Why parental alienation is important to be addressed

If parental alienation is not addressed, it could become an inter-generational problem.

For example, a father might walk out on a young family and this might be history repeating for the third generation in a row under marital stress. The hurt and distress of grandparents’ actions on their son, might never have been addressed, and then the effects could be felt 50 years later. The behaviour of the now adult grandson might be a symptom of inter-generational Parental Alienation.

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