Nomenclature doesn’t change facts, and whether you call a set of toxic behaviors ”parental alienation” or “marginalizing a parent” doesn’t change the inherent tragedy. In a high conflict divorce case, parents can align the children so thoroughly that the children begin to be unable to have any kind of a relationship with the other parent.
“Parental alienation” became a concept commonly discussed by divorce attorneys and judges in the mid-1980's. Dr. Richard Gardner began describing “parental alienation” as a behavior, primarily caused by Moms. It had been suggested by him that alienation arose as a result of more hotly contested custody cases. He posited that the changes in divorce laws, from children staying primarily with their moms in divorce as a result of the “tender years doctrine” to a more open egalitarian parenting arrangement based on the “best interest of the child,” caused custody cases and thus, caused mothers to alienate their little kids from dad. This became in turn a hotly contested father’s rights issue. Over time this gender-based concept has become diluted, as it became clearer that moms did not have an exclusive on the ability to alienate their kids.
In the last four or five years I have noticed a profoundly disturbing increase (purely anecdotal and in the Burns & Levinson divorce group) of fathers alienating teenage children from their moms. Because of the politicization of parental alienation it has been hard for the courts to get a handle on this.
I’ll delve a little deeper into the topic in next week’s post.