Parental Vilification in Custody Disputes

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It’s no surprise to anyone that sometimes divorce cases get ugly. This is even more true when questions about custody and care of the children is in question. The most contentious custody disputes are often those where one parent attempts to undermine the relationship between the children and the other parent.

These actions can create a parent who is seen as “the good guy” and one who is seen as the “villain”. As people, we all have positive and negative traits. When one parent is vilified during a custody dispute, however, the negative traits are placed front and center, and any attempts to make positive changes are seen as insincere. At the same time, the positive traits of the idolized parent are pushed forefront while the negative traits are easily excused.

This creates a situation known as Parent Alienation Syndrome, which affects the relationship between the children and the vilified parent in these cases. Traditional counseling, which allows the children to vent about the vilified parent, does not challenge their viewpoint or allow them to recognize how their relationship has been undermined. Instead, research shows the only way to overcome this issue and repair the relationship between the children and the vilified parent is for the children to spend more time with this parent. The parent who has undermined the relationship has given the children a false view of the other parent, and only positive, first-hand experiences with the vilified parent can overcome this view.

If the undermining parent has not come to support a positive relationship between the children and the vilified parents, visitations with the idolized parent may have to be restricted until their views are transformed from firsthand experience.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this is that, when the parent-child relationship has been undermined, the input of the child cannot be trusted. With some children, resistance and defiance is expected and force or coercion is necessary to begin visitation with the vilified parent.

In cases where older children lash out or refuse to visit the vilified parent, it is often because the idolized parent does not truly support the new visitation rules. In this case, it may be necessary for the child to be moved to a neutral living situation free from anyone undermining their relationship with either parent. This will allow them to slowly work toward relying on their own experiences and overcome the idolization and vilification that has been pushed upon them.

Unfortunately, not all courts and service providers are familiar with this type of situation, or have sufficient experience to know how to handle it effectively. Some support this type of intrusive intervention while others follow more traditional routes. If you are facing this type of situation in your relationship with your children, we can help you to navigate the court system and to gain the support of service providers and treating clinicians.

Divorces can get nasty, and the worst thing is that it mostly affects the children. However, Toronto divorce lawyers can make the process as painless as possible. Get in touch with one of our family lawyers if you have any questions. We welcome all inquiries.