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Family Wars (PAS) — The Parent Evaluation

4. The Parent Evaluation

If the above described interventions fail and the child remains virtually without relationship to the target parent a different level of intervention is warranted.  If the alienating behavior continues despite the education, the post divorce counseling, impasse resolution therapy, and the specific behavior management intervention, one can conclude as a matter of established fact that the alienating parent does not have the capacity to foster a relationship with the other parent. 

There is a considerable body of research which specifically examines the effects on children of single parent homes. A full review of this literature is beyond the scope of this paper, but, in general, the evidence is overwhelming that in father-absent homes, boys have lower self esteem, are more likely to be rejected by peers and may experience deficits in cognitive functioning.  Girls may be less affected than boys in father-absent homes, but the research does show negative effects on girls' social and cognitive development.[17]

There is an additional body of research on reactions of children to high conflict divorce.[18]  Children who experience high degrees of conflict between parents during divorce show more emotional difficulty than those whose parents are able to better resolve their difficulties.  Children whose parents are in conflict "are more likely to feel caught, and children who feel caught are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and, to a lesser degree, participate in deviant behavior." [19]

The deliberate alienation by one parent of the other, unmodified by the numerous interventions described above, is psychologically harmful to the child. 

"It is important...to appreciate that a parent who inculcates a parental alienation syndrome in a child is indeed perpetrating a form of emotional abuse in that such programming may not only produce lifelong alienation from a loving parent, but lifelong psychiatric disturbance in the child." [5]

A change of custody must be contemplated under the best interests standard as the Perrault [20] standard of a "strong possibility of harm" has been met. 

The court must determine what custody location would be the most beneficial to the child, although in many of these cases the courts actually have to decide which placement is the least damaging to the child.  A comparative determination of the custodial capacity of each parent must be done.  The court or the parties may well have sufficient information at this point to litigate the issue of the best interests of the child.  If not, parenting evaluations become crucial. 

Knowing that the alienating parent does not have the ability to foster a relationship between the child and the target parent, the issue before the court will be, does the target parent offer the child sufficient parenting capacity to outweigh that very serious harm.  We believe that, because of the very nature of the harm to the child from the lack of a relationship with the target parent, the court must determine whether the target parent has adequate parenting capacity. [21]

If the target parent shows a parenting ability that is adequate as defined in the research and fits the needs of the child and there is a reasonable likelihood that the target parent will foster the relationship of the child with the alienating parent, the court should seriously consider modifying custody, unless the child is so enmeshed with the alienating parent that a change in custody would be permanently harmful to the child.  If the target parent is not adequate, it becomes incumbent on the court to see if there are other family members or foster care available to take the child, someone to help the child create and maintain a relationship with each of his parents. 

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2002 03 05 (added link to Table of Contents)