CHILDREN RESISTING POSTSEPARATION CONTACT WITH A PARENT: CONCEPTS, CONTROVERSIES, AND CONUNDRUMS

Authors


drbarbarafidler@sympatico.ca

Abstract

This article provides an overview of the key concepts, themes, issues, and possible mental health and legal interventions related to children's postseparation resistance to having contact with one parent. We maintain that the too often strongly gendered polemic on alienation and abuse is polarizing and needs to be replaced with a more nuanced and balanced discussion that recognizes the complexity of the issues so that the needs of children and families can be better met. This article reviews the historical development of the concept of alienation; discusses the causes, dynamics, and differentiation of various types of parent child contact problems; and summarizes the literature on the impact of alienation on children. These are complex cases. A significant portion of the cases in which alienation is alleged are not in fact alienation cases; for those where alienation is present, interventions will vary depending on the degree of the alienation. More severe alienation cases are unlikely to be responsive to therapeutic or psycho-educational interventions in the absence of either a temporary interruption of contact between the child and the alienating parent or a more permanent custody reversal. We conclude with a summary of recommendations for practice and policy, including the need for early identification and intervention to prevent the development of severe cases, interdisciplinary collaboration and further development and research of interventions.

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