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Louisiana 10.14.2022

Alienation is just one
piece of the puzzle:
Understanding and responding
 to the needs of
the polarized child

(c) Benjamin D. Garber, Ph.D.

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Mending Fences

Keeping Kids Out of the Middle

Developmental Psychology For Family Law

Holding Tight/Letting Go

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Select citations:


Amato, P. R., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2001). The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well-being. American Sociological Review, 66, 900–921.

Amato, P. R., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2004). The effects of divorce on fathers and children. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (pp. 341–367). New York, NY: Wiley.

Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. (2006). Model standards of practice for custody evaluation. Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. 

Baker, A.J. (2018). Reliability and Validity of the Four-Factor Model of Parental Alienation, 42 J. FAM. THERAPY 100.

Baumrind , D. H. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11, 56-95.

Baumrind, D. H. (2013). Is a pejorative view of power assertion in the socialization process justified? Review of General Psychology, 17(4), 420-427.

Boyas, J., & Wind, L. H. (2010). Employment-based social capital, job stress, and employee burnout: A public child welfare employee structural model. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(3), 380-388.

Boyd-Franklin, N. (1989). Black families in therapy: A multisystems approach. New York: Guilford Press

Burnett, G., Jones, R. A., Bliwise, N. G., & Ross, L. T. (2006). Family unpredictability, parental alcoholism, and the development of parentification. American Journal of Family Therapy, 34, 181-189.

Burton, Linda (2007). Childhood adultification in economically disadvantaged families: A conceptual model. Family Relations, 56, 329-345

Chess S, Thomas A. Goodness of fit: Clinical applications for infancy through adult life. Philadelphia, PA: Bruner/Mazel; 1999

Chess S, Thomas A. Origins and evolution of behavior disorders. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1984

Drozd, L. M., & Olesen, N. W. (2004). Is it abuse, alienation, and/or estrangement? A decision tree. Journal of Child Custody, 1(3), 65–106

Duryea, M. M. (2007). Mothers with chronic physical illness and the parentification of their children. Retrieved 12.21.2009 from https://repository.unm.edu/dspace/bitstream/1928/3608/1/Duryea_Dissertation.pdf

Fitzgerald, Monica M.; Schneider, Renee A.; Salstrom, Seoka; Zinzow, Heidi M.; Jackson, Joan & Fossel, Rebecca V. (2008). Child sexual abuse, early family risk, and childhood parentification: Pathways to current psychosocial adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(2), 320-324.

Flouri, E. (2005). Fathering & child outcomes. West Sussex, England: John Wiley.

Garber, B.D. (1996, March). Alternatives to parental alienation: Acknowledging the broader scope of children's emotional difficulties during parental separation and divorce. New Hampshire Bar Journal, 51-54.

Garber, B.D. (2009). Developmental psychology for family law professionals. New York: Springer

Garber, B.D. (2011). Parental alienation and the dynamics of the enmeshed parent–child dyad: Adultification, parentification, and infantilization. Family Court Review, 49(2), 322-335.

Garber, B.D. (2014). The chameleon child: Children as actors in the high conflict divorce drama. Journal of Child Custody, 11, 1-16.

Garber, B.D. (2016). Holding Tight/Letting Go: Raising Healthy Kids in Anxious Times. Unhooked Media.

Garber, B.D. (2019). For the love of Fluffy: Respecting, protecting, and empowering transitional objects in the context of high conflict divorce. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 60:7, 552-565.

Garber, B.D. (2019). Sherlock Holmes and the case of resist/refuse dynamics: Confirmatory bias and abductive inference in family law. Family Court Review, 58 (2), 386-402

Garber, B.D. (2021). The Dynamics of the Enmeshed Family System Ten Years Later: Family Court and Contemporary Understanding of Adultification, Parentification, and Infantilization. Journal of the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers, 34, 97-120

Garber, B.D. and Prescott, D.E. (2020). On the value of Teddy bears and Barbie dolls: The place of children's transitional objects in family law. Southwestern Law Review, 49.

Garber, B.D., Prescott, D., and Mulchay, C. (2022). The family law professional's field guide to high conflict litigation: Dynamics, not diagnoses. American Bar Association.

Garber, B.D., Simon, R.A., (2018). Individual Adult Psychometric Testing and Child Custody Evaluations: If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Wear It, JAAML, Vol. 30, No. 2.

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Gould , J. W. Martindale , D. A. (2007). The art and science of

child custody evaluations. New York: Wiley, p. 87

Grollman, E.A. & Sweder, G. (1986). The working parent dilemma. Boston: Beacon.

Jacobvitz, D., Riggs, S., & Johnson, E. (1999). Cross-sex and same-sex family alliances: Immediate and long-term effects on sons and daughters. In N. D. Chase (Ed.), Burdened children: Theory, research, and treatment of parentification  (pp. 34–55). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jordana v. Corley, 220 N.W.2d 515, North Dakota, 1974

Jurkovic, G. (1997). Lost childhood: The plight of the parentified child. New York: Brunner/Mazel, p. xiv

Kassin, S. M., Dror, I. E., & Kukucka, J. (2013). The forensic confirmation bias: Problems, perspectives, and proposed solutions. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 2(1), 42-52.

Kelly , J. B. and Johnston , J. R. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3), p. 250

Kinscherff, R., & Ayoub, C. C. (2000). Legal aspects of Munchausen by proxy. In R. M. Reece (ed.), Treatment of child abuse. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Klein J. G. (2005). Five pitfalls in decisions about diagnosis and prescribing. British Medical Journal (Clinical research ed.), 330(7494), 781-3

Lindahl, Mary W. (2009). Beyond Munchausen by Proxy: A Proposed Conceptualization for Cases of Recurring, Unsubstantiated Sexual Abuse Allegations. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 18(2), 206-220.

Lorandos, D. & Bernet, W. (2020). Parental Alienation – Science and Law.

Ludolph, P. S., & Bow, J. N. (2012). Complex alienation dynamics and very young children. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practices, 9(3), p. 173

McMahon, T. J., & Luthar, S. S. (2007). Defining characteristics and potential consequences of caretaking burden among children living in poverty. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77, 267-281.

Miller, S. G. (2013). Clinical reasoning and decision-making in cases of child alignment: Diagnostic and therapeutic issues. In A. J. L. Baker & S. R. Sauber (Eds.), Working with alienated children and families: A clinical guidebook (pp. 8-46). New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group

Oznobishin, Olga and Kurman, Jenny (2009). Parent–child role reversal and psychological adjustment among immigrant youth in Israel. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(3), 405-415.

Peris, T. S., & Emery, R. E. (2005). Redefining the parent-child relationship following divorce: Examining the risk for boundary dissolution. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5(4), 169-189.

Peris, T.S.; Goeke-Morey, M.C.; Cummings, E.M. & Emery, R.E. (2008). Marital conflict and support seeking by parents in adolescence: Empirical support for the parentification construct. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(4), 633-642.

Pickar, D. B. (2007). On being a child custody evaluator: Professional and personal challenges, risks, and rewards. Family Court Review, 45(1), 103-115.

Polak, S., & Saini, M. (2015). Children resisting contact with a parent postseparation: Assessing this phenomenon using an ecological systems framework. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 56(3), 220–247.

Puig, M. E. (2002). The adultification of refugee children: Implications for cross-cultural social work practice. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 5, 85-95.

Rappaport, S.R., Gould, J.W., Dale, M.D., Psychological Testing Can Be of Significant Value in Child Custody Evaluations: Don’t Buy the “Anti-Testing, Anti-Individual, Pro-Family Systems” Woozle, 30 JAAMLNo. 2 (2018).

Saunders, D. G., Faller, K. C., & Tolman, R. M. (2016). Beliefs and recommendations regarding child custody and visitation in cases involving domestic violence: A comparison of professionals in different roles. Violence Against Women, 22(6), 722-744

Smart, C. (2002). From children’s shoes to children’s voices. Family Court Review, 40, 297-306.

Stephens, D. L. (1999). Battered women's views of their children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 731-746.

The State v. Michaels (642 A.2d 1372, N.J. 1994)

Tompkins, T. L. (2007). Parentification and maternal HIV infection: Beneficial role or pathological burden? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16, 113-125.

Valleau, P. M., Raymond, M. B., & Horton, C. B. (1995). Parentification and caretaker syndrome:  An empirical investigation. Family Therapy, 22, 157–164.

Walsh, S., Shulman, S., Bar-On, Z., & Tsur, A. (2006). The role of parentification and family climate in adaptation among immigrant adolescents in Israel. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16, 321–350..

Warshak, R. A. (2020). When evaluators get it wrong: False positive IDs and parental alienation. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 26(1), 54–68.

Wells, M., Glickauf-Hughes, C., & Jones, R. 1999. Codependency: A grass roots construct's relationship to shame-proneness, low self-esteem, and childhood parentification. American Journal of Family Therapy, 27: 63-71.

Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The adverse influence of permissive parenting on personal growth and the mediating role of emotional intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: Research and Theory on Human Development, 177(5), 185–189.

Wittman, J. (March, 2017). Bias in custody evaluations. The Matrimonial Strategist. Accessed 12.27.2018


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In the process of evaluating a polarized family,
one must consider many mutually compatible hypotheses including these (in the order presented):


Questions that must be asked


Associated interventions

1.      Incidental temporal and proximal factors

(a)    Does changing the time or place reduce the child’s resistance?

(b)   Might transitional objects reduce the child’s resistance?

(c)    Might contact with absent parent/sibs/friends via distance media reduce the child’s resistance?

Is the child’s resistance temporary and short-lived or consistent and chronic?

Is the child’s resistance event- time- or place-specific?

2.      Child-specific factors

(a)    Multiple interviews in different relationship contexts are necessary

(b)   Psychological evaluation of the child will help to consider parent-child “fit” and “mis-fit” questions

Is the child saying and doing what the proximal parent needs to hear and see? (Chameleon child)

Is the child’s resistance due to temperament?

Is the child’s resistance due to diagnosable social, emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive differences?

3.      Parent A-Child Dyadic factors

(a)    Watch for affinity clues in shared characteristics, interests, habits.

(b)   Might encouraging Parent B to express interest in (“teach me”) shared interests and activities reduce the child’s resistance?

(c)    Co-parenting can help reduce discrepant parenting practices and thereby reduce the child’s resistance.


Is the child’s resistance due to a relationship AFFINITY appropriate to development and culture?

Is the child’s resistance due to

Parent A’s overly permissive parenting?

Does the child resist all separations from Parent A (but manages separations from others)?

Is the relationship enmeshed?

(a)    Help Parent A redirect needs being foist upon child to alternate healthier resources (e.g., psychotherapy, religion, book group, pet)

(b)   Get Parent A supports (e.g., substance abuse program) so that the need the child is fulfilling is relieved.

(c)    Have a “graduation” event to thank the child for supporting Parent A but now ready to move on.

Is the child adultified?

Is the child parentified?

Is the child infantilized?

4.      Parent B-Child dyadic factors

(a)    Evaluate Parent B’s risk of danger

(b)   Evaluate child’s ability to advocate for self

(c)    Parent B in individual therapy, substance abuse treatment, medication consultation

(d)   “Reunification” therapies involve entire system in anxiety management and graduated exposure.

(e)    Supervised/therapeutic contacts

Did the child ever have a healthy relationship with Parent B?

Has the child directly experienced Parent B as insensitive, unresponsive, abusive or neglectful?

Has the child vicariously experienced Parent B as insensitive, unresponsive, abusive or neglectful?

5.      Co-parental factors

(a)    Script F2F encounters at transition

(b)   Avoid F2F transitions – transition through school? Child therapy?

(c)    Involve trusted, safe surrogates at transition

Does the child anticipate and avoid her parents’ F2F encounters, e.g., at transition?

6.      Systemic factors

(a)    Co-parenting can help to diminish “cultural” discrepancies so as to reduce the child’s resistance.

(b)   Any adult’s pressure (e.g., bribery, threats) is a selfish and destructive act that speaks to that person’s willingness and ability to put the child’s needs first.

(c)    Alienation calls for prompt, forceful, and salient consequences for the alienating adult and systemic “reunification” interventions

(d)   Intensive residential interventions and custody reversal are among possible interventions in extreme circumstances.

Is the child’s resistance an effort to avoid culture shock?

Is the child’s resistance due to Parent A’s pressure?

Has the child’s relationship with Parent B been damaged by exposure to Parent A’s unwarranted negative words, behaviors, and/or emotions about Parent B?


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For courts and judicial officers
For lawyers, attorneys and pro se
For Guardians ad litem
For forensic
                        family evaluators
For litigants
                        kids who want to understand what's going on

Dynamics, Not Diagnoses

Ten Forms for Forensic Family Evaluation

Roadmap to the Parenting Plan Workbook

The HealthyParent's ABCs

Caveat lector