Parental alienation – conditional love and forced rejection

From a book, published after the fourth international conference organized by ISIPAR, International Society for Interpersonal Acceptanceand Rejection,  in Chandigarh, India. in January 2013:

2015. Machado, Marcia, Machado, Fransisco (Eds.)New Paths for Acceptance: Opening Awareness in Interpersonal Acceptance-Rejection, Brown Walker Press.

Abstract

This article originates from a research project in which 60 authentic high conflict separation cases were investigated between 1991-2011. These were cases in which the author, based on an analysis of many documents over time, had, in every single case, identified two conditions: a) a child´s sudden and implacable fear and/or hostility towards a former loved parent from whom the child had been separated, with this parent not having used violence or sexually abused the child; b) a parental figure (a parent or social services´ employees with parental authority) who had influenced the child, in actions and in words, to reject contact with the parent from whom the child had been separated. The fundamental question was: What are the consequences for the child?  The two cases presented in this chapter illustrate the situation of about 6000 Swedish children and 5000 Norwegian children every year, who, when the adults have separated, are not allowed by one parent to receive love and acceptance from the other. The empirically founded conclusion, supported by studies of parental loss from different research fields, is that the children thus treated are severely harmed.

Key words: parental alienation, parental loss, mental abuse, legal and human right to family life

Thanks to Marcia Machado for her help to improve the author´s English text based on my lecture held in Chandigarh, India, January 2013. Marcia Machado is responsible for editing the book (in press) documenting this 4th international  ISIPAR- conference. ISIPAR – International Society for Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection (www.isipar.org)

 

”Two things shall be given to the child from the parents, roots and wings.”

A wise wording of unknown source

 

The purpose of this article is to explore what is known to be the child´s deepest need, legal and human right, the right to family life, and the consequences of not fulfilling this need while violating the child´s legal and human rights. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the author has worked as an investigative, forensic psychologist and a researcher, mostly in severe custody conflicts and/or criminal sexual abuse cases in Sweden, but also in Norway, and exceptionally in some other countries. More and more of the investigated high conflict separation cases involved a parent who wanted to take control over the children, and who appeared to be driven by an implacable hostility towards the other parent. The parental alienation processes consist of influencing the children to become hostile and to reject the other parent without justified cause, and these processes have not, so far, been understood by family experts and by the family law system in Sweden and Norway.

Many experts in other countries consider it mental or emotional abuse when a child, without justification, is separated from a loved and loving parent and influenced to reject him/her (Bernet, 2010; Lorandos, Bernet, Sauber, 2013). The empirically observed phenomenon of parental alienation can be seen as mental kidnapping (Richardson, 2006).

In order to have the controlling parent´s love, and fearful of losing that love, these unjustifiably separated children are forced to reject the other parent. Thus the love they receive is conditional (Baker, 2010) and their human rights are severely violated (Paricard, 2014).

According to a Danish judge (Danielsen, 2004), two instances can be identified when it would be appropriate to separate a child from a parent:

  1. When the child is experiencing physical violence and/or abuse from a parent.
  2. When one parent demonstrates implacable hostility towards the other parent, i.e. mental abuse.

Instance number two has not yet been implemented in the legal system. Thorough investigations are needed, since standardized methods are missing in the work with families in both Sweden and Norway. The research done by Ronald Rohner and his colleagues for over more than four decades with developed and standardized methods measuring the child´s perception of the parent´s behavior (Rohner, Khaleque & Cournoyer, 2012) can, in our opinion, be of utmost importance if used in regular work with families involved in separation and custody conflicts.

A Child´s Fundamental Need: to be Loved and Accepted

A child needs acceptance/love from his or her parents and extended families to grow healthy and to develop into a whole person. We know this from global human experience, and it is confirmed by worldwide research (Khaleque & Rohner, 2012). When John Bowlby searched for the most appropriate term to describe the fundamental ground stone for the child´s development he tried “love” and “tie”, before choosing “bonding” (Bowlby & McIntosh, 2011, p.556). The child´s fundamental need to be loved/accepted is met by the ties of love that usually develop between the child and the ones that are close and taking care of the child, mostly the parents. Through these ties the child develops into a moral human being. When a parent´s love is, instead, conditional the child can be severely harmed and the whole family can need professional help (Baker & Sauber, 2013; Tejedor Huerta, Molina Bartumeus & Vàzquez Orellana, 2013).

In Norway and Sweden, the statistics tell us that about half of the parental relationships are ended through separation. In most cases ways of finding every day routines where the child can have regular contact with both parents are found. In some cases, about 10% however, the parents fight over the children (Rejmer, 2003), and this corresponds to the estimated general prevalence rate of alienation (Fidler, Bala & Saini, 2013). The children in these high conflict cases, in which one parent demonstrates implacable hostility towards the other, are not allowed to show their love for both parents.

Follow-up studies of children who have, in war situations, been separated from their parents, (as for example 70 000 Finnish war children who during the years 1939-1945 were separated from their parents and brought to Sweden), demonstrated that separation was very traumatic and harmful (Edvardsen, 1977;  Räsänen, 1990).

Wasserman (2005) found that one of the most stressful incidents for a child is to be separated from one or both parents. In a meta-study (Segerström &  Milller, 2004)  contemplating more than 300 empirical studies on stress over 30 years it was concluded that chronic stressors, not natural ones (as for example a test or an exam), change the immune system. Our hypothesis, enforced by new research in Sweden on children in stressful situations (Carlsson, Frostell, Ludvigsson, & Faresjö, 2014), is that being influenced  to reject a former loved parent not to lose the other parent´s love constitutes a chronic stressor that  influences the child´s immune system negatively.

Research on alcoholism has shown that loss of a parent during adolescence, for other reasons than the parent´s death, is a risk factor for becoming dependent on alcohol (Kendler, Sheth, Gardner, & Prescott, 2002).

Antisocial behavior is another problem that may affect children who are deprived of positive an emotional closeness to parents (BRÅ, 2001; Popenoe, 2009). In Canada (Lesage et al, 1994)  found a relation between experiences of losing a parent when  children were 6-10 years old, and the development of both borderline personality disorder and suicide.

A study of a little more than 1000 female twins (Kendler et al, 1992) revealed a growing risk for severe depression among those who had been separated from a parent for reasons other than the parent´s death. A research team in Israel has shown (Agid et al, 1999) that the probability to develop severe depression (also bipolar illness and schizophrenia) as an adult grows in a way that cannot be explained by coincidence, if you as a child have been separated from a parent before the age of 17.

Absence from school, being expelled from school, ending of studies, smoking, drinking, drugs, and teenage pregnancies are some of what has been reported to have been found more often among children brought up without a father (Daughty, 2011).

In a Norwegian study ( Frizell Reiter, Simone, Hjörleifsson, Breidablik, & Meland, 2013) based on questions to pupils, most of them 15-17 years old, the conclusion was that for those who kept contact with both parents after the parents´ separation  no emotional distress had been reported.

Children in severe custody conflicts who are separated from a parent, or both parents,  as sometimes happens in forced custody cases (Hellblom Sjögren, 2006), are mostly cut off from a regular contact with the non-resident parent. Thus the child is cut off from the kind of contact the child needs for a healthy development.

To summarize: based on science and empirical observations the most fundamental need of the child, so as not to be harmed physically and/or mentally, is to have love/acceptance from both parents in close contact with them both. The child needs to feel that he/she is allowed to love both parents, and that it is not necessary to reject one of the parents to be able to keep the other parent´s love, the essence of conditional love.

The Child´s Legal Right to Close Contact with Both Parents

The child has a legal right to keep close contact with both parents as long as the parents have not severely physically abused or severely maltreated the child, which is the foundation for the development of the co-operation model developed from 1992 in Cochem, Germany (Gorges, 2005).

The psychological abuse of the child, such as the effect of depriving the child from contact with a parent, is not understood, and thus not accepted, until very  recently and only occasionally, in verdicts from Norway and Sweden; here is an example from a court of appeal in the north of Sweden ( Hovrätten För Nedre Norrland, 2013).

“Independently of what the daughter could have expressed regarding her will to see her father the court  is of the  opinion that there is no foundation to expect something else than that she, as most children, has a need of a close and good contact also with her father. By restraining the daughter from getting a close contact with her father without acceptable reasons, the mother has evidently not lived up to her responsibility as a parent. Moreover there is an impending risk that the mother also in the future will act accordingly. The preconditions for the daughter to have a good relation with her father therefore appear as small if the mother is sole custodian for her.”

In the text above father can be read as mother (or with the social services as is the case when children are taken into forced custody without any substantial foundation). But still there are more children alienated from their fathers than from their mothers.

Fidler et al. (2013, p. 237)  discuss an example from 2005, which similarly demonstrates the insight that is needed by the court, to be able to help the child out of a psychological and emotional abuse situation with an alienating parent, in this case also a mother:

“The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal affirmed a trial judge´s finding that the mother had ´demonized´ the father to the children, and that they were emotionally abused. The boys told the custody evaluator that they wished to stay with their mother, and the trial judge expected that they would suffer ´some immediate trauma and grief ´ as a result of the custody variation. Nevertheless, the judge concluded that this was ´one of those rare and exceptional cases where drastic action was required to meet the best interests of the children´, and transferred custody to the father.”

 

The Child´s Human Right to Family Life

The right to family life is a human right according to the UN convention of the Rights of the Child (article 16), and also according to article 8 in the European Convention on Human Rights, where it says:

“1.   Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

  1. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

In the UN convention on the Rights of the Child article 9:3 it also says that the child has the right “to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child´s best interests.” When a child is deprived of contact with a loved parent, often, as demonstrated in practice (Andre & Baker, 2009), the child feels rejected. This, if going on for long, harms the child´s identity, and constitutes a violation of the children´s human right to maintain their identity. That right is articulated in article 8 in the UN convention on the Rights of the Child, where it in section two says:

Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, State Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection with a view to speedily re-establishing his or her identity.”

It is not, as in Brasil  (Lei No.12.318, 2010), in any European country yet seen as a crime to alienate a child from a parent, thus harming the child and violating the child´s legal and human right to close contact with both parents and accordingly the right to keep his or her identity.

If one parent over time has demonstrated a lack of insight into the fact that the child needs regular contact with both parents and his or her extended family this can endanger the child´s health and development. Accordingly custody shall then be given to the other parent.

There are such verdicts from different countries, including Sweden, and also from The European Court, see e.g. case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Both Sweden and Norway have also been criticized by this court for violations of the child´s right to family life (see e.g. Eriksson v. Sweden, Olsson v. Sweden,  Johansen v. Norway).

In conclusion: to unjustifiably separate and alienate a child from his/her parent, or parents, and from the child´s extended families, is to disrespect the child´s fundamental need of love/acceptance, and a violation of the child´s legal and human right to family life: to keep contact and not lose identity.

Based on the knowledge we have about the child´s most fundamental need and the child´s legal and human rights I have suggested (Hellblom Sjögren, 2013) a general definition of “the child´s best interest”:

The child´s best interest is to be well enough taken care of with love/acceptance, not to be abused, physically or mentally, and to have the right to grow up in close contact with both parents and their family network and thus have the right to keep his or her identity respected, and to be able to speak out his or her opinion on matters concerning him or her freely, without ever being pressured to choose between the parents.

Approximately 50 % of parents separate in Sweden and in Norway. This does not signify that the children involved are to be separated from one of their parents (von Boch-Galhau & Kodjoe, 2003). A good enough parent can, following what we know about the child´s fundamental need and the child´s legal and human right to family life, be defined as a parent who demonstrates that the child is allowed to love the other parent and to have a regular close contact with that parent, because that is what the child needs for the child´s own health and well-being.

In the complicated cases studied the contact for the child with one parent (or both as in some of the cases of compulsory care), was mostly totally broken. Two typical examples were identified among the 60 cases characterized by demonstrated implacable hostility from one parent towards the other.

 

Mother cases.

The child in these cases had been separated from their mother, because of false claims about the mother´s mental/psychological problems, “lack of care” (Killén, 1991) or lack of parental ability. The father, most often in the studied cases, had support from the social workers, and/or involved experts. The father and his ally claimed, without substantiated evidence, that the child needed to be protected from the mother. The child in these cases was sometimes in their father´s care, and sometimes taken into compulsory custody, placed in the father´s home.

In the cases in which the father had a new cohabitant/wife, or in the instances where the child was placed in a foster home, the better the child connected with the father´s new partner, or with the foster mother, the better it was according to the social workers; they felt satisfied that they had done the right thing when they separated the child from the mother and encouraged new bonding for the child with a new “mother”.

 

Father  cases.

The second typical example identified was that of a child being separated from the father by the child´s mother, most often in alliance with the social services, and sometimes with a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

The father in these cases was falsely described as controlling and dominating, and was alleged in many cases to have used domestic violence, or to have sexually abused the child (and often the mother too). The mother and the social workers and the experts involved wanted to protect the child from the father, and thus influenced the child to reject his or her father.

When the police and prosecutor had decided not to investigate the allegations of abuse and/or violence any further because the allegations could not be substantiated, the mother and her allies, in these cases, claimed that this did not mean that abuse/violence had not taken place. They argued that the child must still be protected – and that the father ought to only have visitation rights a few hours per month during the day time, and often they also requested these rare visits to be supervised.

 

Method Used to Investigate the Child´s Best Interest

When there is an ongoing custody conflict after separation, with feelings of hatred, revenge, prestige, constructions of the family´s history are easily made; the family history is rewritten, colored by the ongoing and often escalating conflict between the parental parts. The most reliable method to try to find out what has really happened to the child, as far as it is possible to, has been to try to make a reconstruction of the family´s life, without preconceived ideas, based on as many documents of all kinds, over as long time as possible, e.g. medical records, day care and school reports, correspondence of all kinds, investigations and/ or/interrogations made, social records.

Since the courts in Sweden after 1993 (when there had been controversies about what was called different schools of witness psychology) nearly overall stopped appointing psychologists, it can sometimes be difficult to get access to documents that have been produced during the child´s life. Usually, the parent whose lawyer asks for the investigation has the documents in her/his possession from the time the custody was still shared. The documents from different dates over time are systematically and chronologically analyzed using a source critical perspective. By analyzing the documentation over a long time a reconstruction can be made, as opposed to the rewritten family histories that can be seen as false constructions colored by one parent´s implacable hostility towards the other.

Events, statements, direct and indirect, decisions and measures taken can be used to paint a picture of the child´s passed relationship with his/her parents. Thus the reconstruction based on historical documents can be used to correct the constructions of the past made in these alienation cases where a delusional conception of the world dominates the child´s thinking; the world is seen as either black or white. White and good is everything connected with the parent the child lives with and who has taken control over the child. The parent from whom the child has been separated is described and perceived as black and evil, stupid, crazy or as having evil thoughts and intentions, often made into some kind of a “monster” (Warshak, 2010).

The most reliable source to be able to make a prognosis regarding what will be the child´s best interest in a lifespan perspective is what the child, according to reliable sources, has experienced so far over time (the reconstruction), that is to say what can be interpreted to be close to the historical truth as opposed to the different narrative truths that the parents have of their past characterized by – in these most severe cases – an ongoing war.

 

The Legal Systems in Sweden and in Norway

The decisions made by the courts and the social authorities were decisive in all 60 cases of parental alienation. Therefore, before presenting two of them, I shall give a very short summary about the legal and social welfare systems in Sweden and Norway.

There is no community-based services for information, education, advice and/or mediation for families going through difficulties, as the Family Relationship Centres that since 2006, have been developed in Australia (Parkinson, 2013). The social welfare systems in both countries have the, as we see it the incompatible, task to help/give advice/support, and to take children into forced custody, away from their parents – when they consider it appropriate.

Mediation is mandatory in Norway when couples with children separate, but not in Sweden. The option of mediation on a voluntary basis exists in Sweden, where the mediators mostly are social workers working in close cooperation with their colleagues.

To involve a child psychologist in the process is common in Norway, where also a surveillance system has been introduced as a measure to improve the quality of the investigations made by these psychologists who are appointed by the court.  These psychologists are, in most cases, working very closely with the social workers, on whose information they mostly rely. In Sweden the case responsible social worker can ask a psychologist or a psychiatrist to help investigate a child, but the social worker is not obliged to take notice of, or to forward to the court what this expert says.

There are no judges exclusively assigned to family cases in Norway or Sweden. The judges in the public courts with three levels handle both family cases and criminal cases. In family cases in Sweden the judges rely almost totally on the facts of trial presented by the social services. In Norway the judges in family cases mostly rely on the report made by the psychologist appointed by the court to make a report, and on the psychologist who is appointed as an expert judge in the court.

The social workers in Sweden, and the employed within the same authority in Norway, make decisions, investigate, take measures, evaluate their own decisions and actions, and also decide when to take children into forced custody or to report a parent to the police.

Many of these child care professionals have gone to courses about domestic violence and men´s sexual abuse against women and children, but not about mental abuse, suggestible questioning, standardized  methods,  normal variations in child development and about children´s basic needs, human memory, memory distortion, and human rights.

The social workers, and the experts the social workers appoint and consider worth referring to in Sweden, or the psychologists who are appointed by the court in Norway, are seen as impartial authority professionals with competence and relevant methods to investigate the child´s situation as well as the family system and the relations. The courts rely on the opinions given by these professionals in nearly 100% of the disputed family cases going to court. But sadly enough these professionals do not have standardized methods to make investigations and risk assessments. Therefore much of the work is arbitrary, often based on hearsay, with consequences for the decisions in court – and for the child´s future.

In 2006 the Swedish family law was changed, making cooperation problems the most essential argument for giving up the general idea of joint custody, which had been the rule since 1998, after a successful father´s campaign. Due to the alteration of the law in 2006, after a successful women´s campaign, sole custody is often given to one parent, mostly to the one arguing there are cooperation problems which are easy to create and/or claim (Singer, 2007-2008).

Nor in Sweden, or Norway, is there an acceptance for the empirically-based observations around the globe (Dum, 2013) that if a child is separated from a loved and loving parent, and influenced to reject that parent with no foundation, the child´s well-being is threatened (Kodjoe & von Boch-Galhau, 2006).

 

A mother case from Sweden: Olle has been separated from his mother since July 2006, when he was 9 years.

A conditional love has been demonstrated over time by the father in this case: I love/accept you if you reject your mother (as I do).

Olle[1] was born in 1997 and his parents separated when Olle was four years. They had shared custody with Olle staying one week with each of his parents. Olle has an older half-brother William, on Olle´s father´s side, whom the father won sole custody over (after having disparaged William´s mother). Their father met a new partner with several children and they moved in together. On his mother´s side Olle had close contact with his grandmother, and met regularly with uncles and cousins.

Olle complained over time to his mother that he was afraid of his older brother. When he was six years old, he had bruises or scratches from his week at his father´s when he came to his mother. After some time of displaying these injuries, along with Olle’s complaints, the mother took him to the local medical care center. In Olle´s medical record from that visit it was reported:

“Olle tells that he has been hurt by his brother William when he had been in his father´s home. Olle also tells that he usually wets his pants when he is at his father. Also, he now has had to give up his room to another child in the family and when he is at his father´s he has to sleep alone on a mattress in the cellar. He tells that William has the habit to pinch his  willie when he has clothes on, also that he grabs his bottom and willie when Olle sleeps in the cellar. Olle also says that his dad doesn´t listen when he tells but just gets angry.”

After this visit both the doctor and nurse reported concern for Olle´s well-being to the social services. The social services did not start an investigation, as they are obliged to, according to the Swedish law regulating social services. The doctor and nurse made an additional report about their preoccupation about Olle at his father´s, and the social services then initiated an investigation, resulting in their referring Olle to a child psychiatrist. This psychologist reported back to the social services and recommended that:

the father ought to control that Olle and William should not be together alone, as Olle had both confirmed and denied his earlier information about William´s sexual harassments towards him, such as pinching his penis.

When Olle was eight years old, and had been staying with a member of his extended paternal family he was physically harmed, cried and seemed terrified, according to his mother´s report when he came back to her from this stay. The mother called the police who instructed her to call the emergency clinic to have the damages documented. In the medical record, after Olle had been medically examined, it is written:

Mother arrives with son instructed to do so by the police to document a bruise on the inner side of the left thigh 13 x 4 cm. Olle complains now and then over pain when touched but does not today, by any means, want to show his genitalia”.

A criminal inspector made a report to the social services regarding concern about Olle´s situation. The social services decided “not to initiate an investigation.”

Later that year, after Olle had been with his father, Olle had a new injury. In the medical journal it says:

“Older brother hit Olle over his nose with his fist. Started bleeding from the nose. Also has had bleeding during the Monday night at his father´s./…/Cultivation showed growth of staphylococcus.”

The mother reacted to the fact that the father had not taken Olle to hospital after he had started bleeding and she made her second report of concern to the social services. No investigation was initiated until Olle´s mother complained to the authority responsible for supervising the social services.

In Olle´s social services record late that year it is reported:

“The father says he knows what Olle´s problem is: it is his mother´s repeated reporting of everything to the social services, to the police and to the surveillance authority for the social services.”

Two months after it was documented in Olle´s social record:

“We agree that the father shall accompany Olle to his mother after the handball match.”

One month later it was documented:

“One more step to make things better for Olle would be to allow Olle to sit in his room and be able to talk freely (with his mother). Agreed that in the future the father shall help with the home work Olle has (in his father weeks) and that the mother doesn´t have to help Olle with this too. ”

Olle´s loyalty conflict was clearly observed by the social workers, according to their notes made in Olle´s social record. Soon after a social worker documented her conversation with Olle´s father, demonstrating that a change in attitude in favor of the father had then occurred:

“Regarding the investigation the father says that the harm done to Olle´s nose, that initiated the investigation, happened when William was not at home. He further points out that the nose was not broken and that Olle has told his father that mother is happy if he says that William has done bad things to him. The father thinks that Olle has learnt what to say to make his mother happy.”

Later the father changed his statement about William not having been with Olle on the occasion when Olle´s nose was harmed. Other documents from this time illustrate that Olle was in a loyalty conflict and under great pressure. Here is from a recorded conversation Olle had with a colleague of his mother, later in that month:

“Dad said all I should say. And then I did that- He came to school, looked me in the eyes. Then I became afraid.”

The social workers decided to put Olle, his father, his half-brother William and the father´s new cohabitant and one of her youngest sons in an investigation home for six weeks, the purpose was said to be to investigate the parental ability .

Olle´s maternal grandmother, whom he was very attached to, died of cancer at this time. His father insisted that Olle should come immediately to him because it was “father´s week” for Olle and time to move to the investigation home according to the plan.

Olle´s father decided together with the staff at the investigation home that Olle was only allowed to stay on his grandmother´s funeral in church, and not allowed to stay with his mother and his extended family afterwards. When Olle´s mother came to take him to his grandma´s funeral as had been agreed upon, Olle repeatedly said ´don´t want to´ while crying, sitting on his mother´s lap. The mother took Olle with her. Olle´s mother was accused by one of the staff members for not having listened to Olle, then 9 years old, when he had cried that morning, and for having pressured Olle to go to his grandma´s funeral against his own will. This staff member reported Olle´s mother to the social services. Based on this the social services decided that Olle should only be allowed to be with his mother under constant supervision all the time they were not sleeping  from the day she would arrive to stay with Olle at the investigation home. This was formally said to be a stay for six weeks to investigate also the mother´s parental ability, but one staff member called her before her arrival and said they had found out that she was the problem. The mother did not accept any of the restrictions written down in a contract the social services tried to make her sign before her arrival to the investigation home in the middle of July 2006.

On the fourth day of Olle´s mother´s stay Olle wanted to go swimming with his mother, as they had done the two days before. A very experienced social worker, who had accompanied them when they went swimming, and also for the rest of the mother´s first days with Olle at  the investigation home, told in court, on three different court sessions, about the loving and good relationship between Olle and his mother. Her testimony though was not documented in the verdicts, and not taken any notice of. The fourth day this social worker was off from work. Olle and his mother were not allowed to go swimming that day as there was no other staff member that could accompany them

When the mother and Olle still wanted to go swimming the young extra staff in charge took Olle away from his mother into an office and closed the door, they wrote in their report:

“Olle is afraid that he will not see his mother anymore. The staff tries to calm Olle and make him safe by telling him that his mother will not disappear and that he will see her again.”

Olle, during his six weeks with his father and his new family at the investigation home had, according to what was documented, repeatedly said he did not want to lose his mother, and that he wanted to have both his parents. The staff packed Olle´s mother´s things and kept Olle in their office. Olle´s mother left the investigation home, waiting for a call from the division leader, a conversation that she had requested as she wanted to find out why they were not allowed to go swimming.

However while she waited for that, an  extra assigned division leader who was in charge didn´t call but informed by voice message that she and the political leader for the social services had decided to take Olle into compulsory custody, and place Olle in his father´s and his cohabitant´s home. It was argued in a document presented the next day, signed by the same division leader, who had never met with Olle and his mother, and had hearsay information:

“Olle lives in a very difficult situation where he is expected to say bad things about his father and his new family in order to stop his mother pressuring him. With the knowledge I have about the mother´s view on Olle´s father and his new cohabitant I judge Olle to be in need of protection by the law to be able to be placed with his father.”

The arguments put forward for forced custody by the division leader was not in accordance with the law regulating forced custody in Sweden.

The decision made by the social services to take Olle into compulsory care with immediate residence in his father´s home, was made invalid by the administrative court of appeal only a little more than two weeks later. At the time of the verdict from that court it was “mother´s week” for Olle. Despite that Olle was not allowed by his father to return to his mother, or even to talk to her on the phone. The father called the court´s decision a mistake, and Olle was kept by his father in his father´s home, with the support from the social services and his lawyer.

The father and the social services gave their picture of Olle´s mother to the principal in Olle´s school. The principal decided that Olle should not start school with his classmates, but instead stay in his father´s home, until after the preparatory court session. This was based on Olle´s father´s demand (sent to court the day after Olle was taken into compulsory care and placed in his father´s home) to have sole custody of Olle, The preliminary court decision was not sole custody, as the father, his lawyer and the social workers, had worked for intensely, but continued shared custody, and residence for Olle with his father and regular contact without supervision for Olle with his mother. But Olle was not allowed to have any contact with his mother, his loved dog, his old mates or his extended family.

The school principal, after a meeting with Olle´s father, decided that Olle´s mother should not be allowed to visit Olle´s school. The father´s lawyer wrote in a fax to a judge in the district court in later that year:

”Evidently it would have been more clear what counts if the decision on shared custody had been combined with a decision about supervised visits. No matter how many times the mother calls she will not be allowed to speak with Olle.”

Supervised visits with the mother were immediately decided by this new judge without any communication with Olle´s mother. She didn´t have a lawyer at the time, and had tried for herself to get help from the district court to establish contact with her son without getting any response to the fact that the father was not fulfilling his lawful obligations. The father was given sole custody by the end of the year by the same judge who had decided in accordance with the father´s lawyer´s request to allow only restricted visitations supervised by the social services.

The mother´s complaint didn´t change anything in the appeal court nearly a year later. The Supreme Court after her appeal to this instance decided there was no reason to try the case.

In spring 2008, the mother sued the father for shared custody, as Olle had still not been allowed any contact at all with her. A third district court judge instructed Olle´s father in May to arrange for Olle to meet with his mother during the summer twice a week – without supervision. The father then went abroad with Olle. After their return, a fourth judge from the district court, decided in accordance with what the father repeatedly kept saying was Olle´s own will: not to have any contact with his mother. A new social worker in charge, who had  written a book about his own hatred towards his mother, agreed  with Olle´s father that it is not possible to force a child to see his/her mother against the child´s own will. The case was closed by this new social worker.

In the verdict from the local court in early spring 2009 sole custody was again given to the father, by a new fifth judge. She came from the Land and Environmental court and did not allow most of the witnesses the mother had indicated, among them two professionals who had been asked to witness about  parental alienation (one of them the author). The third expert witness asked to witness by the mother´s lawyer, a professor in international law, who had written an extensive legal statement after having thoroughly investigated  the legal faults made in Olle´s case (Lysén, 2008), was also refused as a witness by this judge, as was also his written statement. Formally Sweden has allowed free testimony since 1948, with very restricted rules when a testimony can be refused, and has a constitutional law saying that all decisions and actions taken by authorities shall be impartial and based on matter of facts. In the verdict from 2009 it was stated (violating these rules and standards):

”The mother has argued that the father puts Olle under strong pressure to make him reject her, so called Parental Alienation Syndrome, PAS.  The district court does not see that any information at all has emerged to verify this argument or that the father in any other way is unsuitable to have sole custody. On the contrary the district court sees that the investigations made by the social services, investigations the district court finds no reason to question, that the mother has great deficiencies to listen to Olle and to respect his feelings and his views and that Olle through her behavior is at risk for maltreatment. …The district court can only hope, for the best of the mother and her son, that the mother has an ability to accept the judgments made by the social services and the court, so that she can put her own interests aside and instead try to understand and respect her son´s feelings and say yes to the support and the help she can need to reestablish their relation… This is about the boy´s right to his mother and not about the mother´s right to her son.”

Since Olle was separated from his mother eight years have passed without any contact at all between Olle and his mother. Nor has any contact been allowed for Olle with his loved dog, now dead, that he lost the same day that he lost his mother. All the cards and presents his mother has tried to forward to Olle have not been received by him. Olle has been assured by his father that his mother doesn´t love him. This Olle told a friend and his sister gave the information to Olle´s mother.

Olle´s older half-brother William was in 2011 sentenced for the same kind of fatal threats and the kind of punches towards the head that he had done to Olle at the time for the mother´s reports to the social services. Several more reports of concern for Olle´s well-being have been made after that to the social services, but the social services have chosen not to make any new investigations of Olle´s situation. The social services have over the years since the day of the separation of Olle from his mother claimed that Olle is well, and doesn´t want to have any contact with his mother, as Olle´s father has told them is Olle´s own will.

After protests from the mother, about not having had any information at all from the school as is her lawful right about Olle´s school work, she had some information after six years. From this it can be stated that Olle is not at all well: his grades were catastrophically low, he was in December 2012 reported to be absent from most of the lessons in sports due to injuries and lack of appropriate clothing. He has given up all his sports, and old friends. Olle himself has expressed hatred and total rejection of his mother.

A social worker interviewed Olle in 2011 to find out his point of view. She wrote in her report that Olle had been pressured by his mother all his life to say that his father had hit him. She also wrote that Olle could not understand how anyone could do such an evil thing as his mother had done: to force him as a child to lie about his father. The social worker stated that Olle never wants to have any contact with his mother, and concluded: of course Olle´s own will must be respected.

Nor Olle or his mother have ever said that it was the father who hit Olle. This proves that Olle´s life history has been rewritten, a construction, not based on the documented historical facts, has been made. Olle has incorporated the false belief that his mother is an evil person. Olle has been, and still is, forced to live in a delusional world with the false memories he has acquired.

 

A father case from Norway – Trond has been totally separated from his father since April 2010, when he was 12 years old

A conditional love over time has in this case been demonstrated by the mother: I love you if you reject your father (the way I do).

Trond, whose name has been changed as have all identities, was born in the beginning of 1998. His sister Marit was born five years earlier. Their parents had separated in 2001. After separation the children stayed with their mother as the parents had agreed, and the father came in the weekends to stay with them. Later the mother stopped the father from seeing the children.

Trond was 4, and Marit was nearly 9 years old, when their mother for the first time claimed that the children´s will was not to see their father. In a verdict after the separation of Trond the mother´s view of the history was referred:

“The background for the refusal to allow contact was that the children, according to the mother, didn´t want to see their father and had reacted negatively before, during and after contact with him.”

In spring 2002 the father sued the mother for visitation rights with both children, as the mother had stopped the children from seeing him. He was granted this by a court decision, without compliance by the mother. The father then sued her for sole custody so that the children could have contact with both parents. The court decided in the autumn that year to give daily care to the father and to give the mother wide visitation rights.

The mother appealed and a year later the higher court gave the mother daily care, while the father got wide visitation rights.

Two years later problems arose with the father´s visitation rights. A lower court decided that the mother had to pay a fine every time she refused to let the children meet their father. The mother complained to a higher court, which in 2006 lowered the amount for the mother to pay.

Later the same year, the father sued the mother to have a change in visitation rights, and later also to have the son´s residence changed. According to a court agreement the following year Trond, then 10 years old, should have his residence with his father, and at the same time the mother should have 50% visitation rights. This living in turn did function for some time.

Marit then had for a long time, and encouraged by her mother, refused to have any contact with her father. Complications arose, as Marit found out that it was the mother who had influenced her to perceive her father only in black and to reject him. It was one of the psychologists Marit had been taken to by her mother who had asked Marit: “is really everything about your father bad?” This question had made Marit wake up from the delusional black- and white-thinking and to start thinking for herself. Marit, then 14 years old, declared that she wanted to move from her mother´s home to her father´s.  One year later Marit moved to her father´s parents in the northern part of Norway.  When Marit had moved in with her father, the mother decided that she didn´t want to have any further contact with her. Thus the mother sadly enough proved that her love for Marit was conditional.

The mother at this time claimed that the 50-50 living was bad for Trond. The mother started taking Trond to several different doctors and psychologists to get support for her idea that the father was not good enough for Trond to live with.

The father moved to the north where the daughter had moved, and brought Trond with him, without having agreed on that with the children´s mother, and without having prepared Trond. The father had said to Trond that they were going to visit his sister and his grand-parents. On the boat along the coast up to the north the father explained to Trond that he would start school there and live there.

Trond communicated with his mother and old friends by mail; he seemed to like his new school, he liked skiing, he liked his old friend living nearby, and he liked to be with his sister and the extended family. The father offered to pay for the mother to travel to meet with Trond in the town where he stayed, but the mother refused. She wanted Trond to come to her home.  In spring 2010 a psychologist met with Trond to find out what Trond wanted. At that time Trond expressed that he wanted his parents to have shared custody, and that he wanted to live with them both in turns as before in the town where he had been brought up.

The mother demanded from a lower court to decide that Trond should have his permanent residence with her. A lower court before Christmas did not decide in accordance with the mother´s demand. The mother appealed. In spring 2010 the higher court decided according to the mother´s demand. The father sent a complaint about this decision and at the same time he asked that the decision by the lower court should prevail until a final decision had been made. The higher court decided not to agree to this. The mother demanded to have a forceful application of this decision.

Trond was taken by police to his mother shortly after this, without any preparation for Trond to say goodbye to his famliy or his class mates and friends. His sister Marit told in her testimony in a new court session two years later that Trond had cried when the police came, and had said that he didn´t want to leave his father. There has been no contact between Trond and his father since this occurred.

Only 17 days after Trond had been brought to his mother by the police Trond was taken to a doctor by his mother. This doctor wrote in Trond´s medical record:

“Comes with mother…Doesn´t wear his mobile, is afraid father shall find him. He doesn´t want to go to the north again, nor does he want to call his father or anyone else in the family there. Doesn´t want to see his father.”

Two months later the mother´s lawyer demanded that

“there shall be no contact at all between Trond and father until court session”

After some weeks with his mother, isolated from all contact with his father, Trond´s rejection of his father was total, as was the mother´s rejection of her former husband, the children´s father. The mother´s influence on Trond, and Trond´s loyalty towards his mother and rejection of his father, was documented in the report given by the psychologist, when she reported about what Trond had told her:

“There is nothing regarding mother that is bad, he doesn´t want to have visits with his father, and he will not miss father. They never do anything fun together. Father gives him little attention. Father is often angry as he raises his voice.

He didn´t find anything positive with his stay in the north, with the exception of Marit. He is afraid of father, as he is afraid that he will turn up and take him again.

He wants to have peace, he doesn´t want his father to call. Regardless of organization of visitation, he will refuse. As he doesn´t want to meet his father.

And he doesn´t think that father acts as if he loved him.

He doesn´t want to speak with father on the phone or by e-mail.”

When the same psychologist met with Trond later, eight months after her first meeting with him, she reported:

“When asked if there is something special that he wished me to report to the judge, he answers: ´I don´t want father to be permitted to have any contact at all with me because then it is not allowed to call me and to ring the bell. And then we can in the next court proceeding report that he has called then and then.´”

Trond said that “ then we can report him”. This demonstrates that Trond had totally incorporated his mother´s view on his father, and had allied with his mother: they were a “we” fighting against his father. The court appointed psychologist further reported:

“ Nor Trond or mother has opened the door or answered the phone when father has been outside…

He says he doesn´t want to know anything about father. I don´t love him at all. Leave me in peace. Trond repeats that he has never liked to be with father and that he never has had a good time with him…it would have been great to have  two parents and to have had another father from the start…He also says that father never has been good, always has bad-mouthed mother…

Trond says father grabbed his arm when he was little and had been arguing. Sometimes Trond had forced him to play x-box but father only wanted to return to his computer. Father didn´t speak with Trond. Father was not a good listener…”

The court appointed psychologist asks if it would be easier for Trond to be with his father if his mother would think it was ok. He answers: “No, it is me who do not want be with him, independently of what she thinks.” This has repeatedly been empirically observed as a typical response for a child who has been influenced to reject a parent, as is the use of so called borrowed scenarios, and the rejection of the rejected parent´s extended family (Boch-Galhau, 2012; Gardner, 2001). The mother had reported the father to the police for having “kidnapped” Trond when he took him to the north to stay with him, his sister and paternal grandparents. Trond told the psychologist it would be “traumatic” for him to be forced to move from where he stayed, as when father “kidnapped” him to the north.  Trond rejected not only his father but everyone connected with his father. His uncle´s gift was returned by Trond to the store that had delivered the gift. The psychologist wrote:

“The same uncle also came to school one day and Trond hid. Trond has felt the same when the uncle turned up as when father has turned up – he has become afraid and sad…When asked if there is anyone else in father´s family that he can think of  being in contact with, he says no, because father has had all his family behind him.”

The mother, having won sole custody, decided to move with Trond to another country in Europe in summer 2011. They stayed there one year. In a verdict from the time they had returned it says:

“For different reasons Trond has chosen to step aside of the adults´ conflict by just relating to one of the parents. He has found an independent platform to handle the conflict between his parents.”

A separation of a child from a parent, cannot be seen as a result of a conflict between the parents. Since Trond was twelve years old it has been claimed by his mother, some experts and two courts, that it is Trond´s own will not to have any contact with his father. In a decision from a higher court in 2012 it was stated that this was Trond´s own will:

“The expert appointed by the lower court expressed that Trond´s wish not to have any contact with his father has become an integrated part of him, and  to neglect Trond´s wish could strengthen Trond´s antipathy for his father. In the written statement by the expert it is stated that independent of causes, it is important to take Trond´s experiences and wishes seriously as he is the age he is… Trond´s opinion regarding contact with his father implies that visitation is not possible. It is for this court not at all an issue to consider forcing Trond to meet with his father.”

Two years after Trond had been taken by the police to his mother, his sister Marit came to visit him. The mother wrote in an email to Marit after the visit:

“Once and for all, it is so that [name of the father] does not have access to Trond, but you have.”

That same year the court stated:

“Trond is of a very vulnerable age. When Trond, over time, gets peace and the conflict between the adults possibly will weaken when the adults not any longer have so much to disagree on, it might be easier for Trond to reconnect with his father. It is the opinion of this higher court that an arrangement where Trond continues to stay permanently with his mother is the best solution regarding Trond´s situation today, and at the same time it gives the best foundation for contact between Trond and his father later.”

This, the author would say, is wishful thinking of adults against what is known about the child´s fundamental need of close contact with both parents for the child´s own well-being. It also violates the child´s legal and human right to family life, and to keep his identity. The court in their verdict ruled out the possible existence, in this instance, as a case of parental alienation (that the author had given expert witness about) without giving any arguments for this ruling.

 

Summary

When parents separate they mostly do not want to have close contact any longer. The children, however, want, need and have a legal and a human right to have close regular contact with both parents. In severe custody conflicts, as the two authentic cases presented, an implacable hostility develops, often combined with unfounded accusations making it, in the eyes of the accuser, legitimate for him/her to, not to kill physically, but to psychologically kill the other parent, and to extinguish that parent from the child´s life. The child in such cases becomes totally dependent on one parent. That parent – it can in cases of unfounded compulsory custody also be the social services – wants to have total control over the child, thus cutting off the child from the other parent (or both parents) and also from everything connected with her/him.

When the social services and the courts in the existing adversarial system in Sweden and Norway do not understand the stressful pressure the children are suffering, influenced as they are to reject a former loved parent, made dangerous (Hellblom Sjögren, 2001) but think that it is their own will not to have any contact with that parent, they contribute to the harm done to the child, also including the “identity issue” (Finkelstein, 2003).

A courtroom is not the right place to decide about a child´s contact with the child´s parents. But it is the system we still have in Sweden and in Norway.

The best thing would be to try to prevent situations like the ones Olle and Trond have been put into, situations where the children are put in a situation where they have to reject one parent not to lose the other parent´s love/acceptance, a process where they acquire false memories as their life history is remade: one parent becomes all good and one all bad.  Standardized questionnaires based on PAR theory can, we hope, ameliorate practice.

Five general questions were analyzed in these two and the other identified cases of parental alienation:

  1. Had efforts been made to help the child have a close and good contact with both parents?
  2. Had the risks for the child to be abused, unlawfully abducted or kept (nationally and internationally) or otherwise be maltreated, been investigated according to what is required by law, that is impartially and in a matter of-fact way?
  3. Had the child´s right to family life been respected?
  4. Had the child´s right to keep his/her identity been respected?
  5. 5. Had the child had the opportunity to freely speak his/her meaning (article 12 in the UN convention on The Rights of the Child)?

The answers found was: no to all five questions. In conclusion: the fundamental need of the child to have love/acceptance from both their parents and their extended families, and the child´s legal and human right to have contact with both parents, have been violated.

The child´s fundamental need of the parents love/acceptance and the child´s legal and human right to family life and to keep identity for the sake of the child´s own well-being, is not yet accepted as a self-evident and needed knowledge among professionals who are employed in social services and in child care agencies, nor among legal professionals or psychologists and/or psychiatrists in Sweden and Norway. The knowledge about the harm done to children in severe parental alienation cases is considered to be controversial and is, until now, unknown and/or opposed by the vast majority of professionals within the legal and the child protection systems.

A reconciliation regarding the controversies on parental alienation would be needed to prevent more children from being harmed by the exclusion of love/acceptance from one parent, so fundamental for the child´s well-being and healthy development.

 

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[1] All names have been changed to protect the identity of the persons mentioned

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