Children As Weapons - High Conflict Divorce
Without a doubt, the arguments of men’s and father’s rights movements find traction among men who experience what are called high conflict marriages and divorces, that is, marriages that end in divorces where each spouse escalates the level of conflict. Almost all divorces are painful, but high conflict actions, where custody and visitation outcomes become symbolic of moral victories, tend to bring out the worst in wounded people suffering great emotional and mental pain. And in some high conflict divorces woman and children may be in physical danger from an angry father and husband who teeters on the brink.
In these volatile, high-conflict situations, possession of the child affords a custodial mother an easy opportunity to interfere with a noncustodial father’s visitation. In one survey, some 40 percent of mothers reported they interfered with the noncustodial father’s visitation "on at least one occasion to punish the ex-spouse."
Occasional interference may give way to a full-blown campaign by a custodial mother to sabotage a child’s relationship with his or her father. Called the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), these efforts happen when one parent seeks to destroy the familial bonds that once existed with the other parent. Demeaning the absent spouse, exposing the child to unnecessary details of the marriage breakdown, blaming the other parent for the financial strains of the divorce - all are elements that many come into play when a custodial parent tries to torpedo the relationship between a child and the noncustodial parent.
The PAS worsens the relationship between former spouses is self- evident, but "[t]he guilt children experience when their parents separate is exacerbated by the added stress of being made to feel that their love and attachment for one parent is contingent on their abandoning the other." In this situation, child can move from the tug-of-war of a custody battle to the crossfire of warring parents using them as proxies in in on-going struggle.
Men’s rights and father’s right activists contend that women make false claims of domestic violence, sexual and child abuse in order to gain the upper hand in divorce, custody and visitation. The adversarial nature of child custody hearings, which can be zero-sum, win or lose propositions, encourages woman to go to such lengths because even the accusation of child abuse or domestic violence makes a man guilty. The so-called S.A.I.D. syndrome - Sexual Allegation in Divorce - has been likened to an atomic bomb because simply charging a divorcing spouse with child molestation, wife battering or spousal rape can change the dynamics of a custody battle, whereby the accused finds himself "simultaneously facing both the criminal justice and social service bureaucracies where conflicting rules of evidence deny him the presumption of innocence." Pending the outcome of such an allegation, the accused may end up barred from his house, paying legal bills to defend himself, and "nursing a permanently injured reputation and functioning as the ’absent’ father with a sparse schedule of controlled visits."
The aftermath of a bitter divorce can be poisonous. Many former spouses struggle with the truth of divorced parenthood: they are no longer married but they are still parents. About half the mothers "see no value in the father’s continued contract with his children," according to Joan Kelly and Judith Wallerstein, writing in Surviving the Breakup. Against this, the Journal of Divorce reported that 70 percent of all divorced fathers "felt they had too little contact with their children."
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Resources & Tools
FATHERS’ RIGHTS -- The "fathers’ rights” movement supports the idea that custody decisions should not discriminate against fathers. Support groups, including Fathers for Equal Rights in Miami and Fathers Are Forever in California, provide support for fathers who feel unfairly treated by the legal system.
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