Dr. Michelle Golland: A Nassau County Supreme Court justice has sentenced a mother to six weekends in jail for civil contempt. Per the judge, the guilty mom -- Lauren Lippe -- engaged in a pattern of "alienating" behavior wherein she made false allegations of sexual abuse against her children's father, Ted Rubin -- allegations that were calculated to interfere with her ex-husband's scheduled time and relationship with their children.
"The extensive record is replete with instances of attempts to undermine the relationship between the children and their father and replace him with her new husband," Justice Robert Ross stated in his ruling. "[These instances included] manipulation of the defendant's parenting access, utter and unfettered vilification of the defendant to the children, false reporting of sexual misconduct without any semblance of 'good faith,' and her imposition upon the children to fear her tirades and punishment if they embrace the relationship they want to have with their father."
"Parental alienation" is the practice of mentally manipulating or bullying your own children with the express goal of damaging their relationship with their other parent. Both parental alienation and its related practice, "hostile aggressive parenting," deprive children of the stable and loving relationships they need when coping with divorce (and life in general).
Children who are emotionally bullied by one parent in order to hurt the other can develop a severe opposition to contact with and/or overt hatred for the target parent. Often, there seems to be no logical reason for the children's behavior.
During the crisis of divorce, it is key to keep the peace between the parents so the children don't feel like they're in the middle of the conflict. Let's face it: The couple is divorcing each other, but they should not be divorcing their children. Healthy, reasonable parents want their children to feel emotionally safe with both parents; they desire to strengthen their children's bonds with both parents even through the divorce. Healthy parents encourage visits with their exes, never talk negatively about them in the presence of their children and honestly try to set aside their own hostile feelings in order to help their children feel less distress. Healthy parents are sensitive to their children's feelings and needs, and encourage positive feelings toward their exes because they know that's paramount to their kids' well-being now and in the future.
Alienating parents, on the other hand, may seek emotional comfort from their children and attempt to validate their pain and anger against their ex-spouses by trying to get their children to align with them and them alone. They speak negatively of their exes and subtly communicate their anger in front of the children. Alienating parents often manipulate and use their children to hurt their exes on purpose -- and with a vengeance. They may tell their children that their other parent doesn't love them or doesn't want to see them. They may destroy or hide communication from the other parent. They may give in to their children's desire to avoid the parent, actually encouraging such behavior instead of encouraging their children to have a healthy relationship with their ex.
Signs of Parental Alienation
- Children perceive one parent as causing financial problems for the other parent.
- Children have knowledge of the divorce details or legal procedures.
- Children show a sudden hostile, negative change in attitude toward target parent.
- Children are not delivered for court-ordered visitation and/or are not allowed to "choose" to visit the target parent.
- False allegations of abuse are made against the target parent.
- Children are asked to choose one parent over the other.
- Anger and negativity toward target parent is reinforced.
- Children are given the impression that if they have a good time with the target parent during a visit, it will hurt them.
- Children are asked about the target parent's personal life.
- Children are "rescued" from the target parent when there is no danger.
In regards to parental alienation, the judge in the New York
decision stated, "... Interference with the non-custodial parent and child's relationship is an act so inconsistent with the best interests of a child, as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as a custodial parent."
Judge Ross found Lauren Lippe
in civil contempt of court and ordered her to spend every other weekend in the Nassau County
Correctional Facility during June, July and August. My hope is that during this time, she receives psychotherapy and education regarding the pain and damage she has inflicted upon her children.
What can we learn from this horrible situation? We can learn that it took years of inappropriate conduct on the part of the mother, $165,000 in attorneys' fees and an unquantifiable amount of damage to the relationship between her ex and his children before the court would punish this type of behavior.
The father is now going to be asking for full custody of his children; however, the psychological damage done to the kids in this case may make it impossible for them to ever bond with their father -- which is the biggest tragedy in this case. Only time away from their mother's influence will make the idea of a healthy relationship with their father possible.
It's important to recognize the negative emotional consequences of parental alienation on children in high-conflict divorce, and that's why I advocate for divorce therapy for all of my divorcing clients who have children. My goal is to avoid this type of harmful behavior and educate my clients about ways to create a peaceful and less stressful experience for their mutual children.