Family law attorney Dennis Beaver has been writing a syndicated newspaper column called “You and the Law” for more than 30 years. The veteran Bakersfield, California, barrister recently wrote about “weaponized divorce,” in which he shared a reader’s letter.
“My greatest fears are coming true,” the reader wrote. His former spouse is “poisoning” their three children against him, depriving them of his presence and love in their lives. He asks if there’s a legal term that describes this kind of sabotaging behavior.
Like any good journalist would, Beaver turned to an expert: Ann Arbor attorney Ashish S. Joshi. In an interview, the two discussed a disturbing family law phenomenon.
“Your reader is describing what the courts refer to as parental alienation,” Joshi said. “Regardless of what you call it – brainwashing, programming, or pathological parenting – American family courts understand that parental alienation exists.”
Joshi said it involves a parent “manipulating children’s feeling towards the other parent” and that a mother or father who engages in it “risks the creation of emotionally disabled adults down the road.”
He noted that most divorcing parents want “a healthy closure” of their marriage and want their kids to have positive relationships with both of them. At the other end of the divorce spectrum are “unhealthy, pathological situation(s)” where children are “groomed” by one parent to unequivocally, absolutely and without justification, reject the other parent.
Parental alienation “is a declaration of war by one parent against the other,” Joshi said. He added that the alienated parent should take several steps:
- Research and learn about parental alienation.
- Be aware that the most common mistake in parental alienation cases “is to deny the severity of the issue.”
- Find a lawyer experienced in the area (“Most family law attorneys are neither knowledgeable nor trained to handle these cases.”)
Finally, Joshi urged the letter-writer to be wary of lawyers and others who don’t really listen to the wronged parent. They will often recommend therapy to the parent, rather than effective legal action.
Joshi says “therapy is not a solution” to a difficult legal dilemma that typically involves violations of divorce decrees and custody agreements. “Often, contempt of court is,” he added.