“I Hate You, I Hate You, I Hate You!": Parental Alienation from a Therapeutic and Legal Perspective
Mary Alvarez, PhD & Susan Myres, JD
This ethics workshop will explore the concept of Parental Alienation, an increasingly important topic, particularly in the context of high-conflict divorce. The presenters will use the term Parental Alienation to describe the pattern of behavior of a child’s rejection of a parent for what appears to be insufficient reasons. “Parental Alienation” is still the most common term in use, but the presenters will also discuss alternative terms such as “Parental Rejection” and “Parental Gatekeeping” and the difficulty of establishing a universally accepted term for this problem.
Dr. Mary Alvarez, a licensed psychologist, will explain Parental Alienation in detail, how it differs from justified estrangement, and how Parental Alienation presents in divorce and custody cases. Susan Myres, a family lawyer practicing in Houston for over 30 years and president-elect of the national American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), will discuss Parental Alienation in divorce and custody cases from a legal perspective, and will also offer advice for the therapist who has been called to testify in a divorce or custody dispute, and for those who wish to engage in forensic work in connection with these cases.
Objectives of Dr. Alvarez: Attendees will learn…
- What the concept of Parental Alienation entails, what kind of conduct is described by the term, and how Parental Alienation differs from justified parent/child estrangement.
- How Parental Alienation presents in divorce and custody cases.
- How Parental Alienation is considered a serious form of psychological child abuse.
- Which parent is mostly likely to be the alienator or “Favored Parent” and why some parents alienate.
- How the victimized or Targeted Parent plays a role in Parental Alienation.
- The differences between mild, moderate and severe Parental Alienation.
- Specific tactics used by the Alienator.
- How alienation psychologically affects the child and adolescent, as well as the long-term psychological effects of alienation in adulthood.
- How high-conflict divorce negatively affects the developing brain.
- How to identify Parental Alienation in the therapeutic setting.
- How family therapy approaches that are appropriate in other contexts can be harmful in the context of Parental Alienation.
- What kind of treatment is most likely to be effective in cases of Parental Alienation.
- Resources that can help.
Objectives of Susan Myres, J.D. Attendees will learn…
- How Parental Alienation is becoming more common in high-conflict divorce cases. How mild, moderate and severe Parental Alienation are revealed in the context of a divorce or custody case. How therapists can help and hurt clients on either end of the alienation.
- When and how a child’s testimony may become part of a case.
- When a family lawyer may recommend or even insist that his/her client seek therapy to deal with such problems as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and substance abuse—or even to assess the client’s overall competence.
- How a therapist’s detailed notes and records may or may not be accessed in a family law case. How a therapist may defend and protect his/her records.
- The possible dilemma posed by the need to establish a diagnosis for insurance purposes versus the dangers of labeling a patient, especially a child.
- Under what circumstances a therapist may appear in court to testify in a family law case: as an expert witness, as a fact witness, or as an assistant for the amicus attorney for a child ad litem.
- What happens when a therapist is subpoenaed to testify. When the therapist should consult an attorney before testifying.
- Distinguishing between what a therapist is and isn’t competent to testify about in a family law case. Only a trained custody evaluator should offer explicit opinions about custody. Are there exceptions to the general rule that a therapist treating a family or individual in a family may not also evaluate the family?
- Addressing the need for qualified forensic evaluators to help the legal profession assist the courts and these families.
- How a more or less sophisticated judge might rule in a case of Parental Alienation and how his/her orders may or may not be enforceable or enforced.
- The differences between relevant facts in a modification suit compared to an original suit.
- How a therapist can establish clear, precise boundaries with a patient, lawyers and judges.
- Options beyond traditional litigation.
Mary Alvarez, PhD earned her doctorate in developmental psychology with an emphasis in cognitive development and neurodevelopment from the University of Houston. Dr. Alvarez, a licensed psychologist for twenty years, has both a forensic and a clinical practice and she specializes in high conflict families. As a result of her forensic work in family law, Dr. Alvarez has evaluated and witnessed the devastating psychological effects on children whose parents are involved in chronic high conflict. Since there was not a comprehensive program specifically geared towards parents and children involved in high conflict situations, Dr. Alvarez co-developed Resetting the Family to evaluate and treat mild and moderate parent rejection at both the parent level and at the child level. Dr. Alvarez is actively conducting research with colleagues at Colorado State University to measure the program’s efficacy, as well as research to identify the early psychological and behavioral precursors that lead some children to reject a parent.
Susan Myres, JD has been practicing family law in the Houston area for over three decades. She created her own firm, Myres & Associates, in 2011. She has been a Certified Family Law Specialist, having fulfilled the requirements of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, since 1988. Ms. Myres is currently serving as president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Specialists (AAML), a respected, national organization of over 1600 members across the US who have taken tests and passed other rigorous challenges to become AAML Fellows. She is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL) and has served on the IAFL USA Board of Managers.
Ms. Myres obtained her B.S. from the University of Kansas and her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. She has been named to the annual list of Texas Super Lawyers every year since 2006. In 2016, she received the David A. Gibson Award for Professionalism and Excellence in the Practice of Family Law awarded by the Gulf Coast Family Law Specialists. Ms. Myres has served as president of both the Burta Rhodes Raborn Family Law Inns of Court and the Association of Women Attorneys Foundation, in addition to many other memberships and honors. She has authored and presented many papers on such subjects as family law litigation, international family law matters, alternative family law issues, insurance, mediation, mentalhealth issues, child abuse and professional responsibility.