Robert Gougaloff ‘s Parent Alienation Blog

A blog about Parent Alienation

Something To Post On The Fridge…

Dear Mom and Dad, I am just a kid, so  please…

  1. Do not talk badly about my other parent. (This makes me feel torn apart!  It also makes me feel bad about myself!)
  2. Do not talk badly about my other parent’s friends or relatives.  (Let me care for someone, even if you don’t.)
  3. Do not talk about the divorce or other grown-up stuff.  (This makes me feel sik.  Please leave me out of it!)
  4. Do not talk about money or child support.  (This makes me feel guilty or like I am a possession instead of your kid.)
  5. Do not make me feel bad when I enjoy my time with my other parent.  (This makes me afraid to tell you things.)
  6. Do not block my visits or prevent me from speaking to my other parent.  (This makes me upset.)
  7. Do not interrupt my time with my other parent by calling too much or by planning my activities during our time together.
  8. Do not argue in front of me or on the phone when I can hear you!  (This just turns my stomach inside out!)
  9. Do not ask me to spy for you when I am at my other parent’s home.  (This makes me feel disloyal and dishonest.)
  10. Do not ask me to keep secrets from my other parent.  (Secrets make me feel anxious.)
  11. Do not ask me questions about my other parent’s life or about our time together.  (This makes me uncomfortable.)
  12. Do not give me verbal messages to deliver to my other parent.  (I end up feeling anxious about their reaction.  So please just call them, leave a message, or e-mail.)
  13. Do not send written messages with me or place them in my bag.  (This also makes me uncomfortable.)
  14. Do not blame any other parent for the divorce or for things that go wrong in your life.  (This really feels terrible!  I end up wanting to defend them from your attack.  Sometimes it makes me feel sorry for youand that makes me want to protect you.  I just want to be a kid, so please, please stop putting me into the middle!)
  15. Do not treat me like an adult, it causes way too much stress for me.  (Please find a friend or therapist to talk with.)
  16. Do not ignore my other parent or sit on opposite sides of the room during my school or sports activities.  (This makes me very sad and embarrassed.  Please act like parents and be friendly, even if it is just for me.)
  17. Do let me take items to my other home as long as I can carry them back and forth.  (Otherwise it feels like you are treating me like a possession.)
  18. Do not use guilt or pressure me to love you more, and do not ask me where I want to live.
  19. Do realize that I have two homes, not just one.  (It doesn’t matter how much time I spend there.)
  20. Do let me love both of you and see each of you as much as possible!  Be flexible even when it is not part of your regular schedule.

Thanks, Your Loving Child

November 21, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , | 1 Comment

Don’t take the bait !!!

I have made the discovery over the last few years that an alienating parent with narcissistic tendencies will often try to throw some “bait” at the target parent (usually right in front of the children).  What is “bait”?  Any kind of challenging comment that when responded to can ignite a conflict.  It is often very difficult to take the “high road” on that and let it go, but it is usually the better way to go.

I heard a great comment not too long ago in a parenting group made by one of its participating members: “Well, I don’t know how to make it better with ………….., but I DO know how to make it worse!”  Now, I consider this to be a statement with a rather powerful message.  The message being that you, and you alone makes the decision on how a person with a narcissistic personality disorder affects you.

People like this will always try to throw bait out in order for you to grab it and more often than not their anger and disappointment increases if you don’t, but at least you are not part of it.  Anger and resentments are horrible burdens to carry around.  If you are not convinced about the devastating physiological effects emotions like anger, fear and resentments can have on the human body, I encourage you to read some of David Hawkins’ books.

So, TRY NOT TO TAKE THE BAIT !!!

October 28, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can children recover?

Can children recover from the symptoms left behind by the hostile-aggressive parenting strategies of one parent?  The answer is: I don’t know.  Actually I wish I knew!  If you have any experiences in these type of scenarios, please share them with all of us.

What is known is that psychological damage will eventually arise in children consistently subjected to PA.  This cluster of symptoms is formerly known as PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) which, by the way,  will most likely finally be included as a pathological behavior syndrome in the next edition of the DSM-IV.

My sentiment on the recovery issue is this:  It takes a lot of energy and effort to coerce a child or children into denigrating against another parent, because it is not within their genetic repertiore to do so.  It is therefore extremely difficult to force a child against its own natural instincts.  However the more successful the denigrating parent becomes in his or her effort to do so, the more damage is also done to the child.

Now,  the good news is that I have heard of many cases like that to have been successfully reversed with proper therapy.  Perhaps it is easier to fall back into the state of genetic normality (which is to allow the child to love both parents) than it is to move away from it, however it is the deep-rooted underlying damage that was done in the process, which I am concerned with and have no answer to.  A sudden reversal of symptoms in the children is to be taken cautiously, because this may just be a temporary veneer of behaviours that still have the actual deeper-rooted problems underneath it.  A HAP parent can easily convince the children to show affection and niceness to the target parent just to offer the appearance that the children are fine, however the psychological issues more likely than not are still present and need to be dealt with properly.

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October 5, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Tender Years Presumption

Divorcing spouses today contest few issues more bitterly than child custody. This was not always the case. When a married couple petitioned the courts of ancient Rome for a divorce, any disputes over which parent would retain primary physical custody of the children were easily settled, because there were no disputes. In the eyes of Caesar’s jurists, children were property owned solely by their fathers. The legal rights of mothers were limited since the courts also considered them to be the property of their husbands.

This custom eventually spread around the world and continued well into the 19th century. Under English common law in the 180Os, this practice became virtually self-perpetuating. English property laws decreed that once a man lost title to his assets, in this case his children, his financial responsibility for them also ended. Since few women of that time possessed the resources to support a family on their own, the courts remained averse to awarding custody to the mother even if the children stated a strong preference for living with her.

A gradual shift in custody decisions occurred as the courts entered the 20th century. Historical trends forced a division of family responsibilities, leading fathers away from the family home and into roles as wage earners, while mothers stayed behind as caretakers to the children. This division of roles, as well as an increasing interest in children’s welfare, led to a shift from paternal preference to maternal preference in custody decisions. The Tender Years Presumption suggested that children under the age of 10 could not attain normal emotional development without the continual influence of a maternal presence. By the 1920s, tender years became the standard in 48 states. Over time, it became the father who seldom retained custody of the children, even if the children were adolescents and presumably beyond the consideration of any tender years’ standard.

As time went on and men demonstrated parenting skills comparable to women, judges became less reluctant to award custodial rights to fathers. Fathers began to seek primary custody more often, at times even claiming sex discrimination in custody proceedings. Gradually, court rulings and statutory guidelines awarded more rights to fathers. In a landmark decision in 1981 in the case of Devine vs. Devine, the Alabama court asserted that the tender years presumption represented a form of gender bias against men and violated the Fourteenth Amendment by denying fathers “the equal protection of the law.”

By the 1970s, most states had substituted the tender years doctrine with the “best interests of the child” standard. This standard compelled jurists to award custody based on what is best for the child considering the particular circumstances, rather than simply the gender of the parent. The acceptance of the best interests standard led the way to the development of joint custody in divorce proceedings. Parents argued that it was in the best interest of the children to have access to and rearing from both parents. Child welfare experts began to uncover evidence that access to both parents is critical to a child’s self-esteem and coping (Lewis, 1978; Derdeyn and Scott, 1984; American Psychological Association, 1994; Ackerman and Ackerman, 1997; Herman, 1997). In 1979, California became the first state to enact a joint custody statute. At this time, nearly all states have adopted joint custody statutes or recognize the concept of joint custody in case law. To this date, virtually all states will take the “best interests of the child” standard as the base of their decision making, and rarely will a state cite the Tender Years Presumption as a basis for awarding custody to the maternal side.

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October 2, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Parenting Plan

As I have already alluded to in the last post, the Parenting Plan is probably one of the most important elements in a custody evaluation or custody court case in general.  The more thorough the parenting plan, the better your custody evaluation will be and the more respect the judge will have for you as a parent. Most importantly though, the children will have the benefit of having two parents act according to a well organized plan and schedule.

The problem is that most parenting plans are very poor in their design and content and leave many questions open, prompting more court visits in the future.  Please contact Jayne Major at Breakthrough Parenting Services to obtain a great book on how to design a great parenting plan !!

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September 24, 2008 Posted by | General Information, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Custody (730) Evaluation – What is it and how do I prepare for it?

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If there is a dispute about the physical (and sometimes legal) custody more often than not the judge will order a Custody Evaluation, a.k.a. 730 evaluation (as in Family Code Section 730). The reason for this is that judges don’t usually want to make decisions over custody without the input and report from a qualified psychologist who can examine the situation based on his or her expertise. During the trial, judges will usually give a lot of weight to the report of a custody evaluator, especially when the evaluator has a good and long standing relationship with the court system. Now that being said it is of vital importance to be very (no, let me actually emphasize this a little more: VERY) prepared for this evaluation appointment. This is an important point, since a private evaluation can cost in the vicinity of $10K and is your one-time shot at present yourself as a good parent. Here are a few tips on how to prepare:

Enroll in a great Parenting Class if you can. This will give you great insight in modern parenting concepts and might actually make you a better parent. What this will do for sure is tell the evaluator that you are approaching parenting with the necessary dedication.

Learn everything there is to know about child development (their stages) and maybe even a little bit of developmental psychology. Much of the information you will be getting is derived from Piaget’s original work, but there are also some newer classifications which are worth exploring.

Make your home child friendly. This is a very important step. After all, you want to offer your children a home they can call their own. This includes furnishing them a nice and functional room, and definitely childproofing for the appropriate age category. Custody evaluators will look at your home very critically and take pictures. Make sure that you present yourself as a clean and organized parent.

Prepare your moving papers for the evaluator. This step cannot be underestimated! Don’t let your attorney do this step. Make sure you put this together and let your attorney proof it. This is your chance to tell the evaluator why you think your proposal is in the best interest of the children (notice how I did NOT say “in your best interest”). You need to present everything as an advocate for your children. Be factual – in other words only present evidence that can be substantiated. Finally, do not “sling mud” – even when the other side does it. Custody evaluators generally don’t like that. They would rather see that both sides come to an agreement, but if this is not possible, be respectful towards the other parent. This shows the evaluator that you have accepted the other parent as a functional part of a “reorganized family”.

ATTACH A THOROUGH PARENTING PLAN !! This step is very important.   The parenting plan is the unequivocal “rule book” when it comes to custodial sharing of children. It needs to include everything, from visitation and holiday schedules to the toy distribution of the children. Judges and attorneys can’t think of every little parameter which may come up between the parents in the future, but you can, so it is important that this parenting plan becomes part of the judgment in the end. It is a living document, which will have to be updated at least on a yearly basis or as the circumstances demand. Hope this helps a little. Please feel free to post a comment or question if you feel like it.

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September 19, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Legal vs. Physical Custody

I spent another day in family court yesterday and as I was waiting for my case to be called it became very transparent to me that many people are confused about the definition and ramifications of legal and physical custody.  So here is the Judge’s input on this (which I think makes it very clear):

Physical Custody – is the percentage distribution of time a child spends with either of the parents.  In other words, it is a predetermined measure of how much time a child will spend with one parent in comparison to the other parent.  It is often being used as a fractional multiplier to calculate child support.

Legal Custody – is different.  There is usually not a sliding percentage scale.  There is either shared legal custody, full legal custody or no legal custody.  Legal custody is all about making major decisions for a child or children.  Major decisions include (but are not exclusive):

  • Medical and dental care that is not emergency care
  • Psychological evaluation and treatment
  • Issuance of a driver’s license
  • Issuance of a passport
  • Schooling
  • Religious education
  • Name changes
  • Change of the children’s residency
  • Body piercings (including ear piercings)
  • Tattoos

Shared legal custody means that NONE of the above mentioned areas can be decided upon without the consent of the other parent.  I have seen judges overrule such decisions when made without the consent of the other parent.

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September 16, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Legal Representation or In Pro Per…

Uuuhhhh…. this can be a touchy subject!!! Just a little disclaimer up front: This is not supposed to be a recommendation, advice or even an influence; it is merely my opinion, based on my very own experiences.

Family law has enjoyed a burgeoning of child custody cases of unparalleled proportions in the past 30 years. This dramatic increase has primarily been the result of two recent developments in the arena of child custody litigation: The replacement of the “Tender-Years Presumption” with the “Best-Interest-Of-The-Child Presumption” and the increasing popularity of the “joint custody” concept.

Unfortunately, the adversarial system of our judicial foundation, which determines divorce and child custody issues in our country (and most of the western world), can often work against the best interest of the involved children. It often defines “winning custody” not as the right to parent one’s children, but as the power to prevent someone else from parenting his children with the help of the government (Baskerville, Stephen (2007). Taken Into Custody – The War Against Fathers).

Additionally, more often than not, situations which started out as an amicable custody arrangement turned into a war of financial and emotional attrition as soon as bilateral legal counsel entered the scene, where the winners were the “legal counsel” and the losers were the torn-up families and emotionally challenged or even injured children.

Now that being said, I still maintain that legal counsel is a better idea than self representation if you have the financial means for it. I have personally been on both ends of the spectrum and I can submit to you that it is not easy to be “in pro per”, however, the pay off is that you are in complete control over your case and you have one distinct advantage: your motivation is that you are fighting for your childrens’ right to have equal access to both parents. Your attorney’s motivation on the other hand is usually the next paycheck.

So what is my perfect world? To have legal representation, but you control the case. In other words, you use your attorney to do all the footwork in court, but you author and proof all declarations, parenting plans, motions, OSCs etc.

P.S. There is a rather extensive collection of legal forms for your convenience to download on the “Resources” Page. These are specifically made for the California Family Court System. So, check with your local court rules in other States, whether these are applicable.

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September 7, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , | Leave a comment

Some tools for target parents…

As target parents we find ourselves often in difficult emotional states.  It can, at times, be very hard to overcome these “dark nights of the soul” without resorting to unhealthy means and methods.  There are a set of tools which I use, that helped me tremendously to remain rational and focused on the facts and circumstances at hand. 

The first is a complete makeover in attitude.  Research has shown that a positive attitude will entice the brain to produce more endorphins, which are anabolic (constructive) to cells.  A negative attitude on the other hand will entice the brain to produce more corticosteroids, which are catabolic (destructive) to cells.  I have realized that the quality of my life strongly depends on the kind of values I attach to events that happen around me.  I (and only I) have the power to decide which perspective I take on certain events.  At first I had to train myself to keep asking: “Ok, so what’s good about it?”, or “what can I learn from that?”, whenever a negative event happened.  I was usually able to find something positive and then I just started focusing on that instead.  Eventually, this became an automatic function.  Another aspect of this attitude makeover was to start focusing on where I wanted to BE and not what I was AFRAID OF.  This essentially meant that I started to focus my energy on the results I wanted to see, rather than the potential “problems” I foreshadowed.

Secondly, I started living a life of compassion and forgiveness.  Resentments and anger cost a lot of energy to maintain and produce more corticosteroids in the brain, which in turn means that they compromise overall health.  Forgiveness was the key for me to loose all of my resentments and anger(now, mind you that in my world forgiveness does not mean I simply let people “off the hook” for whatever distress they might have caused me – it simply means that I detach myself completely from the event, so that it does not bother me anymore).  Now, compassion is a skill that often needs to be learned.  As Jayne A. Major, Ph.D., founder and owner of the Breakthrough Parenting Organization, always said, “Compassion is the highest form of intelligence”.  What helped me to become more compassionate is the following rationale:  “Any kind of response you get out of a human being is either a loving response or a cry for help”.  That’s it! If it is not a loving response you get from a person, he or she is silently crying out for help.  More often than not, whenever I offered my help to someone who was negative towards me, I saw a complete reversal in attitude.  It really works! 

Thirdly, I adopted a transformational vocabulary if you will.  For instance, there are no such things as failures in my life – only “results”.  There are also no problems in my life – just “challenges” or better yet “opportunities” and so on.  This might seem like a benign point, but it does help maintaining a positive attitude.

The last and most important tool I would like to share is the accumulation of knowledge in this arena.  Unfortunately, there is very little education about PA/PAS/HAP out there.  It is of vital importance never to blame the children for their behavior.  The aggression and sometimes violent behavior they display against you as the target parent is really just a protective veil they are wearing.  This behavior is not their doing and is certainly not their fault; it is a natural response to the programming that is being done by the other parent (assuming that you are not physically abusing the children, of course). 

It sometimes helps to look upon this as a disease (well, it is in fact a syndrome), which needs compassion and understanding from your end.  Most importantly though – never ever give up believing in the purity of your children’s spirit and never to give up the effort to abolish or at least minimize the impact of the HAP tactics of the other parent, because this kind of parenting will eventually cause severe damage to the children.  It helps to remember that children are not genetically programmed to hate another parent, they are programmed to love BOTH parents.  What overwhelms me often is that the very same parent that uses every credible information source out there to substantiate the decisions made for their children’s health, completely fails to do the same when it comes to researching the harmful effects their Hostile Aggressive Parenting can have on the child’s future psychological health.  So the more we educate ourselves and others, the more we can protect our children’s future psychological health.

As always, comments are welcome!

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September 3, 2008 Posted by | General Information, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Parent Alienation, Parent Alientation Syndrome, HAP – What are they?

Hi everyone!

This is my first posting on this Blog on Parent Alienation (PA), Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP).  I decided to start this blog for two reasons: The first one is that my own children have been affected by it and the second one is that there is very little education out there – even in the legal profession.  My hope is therefore that this Blog evolves into a platform for sharing information and resources, for learning and education and for emotional support.

Before I start writing, however I feel that it is necessary to define the above referenced terms, so that you can get a better appreciation of what I am writing about.

Parent Alienation (PA) – is a general term that covers ANY situation in which one or more children can be alienated from a parent.  It can be caused by parental physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment and neglect.  A child can also be programmed by one parent to be alienated from another.  In relation to custody disputes, it can be defined as a group of behaviors that are damaging to children’s mental and emotional well-being, and can interfere with a relationship of a child and either parent.

Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) – is referred to a specific disorder in the child, which is caused by Parent Alienation activities.  A syndrome by definition is a cluster of symptoms appearing together.  These symptoms, although seemingly disparate, warrant being grouped together because of a common etiology or basic underlying cause.  In the case of Parent Alienation Syndrome, this cluster of symptoms usually includes:

·         A continued campaign of denigration against the target parent

·         Weak, frivolous or absurd rationalizations for the rejection of the target parent

·         Lack of ambivalence

·         The independent thinker phenomenon

·         Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict

·         Absence of guilt (towards any wrong doing against the target parent)

·         Use of “borrowed scenarios” (usually an adult scenario)

·         Spread of animosity to the extended family and friends of the target parent

These symptoms (usually as a cluster) may be classified as mild, moderate or severe.

Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP) – is the more modern and descriptive definition of the elements of Parent Alienation.  It is a very serious form of child abuse and is usually encountered in most high conflict child-custody disputes and is often used as a tool to align the child with one parent during litigation.  HAP is usually expressed by behaviors such as:

·         Criticizing a parent in front of the children and at every opportunity

·         Not answer the phone when the other parent calls

·         Convincing the child that they should change their surname or just changing it without the   child’s knowledge

·         Playing on the children’s feelings of guilt and sympathy

·         Using the child as a weapon against the other parent and family members

·         Ordering or manipulating the child to not answer the phone when it rings

·         Saying that the child does not want to speak to the other parent

·         Undermining the other parent by encouraging the child to defy the other parent

These are just a few examples, but very common ones.  It is always important to remember that children do not posess the genetics to hate or dislike another parent, unless they are being physically abused by that parent on a continuing basis or they are being programmed to do so by the opposing parent.

I hope I was able to stimulate you a little to participate in the discussions.  I will continue to post topics on this blog and I invite everyone to comment on any of the posts.

Robert Gougaloff

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September 1, 2008 Posted by | General Information | , , , , , , | 3 Comments