Child Custody and Parental Alienation Syndrome When Divorcing a Narcissist

A Historical Overview of Parental Alienation Syndrome in Child Custody Battles

Almost 35 years ago, a psychiatrist named Dr. Richard Gardner, developed a theory as to how a child, typically in the context of a high conflict divorce and child custody, would suddenly begin rejecting a once-loving parent. As the founding father of PAS, or, “parental alienation syndrome,” Dr. Gardner was a very controversial figure in what many psychologists, custody evaluators, attorneys, and judges are starting to recognize as a real occurrence, especially, in psycho-pathologically abusive relationships where a narcissistically disordered parent engages in extremely vindictive and enmeshing behaviors with an unsuspecting and innocent child, designed to eliminate the “target” or “non-alienating” parent from the child’s life.

Until it becomes a recognized disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and included as a distinct and separate trauma-related disorder in the DSM, I believe that it will remain highly controversial and subject to major criticism by many legal professionals and judges, and they’re the ones that typically make child custody decisions, when your disordered spouse cannot do what is best for the children.

Dr. Gardner defined parental alienation syndrome as follows: “A disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present, the child’s animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome explanation for the child’s hostility is not applicable.”

Three decades later, there is much more research on Parental Alienation Syndrome, tens of thousands of more legal cases involving parental alienation, and most child custody evaluators and family therapists have now seen their fair share of extremely dysfunctional parenting behavior in couples going through high conflict divorce. People are starting to finally understand that it is absolutely abnormal for a child to no longer want any contact with a parent. The alienated child is not ambivalent. The alienated child rejects the other parent and uses words like, “hate” and “loathe.” The alienating parent becomes very enmeshed with the child, such that the child’s utter survival seems to depend on the dysfunctional parent’s approval, which is withheld until the child completely rejects the other parent.

Divorcing a Narcissist and What Parental Alienation Looks Like in Child Custody Battles

Parental Alienation Syndrome hurts both child and alienated parent, and parental alienation is a form of emotional child abuse, as well as emotional abuse to the alienated parent by the alienating parent. Programming campaigns of parental alienation can include threats of calling the police when the rejected parent wants contact or simply wants to exercise his visitation rights, or pretending to be scared for his physical safety, when the alienated parent comes by the house to pick her child up for visitation, or even, outright demeaning the alienated parent in front of the child with a barrage of insults in a character assassination. Withholding your child from you or denying you your legal visitation rights in your child custody battle without just cause is an insidious form of emotional abuse to you and your child. Labeled “visitation obstructionism” by Dr. Rybicki, the “programming” parent is the target of overt or covert hostility and a barrage of angry insults.

I have seen instances of Parental Alienation Syndrome in my cases in Virginia divorce where the narcissistic parent makes overt or sarcastic remarks as to a parent’s inability to care for his child during instances of minor, everyday illnesses (colds, etc.) or to blame him for cavities. In my experience, psycho-pathology goes hand-in-hand with parental alienation syndrome, and those with high degrees of narcissism or full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and psychopathy are naturally inclined to pit children against the other parent.

Find Professionals Trained in High Conflict Divorce When Divorcing a Narcissist: Find Those Who Understand Parental Alienation Syndrome

Divorcing a narcissist is extremely difficult when you have children, but you can understand the nature of high conflict divorce – you can help your attorney understand that allegations of domestic abuse toward your children or rejection by your child is not your child’s own doing and is not grounded in reality. An attorney with experience in parental alienation syndrome and psycho-pathology can help you find a team of mental health professionals who can help educate judges when they need to make child custody determinations in a child custody battle as to the insidious and harmful nature of parental alienation syndrome in a high conflict Virginia divorce.

A trained custody evaluator, forensic psychologist, or reunification therapist will recommend certain treatment options for your rejecting child, based on the degree of parental alienation syndrome evident in your specific case. For example, inpatient treatment for your child may be necessary to undo major programming by the narcissistic parent. A knowledgeable therapist may even recommend completely changing custody arrangements altogether, at least temporarily, with the alienating parent, until some of the programming by her is undone.

Note, however, that just because parental alienation exists, it does not mean that a judge will do anything about it. Personally, I believe judges don’t like to make decisions based on allegations of parental alienation syndrome because they don’t understand that although there may be instances of parental alienation in most divorcing couples with children, the degree to which the parental alienation exists within households where a narcissistic parent is raising a child, is very different. I will write another blog post on the inherent difficulties in making these claims admissible, but for the purposes of this blog, know that you are not alone. Parental alienation child custody battles are extremely contentious when divorcing a narcissist in a Virginia divorce, and you must be armed with as much information as possible on the negative consequences for a child raised in an alienating home during a child custody battle.

Fairfax Family Law and Virginia Divorce Lawyer: If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce lawyer, contact Keithley Law,PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. Our attorneys are experienced in high conflict divorce and helping people navigate through the frustrations of divorcing a narcissist, custody battles, spousal and child support.

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