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Dads Alive is a 6-part positive and uplifting audio journey for listeners experiencing situational distress as a result of separation. Each month we deep-dive one aspect of situational distress with a qualified subject matter expert to better understand legal rights, prioritise mental and physical health, and feel a sense of community in knowing we are not alone in finding inner strength, resilience and perseverance. Join the #dadsalive community on Facebook and Instagram so together we can support dads in distress.
Welcome to our podcast, Dads Alive, where we explore topics of relevance to separated dads. Before we start, we’d like to remind you that this episode contains content that may be triggering to some listeners and explores themes of suicide, distress and discussions of relationship and situational trauma. Listener discretion is advised. We would also like to state that the views and opinions expressed by podcast guests do not necessarily state or reflect those of the company and its management. We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land in which we are recording and listening to this podcast. We pay respects to elders both past, present and future, and we recognize our First Nations listeners and dads.
Parental alienation occurs when a child refuses to have a relationship with one of their parents due specifically to manipulation, such as the conveying of exaggerated or false information, by the other parent. The situation most often arises during family breakdown and parental separation. The phenomena may be overtly intentional or subconsciously unintentional but the outcome itself is nearly always abusive and damaging to the child and to the targeted parent.
The alienating parent, the perpetrator, will typically use a variety of strategies to turn the child against the other parent. It ranges from overtly informing the child, repeatedly, that the other parent does not love them and does not want to know them, to very subtle but specific emotional responses to a child’s comment about the other parent. For example, showing glee when the child criticises the other parent or showing no emotion when the child speaks fondly of the other parent. Over time the child is programmed to learn what pleases the alienating parent and what upsets them. It is common for the alienating parent to blame the other parent for the relationship breakdown and to make sure the child understands that this is the reason their family is no longer together. The alienating parent will also often move away, forcing the targeted parent to lose touch though the tyranny of distance. A particularly pernicious weapon when the targeted parent is unable to move to retain contact.
The experience can be extremely destabilising and traumatising to a child. Their life is uprooted, they seemingly lose the love of one parent and are sometimes made to feel that they are hated by that forcibly estranged parent. They lack the information to make sense of what is happening to them. There is no marking the end of the relationship that they have lost and more often than not, no way to grieve what has been taken from them. The sudden and inexplicable loss of their most trusted and loved protector induces trauma that is potentially lifelong and forms the basis for what may later emerge as personality disorder.
Preventing the child having time with the targeted parent, especially defying court orders, is a common sign of parental alienation. Making negative comments about the other parent, blaming them for the divorce, making false accusations of abuse or neglect, and threatening to withhold affection if the child expresses positive feelings about the absent parent are also hallmarks of alienation.
The medical sector and psychology in particular does not recognize parental alienation as a pathology, a diagnosable condition. However, brainwashing a child to reject or hate an otherwise loving, available and normal range parent does occur and is recognized by the courts as long as there is evidence to demonstrate it. As the phenomena becomes better known, it is also marked by those who inappropriately use the claim of Parental Alienation to justify to themselves and others why their children might legitimately seek little to do with them.
Parental Alienation can occur when the alienating parent relies on the child for emotional support; a process sometimes known as parentification. The child takes on the role of a parent, emotionally supporting an alienating parent unable to prevent their anger, need for revenge, jealousy or desire to extort the targeted parent from influencing their own world view and perspective. In this manner, the child is brainwashed. Commonly this stems from the alienating parent themselves suffering emotional instability or narcissism; transferring their own rage and pain to the child.
Legally, a targeted parent can fight alienation in the family courts, but they need to provide proof that is acceptable to the law. Parents child relationships marked by alienation can be healed and the situation reversed but it is rarely without lasting trauma and not without court mandated or other specialised reunification support and counselling.
Recently, we sat down with Stan Korosi, a consultant, clinical sociologist, and clinical counsellor specialising in parental alienation and remediating alienated parent child relationships. In today’s episode, Stan explores some of the ways to identify signs of alienation and how to cope if you find yourself exposed to the signs.
So. Hello Stan Korosi. On behalf of our audience today, could you share with us who you are and what it is that you do?
Well, good evening, everyone. So, yes, I am Stan Korosi. I am a clinical sociologist. I specialised in the field of parental alienation, specifically from the alienated parents perspective. I’m also an adjunct fellow in the School of Law and Society at the University of the Sunshine Coast, where I did my PhD. And what do I do? I help parents as best I can, get their cases through family law and formulate their cases according to the best evidence and models that we have to see if they can recover their children. And I’ve got a team of people who provide a variety of integrated services and functions that help them do that.
Can you tell us what exactly is parental alienation?
Well, that’s a really good question. Parental alienation is, in a way, a part of a much bigger human experience of alienation. It dates right back to the earliest conceptions of the human experience through the myth of Medea, the Greek myth, where Medea, one of the Greek goddesses, murders her children to punish her husband, Jason, who was off having affairs with the other goddesses, as they do. And so alienation has been around as part of the human experience from the get go. It manifests specifically in parental alienation, as in the setting of the family, where a parent psychologically manipulates a child into unwarranted and unjustified fear, disrespect, contempt or hostility towards a parent, which may involve resistance to spending time with that parent or outright rejection. And that resistance or rejection is without cause, and it’s disproportionate to the child’s historic relationship with that parent. And that’s a pretty well understood definition. That definition has its roots back to the mid 1980s, when Dr. Richard Gardner first formulated parental alienation, and he called it a disorder which arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. And its primary manifestation, according to him, is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent.
It’s a campaign that has no justification, and it results from a combination of what he calls programming, other people call it brainwashing and a parent’s indoctrination, and their child’s own contribution to vilifying their targeted parent. So those two definitions are nearly 40 years apart, yet they maintain direct traceability. So anyone who says that there’s no agreed definition of parental alienation is wrong.
Well, that’s actually good to hear. And in fact, it leads me to ask another question around this because of the confusion that exists. What is PA or parental alienation often confused with?
Alienation is one reason why a child may resist or reject a parent. There are other reasons where a child can be resistant or rejecting where there is some justification. So, for example, children exposed to family violence who have witnessed a parent abusing their other parent or they have been abused or neglected themselves may not want to spend time with a parent they see as a perpetrator. And that’s what we call realistic estrangement. So estrangement and alienation are not the same things. So with estrangement there is a justification. There’s a good reason why a child doesn’t want to be with a parent. Another reason is that children have complicated reactions to their parents’ separation and divorce. And they have difficult and complicated ways of showing grief, sometimes through anger. Sometimes they’re angry and sad. Sometimes they’re sad and angry. And so they may resist being with a parent. But again, that’s different. They don’t lose their ambivalence towards that parent. They still love both parents. They just don’t understand what’s happened. And sometimes they may feel safer with one parent than the other but not for reasons of abuse but because the divorce and separation is so painful to them. Those are the other forms of resistance and refusal.
Okay. Well, it makes me think that actually a lot of these cases will end up in court at some time and experts will get involved. In your experience, how do experts and the courts, family courts specifically view the issue of parental alienation?
Well, in Australia it varies across the states and territories. So in Western Australia, there is a much better understanding of parental alienation and specifically parental alienation behaviours as being very harmful to the child. And so in Western Australia, it’s easier, relatively speaking, to get a parental alienation case across the line. Well, that is, to successfully argue that those parental alienation behaviours are harmful to the child and it’s not in their best interest to be exposed to them. In other states, there is a confused understanding of what parental alienation is. Many of the states, the family law system there and practitioners who work with families have confused understandings, relying on incorrect, obsolete information and sometimes outright misinformation to form their views. The important thing in my experience in working through family law principally with parents is you actually don’t have to prove it’s parental alienation or not. What you have to show is that what’s happening for your child is harming them. So there’s a focus on the behaviours, parental behaviours and linking them to the children’s presentations. It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you develop that link and you show that it’s harmful to the child that’s not in their best interest to continue to be exposed to it and specifically, where a child has rejected a parent that sometimes the only way for that rejection to be overcome is to remove the child from the harmful and abusive environment. It’s what we call a reversal of parental care and responsibility. And that’s the gold platinum standard for dealing with severe cases.
Actually, that leads me to then ask the question, how does one assess whether this is or is not a case of parental alienation? Or if that term isn’t used in the court, how is that behaviour set? How does one actually demonstrate that that is the case?
So we now have evidence based models and frameworks to apply an assessment framework to a situation. So we rely heavily on a validated link between known parental alienation behaviours and alienation presentations in children. Many people would be familiar with the original eight criteria for parental alienation in children, and those are really broad descriptions. They’re not really specific enough to do an assessment. But since then, and that was developed in the 1980s, but certainly from recently, we have a much tighter linkage between specific behaviours and children’s presentations. Then we have an evidence based model that we can use to differentiate between parental alienation presentations and, for example, a presentation in which the rejected parent has implicated themselves in their own rejection, such as family violence, for example, or some form of coercive control. So that evidence based model is the standard that should be used. Unfortunately, many practitioners in the family law setting don’t do that, and they don’t use that model or that evidence.
Okay, Dr. Korosi, thank you very much for your time. That’s it for today, and I’m sure we’ll be back talking to you on behalf of our listeners at some point again in the near future. Thank you.
Today we’re speaking to a dad called Jim, not his real name. We’re protecting his identity for the purposes of this interview. Jim is going to talk a little bit to us about his experience of parental alienation. So, Jim, without further ado, provide us a brief overview of your family situation.
Sure. So I guess I’ll start by saying that I’m in my 50s now. I’m in my 8th year of fighting for access to my children, and my situation is not the norm, but it’s not uncommon. So I’ve never married, and thank God I didn’t marry the mother of my children, or I’d be in a lot worse shape than I am. My children were retained in the USA in 2015 by their mum in what I was sold as a short holiday to introduce my son, newly born in Melbourne, to his American grandparents. But once there, the mum advised that she didn’t want to go back to Australia, and she wanted to break up and remain in the USA without me, but with our dual citizen children. Now, I said no. I’ve returned to Australia. I got legal counsel advice, and asked the mum to return the children voluntarily. There’s a bit of yes and then no, and then she moved the dress and went on the run, and that was to avoid service of a thing called the Hay Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Finally, after about two years, the mum threatened to kill our two children if forced to return. Then I went back to the USA to look for them, unsuccessfully. I then initiated a custody case in Australia which does allow for service via email, and that led to orders inclusive of the children’s US address. The mum did appear in court via telephone, and this ultimately led to a reunion with my children after nearly three years, but also my service as a defendant in Rhode Island Family Court, which was unhappily able to overlook the mum’s perjury about the lack of an existing court action abroad. And four years on, I’m still in that space in the Rhode Island system, so I’m still awaiting my very first evidentiary hearing and I’m appealing jurisdiction. And it’s been four years since I last helped my children.
So what makes you believe that you are or were alienated from your children until 2020?
The mum wouldn’t let me video call with the kids, but she would, on occasion, pick up the phone and I could speak to the children, and that’s kind of surreal. When I last saw them back in 2015, they couldn’t string a sentence together. And on the phone, things started to get tough and the kids actually stopped saying, love you back to me, and they didn’t want to talk. And I was ultimately able to get interim orders for video calls in 2020, and that’s a massive improvement. And one of my two children is now happy to say love you back to me. But I got to say that one to 2 hours a week on Skype does not make a father sure.
What was it like for you and the kids?
My children still don’t know what it’s all about or what alienation means. I mean, it’s my job, as I say it, to prevent them from knowing that they’re alienated and I’m alienated from them or estranged. I want their world to be as normal as possible, and that’s kind of all they’ve known. My daughter barely remembers Australia and the family there, and my son not at all, because he was just a baby when we left for the USA for the holiday. For me, it was the first year that was especially tough. It’s kind of like I had my head in a dingo trap, clamped hard, or a cortisol dripping directly into my brain. It was just non stop, relentless pounding. I just couldn’t get on top of my problems, and that was almost for a year. But relief did come, but only when I accepted my children as lost. And that’s not easy. Lots of people go through this, but I can only describe it as a psychological execution where you have to pull the trigger, and thereafter, you just need to live your life with gratitude that for that short while that you knew your kids, that was a blessing and happy that you had that short period, and happy that your kids are in the world. And if ultimately my children are not returned home to Australia, and if I don’t get any visitation orders, I’ll know that I’ll survive and that I’ve done all I could.
It’s a story we hear all too often. You did, however, mention earlier that you now do speak to them on a relatively regular basis via Skype. So you’ve had something of a positive outcome. What did it take to get there?
Look, it’s nothing less than the sacrifice of my future potential to attend to all the legal necessities required. So as a pro se defendant in the US Family Court, it takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of time. A lawyer over there is out of the question. We’re talking about $500 an hour. So, you know, I’m forced to self represent and just live off savings and loans until I can get through. I may still have years ahead of me, but it’s been four years thus far, and I’m never going to get that time back.
Well, I see. In reference to that, what is the lasting impact on you and the kids?
Look, parenting children, I think it’s a bit of a ying yang thing. It’s a balance. And my kids are all ying and no yang. I mean, being in America, it means that they’re at much, much greater risk of mental health problems, of drug addiction, teen pregnancy, of incarceration, of less education and the associated income, and, of course, repeating the cycle of single parenting. For me directly, it means my culture and my beliefs are not being passed down. My late father didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his grandchildren. The same fate is likely to fall upon my mother and realistically, on me, too.
Thank you. And in your view and based on your experience, how might these issues be avoided on a systematic basis?
There’s no mystery there. It’s the same answer parenting groups were saying 50 years ago, we need to return to natural law. L-O-R-E. Every culture and every major religion of the world has a version of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you have others do unto you. We all remember as kids that there was a treat to be shared with a sibling. Our parents would have one of us cut it, and then the other sibling would choose their half. And that’s what we need to return to. We know kids flourish best with near to equal time with mum and dad. So it’s a simple matter of replacing a subjective judge with law. Or better yet, a rebuttable constitutional right to our own children separating. Parents come to the courts with their own agreed consent orders, or it’s simply noon Sunday handovers until they do. Moms can have odd weeks, Dads, even weeks. And the courtrooms are safe for the criminals now. It works well overseas, like in Scandinavian countries. It can work here, too, by removing all of the incentives for one parent or their lawyer to game the system. That we have not done this already is worthy of a royal commission.
Jim, thank you very much. I wish we had more time, but in the short space of time that we had, I think you’ve put your case very eloquently and given our listeners a good insight into the complexity of separating and the alienation that often follows. Thank you once again for your time.
Are you a separating parent or grandparent in need of support? Are you facing child access and family law issues? Do you work in the area of family support? Join some of Australia’s leading experts in family law, child access and situational distress, along with lived, experienced mums and dads for a far reaching and compelling discussion on Parental Alienation Awareness Day, October 12, 2023. To register. Go to: parentsbeyondbreakup.com/conference/2023.
Dads in Distress provides 100% free confidential and nonjudgmental support to Dads through in person and online support groups, workshops, and, of course, our Helpline, which operates seven days a week. If you or someone you know has been affected by the themes explored in today’s podcast, help is available. Call our Helpline on 1300 853 437 or get in touch with us today on our website, www.dids.org.au. To join the DIDs community, follow us on Facebook @dadsindistress.