Children of divorce are often forced to choose between mom and dad
By Melanie Thompson, EXAMINER STAFF - June 24, 2009
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The names in this story have been changed in order to protect “Jenny.”)
Ben no longer sees his daughter. He has lost all contact. A separation from his spouse forced their daughter to choose one parent over the other.
Jenny chose her mother.
Ben always had a normal father-daughter relationship with Jenny. After the separation, Jenny remained with her mother but Ben maintained a regular bi-weekly visitation schedule as agreed to by himself and his ex-spouse.
Things were going well. But soon he began to notice changes in Jenny.
HASN’T GIVEN UP HOPE
Now, seven years after the separation, she doesn’t want him near. She doesn’t want to go to his home for visits. She doesn’t want his birthday gifts.
Ben has almost given up all hope for a relationship with his daughter.
Jenny is caught in the middle of a case of parental alienation, which commonly occurs among divorced families.
This condition is described by the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization (PAAO) as a group of verbal and non-verbal behaviours by one or both parents that are damaging to children’s mental and emotional well being. Children are manipulated or brainwashed into choosing one parent over the other.
Often, one or both parents will badmouth the other, refuse visitation, and lie, among other aggressive behaviours, which alienates the children and forces them into an unhealthy position of having to choose.
Ben says that is exactly what happened between himself, his ex-spouse and child.
“Her mother re-wrote her history,” Ben says. “Our daughter thinks that I just came into her life in Grade 2, although I’ve been in her life since the day she was born.”
The separation occurred when Jenny was eight years old. Ben and his daughter were closer than ever. But Ben says the bi-weekly visitations began to fall apart when his ex-spouse began to alienate Jenny from him by refusing to allow his visitations.
Lawyers and the court system became involved. A custody battle ensued.
A child psychiatrist was hired to assess Jenny when claims were made by his ex-spouse that Jenny was traumatized and afraid of Ben.
Ben remembered a suggestion his lawyer had made to take videos and photos of his time spent with his daughter to prove they do indeed have a normal relationship.
“I put a video camera up on a shelf at my mother’s…,” Ben says. “It was directed at the couch, and on the video camera it shows Jenny (and I). We come in the door, and she’s laughing and giggling and chasing me with a water pistol. It shows us watching a movie.”
Ben provided this video as evidence. The judge ruled in his favour and ordered that his ex-spouse receive counselling.
Ben says she did not follow the court order, and things have gotten worse since his case was passed on to a new judge.
“I thought, with court orders, people are going to be held accountable for their actions,” says a clearly-frustrated Ben. “But when it came to that, (the judge) just said to her lawyer, ‘Your client simply refused to go.'’ He didn't do anything.”
“I thought all judges were trained in this. That doesn’t appear to be the case.”
Ben hasn’t seen his daughter for almost a year and is awaiting another chance in court to fight for his right to see her.
“They say wait, your child will figure it out when they grow up. But what about all the time in between? All that time is lost.”
Most people aren’t aware of parental alienation until they experience it first-hand. But Ben hopes that by telling his story, more people will recognize parental alienation as a form of child abuse, and maybe other parents won’t have to fight so hard to simply be with their children.
For more information about parental alienation, visit http://www.paawareness.org.