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Development of the parental alienation syndrome.

Byline: Fahad Ahmad Siddiqi

Our society is seeing a paradigm shift in marriages. Divorces are rising, and more and more middle and lower middle-class couples are opting for divorce, resulting in bitter child custody battles. Often the innocent children are used as a tool for vengeance by vindictive litigants who feel no hesitation to inflict severe emotional trauma on the child. Children of divorced couples bear the brunt. Couples commonly use children as pawns in a game of emotional chess. In due course the parents move on in their lives and onto another partners, but children carry the trauma of being manipulated. In my legal experience I have seen a large number of such children suffering from personality problems, disorders, and substance abuse, criminal and anti-social traits, and so on.

The law on the guardianship and custody is the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890. The primary consideration in guardian courts whilst granting custody is the minor's welfare. In custody proceedings pending adjudication in a family/guardian court there are three parties to the said proceedings, the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent and the minor.

Family matters are not to be decided strictly on the yardstick of procedural laws or any other principle aimed at the observance of technicalities; the court's paramount consideration must be the minor's welfare, and in such a matter must act in loco parentis.

In the vast majority of cases in our courts, non-custodial parents are subjected to abuse and victimization in the name of procedural technicalities especially during the pendency of divorce and custody proceedings. Even after waiting for months for the first face-to-face meeting with his or her own children, the non-custodial parent gets an extremely limited visitation schedule. This visitation schedule is often as little as once a month for two hours within court premises.

Continuous efforts are required and these must be upheld unequivocally by the court as well. A mix of both reason and feeling yet above all else stability must be given to the minor child to make them mindful of the harm that has and is continuing so as to stop living with such a negative mentality towards one parent

Surprisingly, this visitation schedule is being followed widely in the guardian courts for decades and has now become a precedent. Even this can be conveniently avoided by a custodial parent simply by presenting a fake medical certificate. In such cases the non-custodial parent is left with no choice but to wait for the next scheduled meeting. The guardian courts are generally casual towards such excuses from custodial parents.

Because of this extremely limited access, allowed only after a prolonged battle of seven or eight months generally, it is always the child who suffers. Our Family Justice System does not appreciate that a child's mind is like a perishable commodity. With time it is easy to change the innocent mind. Within months, after lack of interaction with the non-custodial parent and constant brainwashing by the custodial parent and family, the child starts forgetting and even disliking the non-custodial parent who was once deeply loved. Psychiatrists have named it Parental Alienation Syndrome.

It is often starts developing in children when the parents separate or begin divorce proceedings. A parent may, remove or retain the child from the other parent, seeking to gain an advantage in the expected or pending custody proceedings, or because that parent fears losing the child in them. A parent may refuse to return a child at the end of an access visit or even flee with the child to prevent an access visit. This very retention by the parent itself creates tangible effects on a child.

Our family judicial system, while adjudicating custody cases is oblivious of how to manage estrangement cases. What is required is for judges to comprehend is that the custodial parent (mothers mostly) can be rationally sick, or fiendish, or both, in how she manages the youngster so as to look for retribution on a non custodial parent (fathers mostly) who has been close more or less recently. What such contesting parents neglect is that they are hurting the minor child both in the short and long term by denying him or her a decent parent just because they wish to get vengeance from their ex-spouse.

Various signs or markers of alienation can be recognized. Not every one shows up in all cases. Whoever gets a minor child to loathe the other parent is blameworthy of making mischief for the minor child in the present and will continue in future. There is impressive evidence showing the damage done to children alienated against a noncustodial parent when minors. Expanding research has likewise demonstrated that when they grow up such children experience illeffects from the harm done by an estranging custodial parent.

The worst possible thing that can happen in a child's life, apart from losing a parent, is to become a football in a parents' divorce and custody battles. Whilst the spouses and their families try to best other, the child's trauma may sometimes be overshadowed by the parties' hurt and anger.

Some signs of an Alienated child are:

Absence of free thinking, mirroring the alienator's musings and emotions.

The custodial parent tries to shorten all correspondence between the minor child and the other parent

The noncustodial parent is blamed for everything that has turned out badly with the minor.

The child calls the noncustodial parent a liar and other damaging names like the estranging guardian.

The youngster abuses, demonstrates disregard, and embarrasses the estranged parent regularly on front of the alienator.

Contesting parents entice the minor child and will keep on doing this while in control of the minor child, yet deny that they are doing anything other than urging the minor child to go to the other parent.

The minor is made to feel sorry for any affection towards the non-custodial parent, and will deny any association with the non-custodial parent, dreading what the alienator would do to him or her.

Such children no more know truth from falsehoods.

It is not just what the alienator says but how. While telling a minor child 'father might want to take you out,' it can be said showing positive or negative emotions. The minor child takes this as opposed to the verbal message.

There is no simple approach to distance, particularly iF the estranged guardian has had little contact with the child for some time. The alienator and the child then are a 'group' who work against the non-custodial parent to prevent contact with the child.

A number of the techniques that are prescribed for managing the procedure of parental alienation might appear to be great however it is a compelling circumstance that one is confronting when managing the staggering force of the alienator. Continuous efforts are required and these must be upheld unequivocally by the court as well. A mix of both reason and feeling yet above all else stability must be given to the minor child to make them mindful of the harm that has and is continuing so as to stop living with such a negative mentality towards one parent.

The only recourse is for the noncustodial parent to have adequate access. In guardianship matters, courts are required to exercise quasi-parental jurisdiction. Our judicial system must acknowledge that contesting parents have an inherent right to adequate and reasonable visitation of the minor, especially the non custodial parent, mostly the father, inherently the natural guardian. The Guardian Court should facilitate a congenial, homely and friendly environment and a reasonable visitation schedule to the non-custodial parent. Courtroom of a Guardian Judge or a separate room within the Court premises is not conducive to visitations or meetings. It lacks basic facilities and is not comparable to a homely environment. Meeting for two hours once in a month cannot serve the purpose.
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Author:Fahad Ahmad Siddiqi
Publication:Pakistan Today (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Aug 27, 2020
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