Earlier this year WHO updated the eleventh International Classification of Diseases (ICD) to include parental alienation. It is described as “substantial and sustained dissatisfaction within a caregiver-child relationship associated with significant disturbance in functioning.”
There's no doubt that the active involvement of both parents has a significant impact on a child’s well-being, but in the case of divorce and separation, the child's rights are sometimes inadvertently neglected.
The courts are tasked with protecting the child first, but as many of our readers have commented, from their own experience, the courts are overworked and under-resourced.
This reader wrote to us to share the sad reality of the parental alienation her partner has been subjected to by his ex-wife.
Read the full letter here:
I’ve been in a relationship with somebody who has been battling parental alienation for the past six years. I knew that he was in a custody battle, but the extent of the ‘battle’ became clearer as I got to know him and the circumstances better. Obviously I know only his side, but the question I want to raise here is simply this, how on earth is any of this in the best interests of the children?
His life is a recorded one. Outings with the children are documented in various ways; e.g. a go-pro camera when they go on hikes or to parks, filing and saving receipts and e-mail communication, recording all telephone conversations, just in case there is an accusation of some kind.
"Their bedroom is basically a shrine"
In the past these have ranged from accusations of sexual misconduct (not prosecuted because of lack of evidence, despite his ex-wife’s constant contact with the police) to misrepresentations of where he had been with the children.
At the moment he has not seen his children for close on two years. They have probably outgrown the toys that litter his garage. The two puppies that they chose at the animal shelter are grown dogs by now. Their bedroom is a basically a shrine.
Who is the real man that I’m seeing?
The anxious, distracted one who can hardly concentrate on his job because another deposition has to be prepared for the court? The furious person who struggles to get news of his children’s progress at school? The miserable dad who has to wait another month for a new court date because the fifth magistrate on the case has postponed the hearing once again?
"The courts are unable to manage"
From the literature it would seem that the courts are unable to manage the process of parental alienation. In the law journal De Rebus a clinical psychologist Dr Marilé Viljoen points out that even the mechanism of hearing the child’s voice can be manipulated to worsen the alienation.
She notes that it is ‘important to understand the symptoms of parental alienation syndrome, as ‘the voice of the child can influence the parenting plan… and if we do not understand the dynamics of parental alienation, it is very easy to buy in or to even become part of that “alienation process”’.
Moreover, it would seem that the people fighting for access to their children are mainly men, as suggested by literature quoted in an academic article by Bosch-Brits, Wessels and Roux (in Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2018:54(1)).
"Justice delayed is justice denied"
To my mind this casts doubt on the ability of magistrates and high court judges to rise above stereotypical and outdated gender roles which say that women look after children; men work and pay maintenance and have no need for emotional contact with their children.
My friend’s oldest child is entering puberty. The younger one will be there soon. Both are in therapy, with expert opinions saying they need contact with their dad. A court that is seemingly completely overwhelmed with work needs to decide.
The saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is graphically illustrated in these cases. More importantly though, in a time when women clamour for men to do their duty by their children, men are being denied the privilege of doing exactly that. When the money dries up, when the house is sold and the pension fund exhausted: who wins?
Share with us:
Share your experience of parental alienation with us, and we could publish your story. Anonymous contributions are always welcome.