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Family Wars: The Alienation of Children
(provided by Dr. Peggie Ward)

1. Prevention
C. Courts

It is important for the courts to recognize and support healthy family systems and not to over-react to the volatile emotions of divorce. At the same time, courts must recognize the initial seeds of alienation and seek information about family structure to examine the degree of risk in the family: Are the adults using or manipulating the children in furtherance of their own emotional needs? Are the children vulnerable to alienation?

All children can be enlisted into the battle, but, generally speaking, the children who are most vulnerable may be overly dependent, fearful and passive. These children may express guilt feelings about their parents' divorce, identify with or play the rescuer of the alienating parent, assume caretaking roles of a parent, and/or feel conditionally loved. The more vulnerable children pick up and resonate with the parental feelings. Generally, the children will have little insight into their situation.

The factors that identify families where alienation is less likely are: abundant positive contact between both parents and the children; sibling groups who all have good relations with both parents, good relations of the children with family and friends of both parents: free communication to the child by others of the good qualities of both parents: lack of defensiveness on the part of each parent as to the emotions, statements and criticisms of the other: ability of each parent to discuss schedules and parenting concerns with the other parent: ability of each parent to accommodate the schedules and desires of the other.

Many high conflict families view the court as determining not only custody and visitation . but also making judgments about right and wrong, good and bad parenting. Court is seen as a place where one person is judged to be fit, and the other unfit. The court can help ameliorate this unfortunate scenario by making explicit the legal and pragmatic grounds for a decision. If appropriate, the court can declare neutrality on personal and moral issues that do not expose a child to harm. Compassionate communication that does not further the anger, loss, shame and humiliation in this public forum can be immensely healing.

Information provided by:
Dr. Peggie Ward

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