Payoffs & Pitfalls – Warshak finds fatal flaw

‘Payoffs and Pitfalls of Listening to Children’

by Dr Richard Warshak *

(Family Relations 2003, 52, 373–384)


Above: ‘And when did you last see your father ?‘, by W. F. Yeames. A captured Royalist boy (thought to be the young Prince Charles) is questioned about the whereabouts of his father by a Parliamentarian court during the Civil War (1642–1651).

[ * ]  Division of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

Key Words: child custody, divorce, joint custody, visitation, relocation.

Children’s perspectives can enlighten decisions regarding custody and parenting plans, but different opinions exist about how best to involve children in the decision-making process. This article discusses why most procedures for soliciting children’s preferences do not reliably elicit information on their best interests and do not give children a meaningful voice in decision making. Instead, these procedures provide children with forums in which to takes sides in their parents’ disputes. In addition to hearing an individual child’s voice, decision makers can use the collective voice of children, as revealed in research on such topics as joint custody, overnight stays, and relocation to help understand what children might say about these issues with the hindsight of maturity and in the absence of parental pressure, loyalty conflicts, inhibitions, and limitations in perspective and articulation.

This article will interest parents and legal and mental health professionals who must decide how much weight to place on a child’s stated preferences. It is essential for cases in which children align themselves with one parent’s position in a custody dispute. Includes citations to 113 references [not included in this version – Ed].


1. Introduction

Controversies about the long-term legacy of divorce are relevant to the families who experience it themselves, as well as to scholars and researchers. How one construes the consequences of divorce also has implications both for clinical practice and for policy making. Implications for clinical work are discussed by Haine et al. (2003) and Ahrons and Tanner (2003) in this issue of Family Relations. Implications for divorce policy are discussed from an international perspective in Walker (2003, this issue). The current article addresses the implications of divorce research for a specific divorce policy: how professionals involve children in decision-making processes.

The perspective developed here is illustrated through its application to the issues of joint custody, overnight stays, and relocation.

Throughout history, the voices of children have been conspicuously absent from decisions that affected their welfare following their parents’ divorce. Instead, concepts of parental rights and gender stereotypes determined the postdivorce fate of children (Roth, 1976; Warshak, 1992, 1996). Throughout most of the 20th century, the beliefs (a) that women, by nature, are better suited to love and care for children, and (b) that children need mothers more than they need fathers resulted in most children living with their mothers after divorce and infrequently spending time with their fathers.

The weakening of gender stereotypes and growing concern about equal protection under the law led to the adoption of the best-interests-of-the-child standard in the early 1970s (Scott, 1992). This standard was intended to substitute a broad range of gender-neutral criteria for the a priori preference for sole mother custody of young children. The goal of individualized custody decisions was not immediately realized until the emergence, a decade later, of a genuine understanding of the impact on children of various custody dispositions. Pioneering projects by Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) in California and Hetherington, Cox, and Cox (1978, 1982) in Virginia measured various aspects of psychological functioning and helped show conventional postdivorce arrangements from the children’s perspective as revealed in interviews and self-report scales. Research with father-custody families (e.g., Rosen, 1977; Warshak & Santrock, 1983a, 1983b) and joint-custody families (e.g., Greif, 1979; Steinman, 1981; Wolchik, Braver, & Sandler, 1985) gave further voice to children’s concerns and preferences in the aftermath of parental divorce.

Judith Wallerstein was an early, passionate, and eloquent champion of children from divorced families. Her work with these children led her to conclude that their feelings and preferences should be given serious consideration by the courts. Writing about relocation, she stated, ‘‘Especially at the time of a contemplated move, the court should be responsive to the child’s voice, amplifying it above the din of competing parents. Only in this way can it ascertain and respect ‘the best interest of the child’’’ (Wallerstein & Tanke, 1996, p. 323).

Here, two basic rationales for seeking children’s input when formulating parenting plans for divorced and never-married parents are described. Some of the dangers of listening to children are described, as well as how these pitfalls can be mitigated by considering children’s voices as reported in empirical studies of children’s divorce-related attitudes and as inferred from studies of long-term outcomes. Last, what these studies reveal about children’s perspectives on three issues is summarized to show how this knowledge can inform decisions made on their behalf.

2. Potential Payoffs of Listening to Children

The plea to hear children’s voices carries almost axiomatic appeal to career child advocates, but it is not universally accepted.

Many societies would reject as inappropriate the idea of seeking counsel from children on such important decisions; they would regard such a proposal as an inversion of the proper relationship between adults and children. A discussion of the potential benefits and risks of inviting children’s participation when formulating parenting plans will help clarify how best to listen to children and what to do with what is heard.


The call to hear children’s voices was a response to the growing awareness that decisions made by adults on behalf of children too often missed the mark and resulted in unnecessary suffering (Kelly, 1994). In the playrooms of therapists and the laboratories of researchers, children showed us, through their words and behavior, that their burden was heavier as a result of a host of errors promulgated by parents, courts, and society.

Parents avoided and evaded open discussion of the divorce and their children filled the gap with misinformation, anxiety, and self-blame (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). We learned that children needed to construct an understanding of the family transition and that sensitive explanations geared to their level of cognitive development could help them do this (Garvin, Leber, & Kalter, 1991).

Courts wrote orders prescribing ‘‘reasonable visitation’’ for children and fathers. The children helped us see the ill consequences of such ambiguous language (Kelly, 1994). They were distressed by not knowing when they were going to see Dad and by witnessing repeated acrimonious negotiations each time the two parents held different notions about what  ‘reasonable visitation’’ meant.

The norm was that children should see their fathers two or four nights per month. We learned that this was insufficient to sustain meaningful parent-child relationships (Hetherington, 1979; Kalter, 1987; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980; Zill, Morrison, & Coiro, 1993). Children longed for more contact, and relationships often cratered under the pressure of trying to pack two or four weeks of living into two days (Hetherington et al., 1978; Kruk, 1993; Warshak & Santrock, 1983a; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980).

These and other insights were direct benefits of seeing divorce through the eyes of children. Their words and behavior directed our attention to factors that had been overlooked or underemphasized. Therefore, one answer to the question, ‘‘Why listen to children?’’ is the enlightenment rationale: Children have something important to tell us that may change the decisions we make on their behalf and the way in which we make them.

The enlightenment rationale assumes that input from children will raise decision makers’ awareness of children’s needs, feelings, and preferences. In turn, this awareness should result in parenting plans that promote healthier post-divorce adjustment.  A majority of states include the child’s preferences as one factor to consider in determining the child’s best interest (Lyster, 1995).

To be enlightened by children’s views does not necessarily mean that their stated preferences determine the final outcomes. It means that children are given a voice in divorce-related decisions just as loving parents give children a voice in major decisions that affect them prior to divorce. For instance, when parents contemplate buying a new house or moving to another city, the children are not usually charged with making the final decision. Yet sensitive parents faced with such decisions will consider their children’s needs, may elicit the children’s concerns, will try to anticipate their children’s reactions to the proposed changes, and will keep their children’s perspective in mind when dealing with the children regardless of their ultimate decision.


A second argument advanced in favor of giving children a voice in divorce matters is the empowerment rationale. This is the idea that children profit by participating in decisions that affect central aspects of their lives. A moderate version of the empowerment rationale has been articulated by Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1989): ‘‘Children feel powerless at divorce and should be invited to make suggestions that the adults will consider seriously. In this way, they can feel like active instead of passive agents in the crisis’’ (p. 287). Similarly, Kelly (2001) wrote:

  • “In listening respectfully to children, being willing to seriously consider and integrate their ideas, and helping them feel more empowered at a time of great upheaval, anxiety, and change, we may help children cope more effectively with the divorce experience.” (p. 113)

This rationale lacks a strong foundation in the divorce research literature; nonetheless, it appeals to many parents and mental health professionals. A radical version of the empowerment rationale interprets the mandate to be responsive to the child’s voice as a responsibility to solicit and honor children’s stated preferences (Nemechek, 1998). Those who advocate giving children such authority share the lament of Wallerstein and Lewis (1997):

  • “Youngsters whose lives were governed by court orders or parental agreements were distressed that they had lost the freedom that their peers take for granted. They opined that they had less say, less control over their schedules, less power to determine when or where they would spend their time, especially their precious vacations. . . . [The court-created child] is given no formal opportunity to express her views or even a preference among plans.” (pp. 381–382)


3. The Pitfalls of Listening to Children

Child custody evaluators generally agree that children’s feelings should be considered when formulating schedules of contact with parents who live apart (Ackerman, 1997; Gardner, 1989; Gould, 1998; Stahl, 1999). Giving children formal opportunities to participate in custody decisions simultaneously introduces risks to their emotional welfare. If we fail to understand the basis for their stated preferences, rather than be enlightened, we may be misled. If we delegate too much authority to children, rather than assist their coping, we may burden them with an inappropriate degree of power.

The basic pitfall of the enlightenment rationale is that we will confuse what children tell us with what is in their best interest. Some evaluators, advocacy groups, and parents (particularly those whose children support their position in the custody dispute) assume that children’s words always express their genuine thoughts and feelings, and they equate children’s thoughts and feelings with expressions of their true best interests. That is, children know and are accurate reporters of what is best for them. Proponents of this position believe that a child’s strong preference for or aversion to a parent should weigh heavily in custody decisions. In this view, any child’s rejection of a parent is prima facie evidence of severe mistreatment by the rejected parent (for a discussion of this position see Mantell, 1988).

All but the most radical child advocates understand that children do not always know what is best for them. Particularly during family turmoil, children’s attitudes often are temporary, transient, or fluctuating (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). Their complaints about a parenting plan are apt to arise in the face of minor frustrations. The ‘‘grass is greener’’ phenomenon may operate in the absence of any realistic understanding of the drawbacks of alternative plans. Indeed, this phenomenon may account for the complaints made by the children who spoke to Wallerstein and Lewis (1997) about their peers having more freedom than they had (surely not a unique adolescent grievance); the children assumed that in non-divorced families, vacation plans are made by the children and not the adults.

Children may tell each parent what they think that parent wants to hear at the time (Garrity & Baris, 1994). Strong preferences may represent reactions to a recent crisis, rather than reflect the full history and context of the relationship with each parent. For instance, an isolated physical altercation between the parents, or a parent’s atypical yet frightening emotional outburst followed by the absence of that parent, may leave a disproportionate imprint on the child’s thoughts and feelings. Love and comfort built up over years of living together can be erased by an isolated incident that lasts a few minutes (Gardner, 1998a; Kelly & Johnston, 2001; Warshak, 2002a).

Even when a child’s preference to be with a parent is stable and long-term, it may not reflect the child’s best interests understood by objective observers. For instance, a boy may have a close identification with a father who treats the mother with violence and disrespect. The boy’s closer tie to his father may be long-standing and may lead the boy to express a preference for a parenting plan that maximizes time with his father while minimizing time with his mother. Such a plan is likely to further entrench the boy’s unhealthy identification. Another example is a boy who is chronically overly enmeshed with and dependent on his mother. His parents’ divorce presents him with an opportunity to spend more time alone with his father and achieve a more age-appropriate degree of psychological autonomy. Yet the boy fears separation from his mother and expresses a strong preference to spend all his free time with her and none with his father. Honoring this child’s current preferences may handicap his future emotional development.

Children sometimes express a preference for reasons that most adults would consider a poor basis for a custody disposition. Consider the following brief examples. A 5-year-old girl wants to live with her father because he lets her eat as much candy as she wants. A 10-year-old boy wants to live with his mother because she lets him stay up as late as he wants. A 15- year-old girl wants to live with her father and stepmother because they impose no curfew, allow her to drink alcohol, and promise her a luxury car if she moves in with them.

In some families children align themselves with the parent they most fear, or the parent they regard as most unstable (Clawar & Rivlin, 1991; Gardner, 1998a). Other children take on the responsibility of caring for a needy parent (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). Although these children may be outspoken in their custodial preferences, their wishes may not reflect their genuine best interests.

Those who advocate the radical empowerment of children may not be swayed by the above considerations. They might argue that even if we know that a child’s rejection of a parent is misguided, irrational, or pathological, the child’s preference should be honored either because it is a value in itself to respect children’s autonomy or because of the belief that, even if children are being unreasonable, they will be better off if they are allowed to dictate the level of contact they have with each parent.

The basic pitfall of the empowerment rationale is that it fails to recognize the tension that exists between empowering children and placing them in the middle of their parents’ disputes. The more weight accorded children’s stated preferences, the greater the risk of children being manipulated or pressured by parents.

Through a variety of tactics such as selective attention, repetition, intimidation, overindulgence, and suggestion, a parent can corrupt a child’s view of the other parent (Ceci & Bruck, 1995; Clawar & Rivlin, 1991; Gardner, 1998a, 1998b; Warshak, 2002a). Once a child forms a predominantly negative opinion of a parent, and particularly once this opinion is expressed publicly, it is liable to become deeply entrenched and highly resistant to modification even in the face of information that directly contradicts misconceptions (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959; Jelalian & Miller, 1984; Ross, Lepper, & Hubbard, 1975; Schauss, Chase, & Hawkins, 1997).

Depending on the case and the court, children have several forums through which they can advocate a specific position within a custody dispute. They can have independent court-appointed counsel whose duty is to advocate for whatever position the child directs, give testimony in open court, be interviewed in the judge’s chambers, speak to a custody evaluator, be deposed, and execute an affidavit of custodial preference. Such affidavits can be used in motions before the court and during trial. Each forum risks creating a climate that pressures a child to form a pathological alignment with one parent and a pathological alienation from the other. Rather than participating meaningfully in developing an optimal parenting plan or being empowered, the child is stripped of a genuine voice; the child’s voice is dubbed with the words of the parent who exercises the most influence over him or her. Another problem with these mechanisms for involving children in litigation is that they set up a dynamic that can weaken a parent’s authority over his or her children and can undermine the children’s motivation to resolve conflicts with a enlighten decision makers regarding a child’s best interests.

Depending on the prevailing case law, the attorney may be obligated to present evidence that supports only the child’s explicit position in the litigation, even when this position clashes with the child’s best interests. Given that a child’s stated position is highly susceptible to parental influence, the appointment of an attorney ad litem may work against the goal of amplifying the child’s own voice. The same can be said for a child’s courtroom testimony, deposition, or affidavit of preference. Further, if the goal of involving children in custody litigation is to empower them, the process may backfire if the court does not grant their request. In such cases the children complain that no one listened to them—meaning that they did not get what they wanted (Lehrmann, 2002).

Eliciting a child’s perspective through an interview with a judge or attorney has its own drawbacks. Without specialized understanding of child development and training and experience in interviewing children, lawyers and judges may not effectively elicit children’s private feelings, nor discriminate between children’s mature and reasonable positions and positions that are immature, transient, irrational, or heavily influenced by the favored parent. Such problems may be avoided if the child speaks to a competent child custody evaluator. However, a court-ordered custody evaluation generally is not part of a collaboration or mediation process; thus, it carries the same potential to place the child in the middle of the dispute and perhaps involve the child as an ally of one parent against the other in an adversarial process.

In a typical scenario, a child either testifies in open court; speaks with the judge in chambers; instructs an attorney appointed for the child; confides in a guardian ad litem; or tells a custody evaluator:

  • ‘‘I think I’d like to live with my father.’’

His mother learns of this and says:

  • ‘‘What do you mean you’d rather live with daddy? If you don’t tell the evaluator that you want to live with me, you won’t see very much of me.’’

So perhaps the boy goes back to the psychologist and says he wants to live with his mother. Or, having gone on record favouring his father, he attempts to bring his beliefs more in line with his actions and begins, perhaps with Dad’s assistance, to find fault with Mom, magnifying and exaggerating minor parenting blemishes, so his crucial expression of a preference now has, in his and perhaps in his father’s mind, firm support. Either way, by putting child in this position, we have done no favour for him or for his family.

I have seen many cases in which a child utters some variation of, ‘‘I don’t have to listen to you. If you ground me, when I’m 12 I’ll tell the judge that I don’t want to live with you anymore.’’ This threat actually has some teeth to it, if it is clear that the other parent will be receptive to such a declaration of preference. Under current Texas practices, such a declaration in writing greatly increases the chance of obtaining an earlier hearing for a custody modification motion (Green, 2002).

The option of an attorney ad litem is perhaps least likely to enlighten decision makers regarding a child’s best interests. Depending on the prevailing case law, the attorney may be obligated to present evidence that supports only the child’s explicit position in the litigation, even when this position clashes with the child’s best interests. Given that a child’s stated position is highly susceptible to parental influence, the appointment of an attorney ad litem may work against the goal of amplifying the child’s own voice. The same can be said for a child’s courtroom testimony, deposition, or affidavit of preference. Further, if the goal of involving children in custody litigation is to empower them, the process may backfire if the court does not grant their request. In such cases the children complain that no one listened to them – meaning that they did not get what they wanted (Lehrmann, 2002).


4. Avoiding those Pitfalls

One option for bringing the child’s voice before the court without involving the child directly in the litigation is the  appointment of a guardian ad litem charged with the responsibility to protect the child’s interests, rather than merely advocate on behalf of the child’s directives. Because the guardian ad litem participates in the litigation, this option fails to protect the child from being pressured by parents to take sides in the dispute. The best way to give children a meaningful role in helping to formulate parenting plans while protecting them from direct involvement in litigation is to involve them in collaborative or conciliatory processes. The collaborative divorce model (Tesler, 2001) includes an option to have children meet with a mental health specialist, alone and in family sessions, to contribute their perspective on their needs, desires, concerns, and reactions to various proposed living arrangements. The specialist can then bring the child’s voice into subsequent collaborative sessions with the parents and attorneys. Children can make similar contributions during formal mediation sessions or during consultation with a therapist who specializes in working with divorcing and divorced families (Warshak, 1992).

Amicable approaches to formulating parenting plans allow an option that potentially can increase the value of  children’s contributions: Families can adopt a residential schedule on a trial basis and then evaluate its appropriateness before it is incorporated into the final divorce decree. In this situation adults may listen more closely to children, because the children’s feedback has the benefit of actual experience (although it is not immune from the risks discussed earlier).

The challenge facing the mental health specialist is to give children a voice that can make critical contributions to the creation of optimal parenting plans and to parents’ subsequent behavior, but in a manner that protects them from pressure to align with one parent against the other and minimizes other sources of unnecessary discomfort. A description of the art and science of conducting interviews with children that successfully meets this challenge is outside the scope of this article. The information obtained from such interviews, however, can help decision makers navigate a delicate course between the Scylla of neglecting children’s needs and the Charybdis of making children pawns in their parents’ battles or overly empowering them to be responsible for adult decisions.

It is ironic that a child’s eagerness to participate in the litigation may (but certainly does not necessarily) signal the need for caution in attending to the child’s voice, whereas a child who is reluctant to voice opinions may be the one who has the most to contribute to an optimal parenting plan. In general, the less conflict between parents, the easier it is to elicit children’s input in a manner that eases, rather than exacerbates, anxiety (Kelly, 2001).

Alternative dispute resolution processes may lessen parental pressure on children to take sides in a dispute when evidence obtained during these sessions is inadmissible and the professionals are shielded from testifying in any subsequent litigation. Nevertheless, children often regard the invitation to participate in the process of formulating parenting plans as a burden rather than a blessing (Garrity & Baris, 1994). Even when attempts are made to relieve them of feeling responsible for the ultimate decisions, the atmosphere of marital conflict leaves many children feeling uncomfortable about expressing any feelings that may be seen as favoring one parent over the other (Stahl, 1999). In this sense the children may know what is best for them.

A fairly robust finding in the divorce and parenting literature is that children do best in authoritative structures (those that combine warmth and control) both at home and in school (Baumrind, 1971; Hetherington et al., 1982; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Santrock, Warshak, & Elliott, 1982). Although all children complain about not having as much control over their lives as they wish (Wallerstein & Lewis, 1997), from the standpoint of developmental psychology, empowerment of children must be carefully tied to their level of maturity; giving children too much authority can create excessive anxiety, a narcissistic sense of entitlement, and impaired relations with adults. Children raised in non-authoritative environments are more likely to be impulsive, aggressive, and irresponsible (Baumrind; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002).


5. Developmental Considerations

In some aspects of children’s lives, the older they become the more respect society accords their voices in decisions that govern their lives. At 6 years old a child cannot obtain a driver’s license; at 16 he can. At 8 she cannot vote; at 18 she can. In general, the older the child, the wider the scope of the child’s decision-making authority and the more weight adults assign to the child’s preferences. This reflects the assumption that older children have better capacities for understanding, reasoning, and judgment, an assumption strongly supported by the literature on the age progression of children’s cognitive competence and the measurement of intelligence (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1996; Wechsler, 1991). Also, compared with younger children, older children are less suggestible (Ceci & Bruck, 1993, 1995) and less likely to have difficulty accurately identifying the source of their memories (i.e., distinguishing between a memory for a real versus an imagined event; Foley & Johnson, 1985; Johnson, Hashtroudi, & Lindsay, 1993). These findings suggest that, compared with younger children, older children can provide more accurate testimony on issues such as child abuse. Children older than 6 years of age, however, are not immune to suggestion (Ceci & Bruck, 1995).

The literature on cognitive competence and suggestibility has limited relevance to children’s competence to participate in formulating parenting plans. Garrison (1991) evaluated the competence of children between 9 and 14 years old to state a reasonable custodial preference and to articulate reasonable bases for their choice in response to two hypothetical vignettes. The children’s responses were compared with those of 18-year-olds according to an index of reasonableness derived from judges’ ratings of the two vignettes. All participants were from intact families with no history of divorce. This study found that 14-year-olds showed as much competence as the 18-year-olds. In some respects, but not all, the responses of the younger children did not differ significantly from those of the 14- and 18-yearolds. Garrison recognized that her data do not support a policy of involving children in custody disputes. A child who can reason and express objective judgments regarding hypothetical situations in an emotionally neutral atmosphere cannot necessarily exercise such ability in the emotionally pressured milieu that characterizes many families facing decisions about custody.

Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) found that children between the ages of 9 and 12 were particularly vulnerable to forming alignments with one parent against the other. They concluded:

  • “Although the wishes of children always merit careful consideration, our work suggests that children below adolescence are not reliable judges of their own best interests and that their attitudes at the time of the divorce crisis may be very much at odds with their usual feelings and inclinations. . . . Several of the youngsters with the most passionate convictions at the time of the breakup later came shamefacedly to regret their vehement statements at that time.” (pp. 314– 315)

Despite the relative cognitive maturity of adolescents, their judgments are highly vulnerable to outside influences. At times they show extreme deference to others’ views. Other times they make choices primarily to oppose another’s preferences (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1996). Both of these dynamics can result in the formation of a pathological alliance with one parent against the other. Grisso (1997) points out that the preferences of adolescents often are unstable. Choices made early in the process of identity formation often are inconsistent with choices that would be made when a coherent sense of identity is established, generally not before age 18. For these reasons, even the preferences of adolescents merit cautious scrutiny, rather than automatic endorsement.

Beyond the studies cited, the empirical research literature gives no definitive guidance on the issue of when and to what extent a child’s input should be considered in decisions about custody and access to parents. The literature does document prevailing practices among child custody evaluators. When evaluators (n 5 198) were asked at what age they seriously considered a child’s preference in regard to custody decision criteria, 12 years was the most frequent response (Bow & Quinnell, 2001). Also, evaluators tend to give less consideration to the wishes of younger children (particularly children 5 years old and under) than to those of older children (Gould, 1998).

Litigating parents and courts do not always operate along the same lines. In granting the injunction barring the removal of 6-year-old Elia´n Gonzales from the United States, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the following: Not only does it appear that Plaintiff might be entitled to apply personally for asylum, it appears that he did so. Plaintiff— although a child—has expressed a wish that he not be returned to Cuba. He personally signed an application for asylum. Plaintiff’s cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, notified INS that Plaintiff said he did not want to go back to Cuba. And it appears that never have INS officials attempted to interview Plaintiff about his own wishes. (Gonzales ex rel. Gonzalez v. Reno, 2000).


6. Hearing the Collective Voice of Children

In addition to hearing the voice of the individual child in question, the best way to enlighten parents and courts about children’s needs is to attend to children’s voices in general as revealed in two types of data from clinical and empirical research. The first type of data consists of children’s attitudes about various aspects of divorce, such as their preferences regarding access to each parent. The second type of data consists of children’s actual long-term adjustment (as opposed to their conscious attitudes) in various spheres, such as personality, behavioral, and social development. The first type of data is assessed through children’s responses to interview questions and self-report items that directly address divorce-related attitudes. Because these data reveals what children have to say about divorce-related issues, it may be thought of as the explicit voice of groups of children.

The second type of data is assessed through measures, such as personality tests, parent checklists, and direct observations, that address children’s actual adjustment as opposed to their conscious views on aspects of divorce. Although, admittedly, this stretches the concept of children’s voice, this literature may be thought of as the implicit voice of groups of children to the extent that we can assume that reasonable adults would endorse the decisions made on their behalf during their childhood that fostered optimal adjustment and would regret those that hindered their optimal adjustment. That is, these findings reveal the perspective of what a child would say with the benefit of maturity. Consulting such findings certainly will not satisfy any individual child’s wish to be heard, but there are four main benefits to supplementing the child’s individual voice with the perspective of other children.

First, the collective voice by-passes the problem of the child being used as a mouthpiece for one parent’s views. Other children define the range of attitudes that is typical for children in similar circumstances. This serves as a frame of reference to evaluate any individual child’s attitudes. When a child’s stated preferences veer sharply from those of his or her peers, this signals the need for caution because of the possibility that the child’s voice is being distorted by the manipulations of a parent or the child’s own maladaptive reactions (Warshak, 2002a).

Second, the experiences of clinicians and the findings of researchers can substitute for children who are unable or unwilling to speak for themselves. Infants have definite needs that should inform decisions made on their behalf, but they certainly cannot convey these in words. Researchers determine the needs and feelings of young children through nonverbal measures. Older children may be too anxious or inhibited to let adults know what they are thinking and feeling about the family transition.

Third, research can direct our attention to important aspects of the child’s experience that might not occur to the child to communicate or might not be easy for the child to articulate. An example would be the benefits of being raised in an authoritative environment. With the hindsight of maturity, an adult can look back and appreciate the value of limits enforced by his or her parents. At the time, how many children will tell an evaluator, mediator, or guardian ad litem that they need their parents to be more in control ?

Fourth, research can assist decision makers in anticipating the likely future impact of custody dispositions. One of the limitations of a child’s contributions to divorce-related decisions is that they reflect only current opinions. Even a skilled and sensitive custody evaluator is getting only a snapshot of the child’s inner life when what is needed is a videotape. This snapshot is at a point in time that may not be representative of the child’s general experience in the family. Decisions regarding parenting plans necessarily entail predictions about the future needs of the children. Studies of the attitudes of people who grew up in divorced families—the aspects of their experience that were helpful and those that were troubling—help us anticipate the likely future explicit voice of children. Studies that identify the conditions that best promote optimal development suggest the likely future implicit voice of children—the type of decisions that reasonable adults would say they wished adults had made on their behalf when they were younger.

In sum, the collective voice of children can help decision makers understand what children might say with the hindsight of maturity and in the absence of parental pressure, loyalty conflicts, inhibitions, and limitations in perspective and articulation. As such, this collective voice can help implement the proposal made by Chambers (1984) that courts attempt to define children’s interests in custody disputes by asking, ‘‘Which placement would most children in comparable positions experience more positively, now and in hindsight?’’ (p. 494).


7. Lessons From Clinical Practice and Research

Even before Wallerstein and Kelly’s (1974, 1980) trail-blazing project, clinicians wrote about their observations of children from divorced homes and began to educate parents, professionals, and the children themselves about the divorce experience as seen through the eyes of children. As early as 1953, Despert called attention to the pitfalls of empowering children in custody disputes.

A judge may doff the mantle of Solomon and ask the child to choose which parent he wants to live with. On the surface this seems a kindly offer, and surely it is meant in kindness. But it is double-edged. It cuts to the heart of the child’s most painful confusions. It confronts him with his already divided loyalty. It demands that he choose between two people who for him should never have been parted at all. Whichever he chooses, he is likely to be left with doubt, regret, and guilt toward the other. (Despert, 1953/ 1962, p. 196)

Gardner’s (1970) self-help book for children of divorce accurately identified many of their typical thoughts, feelings, and dilemmas; this perspective, gained through his clinical work, was subsequently confirmed by more systematic clinical observations and empirical research (e.g., Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). Gardner’s advice to children addressed such problems as blaming themselves for the divorce, harboring reconciliation fantasies, longing for the absent parent, and getting caught in the middle of their parents’ conflicts.

Insights gained in the consultation room and in clinical research provide an invaluable foundation for the study of psychological phenomena, but these insights need to be verified, supplemented, or corrected through systematic empirical research. This is especially true when legislatures, courts, and parents look to mental health professionals for guidance in formulating parenting plans. Clinical observations without a nonclinical control group can lead to faulty generalizations about various living arrangements. For instance, if the only father-custody children studied are those who develop psychological problems severe enough to motivate a parent to seek professional intervention, thoughts about the impact of father custody on children are apt to be negatively skewed. Similarly, therapists often hear complaints from children, teachers, and parents about the child’s residential schedule. The children blame their unhappiness on the frequency of transitions between homes; some want more transitions, and some want fewer. The teachers blame children’s poor school adjustment on ‘‘being bounced back and forth between homes.’’ The parents blame their children’s behavior problems on the schedule; they usually assume that the children would do better if they spent more time in the home of the parent making the complaints.

In some cases the schedule does create unnecessary burdens. In other cases, the problems rest more within the child or within the family system and would not yield to changes in the parenting plan. Empirical research on the impact of various residential schedules can shed light on such issues. Such research may rule out the likelihood that a particular schedule is primarily responsible for a child’s difficulties, or it may demonstrate that the sort of difficulties the child is experiencing are typical for his age. At the least, research can remove a priori explanations for the child’s problems and instead direct the clinician’s focus to an in-depth investigation and understanding of what is not working for this child at this time in this family.

Empirical research has long since laid to rest the ‘‘tender years’’ presumption that all children belong in the sole custody of their mothers unless the mother is proved exceptionally unfit (Kelly, 1994; Warshak, 1986, 1996). Research on divorce and on parental absence has led to the general acceptance that children of divorce profit from having meaningful relationships with both parents (Amato, 2000; Lamb, Sternberg, & Thompson, 1997; for a dissenting opinion see Silverstein & Auerbach, 1999). One of the most robust findings in the literature on child development and divorce validates the concerns voiced by Despert (1953) and Gardner (1970) about the pitfalls of placing children in the middle of parental conflicts: children are at much lower risk for psychological disturbances when they are shielded from parental hostilities (for a review see Kelly, 2000).

Despite general agreement on the importance of protecting children from parental hostilities and providing them with  opportunities for relationships with both parents, certain issues continue to divide experts. The following is a brief summary of the collective child’s perspective on three of these issues: joint custody, policies regarding young children’s overnight stays with parents, and presumptions regarding children’s placement in the event of one parent’s relocation.


8. Joint Custody

Studies revealing children’s explicit attitudes about joint physical custody and most studies regarding their adjustment under this disposition were conducted with families in which the arrangements were arrived at by agreement of the parents, rather than imposed by the court against the wishes of a parent (McKinnon & Wallerstein, 1986; Shiller, 1986; Steinman, 1981). Such findings may not generalize to families in which joint physical custody is imposed by courts. The same factors that may have led to the selection of joint custody also may be responsible for the outcomes seen in these families. For instance, couples who are highly educated, families in which the fathers were highly involved in raising the children prior to divorce, and couples with relatively little postdivorce strife are more likely to adopt joint custody (Braver & O’Connell, 1998). Such factors might lead to better outcomes in these families whether or not joint custody is awarded (but see the discussion below of Gunnoe & Braver, 2001, which supports another view).

Nevertheless, the research findings about joint or shared physical custody directly address the most frequently voiced concern of adults regarding this arrangement: it leaves children feeling ‘‘bounced back and forth’’ between two homes, and thereby promotes feelings of instability and insecurity. This concern is so prominent that in one study, even when both parents requested joint physical custody, the court overruled the parents’ preference in 46% of the cases (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992). [ contrast this view with Dr Malin Bergström’s findings among Swedish children towards shared residence, sample size 172,000 study of 12 – 15 year olds,  2105 -Ed].

Studies have reported that children and adolescents in joint physical custody were more satisfied with their residential arrangement, enjoyed the closeness of their relationship with their father, had less of a sense of loss about the divorce, and yearned less for their father than did children in sole residential custody homes (Leupnitz, 1982; Maccoby, Buchanan, Mnookin, & Dornbusch, 1993; Shiller, 1986). Although such attitudes may not be representative of children whose parents did not agree on the custody arrangements, particularly children who are exposed to continuing high levels of strife between parents, these positive attitudes do allay concerns that joint physical custody necessarily imposes a greater burden on children, and they show that in many cases a more equal balancing of time between the two homes will be responsive to children’s preferences.

The satisfaction reported by children currently in joint-custody homes matches the opinions and feelings of young adults who grew up in divorced families. A study asked 820 college adults to rate the best living arrangement for children of divorce (Fabricius & Hall, 2000). The results showed that 70% chose the option equal amounts of time with each parent. Because only about 10% of these college students grew up in joint physical custody families, this study shows what they thought would have been best, rather than their actual experience with this arrangement. Nevertheless, the investigators ruled out the explanation that this was a ‘‘grass is greener’’ phenomenon, because 93% of those who actually did grow up in an equal-time arrangement endorsed this as best. Another analysis with the same sample found that 48% reported that they had wanted to see their fathers a lot or spend equal amounts of time with each parent (Fabricius, 2003). A study of 99 college students found that those who had lived with joint physical custody arrangements before coming to college reported less of a sense of loss about the divorce than those who had lived in sole residential custody homes (Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000).

Children’s attitudes about joint custody are consistent with the results of studies with both clinical and nonclinical samples of children: a majority of children consistently complained about the loss of contact with the noncustodial parent as the major drawback of divorce (Hetherington et al., 1982; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980; Warshak & Santrock, 1983a). Further, when the relationship with the noncustodial parent was positive, children with expanded and flexible visitation were more satisfied, viewed the divorce less negatively, showed higher self-esteem, and had fewer behavior problems (Healy, Malley, & Stewart, 1990; Neugebauer, 1989; Rosen, 1977; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980;Warshak & Santrock, 1983a). In their study of 173 adults 20 years after parental divorce, Ahrons and Tanner (2003, this issue) found that adult children whose fathers were less involved during the first 5 postdivorce years were more likely to report a deterioration over time in the quality of their relationships with their fathers.

According to current divorce literature, it appears that the answer to Chambers’ (1984) question—which placement would most children experience more positively now and in hindsight?— is joint physical custody. In this case the children seem to know what is best for them. Although earlier narrative literature reviews reached disparate conclusions about the impact of joint custody on child adjustment (Bender, 1994; Johnston, 1995; Kelly, 1993; Twaite & Luchow, 1996), a recent meta-analysis of 33 studies found that children in joint physical custody arrangements were better adjusted than those raised in sole mother custody homes, even after controlling for levels of parental strife (Bauserman, 2002). This meta-analysis was based on a combined sample size across studies of 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint custody  children. A systematic and quantitative review of this magnitude should go a long way toward amplifying the voice of children regarding their preference for parenting plans that more evenly balance their time between homes. Most of the joint physical custody families reflected in the meta-analysis chose the arrangement as opposed to having it imposed by the court; one study of joint legal custody families did control for predisposing factors (Gunnoe & Braver, 2001). The fathers in this latter study were more involved with their children and approximated a de facto joint physical custody arrangement. Controlling for factors that differentiate families that choose sole versus joint custody, considerable benefits still were found for joint legal custody. The children growing up in this arrangement were significantly better adjusted, and they showed less anti-social and impulsive behavior than did children in sole-custody arrangements.

Even when joint legal custody was awarded over the mothers’ objections, child support compliance was high (Braver & O’Connell, 1998). This is consistent with a substantial literature showing that frequent and continuing father-child contact results in a higher percentage of child support payments and less incidence of fathers dropping out of their children’s lives (Clarke-Stewart & Hayward, 1996; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Peterson & Nord, 1990; Seltzer, Schaeffer, & Charng, 1989). It is reasonable to assume that, given a choice, most adult children of divorce would prefer that their father had provided financial and emotional support, rather than to have dropped out.

It is important to note that the collective voice of children, as expressed in the attitudes reported by a majority of research subjects, should not be applied thoughtlessly to all children in all situations. Although 70% of college students from divorced homes endorsed shared custody, 30% did not (Fabricius & Hall, 2000). In any particular family, if an individual child’s stated preference veers sharply from attitudes that we would expect based on research, this alerts us to the likelihood that the family differs significantly from those represented in the empirical studies. In such cases it is important to investigate the basis and meaning of the child’s preference.

Particularly when a child expresses a strong preference to avoid a parent, we should be alert to three possibilities. Either (a) the preference is reasonable because the rejected parent is much worse than those in the studies where children wanted more contact with their parents; (b) the parental strife is so great that the child believes the only way to escape it is to avoid a parent; or (c) the child has developed an irrational, pathological alienation (Warshak, 2002a). When a child is seeking to avoid contact with an extremely impaired parent, the child’s voice should receive significant weight. When a child is mainly concerned with avoiding the war zone, if at all possible a plan should be developed to shield the child from the hostilities while protecting his or her relationship with both parents. When the child is suffering from pathological alienation, the stated preference is probably a poor guide to the child’s welfare. In such a case, those charged with crafting a parenting plan may find the collective voice of children more enlightening than the child’s individual voice.


9. Overnight Stays for Young Children

The voices of children were heard and echoed in legislation calling for frequent and continuing contact between children and both parents after divorce (Lyster, 1995). A footnote to such policy mandates that the contact young children have with one of their parents may not occur overnight (i.e., young children must sleep in the same home every night, although during the day they may spend time, and even nap, in either parent’s home).

The ostensible goal of ‘‘blanket restrictions’’ (a term introduced by Warshak, 2000a, 2002b) is to promote greater security in the young child’s relationship with one parent – usually the mother. The concern is that the separation from their mother during the night will cause or increase the risk of infants and toddlers feeling excessive anxiety and that it will harm the quality of their attachment to their mother.

Blanket restrictions are prevalent and advocated with authority in books, custody evaluation reports, and courtroom testimony (e.g., Garrity & Baris, 1994; Hodges, 1991; Skafte, 1985). Nevertheless, this policy was promulgated in the absence of any research on the direct impact on children of overnight access with parents who live apart. Instead, these guidelines were defended, and continue to be defended, by extrapolating from attachment theory and psychoanalytic theories of early child development and from research associated with these theories (e.g., Bowlby, 1973; Erikson, 1963; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975).

Recent reviews called into question the wisdom, logic, and scientific basis of blanket restrictions (Kelly & Lamb, 2000; Lamb & Kelly, 2001; Warshak, 2000a, 2002b). These reviews drew on a wide range of scientific literature including studies on the processes through which children develop relationships with parents, the roles of mothers and fathers in promoting psychological development, the impact on infants of separation from mothers such as occurs in daycare, the ability of fathers to competently manage the care of infants and toddlers, and the role of parent-child relationships in fostering optimal development in children whose parents live apart.

This literature provides no evidence that children are harmed by spending overnights with their fathers. The concerns raised in defense of blanket restrictions grew out of studies of children in prolonged institutional care who were deprived of contact with both parents, often for severely traumatic reasons (Provence & Lipton, 1962; Yarrow, 1963). Clearly this situation is not comparable to the custody situation in which children are separated from one parent and left in the care of the other parent.

The literature also shows that, in addition to not being harmful, overnights have clear benefits. Studies on infants’ multiple attachments (for reviews see Biller, 1993; Lamb, 1997; Parke, 1981; Warshak, 1992) have discredited the belief that children have only one psychological parent. This has led to a greater appreciation of the importance of facilitating and maintaining the child’s attachments to both parents.

Numerous studies have shown that children do best when they enjoy close and positive relationships with both of their parents following divorce (for a review and consensus statement by 18 nationally recognized experts, see Lamb et al., 1997). The best way to promote and consolidate deep attachments is to allow children to interact with parents in a wide variety of contexts (Kelly & Lamb, 2000). Overnight stays are important, because bedtime and waking rituals provide opportunities for a wider range of involvement including activities such as bathing, preparing for bed, putting to bed, soothing when the child awakes in the middle of the night, getting up in the morning, and preparing for the day. Depriving infants and toddlers and their fathers of such opportunities places unnecessary obstacles in relationships that are already vulnerable (Ahrons & Tanner, 2003; Zill et al., 1993).

Applying Chambers’ (1984) standard—which arrangement would most children experience more positively now and in hindsight?—leads to the following formulation. Based on current knowledge about the needs and capacities of young children and their parents, the best answer is that we have no reason to believe that most children would want to be deprived of the chance to stay overnight with each parent. Further, we have good reason to believe that they would welcome the opportunities provided by overnight stays for laying a stronger foundation to their relationships with both parents. This is particularly likely given the findings that the probability of a father maintaining a connection with his child is greater when there is overnight contact during the first few years of the child’s life (Lamb et al., 1997; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992).

Others see it differently and continue to believe that if infants could speak on behalf of their best interests, they would ask to spend every night with the same parent despite the fact that this could handicap the depth and nature of their relationship with the other parent (Biringen et al., 2002; Solomon & Biringen, 2001). Nevertheless, the weight of empirical evidence supports clinical and common experience that sleeping away from their mothers does not necessarily harm young children (they do this while napping in daycare). As opposed to blanket restrictions against overnight stays, I conclude (Warshak, 2000a, 2002b) that overnights should be among the options considered for infants, toddlers, and older children and that overnight stays neither be made mandatory nor be routinely excluded. Caution should be exercised before depriving children of parents who live apart of a formative and valuable experience that can help sustain their normal interaction with both parents.


 10. Relocation

Disputes that arise from the request of one parent to move children to a distant location away from the other parent present some of the most complex, controversial, and heart-wrenching issues in family law. Much is at stake. Unless the parent proposing the move reconsiders, or the other parent elects to relocate to the same city, both know that one of them is going to lose the opportunity to attend weekly soccer games, scout meetings, awards ceremonies, music recitals, science fairs, and other memorable school events. Divorce alters the rhythms of each parent’s contact with the children. Living in separate cities, however, transforms the relationships in a way that neither parent had previously envisioned.

When a parent’s move requires the children to live far away from their other parent and to leave their familiar environment, peers, community, and school, the child’s perspective is most apt to clash with that of the moving parent (although not necessarily). Hence, it is in relocation cases that the child’s perspective may be most central. Until recently, no studies directly addressed the impact of relocation on children’s welfare after divorce. As in the case with blanket restrictions, in the absence of direct studies, policy regarding relocation has been advanced by extrapolating from other research (Austin, 2000; Gindes, 1998; Wallerstein & Tanke, 1996; Warshak, 2000b).

Based on 10 studies, Wallerstein and Tanke (1996) argued for a presumption in favor of the custodial parent’s relocation with the children. They offered two justifications for this position. First, they argued for the overriding importance of ‘‘the family unit’’ that includes the primary custodial parent and children but excludes the other parent. Second, they represented that the scientific literature finds that frequent and continuing contact between father and child has no relation to child adjustment. It seems contradictory that Wallerstein and Tanke beseech courts to hear the child’s voice in relocation disputes, but they advocate a policy that places a priority on the preferences of the primary custodial parent and assumes that the best interests of the child are identical to those preferences.

In contrast, Warshak (2000b) concluded that a comprehensive and critical reading of a wider body of more than 75 studies generally supports a policy of encouraging both parents to remain in close proximity to their children. This conclusion is consistent with a substantial literature documenting both the long-term benefits to children of maintaining high-quality relationships with both parents and the harm associated with disrupted relationships. Warshak (2000b) also argued that relocation decisions are complex, with benefits and hazards usually attached to each possible outcome. Thus, such decisions require individualized determinations, rather than a formula uniformly applied to all cases.

Relocations involving very young children carry special risks. Living a long distance apart from a parent sets up formidable obstacles to establishing, maintaining, and strengthening healthy attachment relationships. As mentioned in connection with the discussion of blanket restrictions, good parent-child relationships generally develop in the context of regular and frequent contact in which the parents relate to the children through a broad range of normal activities. For these reasons, Kelly and Lamb (2002) recommended that relocations be postponed until the children are at least 2 or 3 years old and better able to sustain a long-distance relationship. Parenting plans for such young children whose parents live far apart too often reflect a grossly inadequate understanding of the development and the capacities of these children. An example is a schedule that alternates the residence of an infant or toddler every few months and thereby requires the child to sustain extended separations that overly tax the developing relationships with each parent. Although no studies of such schedules exist and the youngest of these children cannot put their distress into words, in my clinical practice these children communicate their discomfort to their parents with non-verbal behaviors.

For older children, relocation brings a different set of problems. Although these children generally want to maintain contact with the distant parent, to a great extent their lives revolve around the community in which they live. Relocation creates a conflict for children between participating in their usual social and extracurricular activities versus traveling to a parent (Shear, 1996; Wallerstein & Tanke, 1996; Warshak, 2000b). This fragmentation can be avoided to some extent when the distant parent travels to the child’s location. However, that option has its own drawbacks. Shear (1998) recommended a balance between parent- child contacts taking place at the parent’s location and in the child’s community. Such a plan allows the child some experience of living with the parent and perhaps strengthening ties to a stepparent, stepsiblings, and half-siblings, and it spares the parent the loss of income associated with taking time to travel and the additional expense of securing lodging in the child’s community.

At the same time, it allows the distant parent to meet the child’s teachers and friends and to attend special school events and extracurricular activities, and thus have a better firsthand understanding of the child’s daily life (Warshak, 2000b).

Relocation brings potential benefits to children along with the hazards. In some cases the move may result in easier access to extended family, schools better suited to the child, safer communities, improved emotional and financial status of the relocating parent, and separation from an abusive or disturbed parent. In general, the impact of relocation depends on a number of factors, including the nature of each parent-child relationship; the psychological status and parenting skills of both parents; the extent to which the relocating parent supports and facilitates the child’s relationship with the absent parent; the nature, extent, and manner of expression of conflict between the parents; the distance in travel time between the two homes; the logistics of travel between the two homes (e.g., direct nonstop flights from an airport close to one home to an airport close to the other versus the need to change planes or drive long distances to and from airports); the degree of flexibility and control that the nonmoving parent exercises over his or her work schedule; the economic resources available to support the travel necessary to bring child and parent together; the actual (as opposed to expected) benefits to the relocating parent of the move; the motives behind the move; and characteristics of the child such as age, temperament, and gender (Austin, 2000; Gindes, 1998; Kelly & Lamb, 2002; Wallerstein & Tanke, 1996; Warshak, 2000b).

Weighing and integrating all these factors is a tall order. Even decisions that appear at first glance to be easy may carry unexpected consequences. For instance, when apparently a parent will reap great benefits by moving, the other parent lacks the personality and skills to relate well to the children, and the children have a weak relationship with the nonmoving parent, most people might agree that the benefits of the move will outweigh the drawbacks (Braver, Ellman, & Fabricius, 2003; Kelly & Lamb, 2002). Yet, Shear (1998) raises important considerations that underscore the complexity of these decisions. If the children’s contact with the parent with weaker skills takes place in the community where the children live, the contacts are apt to benefit from the structure of the children’s regular extracurricular activities. One-on-one contact between parent and children will be reduced, because the children will be spending time in activities with peers. This places less of a burden on the parent to structure the children’s time and supervise them and gives the children a more comfortable experience during the time away from the primary residential parent. Also, it allows the healthier parent to be more immediately available to the children in the event that the other parent’s mental health or behavior deteriorates rapidly or unexpectedly. Living across the country makes it difficult to know, until it is too late, that the parent to whom the children are traveling to see for a month-long stay in the summer is on the verge of de-compensating and incapable of providing or securing adequate child care  arrangements.

Given the difficulty of relocation decisions, any study specifically on the impact of relocation would be welcome. Fortunately, Braver et al. (2003) have initiated this line of inquiry. Using a wide range of outcome measures, they examined 602 college students whose parents were divorced, 170 of whom had relocated with one parent more than an hour’s drive away from the other parent. The students whose divorced parents remained in the same geographical vicinity had more positive outcomes than those who had a parent relocate either with or without the children. The outcomes included less hostility, inner turmoil, and divorce-related distress, and better reported global health, all of which predict lower risk of premature mortality. The students who did not experience the relocation of a parent also saw their parents more favorably as sources of emotional support and role models, and they received from their parents more financial help with and worried less about college expenses. Consistent with this is a prior finding that the less contact children had with their fathers while growing up, the less their fathers contributed to college expenses (Fabricius, Braver, & Mack, in press).

In the context of prior research showing a link between less time spent with the noncustodial parent and weaker parent-child relationships, Braver et al. (2002) concluded that there is no basis to assume that a move intended to benefit the custodial parent will necessarily benefit the children. They interpreted their findings to suggest that, from the point of view of the child, the best policy may be to discourage divorced parents from relocating. They suggested that this could be accomplished through conditional change-of-custody orders (in which a change of primary custody takes place only if the custodial parent moves; such orders are not allowed in some jurisdictions), and they cited data showing that if such orders were imposed, they would be effective deterrents to the move in up to two thirds of cases (Braver, Cookston, & Cohen, in press).

Recent analyses (Kelly & Lamb, 2002; Warshak, 2000b), together with this latest study (Braver et al., 2002), support the impression that the collective voice of children would cry out that, if at all possible, parents remain in the same geographical area and thereby spare their children fragmentation in their living routines and the challenges to maintaining a meaningful relationship with an absent parent. As with other issues, in any individual case the child’s voice and other factors may lead to the conclusion that the child’s best interests are served with the relocation.



Unpacking the phrase ‘‘hearing a child’s voice’’ is complicated. It makes a difference whether our objective is to use the child’s perspective to enlighten and contribute to decisions, or whether we want to empower children to make the decisions themselves. One problem with radical empowerment is that adults can—and do—delude themselves into thinking that they are hearing a child’s voice when, in fact, they may be receiving a distorted broadcast laced with the static of a charged emotional atmosphere; or the voice may be delivering a script written by another; or it may reflect the desire to placate, take care of, or pledge loyalty to a parent. When we have good reason to suspect that a child is speaking in a voice that is not his or her own or that does not advance his or her best interests, well-designed empirical research can assist parents, attorneys, mediators, custody consultants, and courts to hear what the child might say as an adult looking back on childhood and judging the decisions made on his or her behalf.

The voices of children, as expressed in the studies reviewed above, should inform public policy regarding children’s contact with divorced and never-married parents. Rather than regarding the maintenance of relationships with parents in two homes as an unrealistic burden, legislatures, courts, parents, and their advisers should recognize that children can and want to maintain high-quality relationships with both parents and generally should be afforded the opportunity to do so.

 E N D



  1. Ackerman, M. J. (1997). Does Wednesday mean mom’s house or dad’s? New York: Wiley.
  2. Ahrons, C. R., & Tanner, J. L. (2003). Adult children and their fathers: Relationships 0 years after parental divorce. Family Relations, 52, 340–351.
  3. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1269–1287

PAS: pushing at the gates

Parental Alienation, DSM-V, and ICD-11

 March 2010

The American Journal of Family Therapy, 38:76–187, 2010. ISSN: 0192-6187

Given the fairly recent and unfavourable edict by a branch of the Argentinian College of Psychologists (Sept 2014),  regarding PAS, it is worth reminding ourselves that a substantial body of both opinion and evidence exists to support the concept of Parental Alienation, even if it does not yet meet the clinical standards of a ‘syndrome.’ The Argentinian argument runs that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), is also rejected by WHO (the World Health Organization), by the Spanish Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, as well as the classification systems currently used in psychological diagnosis. But then ‘homosexuality’, prior to concerted lobbying, was once classified by the same psychologists as an illness and a psychological  disorder, so nothing is ever set in stone.

(see also Aug 29th 2913)


  1. William Bernet – Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
  2. Amy J. L. Baker – Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection, New York, New York, USA
  3. Wilfrid von Boch-Galhau – Private Practice, Wurzburg, Germany
  4. Stephen L. Morrison – Houston Police Department and Departments of Criminal Justice and Social Science, University of Houston-Downtown, Houston, Texas, USA


Parental alienation is an important phenomenon that mental health professionals should know about and thoroughly understand, especially those who work with children, adolescents, divorced adults, and adults whose parents divorced when they were children.

We define parental alienation as a mental condition in which a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce – allies himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification. This process leads to a tragic outcome when the child and the alienated parent, who previously had a loving and mutually satisfying relationship, lose the nurture and joy of that relationship for many years and perhaps for their lifetimes.

The authors of this article believe that parental alienation is not a minor aberration in the life of a family, but a serious mental condition. The child’s maladaptive behavior – refusal to see one of the parents – is driven by the false belief that the alienated parent is a dangerous or unworthy person.

We estimate that 1% of children and adolescents in the U.S. experience ‘parental alienation.’

— <ooO)   (Ooo> —

When the phenomenon is properly recognised, this condition is preventable and treatable in many instances. There have been scores of research studies and hundreds of scholarly articles, chapters, and books regarding parental alienation.

Although we have located professional publications from 27 countries on six continents, we agree that research should continue regarding this important mental condition that affects hundreds of thousands of children and their families. The time has come for the concept of parental alienation to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), and the International Classification of Diseases, Eleventh Edition (ICD-11).


There is considerable international interest in the proposition that parental alienation should be included in the official diagnostic systems for psychiatric conditions.

With regard to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), a group of mental health and legal professionals were invited to submit a formal proposal to the DSM-V Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence Work Group. The proposal, “Parental Alienation Disorder and DSM-V,” was submitted to the Work Group in August 2008.

The August 2008 formal proposal included more than 50 citations and quotations from the mental health literature and more than 90 citations from the world legal literature. The authors concluded that the diversity of these publications supported the proposition that the concept of parental alienation is generally accepted by mental health and legal professionals. The August 2008 proposal was published in the American Journal of Family Therapy (Bernet, 2008).

After reviewing the August 2008 formal proposal, Daniel Pine, M.D., the chairman of the Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence Work Group, replied that the proposal did not have enough information about the validity of parental alienation as a distinct mental condition, the reliability of the diagnostic criteria, and the prevalence of this condition. Dr. Pine provided constructive criticism to the authors of the proposal and suggested that we either locate or conduct additional research regarding this topic. Dr. Pine indicated that the Work Group would be pleased to consider this additional research as they continue their deliberations regarding the child and adolescent aspects of DSM-V.

With regard to the International Classification of Diseases, Eleventh Edition (ICD-11), of the World Health Organization, there is considerable interest in coordinating as much as possible the content of DSM-V and ICD-11. With that in mind, the authors were invited to submit a proposal regarding parental alienation to the WHO International Advisory Group for the Revision of ICD-10 Mental and Behavioural Disorders. This document—“Parental Alienation, DSM-V, and ICD-11”—has being submitted both to the DSM-V Task Force and the ICD-11 International Advisory Group. This document is based on the August 2008 proposal, “Parental Alienation Disorder and DSM-V,” but is longer and much more detailed. This document contains much more information about the validity, reliability, and prevalence of parental alienation. It also includes a comprehensive international bibliography regarding parental alienation with more than 600 citations.


Although parental alienation has been described in the psychiatric literature for at least 60 years, it has never been considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). When DSM-IV was being developed, nobody formally proposed that parental alienation be included in that edition. Since the publication of DSM-IV in 1994, there have been hundreds of publications (articles, chapters, books, court opinions) regarding parental alienation in peer-reviewed mental health journals, legal literature, and the popular press.

There has been controversy among mental health and legal professionals regarding some aspects of parental alienation, and at times the professional discourse resembled the hostility manifested by entrenched and angry parents fighting over their children.

Regarding our proposed diagnostic criteria, we argue that the essential feature of parental alienation is that a child—usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict divorce—allies himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification. The primary behavioral symptom is that the child refuses or resists contact with a parent, or has contact with a parent that is characterized either by extreme withdrawal or gross contempt.

The primary mental symptom is the child’s irrational anxiety and/or hostility toward the rejected parent. This anxiety and hostility may have been brought about by the preferred parent or by other circumstances, such as the child who avoids being caught between warring parents by gravitating to one side and avoiding the other side of the conflict.

In this document, we differentiate the general concept of parental alienation from parental alienation syndrome. Parental alienation refers to the child’s strong alliance with one parent and rejection of a relationship with the other parent without legitimate justification. Depending on the context, we sometimes use the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS), which is a more complex concept. When we refer to the research and published literature, we use the term PAS if that was the terminology in the original material.

PAS typically refers to a child with parental alienation who manifests some or all of the following eight characteristic behaviors: the child’s campaign of denigration against the alienated parent; frivolous rationalizations for the child’s criticism of the alienated parent; lack of ambivalence; the independent-thinker phenomenon; reflexive support of the preferred parent against the alienated parent; an absence of guilt over exploitation and mistreatment of the alienated parent; borrowed scenarios; and spread of the child’s animosity toward the alienated parent’s extended family (Gardner, 1992a). (These eight behaviors or symptoms are defined in Appendix A.)

Another difference between parental alienation and PAS is that the latter typically includes the idea that one of the parents actively influenced the child to fear and avoid the targeted parent. Although we believe that occurs in many instances, it is not necessary to have an alienating parent for parental alienation to occur. Parental alienation may occur simply in the context of a high-conflict divorce in which the parents fight and the child aligns with one side to get out of the middle of the battle, even with no indoctrination by the favored parent.

Parental alienation and PAS do not describe or pertain to different groups of children. On the contrary, we believe that the children who experience parental alienation are almost the same children who manifest PAS.

The latter is a subset of the former. We believe that the great majority of children who experience parental alienation also manifest some or all of the eight characteristic behaviors of PAS. In other words, parental alienation is simply a general term that is not encumbered by the baggage associated with PAS, i.e., the eight symptoms that constitute the syndrome and the role of the alienating parent. In our use of these terms, parental alienation and PAS are typically descriptors of the child. (For example, “For several years, Jimmy lost the loving relationship he had with his mother because he experienced parental alienation.”) However, the terms could be used to describe the triadic relationship that involved two parents and a child. (For example, “Every member of the Smith family was damaged by a severe degree of parental alienation.”)



Acknowledgements :

The authors appreciate very much the many colleagues who contributed to this proposal, listed here: Jos´e M. Aguilar, Katherine Andre, E. James Anthony, Mila Arch Marin, Eduard Bakal´aˇr, Paul Bensussan, Alice C. Bernet, Kristin Bernet, Barry S. Bien, J. Michael Bone, Barry Bricklin, Andrew J. Chambers, Arantxa Coca Vila, Douglas Darnall, Gagan Dhaliwal, Christian T. Dum, John E. Dunne, Robert A. Evans, Robert Bruce Fane, Bradley W. Freeman, Prof. Guglielmo Gulotta, Anja Hannuniemi, Lena Hellblom Sj¨ogren, Larry Hellmann, Steve Herman, Adolfo Jarne Esparcia, Allan M. Josephson, Joseph Kenan, Ursula Kodjoe, Douglas A. Kramer, Ken Lewis, Moira Liberatore, Demosthenes Lorandos, Ludwig F. Lowenstein, Dom`enec Luengo Ballester, James C. MacIntyre II, Jayne A. Major, Eric G. Mart, Kim Masters, David McMillan, John E. Meeks, Steven G. Miller, Martha J. Morelock, Wade Myers, Olga Odinetz, Jeff Opperman, Robert L. Sain, S. Richard Sauber, Thomas E. Schacht, UlrichSchoettle, Jesse Shaver, Richard K. Stephens, Julie Lounds Taylor, Asunci´on Tejedor Huerta, William M. Tucker, Benoit van Dieren, Hubert Van Gijseghem, James S. Walker, Randy Warren, Monty N. Weinstein, Jack C. Westman, Katie Wilson, Robert H. Woody, and Abe Worenklein.

Correspondence address: William Bernet, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, 1601 Twenty-third Avenue South, Suite 3050, Nashville, TN 37212-7182.


McIntosh fires both barrels – one fake, the other feigned

Having been cajoled into doing some near-sensible work by being “invited” to write a two-part article with some rather more sensible authors, i.e. Pruett & Kelly in April 2014 (see References below), McIntosh repays their kind consideration in trying to retrieve her reputation, by here finally  going off the rails in this bitter ‘up-yours’ parting shot.

The majority of her References are, in fact, her own work or her erstwhile reputable chums Pruett & Kelly, so the reader is left to gauge for themselves the gravitas of her ” Conclusions from the literature.” Her claim of a “. . . . view from an international think tank” is, of course, nothing of the sort (it’s just her cronies), and her “gateway” assumptions” are  a ‘confection’ disguising what are really pre-conditions and unassailable exclusions sprinkled, as one would confetti, over a rather unpalatable alliance.

The delivery of straight line and unadulterated truth is the first casualty. She writes that;

  • The distilled debate goes like this: given in most cases involvement of both parents in a child’s life following separation supports healthy outcomes, should that involvement literally be equal or nearly equal, including for overnight stays, from infancy ?”

Sadly, McIntosh fails to realise no body has ever suggested 50% baby sharing for kids under one, indeed no one has historically ever asked for anything like that amount. But from her point of view, why spoil a good story and undercut one’s own raison d’être ?

She never once bends her mind to the real ‘outcomes’ of life due to father exclusion, some 15 years hence when the child is statistically much more likely to be addicted to drink, drugs, criminality, unemployment and assaulting women.


‘The care of very young children after their parents separate’

 By Dr Jennifer McIntosh MAPS, Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health

and Human Bio-sciences, La Trobe University, and Director, Family Transitions

Aug 2014

Source: Australian Psychological Society (APS)

The care of infants and young children after their parents separate has been fraught with controversy since amendments to the Australian Family Law legislation in 2006. Under this law, when separated parents legally share parental responsibility, they “or courts making decisions on their behalf“ must also consider sharing parenting time, equally or substantively, whenever practical and in “the best interest’s of the child.” While the benefits of shared parental involvement are enshrined in the Act, the potential risks of such legislative expectations for some groups, especially very young children, are only recently being studied.

The distilled debate goes like this: given in most cases involvement of both parents in a child’s’ life following separation supports healthy outcomes, should that involvement literally be equal or nearly equal, including for overnight stays, from infancy ? In this debate, the developmental well-being of infants and the needs of separated parents are often painted as being at odds. Attachment-based researchers and advocates, on one side of the debate, suggest that too much overnight time away from a main care-giver is risky for young children, compromising the early, organising nature of that relationship. On the other side, father involvement advocates and researchers suggest that too little overnight time with the second parent undermines that relationship and its developmental resources (see Pruett, McIntosh & Kelly, 2014, for elaboration on these either/or perspectives).

While the existing body of on-topic research can assist this debate on some fronts, mistranslation and misuse of this meagre evidence base is widespread. This article presents an account of the current research base to provide a clear and balanced view of the conclusions that can “and cannot“ be drawn from this small empirical foundation. Amidst advocate claims on ˜the truth”, the need to be patient and thoughtful about the necessary complexity of the issues has never been greater. Psychologists are well positioned for careful, nuanced analysis, through our knowledge of theory, ability to appraise original research, and daily practices that rest on integrating developmental, psychological, interpersonal and family systems perspectives. This article provides a synopsis of the available research for practising psychologists, and presents a summary of recent work on an integrated framework for helping families to arrive at developmentally sound decisions about post-separation parenting.

Findings of existing research

To attribute the status of science to a field is to say it has attained a reliable level of disciplined knowledge, founded upon a wide, deep, rigorous and well replicated body of research. To be clear, we do not yet have a science of the overnight care of very young children of separated parents, nor does consensus exist about what the small body of studies means for the individual case.

To date there are five studies of overnight care in the pre-school years, with only three of these on infants under three years. Representative samples are very difficult to obtain, as, in the general population, high frequency overnight arrangements for children 0-3 years are uncommon (in Australia 4-6% of separated parents with such young children have shared overnight arrangements at the current policy definition of 35-50%). The available studies each have their limitations and have been difficult to compare as they differ greatly on definitions, sampling, measurement, analytic approaches, sample socio-demographics and so on, and none comprehensively covers all relevant developmental issues. Secondary commentaries on the research are available but care is needed in evaluating their assertions, especially where the boundaries of advocate and academic debate may have become blurred.

Key findings of available studies

The key findings of the five available research studies are summarised below (refer to original publications for sampling and methodological details).

  • Solomon and George (1999) found significantly more disorganised/unclassifiable infant-mother attachments among babies of separated parents who spent regular overnights with a second parent, in comparison to infants from married families. In the one-year follow-up, toddlers who as infants had regular overnights between their separated parents showed more anxious, unsettled and angry behaviour when reunited with their mothers. High parental conflict, anxiety and poor co-parental communication influenced outcomes.
  • Kline Pruett and colleagues (2004) studied outcomes of pre-school children who had any regular overnight time with their second parent against outcomes of those who had no overnights. Some benefits for girls of having some overnights were apparent, but not for boys. Parental conflict, poor parent-child relationships and inconsistency of the parenting schedule were more highly related to children’s difficulties than was number of overnights.
  • Altenhofen, Sutherland and Biringen (2010) studied children aged 2-7 years in separated families who spent at least two nights a week away from their mothers. Fifty-four per cent showed an insecure attachment with the mother, compared to norms of insecurity for non-divorced families of about 31 per cent. Similar to Pruett et al., the most salient contributors to child difficulty were the quality of parenting and the co-parenting relationship.
  • McIntosh and colleagues (2010, 2013) employed the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children database to investigate emotional regulation and stress outcomes. Having a high number of overnights did not predict differences between the 4-5 year old overnight groups, while parenting warmth and co-parenting conflict variables did. For young children and infants, having a high number of overnights independently predicted some problems with emotional regulation, compared to lower rates of overnight care or day contact only, regardless of socio-economic background, parenting or inter-parental cooperation.
  • Tornello and colleagues (2013) used data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, representative of the population of 20 major inner US cities. One year olds with most frequent overnights (one or more per week) were more likely to show attachment insecurity and emotional dysregulation when they were re-assessed at 3 years old. Attachment insecurity at this age in turn predicted adjustment problems at both ages 3 and 5. Frequent overnights at age 3 was not independently linked with adjustment problems at older ages.

Conclusions from the literature

This small body of research indicates that having any overnight stays at all doesn’t seem to be a problem for most young children. There does seem to be a greater chance of difficulty with attachment security and emotional regulation for infants under 3 years who have high frequency overnight schedules, especially in contexts of higher conflict. To summarise, these studies, individually and collectively:

  • Do not support arguments about the significance of parent gender in the overnight equation;
  • Do not support arguments against any overnight care of very young children; and
  • Do support caution about high frequency overnight care for very young children.

Until new evidence to the contrary is obtained, my colleagues and I have recommended caution is warranted when applying legislative presumptions for equal or near equal time splits to very young children. In part fuelled by misunderstanding of the studies, this recommendation has drawn strong attention. The misuse of our studies by some has been relentless, with purpose, design and findings distorted, and unfounded motivations and intent attributed to authors (see Pruett, McIntosh & Kelly, 2014).

As scientists, psychologists know that a multitude of empirical questions remain. In what circumstances are higher time splits helpful or even protective for very young children? What parenting behaviours support security in overnight schedules? What is the place of co-founders in the mix: busy parents, child care, distance, violence, poverty, alcohol, drugs, siblings, supportive grandparents, and so on; there are many things that work for and against infant security in the individual case. We also know that, even with better data, there can be no perfect study for the individual baby, and no one-size-fits-all solution to overnight care dilemmas.

The view from an international think tank

Although the research base is yet too small to support a consensus perspective, expert guidance is still required to support the care of infants and their separated parents in this emotionally charged area. To assist with this process, in January 2013 the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) conducted a three-day think tank in Chicago with over 30 invited international experts from multiple disciplines. Proverbially locked in a room together for that time, we were asked to consider, amongst other questions, whether consensus could be reached about policy guidelines for infant overnight care. The majority concluded consensus could not be reached, given the early stage of scientific knowledge and relative lack of integrative theoretical work to date on this topic (see Pruett & DiFonzo, 2014 for more details)1.

The work of progressing the latter was then tasked to a trio of developmental and divorce researchers/clinicians: Marsha Pruett, Joan Kelly and myself. Historically we three authors have often been regarded as adversaries when it comes to views on overnights. In reality, we found our similarities outweighed our differences, and the perspectives we each brought to the table were critical to the outcome. In true Popperian terms, we tested why each finding or view may not be true, and in true humanistic terms, we worked to find the critical overlap in our thinking, joining science with theory, and grounding it all within the diverse realities of separated families’ lives.

This work resulted in two papers. The first paper (Pruett, McIntosh & Kelly, 2014) focused on relevant developmental and divorce research beneath the twin developmental priorities of retaining joint parental involvement and ensuring early emotional security. Seven points of consensus were reached, as summarised below.

Points of consensus about the developmental needs of young children in families living apart

(Pruett, McIntosh & Kelly, 2014)

  1. Early childhood (0-3 years, including the year of being three) is a period critical to subsequent psychosocial and emotional development and is deserving of special attention and planning in family law matters.
  2. Healthy development in the young child rests on the capacity of caregivers to protect the child from physical harm and undue stress by being a consistent, responsive presence.
  3. Similarly, healthy development rests on the capacity of caregivers to stimulate and support the child’s independent exploration and learning and the process of discovery.
  4. Secure development in this phase requires both continuity in and an expanding care-giving environment for the young child that includes family, community, educational and cultural connections.
  5. A ˜both/and” perspective on early attachment formation and joint parental involvement is warranted. The young child needs early, organised care-giving from at least one, and most advantageously, more than one available caregiver. An optimal goal is a “triadic secure base” constituted by both parents and the child as a family system.
  6. Relevant studies to date substantiate caution about high frequency overnight time schedules in the 0-3 year period, particularly when the child’s security with a parent is unformed, or parents cannot agree how to share care of the child. Equally true, clinical and theoretical cautions against any overnight care in healthy family circumstances have not been supported.
  7. Critical variables in considering readiness for and the likely impact of overnight schedules include psychological and social resources, co-parental dynamics, and nature of each parent-child relationship prior to separation.

In the second companion paper (McIntosh, Pruett & Kelly, 2014), these consensus points were connected to a set of clinical assumptions and related practical considerations, to assist decision-making in the individual case. The framework is an attempt to support nuance and complexity in decision-making, above dichotomies and gender driven debates about whether overnights are simply “good” or “bad”, or whether a child needs to be 1, 2, or 3 years old before they begin. The paper takes the practitioner through several levels of assumptions, and eight specific factors to be weighed for each case, to assist wholistic appraisal [do she mean ‘holistic’ ? RW] of each young child’s needs within their unique care-giving context. This framework for supporting overnight care decisions is summarised below.

Framework for supporting overnight care decisions for young children of separated parents

(McIntosh, Pruett & Kelly, 2014)
At all levels of decision making, from the individual case to broader policy contexts, the focus is on supporting developmentally sensitive resolutions that protect both the vulnerabilities of early childhood and the health of each parent-child relationship, now and into the future, whenever possible.A set of core assumptions provides a critical context for this decision-making process. There are two “gateway” assumptions, which must be met before moving onto deliberations that include overnight time:
  1. The young child is safe with, and can be comforted by, both parents
  2. The young child is protected from harmful levels of stress.

When “gateway” assumptions are not met

When these “gateway” assumptions about the young child’s safety and security, and manageable stress are not met, often involving mental health concerns, extreme conflict and/or family violence, the practitioner is on complex decision-making ground. More benignly, geographic distance, donor circumstances and so on can also create scenarios in which a young child is yet to establish trust and security with their second parent.

For whatever reason, when these “gateway” assumptions are not met, the priority in developing plans is to ensure parenting conditions that enable the child to establish one organised attachment relationship (with practical and therapeutic support as needed), even if that results in a delay or slow introduction of time with the second parent. When overnights are not indicated initially, they may become so with the child’s maturation, and often with the assistance of developmental guidance for parents. 1 When infants and toddlers have two parents with problematic functioning, ongoing therapeutic support is of critical importance.

When “gateway” assumptions are met

When both “gateway” assumptions are met, parents are then encouraged to make plans that:

  • Support the development of organised attachments to each parent/caregiver wherever parenting opportunities and capacities permit
  • Encourage parenting interactions that support the development and maintenance of attachments with each parent
  • Provide the young child with support to transition between parents, including comfort and reassurance as needed
  • Reflect practical considerations including realities of parents’ proximity to each other, work-life schedules and flexibility, or lack of the same, and support networks
  • Maximise the amount of time the young child is cared for by a parent in person
  • Encourage shared decisions about major child-related issues, with use of support services as needed.

Factors in deciding levels of overnight care

An elaborated set of factors is provided to assist parents and practitioners to reflect on specific conditions for effective overnight time-sharing at various levels, noting whether each factor is absent, emerging or established in each case. This grid of considerations lends itself to use in decision tree processes. The factors to consider are as follows (see McIntosh, Pruett & Kelly, 2014 [p. 257] for full table):

  1. The child’s safety with each parent, and parents safety with each other
  2. The child’s trust and security with each parent
  3. Parent mental health
  4. The young child’s health and development
  5. The young child’s behavioural adjustment
  6. Qualities of the co-parental relationship
  7. Pragmatic resources
  8. Family factors: extended and cultural.

Changes to the parenting plan

Plans need to grow and be responsive to the development of the young child, and to the circumstances of each parent. Colloquially, parents could be advised to consider reviewing their parenting plan as frequently as their child changes shoe sizes. More formally, parents are advised to anticipate changes in the parenting plan through a series of well articulated step-ups, implemented at a pace determined by the young child’s responses to each step, and by parent’s ability to effectively enact the proposed plan individually, and preferably, together.

“Step-up” plans are useful in progressing toward overnights, especially when the child has not lived with the second parent or has had significant breaks in contact. Beneath this is the developmental wisdom that building is better than demolition; having to retract a plan that was too much too soon for the child risks rupture in the growing relationship, rather than consolidation.

We advise that higher frequency overnights (above weekly) are not generally indicated for infants 0-18 months, even when all parenting conditions in the table are met. For reasons of temperament or maturation, this will also apply to older infants/toddlers who demonstrate regulation difficulties or other signs that they are stressed by the arrangements.  Parents of course may elect other arrangements, in the context of their circumstances.

Parents are well advised to watch for warning signs that their young child is stressed and to consider what those stress responses may be saying, without assuming fault in the other’s parenting as often happens with separated parents in dispute. Of course, sometimes the frequency of overnights is not as stressful to the child as the spacing and volume of transitions between homes, or the way in which parents are enacting the arrangements. The ability to recognise what a better plan or method would be for the child is critical to creating a responsive, low stress shared care-giving environment.

1 For example, the new Young Children in Divorce and Separation (YCIDS) program, a 90 minute education intervention for separated parents with young children. A recent pilot study used YCIDS in mediation, with results suggesting added utility of YCIDS above general reading. Contact the author for details.



The overriding caveat from our consensus work in all these considerations provides an apt conclusion to this article: “This developmentally based guidance for children 0-3 (i.e. up to 48 months) is not intended to override the discretion of parents who jointly elect to follow other schedules in the best interests of their child, and in the context of their own circumstances” (p. 257).

No amount of research, or legislation, or well-considered clinical guidelines will automatically produce the right parenting plan for the individual child. Responsive, individualised and well-integrated decision-making remains the foundation for developmentally sound post-separation parenting arrangements.




  • Altenhofen, S., Sutherland, K., & Biringen, Z. (2010). Families experiencing divorce: Age at onset of overnight stays, conflict, and emotional availability as predictors of child attachment. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51(3), 141-156.
  • M., McIntosh, J. E., Kelly, J.B. (in press, April 2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children: Consensus through Theoretical and Empirical Integration: Part I. Family Court Review, 52(2), 241-256.
  • Kline Pruett, M., Ebling, R., & Insabella, G. (2004). Critical aspects of parenting plans for young children. Interjecting some data into the debate. Family Court Review, 42, 39-59.
  • McIntosh, J. E., Pruett. M., Kelly, J. B. (2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children, part ii: putting theory into practice. Family Court Review, 52(2), 257-263.
  • McIntosh, J. E., Smyth, B. M., & Kelaher, M. (2013). Overnight care patterns following parental separation: Associations with emotion regulation in infants and young children. Journal of Family Studies, 19(3), 224-239.
  • Solomon, J., & George, C. (1999). The development of attachment in separated and divorced families: Effects of overnight visitation, parent and couple variables. Attachment and Human Development, 1(1), 2-33.
  • Tornello, S. L., Emery, R., Rowen, J., Potter, D., Ocker, B., & Xu, Yishan (2013). Overnight custody arrangements, attachment, and adjustment among very young children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 871-885.

1. Some disagreed. Richard Warshak (March 2014, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law) has published his own statement, said to be of a consensus nature, on infant overnight care. [ “. . . . said to be of a consensus nature” –  it was from over 100 world experts. How self-important, arrogant, egotistical and pompous can McIntosh get ? No, don’t answer that – RW].

NB. McIntosh, the author of the above article can be contacted at

Waiving Aside Wives and Marriage

Cardinal Kasper’s Challenge Distracts from the Real Problem

By Stephen Baskerville, first published in ‘Crisis Magazine’, October 7, 2014

BaskervilleStephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and past president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. He is a Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and his second book, Taken Into Custody: The War against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family, was published by Cumberland House Publishing in 2007.


As the Synod of Bishops on the Family convenes this week, the Catholic Church has a heaven-sent opportunity to atone for one of the biggest failures in modern ecclesiastical history and in so doing to take a major step in resuscitating the Christian faith in the daily lives of millions of people.

The provocative challenge of Cardinal Walter Kasper highlights one of the Church’s (and the churches’) most spectacular lapses in judgment: the refusal to contest the “abolition of marriage” (in Maggie Gallagher’s phrase) that was effected by “no-fault” divorce.

Ducking and diving

Yet as currently framed, the debate over Cardinal Kasper’s proposals stunningly misses the point. By casting the debate in terms of admitting divorced and remarried persons to communion, the Church appears determined once again to avoid confronting the central evil of the Divorce Revolution, the evil that still taints the Church, along with the family and civic life, and one no stable civilization can tolerate. This is involuntary divorce and the injustice committed against the forcibly divorced or innocent spouse, along with his or her children.

The Cardinal makes no distinction between a spouse who abandons the marriage, commits adultery, divorces unilaterally without recognized grounds (“no-fault”), or otherwise violates the marriage covenant in legally recognized ways, and a spouse who is the victim of such deeds. To treat the sinner and the sinned against as if they are the same is to deny the very concept of justice and to place the Church and other institutions on the side of injustice.

This willful neglect of justice in adjudicating divorce—not the dissolution of households per se—was the vitiating outrage of “no-fault” divorce. By not challenging the state’s claim that it may dissolve marriages without any consideration for the consequences or injustices inflicted on the forcibly divorced, the Church followed the state into the realm of amorality, a realm suited to the aggrandizement of institutional power but fundamentally antithetical to both the Gospel and a free society.

Public never consulted

Since this fateful decision, the oxymoron of “no-fault” justice has been gradually poisoning both our culture and the fundamental institutions of our civilization, starting with the family, passing through the Church, and extending to the state machinery, such as the judiciary. Divorce-without-consequences is exacting a devastating toll on our children, our social order, our economic solvency, and our constitutional rights. It has led directly to explosions in cohabitation, illegitimacy, welfare, and crime and to demands for same-sex marriage.

No public debate preceded this ethical bombshell in the 1970s, and none has taken place since. Legislators “were not responding to widespread public pressure but rather acceding to the well-orchestrated lobbying of a few activists,” writes Bryce Christensen. Critically, these are the same sexual ideologues who have since expanded their campaign into a much broader agenda of sexual radicalism: same-sex marriage, abortion-on-demand, sex education for children, women in combat, homosexuals in the military, Obamacare, and more. Feminists were drafting no-fault divorce laws in the 1940s, which the National Association of Women Lawyers now describes as “the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken.” [1] See also Appendix 1.

The result effectively abolished marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family.

The State trumps the Church

The new laws did not stop at removing the requirement of citing grounds for a divorce, to allow divorce by mutual consent, as deceptively advertised at the time. Instead they created unilateral and involuntary divorce, so that one spouse may dissolve a marriage without any agreement or fault by the other. Moreover, the spouse who abrogates the marriage contract incurs no liability for the costs or consequences, creating a unique and unprecedented legal anomaly. Robert Whelan of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, writes:

“In all other areas of contract law those who break a contract are expected to compensate their partner but under a system of ‘no fault’ divorce, this essential element of contract law is abrogated.”

The result was to unleash precisely the moral and social chaos that it is the role of the family to control, and powerful interests were not slow to capitalize. Legal practitioners immediately began encouraging business by taking the side of the violator. Attorney Steven Varnis points out that “the law generally supports the spouse seeking the divorce, even if that spouse was the wrongdoer.” [ In the UK low cost / free ‘legal aid’ was available until 2013, but only to those seeking to dissolve a marriage – RW ].

“No-fault” did not remove fault, therefore; it simply allowed government officials to redefine it however they pleased and to treat legally unimpeachable citizens as malefactors. Barbara Whitehead in ‘The Divorce Culture’ observed:

“According to therapeutic precepts, the fault for marital breakup must be shared, even when one spouse unilaterally seeks a divorce. Many husbands and wives who did not seek or want divorce were stunned to learn … that they were equally ‘at fault’ in the dissolution of their marriages.”

Creeping civil liberties violations

The judiciary was expanded from its traditional role of punishing crime or tort to refereeing private family life and punishing personal imperfections. One could now be summoned to court without having committed any legal infraction; the verdict was pre-determined; and one could be punished for things that were not illegal. Lawmakers created an “automatic outcome,” writes Judy Parejko, author of Stolen Vows. “A defendant is automatically found ‘guilty’ of irreconcilable differences and is not allowed a defense.”

Though marriage is a civil matter, the logic quickly extended into the criminal, including a presumption of guilt against the involuntarily divorced spouse (“defendant”). Yet formal due process protections of criminal proceedings did not apply, so forcibly divorced spouses became quasi-criminals not for recognized criminal acts but for failing or refusing to cooperate with the divorce by continuing to claim the protections and prerogatives of family life: living in the common home, possessing the common property, or – most vexing of all – parenting the common children.

Following from this are the horrendous civil liberties violations and flagrant invasions of family and individual privacy that are now routine in family courts. A personalized criminal code is legislated by the judge around the forcibly divorced spouse, controlling their association with their children, movements, and finances. Unauthorized contact with their children can be punished with arrest. Involuntarily divorced parents are arrested for running into their children in public, making unauthorized telephone calls, and sending unauthorized birthday cards.

Applauding homelessness

Cardinal Kasper’s agenda ignores all this and will certainly make it worse. Indeed, what he is demanding is a kind of no-fault church discipline, which will debase the Eucharist and church membership, just as no-fault divorce has already debased marriage and the secular justice system, by allowing clergy to redefine sin and cheapen repentance: “If a divorced and remarried person is truly sorry that he or she failed in the first marriage … can we refuse him or her the sacrament of penance and communion?” But sincere repentance requires an effort to rectify the harm caused by one’s sin.

Does the Cardinal’s definition of “truly sorry” entail undertaking to compensate one’s former spouse for being summarily evicted from his or her home, or deprived of his children, or serving jail time for unauthorized parenting or trumped-up accusations of “child abuse” or “domestic violence” that are now routine in divorce proceedings? Does it include compensating one’s children for depriving them of a father throughout their childhood ? These are the realities of modern divorce, not the sanitized understanding being presented by the Cardinal.

Rendering, or surrendering, unto Caesar ?

But perhaps the most explosive question: Why is the Church not willing to sort out the difference, both in its doctrine and in each individual case? Is it because the distinction between justice and injustice—central to the Gospel itself—would force the Church to confront the injustices perpetrated by a state that has dangerously overstepped its authority and the Church’s own failure to act as the society’s conscience on a matter involving its own ministry ?

For the Church is simply following the politicians. In contrast with same-sex marriage, abortion, and pornography, politicians and even self-described “pro-family” groups studiously avoid challenging divorce laws. Gallagher writes:

“Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.”

The exception proves the rule. When Pope John Paul II spoke out in January 2002 – calling divorce a “festering wound” with “devastating consequences that spread in society like the plague” – he was attacked not only from the left but also by conservatives like Tunku Varadarajan in the Wall Street Journal.

Likewise, this power grab by ideologues and state functionaries [apparatchiks ] at the expense of the family and private sphere of life was met by the churches with silence. Here is a sacrament consecrated by the Church, vowed before God and witnessed by the congregation [ “ . . . . let no man put asunder”]. But then ‘the state’ comes along and simply tears it up, and the Church mounts no serious response.

In the showdown that never took place over sexual morality and the supervision of private family life, this was the moment the two jurisdictions were forced into a direct confrontation and the state simply and decisively told the Church who is boss. [the Church caved in to the mantra The personal is the political]. From the moment that the Church failed to inform the state that it could not simply countermand God’s covenant governing the family, the Church has been little more than an ornament in marriage and therefore in the lives of most people.

Marriage is today the most critical interface of church and state. Whoso controls marriage governs society, not least because it becomes “the hand that rocks the cradle.”

This rivalry is not apparent in the terms by which marriage is contracted and consecrated. Here church and state cooperate quite effortlessly: a ceremony, a signature.

Sham sanctity ?

Where the power struggle ensues is in the terms by which a marriage can be dissolved, and it was the Divorce Revolution that precipitated the battle that the Church refused to fight. The Church, along with its Protestant counterparts, ceded to the state the authority to dissolve marriages at its own pleasure and on its own terms and to erect a regime of governmental micromanagement over the private lives of the contracted parties, innocent as well as guilty—all without scrutiny or objection by these churches who consecrated the supposedly sacred union.

Far from upholding a sacred covenant, the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, are thus parties to a fraudulent contract. They have allowed their marriage ministry to become a bait-and-switch, luring unsuspecting parties into a supposedly binding and lifelong union, where they are then sitting ducks for state functionaries to come along and simply tear up the covenant and seize control over their lives and children. And the state tears up not only the secular contract, but the covenant between the spouses, the congregation, and God. The state’s edict countermands the churches’ covenant and with it the churches’ entire authority. With the churches’ acquiescence, the state’s officials put God in His place.

Power play

However impeccable the churches’ doctrine, and whatever verbal lamentations they have expressed over divorce “culture,” what the churches have not done is resist the state’s claim to monopoly control over the terms of divorce and to supervise the private lives of the forcibly divorced: the churches have never raised their voices against the state’s usurpation of power; they have never defended innocent victims of the unilateral divorce injustice or interposed themselves between the state and innocent spouses; they have never challenged state functionaries taking the homes and children of innocent people; they have never gone to court to see that justice is done to the involuntarily divorced; they have never campaigned to change the laws governing divorce or prevent the enactment of more; and they have never even discussed the possibility of threatening to not consecrate marriage covenants until the state stops unilaterally tearing them up.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

This is demanding a lot from the churches and all of us. But less existential confrontations with the state faced churchmen like Ambrose and Becket and Fisher, and nothing less is required if the churches expect to withstand the crisis posed not only by figures like Cardinal Kasper but also the larger radical sexual regime: same-sex marriage, abortion-on-demand, sex education, Obamacare, plus the creeping criminalization of parents and others who dissent, including ordinary Christians.

Divorce is where Christians can and must draw a line and launch a vigorous counterattack that will enlist stakeholders from secular society: ordinary citizens who can at last be brought to realize why the Church and God must have a central place in both our public and private lives if we are to have any private lives at all.


Appendix 1


‘No-fault’ Divorce: the pedigree

(additional notes by R. Whiston)

 As long ago as 1947, National Association of Women Lawyers, [US] began promoting no-fault divorce to bar associations and state governments. The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) claims credit for no-fault divorce, which it describes as “the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken.”

But this is hardly new. As early as the American Revolution and throughout the 19th century, “divorce became an increasingly important measure of women’s political freedom as well as an expression of feminine initiative and independence,” writes Whitehead, adding:

  • “The association of divorce with women’s freedom and prerogatives…remained an enduring and important feature of American divorce.”

Indeed, US marriage and divorce statistics for the 19th century show huge numbers engaged in both marriage and divorce.

The Uniform Divorce Bill
“The greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken” is the description given by committee chair Matilda Fenberg to NAWL’s pioneering work to create a Uniform Divorce Bill. At the 1947 NAWL convention in Cleveland, it was voted to draft and promote a bill that would embody the ideal of no-fault divorce. A draft prepared by Fenberg, working with NAWL past presidents Helen M. Cirese and J. Helen Slough, was approved at the 1952 convention in Berkeley, California.

While the Left (Liberals or Democrats) was revolutionizing the legal structure of marriage, the ‘conservative’ (i.e. Republican or Right) response was to lament and bemoan. “Republicans did not want to alienate their upscale constituents or their libertarian wing, both of whom tended to favor easy divorce,” writes Barbara Whitehead in The Divorce Culture, “nor did they want to call attention to the divorces among their own leadership.” When Vice President Dan Quayle famously denounced unwed motherhood, he was careful to add, “I am not talking about a situation where there is a divorce.” Maggie Gallagher’s complaint has become a prophecy for today’s politics: “Opposing gay marriage … is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue. . . . The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.”

The divorce revolution weakened marriage and fatherhood among members of the middle class in striking parallel to what welfare inflicted on the poor. In addition, the surge in divorce has expanded the welfare state itself to include the middle class, turning programs conceived to address the problems of low-income, single-parent homes into financial incentives for middle-class divorce.

The US welfare reform of 1996 did not end the federal subsidy of single-mother homes; instead, it shifted it to mandatory child support – after all, fathers should be supporting their children.

From a British perspective, the sexual revolution prepared the way for this massive change, but, as Melanie Phillips writes in The Sex-Change Society, the changes in the law preceded the cultural shift, i.e. they were never based on and did not respond to public demands:

  • “The divorce laws … were reformed by unrepresentative groups with very particular agendas of their own and which were not in step with public opinion.”
  • “Public attitudes were gradually dragged along behind laws that were generally understood at the time to mean something very different from what they subsequently came to represent.”

The concern about the impact of undermining family values goes back a long way. The following is a statement made on July 17, 2003 by Bill Wood to the FC-8 Hearing on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse (a personal submission to Testimony for the Ways and Means Committee):-

  • “Family law” is one of the key tools of the “counter-hegemony” which is used to advance the social welfare state through the promotion of the social structural collapse of America. The early Soviet system focused on personal happiness and self-centered fulfillment with its roots in class warfare. When it was determined that this type of class warfare directed at the family was a complete failure, the Soviets worked quickly to restore the traditional nuclear family in the 1940’s. Shortly after this, the NAWL (National Association of Women Lawyers) began their push for adopting these failed Soviet policies in America.[7] America’s version of “family law” has adopted much of the early Soviet failed version of class warfare, while adopting new and more insidious Gramscian versions with gender, cultural, and social warfare components.
  • When the Bolsheviki came into power in 1917 they regarded the family… with fierce hatred, and set out… to destroy it… [O]ne of the first decrees of the Soviet Government abolished the term ‘illegitimate children… by equalizing the legal status of all children, whether born in wedlock or out of it… The father of a child is forced to contribute to its support, usually paying the mother a third of his salary in the event of a separation… At the same time a law was passed which made divorce [very quick]… at the request of either partner in a marriage…[Marriage became a game where it] was not… unusual… for a boy of twenty to have had three or four wives, or for a girl of the same age to have had three or four abortions. [T]he peasants… bitterly complained: ‘Abortions cover our villages with shame. Formerly we did not even hear of them.’
  • Gramsci wrote, “The conception of law will have to be freed from every remnant of transcendence and absoluteness, practically from all moralist fanaticism.” Law schools across America teach Gramscian “critical theory” as well as other communist ideals. A Westlaw or Lexis search reveals not just dozens, but hundreds and hundreds of legal articles, law reviews, and other materials on feminism, homosexuality, and various forms of Gramscian class “victimology.” [2]

[7] Selma Moidel Smith, A Century of Achievement: The Centennial of the National Association of Women Lawyers, pg 10. (1999); See also ABA’s Family Law Quarterly, 33 Fam. L.Q. 501, 510-511. Family Law and American Culture – Women Lawyers in Family Law, Section B. The Crusade for No-Fault Divorce. (Fall, 1999).

 E N D



[1] It was in 1947 that the American ‘National Assoc of Women Lawyers, began promoting ‘no-fault’ divorce to Bar Associations and State Governments.

[2] Testimony for the Ways and Means Committee, A personal submission not on behalf of anyone else and these are my own views. “Roots of the American Culture and Community in disarray.” FC-8 Hearing on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, 17 July 2003

“Father-centred” research – the missing piece

“Discontinuity Between Pre- and Post-Divorce Father-Child Relationships:

New Evidence Regarding Paternal Disengagement”

 By Prof. Edward Kruk (1992)

If Shared Parenting is high on the Political Agenda, is endlessly discussed in academic circles, and is the common currency across the Western World it is in no small measure due to trail-blazers and pioneers like Edward Kruk featured here. Even this, a 1992 paper, was far ahead of its time and for that reason is included in this blog of what can happen all too often to children of divorce. Ten years ago when it was written the mind-set was very much narrower and much more subject to political correctness than the present day. It would have been received as something akin to heresy compared to the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the day.              

The 1990’s were a time when the ‘intelligentsia’ sold society short: they  were convinced that in the raising of a child there was not need for a man – he was redundant; “A woman could do it all perfectly well – if not better all alone !”  That is now a myth lying shattered into a thousand pieces – with millions of juveniles, and our prisons, to prove the very opposite. Here, arguably for the first time in research delving into the effects of divorce on couples and children, we have the missing piece – “father-centred” research.

Here, in this one diagram [below] is perhaps epitomised the crux of the argument, the distillation of the grief and grievous treatment fathers feel they personify.


“Discontinuity Between Pre- and Post-Divorce Father-Child Relationships:

New Evidence Regarding Paternal Disengagement”


Through a systematic analysis of the link between pre- and post-divorce father-child relationships, this paper examines the issue of non-custodial fathers’ loss of contact with their children and families after divorce. A cross-national survey of 80 non-custodial fathers revealed a striking discontinuity between father-child relationships before and after divorce, with those fathers most in­volved with and attached to their children during the marriage being most likely to lose contact after divorce, and those relatively less involved and attached more likely to remain in contact. Where the pre-divorce father-child relationship was intense, the consequences of divorce and fathers’ adaptation to these consequences are likely to be highly problematic. The case is made that non-custodial fathers’ disengagement from their children’s lives after divorce results from a combination of structural constraints and fathers’ own psychologi­cal response to the absence of their children and loss of the pre- divorce father-child relationship.

Current fatherhood research suggests that despite varying levels of actual child care involvement among fathers, generally speaking, fathers’ emotional investment in their children prevails over other [1] aspects of their lives (Cohen, 1987), and fathers’ attachment bonds with their children can no longer be regarded as secondary (Lamb, 1976; Rutter, 1972). It is thus likely that fathers experience significant emotional hardship during the time of divorce and after, particularly if they had been previously highly involved with and attached to their children and, as non-custodial parents, are forced to adapt to a “visiting” relationship with their children.

For non-custodial fathers, a particularly ominous consequence of divorce is the possible loss of one’s children. In fact, the stability of continued and frequent contact rarely occurs between these fathers and their children; the disengagement of non-custodial fathers from the lives of their children is a widespread and well documented phenomenon. In a representative sample of children aged 11 to 16, it was found that in 52% of cases, children’s last contact with their fathers had been one or more years prior; only one-third saw their fathers on a monthly basis or more (Furstenberg et al., 1983). The disengagement process typically begins soon after the parental separation and gradually increases, most sharply at about 12 months post-separation (Hetherington et al., 1976); between 25-30% of children lose contact in this first year (Mitchell, 1985).

In an effort to gain a better understanding of the disengagement phenomenon, the present study undertook an examination of the link between pre- and post-divorce father-child relationships, comparing those non-custodial fathers who had lost all contact with their children (“disengaged” fathers) with those who managed to maintain the relationship (“contact” fathers). The following questions comprise our focus:

– What are some of the characteristics of the “now-contact” versus “now-disengaged” subgroups in regard to the father-child relationship before divorce; i.e., fathers’ participation and involvement in child care and child rearing functions, level of emotional attachment between fathers and children, and fathers’ actual influence in various areas of their children’s lives?

– What are some of the characteristics of the “contact” versus “disengaged” subgroups in regard to the father-child relationship during the process of divorce?

– What are some of the characteristics of the “now-contact” versus “now-disengaged” subgroups in regard to the father-child relationship before divorce; i.e., fathers’ participation and involvement in child care and child rearing functions, level of emotional attachment between fathers and children, and fathers’ actual influence in various areas of their children’s lives?

– What are the characteristics of the “contact” versus “disengaged” subgroups in regard to the father-child relationship after divorce?

– What factors contribute to non-custodial fathers maintaining contact with their children after divorce?

– What factors contribute to the disengagement of non-custodial fathers after divorce?

To date, the issue of non-custodial fathers’ contact with or disengagement from their children has not been empirically or systematically examined. It is commonly assumed, however, that post-divorce father-child relationships will largely reflect those previously existing within the marriage. That is, those fathers enjoying a comparatively active role with their children before the divorce will want to maintain, and will strive to continue, such a role after divorce — and hence are the group most likely to have on-going (post-divorce) contact. Such fathers are more likely to form strong attachment bonds which they will actively seek to preserve. Conversely, it is expected that those fathers who locate themselves on the periphery of their children’s lives before the divorce will be the group most likely to lose contact; they will become the “disengaged” fathers.

The assumption that the father-child relationship will, generally speaking, be continuous in the post-divorce period with that which had obtained during the marriage is in accord with prevailing “common-sense” notions as well as with psychological theory. Wallerstein and Kelly (1980), however, in looking at the patterns of contact between non-custodial fathers and their children, discovered that the relation between pre- and post-divorce patterns was surprisingly varied: the way in which a non-custodial father managed to define his post-divorce parenting role was not necessarily correlated with the nature of his pre-divorce role. Eighteen months after divorce (separation), there was no correlation between the visiting patterns that had emerged and the pre-divorce father-child relationship (Wallerstein and Kelly, 1980).

Contrary to “common-sense” assumptions, the authors found no differences between those non-custodial fathers who remained in contact and those who disengaged from their children’s lives in the level of their involvement with and attachment to their children before the divorce. In a five-year follow-up, they continued to find no correlation between the closeness in father-child relationships before and after divorce: 25% of the fathers in their study grew more distant from their children in the space of five years, but another 25% actually grew closer.

Wallerstein and Kelly, however, drew their sample from a clinical population of parents and their children, and provided a counselling service aimed partly at ensuring on-going contact between fathers and their children. In comparing the two sub-groups of ‘contact’ and ‘disengaged’ fathers, one of our objectives was to examine whether pre- and post-divorce father-child relationship patterns are similar to those identified by Wallerstein and Kelly, or whether they tend to conform to the “common-sense” formulation.



The study utilized a survey research design, employing an eight-part questionnaire administered in the context of a personal inter¬view, with a total sample of 80 non-custodial divorced fathers of 128 children, 40 residing in Scotland and 40 in Canada, half of whom, at the time of the survey, had ongoing and regular contact with their children and half of whom were disengaged from their children’s lives. To control for variation within the sample, the fol¬lowing eligibility criteria were established: no more than two children in the family, the elder child being under 16 years of age at interview, and the father having neither physical nor legal custody of the child(ren) of the marriage. In each case the children lived with their mothers, who retained physical and in most cases legal custody.

It was felt that the use of court records to generate a sample would result in the most representative cross-section of such men. Approval of access to court records in Scotland, however, was not forthcoming, and there we were obliged to adopt the second-best strategy of attempting to recruit fathers from a variety of sources, primarily by means of advertizing in the local press. In Canada, it was decided to retain court records as the basis for generating the most representative sample possible. The Scottish and Canadian samples, when compared, were almost identical demographically, a gratifying result given the different sampling procedures used and the reliance on non-random sampling in Scotland.

Data Collection and Measures

The interview proceeded from an initial focus on demographic information and family history to an increasingly open-ended exploration of various psychological and structural aspects of the divorce and post-divorce experience. For many fathers, this represented the first opportunity to discuss their feelings and experiences related to the divorce in a detailed and thoughtful way; on the average, the interviews lasted between two and two and one-half hours, the shortest being one hour, the longest three hours.

Each of the interviews began by obtaining demographic data about the father and the pre- and post-divorce family. Descriptive data about the pre-divorce father-child relationship, including the father’s involvement with and attachment to his children, was then sought, as well as information concerning the father’s perception of the marriage and his previous “father” role, details about the transition period during divorce and the father’s feelings and experiences during this time, information regarding the legal aspects of the divorce, including custody, access and financial determinations, and the father’s experiences with the legal system, as well as with any other sources of help sought, details about various aspects of the post-divorce experience, with an emphasis on the changing father-child relationship, data about the physical and mental health effects of the divorce on the respondent, as well as repercussions on his employment, data about changes in the “father” role before and after divorce, designed to measure (by means of a Likert-type scale) the father’s perception of any change in ten areas of influence which comprise the “father” role,1 and further details about both the positive and negative aspects of the father-child relationship after divorce.

Our dependent variable – paternal post-divorce contact with children – was determined according to the level of contact the father currently had with his children: fathers who had at least one direct physical contact with their children in the month prior to the time of the interview were classified as “contact” fathers; those who had no direct physical contact with their children in the month prior were considered to be “disengaged.” Although the actual levels of father-child contact in the “contact” group of fathers varied from once a month to several visits per week, most of these fathers saw their children on a once-weekly or bi-monthly basis during weekend access periods. None of the disengaged fathers had in fact seen their children for at least three months preceding the interview; most had lost contact over a year prior.

The study was based on the perspective of non-custodial fathers only; their wives or children were not interviewed to corroborate the data obtained. In light of the lacuna in the literature vis-à-vis the non-custodial and disengaged father, however, a case may be made for the validity and value of such “father-centred” research. There is a considerable body of research concerning the impact of divorce on mothers and children, and the findings of this study may be compared to this existing research; further, to study non-custodial fatherhood and disengagement necessitates a beginning focus on non-custodial fathers’ self-reports of those phenomena, and a perception of their testimony as valid for its own sake.

Demographic Characteristics

The 80 fathers in the study spanned the range of occupational categories. Their mean age at the date of the survey was 39 years 3 months, ranging from 24 to 56. The former marriage was the first for 69 of the men; 11 had been remarried. The mean length of the marriage to separation was 8 years 3 months, ranging from 4 months to 24 years. Of the 80 separated fathers, 39 were legally divorced; 9 of these had remarried since the divorce. The mean length of the separation at the time of the interview was 3 years 4 months, ranging from 3 months to 6 years 11 months. For the 39 legally divorced fathers, the mean length of the divorce at the time of the interview was 1 year 10 months, ranging from 1 month to 5 years 7 months. For the 9 fathers who were now remarried, the mean length of the remarriage was 2 years 3 months, ranging from 1 month to 5 years.

In 54 (68%) of the 80 cases, the wife initiated the separation, the husband did so in 18 (23%) and there was a mutual decision in 8 (10%) instances. In 28 (72%) of the 39 legal divorces, the wife was the petitioner, the husband in 11 (28%). In half of the divorces where the wife was the petitioner, the respondent indicated that he wanted the divorce, in contrast to an overwhelming number of men (89%) who had not wanted the separation to occur when their wives had been the initiators.

The children of the former marriage ranged in age from one to 15 years (at interview), with a fairly equal distribution for each year of age. Thirty-two of the fathers had one child and 48 had two chil¬dren: of the 80 older or only children, 42 (52%) were female and 38 (48%) were male; of the 48 younger children, 25 (52%) were fe¬male and 23 (48%) were male.


Pre-Divorce Factors

Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) found little association between the closeness of father-child relationships before and after divorce: the nature and extent of a non-custodial father’s pre-divorce parenting role did not necessarily translate itself to the post-divorce situation. Our finding regarding the link between pre- and post-divorce father- child relationships stands in contrast to that of Wallerstein and Kelly, yet diverges even further from what “common-sense” no¬tions lead us to assume: rather than there being no correlation be¬tween pre- and post-divorce father-child relationship patterns, there appears to be a strong inverse relationship; that is, those fathers describing themselves as having been highly involved with and attached to their children during the marriage were more likely to lose contact with their children after divorce, whereas those originally on the periphery of their children’s lives were more likely to remain in contact. There are thus two major subgroups of non-custodial fathers and for each the outcome of divorce in terms of their direct involvement with their children appears to be diametrically opposed to pre-divorce patterns.

The reliability of this largely unexpected finding warrants examination, particularly in light of the self-report and retrospective nature of the study. It was suspected that now-disengaged fathers’ high reported levels of pre-divorce involvement with, attachment to, and influence on their children may be largely an artifact of recall: the importance of interaction with one’s children may be heightened by separation from and loss of contact with them, and disengaged fathers in particular may tend to embellish the former relationship. Corroborative data from other members of the divorced family was not available, and we had no direct access to information about the former father-child relationship, other than that given to us solely by the fathers themselves and solely by their recollection.

It was noted, however, that the aggregate reported rates of pre- divorce paternal involvement, attachment, and influence (from the entire sample of non-custodial fathers, contact and disengaged) fell well within the range of existing studies of the paternal role in the two-parent family. Kamo (1988) reports that on the average hus¬bands in the U.S. carry 36% of the total domestic workload (domes¬tic tasks plus child care), which increases to 41% when both spouses are employed full-time and to 43% when both earn approximately the same amount of money; in Britain, Martin and Roberts (1984) found that while 44% of married women working full-time said they shared overall family work (domestic tasks plus child care), 67% saw child care as shared. Our overall mean levels of paternal participation in a range of infant care tasks, for example (ranging from 24 to 46% —relative to wives’ involvement), are well within the range of these and other studies (40% in Warner, 1986, and 27% in Berk, 1985). Further, fathers’ involvement with, and at¬tachment to and influence on their children before the divorce were measured by means of a number of discrete indices; multiple measures relevant to the same dimension were used, and on each of these, disengaged fathers consistently reported significantly higher levels than contact fathers. In addition, several questions relating to attitudes and ideologies regarding gender roles in the family were included; these corresponded to reported rates of involvement, attachment and influence.

In regard to their level of involvement in a variety of infant care tasks, significant differences were observed between contact and disengaged fathers in reported rates of playing with the baby, lull¬ing the baby to sleep, and taking the baby for a walk, with disengaged fathers indicating higher rates of participation (all ρ < .Ol),2 as well as in taking the baby to the doctor and looking after him or her when he or she was ill (p < .05). There were also significant differences in the reported amount of contact with children in the year before the divorce (p < .05): while contact fathers spent an average of 12 hours per week with their children alone and 16 hours with others present, disengaged fathers spent 20 hours alone and 20 hours with others.

In addition to fathers’ reports of their behaviour vis-à-vis their children within the marriage, their level of emotional attachment was measured. While fathers generally reported high levels of at¬tachment, here too significant differences emerged between the contact and disengaged sub-groups. Disengaged fathers reported “very strong” attachment to their children to a significantly greater degree than did contact fathers, who more frequently reported “strong” and “moderate” attachment (p < .05). This pattern was reflected in fathers’ self-ratings on a number of attachment indices (thinking about children, wanting to be with children when not with them, comforting children when in distress, and discussing feelings with children): disengaged fathers reported significantly higher levels (p < .01). With respect to role attachment, almost all (38 of 40) disengaged fathers found their family role to be the most satisfying during the marriage, whereas only just over half (22 of 40) of con¬tact fathers did so, with 18 of 40 contact fathers indicating a primary attachment to their work or other (non-family) roles (p < .001).


28 of 40 contact fathers exhibited the following:

26 of 40 disengaged fathers exhibited the following:

Paternal involvement in infant care tasks Scored within lower half of mean levels Scored within the upper half of mean levels
Paternal involvement in four traditionally “female” domestic tasks (laundry, cooking family meals, cleaning house, and shopping), and in four traditionally “male” tasks (household repairs, earning money, taking out rubbish, and family money management) Scored within lower half of mean levels in four traditionally “female” tasks and upper half of mean levels in four traditionally “male” tasks Scored within upper half of mean levels in four traditionally “female” tasks
Weekly contact with children in the year before the divorce Scored lower than mean of 15.3 hours alone with children and 18.2 hours with others Scored higher than mean both alone with children and with others
Emotional attachment to children before divorce More likely to be reported as less then “very strong” More likely to be reported as “very strong”
Attachment behaviours (thinking about children when not with them, wanting to be with children when not with them, comforting children when ill and reassuring them when in distress, and talking with children about feelings) More likely to be reported as less then “very often” More likely to be reported as “very often”
Role satisfaction during marriage Less likely to be reported as family- or child-oriented (and more likely to be non- family or child-oriented) More likely to be reported as family- or child-oriented (and less likely to be non- family or child-oriented)
Paternal influence in ten areas of children’s growth and development before the divorce Scored within lower half of mean levels Scored within upper half of mean levels
Definitions of “fathering” and “mothering” roles More likely to be “traditional” in orientation/ greater likelihood of differentiation of gender roles in the family More likely to be “non- traditional” in orientation/ no differentiation of gender roles in the family
Attitudes toward solicitors and/ or the judicial system More likely to be reported as positive Reported as negative
Satisfaction with legal custody and access and children’s di? /Su? in living arrangement More likely to be reported as satisfied Reported as dissatisfied
Desired (at least partial) physical custody of children at time of divorce Less likely to be reported as desired Reported as desired
Desired levels of (present) post-divorce contact with children More likely to be reported as less than “a tot more” Reported as “a lot more”
(Present) post-divorce contact with ex-wife More likely to be reported as better than “very unfriendly “ Reported as “unfriendly ” or “non-existent”
Ex-wife’s encouragement of post-divorce paternal contact with children More likely to be reported as encouraging Reported as discouraging
Evaluation of (present) post-divorce parenting abilities Reported as positive or improvement in parenting abilities after divorce More likely to be reported as negative
Paternal influence in ten areas of children’s growth and development after divorce Scored within upper half of mean levels/ minimal or no loss of paternal influence from before to after divorce more likely to be reported Scored within lower half of mean levels/ significant loss of paternal influence from before to after divorce more likely to be reported
Negative effects of “visiting” on fathers More likely to be reported as minimal or non-existent Reported as significant
Negative effects of “visiting ” on children More likely to be reported as minimal or non-existent Reported as significant
Negative effects of child absence More likely to be reported as minimal or non-existent Reported as significant
Negative effects of father absence More likely to be reported as minimal or non-existent Reported as significant
Negative effects of divorce on children More likely to be reported as minimal or non-existent Reported as significant


Paternal influence in various areas of children’s growth and development before the divorce was also measured. In 9 of the 10 areas examined, disengaged fathers reported significantly higher levels of influence than contact fathers; differences between the two groups emerged in the areas of routine daily care and safety of children, personality development, intellectual development, physical development, and moral development (all ρ < .01), in addition to giving children a feeling of being part of a family, teaching behaviour and social skills, emotional development, and religious development (all ρ < .05). There were no significant differences be¬tween the two groups in their pre-divorce influence on the financial affairs of their children.

Markedly different perceptions emerged between contact and dis-engaged fathers in relation to attitudes toward gender role division in the family, fathers’ reported strengths and weaknesses as parents during the marriage, and definitions of “fathering,” “mothering” and “family life.” Whereas contact fathers’ responses were divided between “traditional” and “androgynous” orientations to gender roles and division of labour within the family, the great majority of disengaged fathers tended toward an “androgynous” stance, ex¬pressing sentiments favouring an egalitarian division of family work. When asked directly about gender role division within the family (“Would you say that there is a fundamental difference in roles between the father and the mother in the family? What would you say are the major differences?”), clear differences emerged between contact and disengaged fathers (Table 1).


The following typifies contact fathers’ description of their pre-divorce fathering role:

“My marriage was a traditional one in relation to roles. That’s changed for me since the separation, and I’m coping. But in the marriage I was the provider and she was looking after the house and the children —it was very clear-cut.”

Disengaged fathers marked out a very different scenario. These fathers described being emotionally connected to their children in strong and intimate ways, defining their “fathering” role as a central component of their identity:

“Definitions of fathering vary tremendously but I personally would equate it with parenting: a complete commitment to one’s child, the major responsibility in one’s life, a combination of nurturance, encouraging autonomy and initiative within prescribed limits. It’s setting the stage to allow a child to grow and develop his potential to the maximum.

It’s a way of living—getting up with your children, eating with them, doing work together, reading with them, hugging them, putting them to sleep, dealing with their fears, and enjoying their pleasures — living with them.”

Factors During Divorce

In addition to markedly different patterns between contact and disengaged fathers with respect to the pre-divorce father-child rela­tionship, differences were also evident between the two groups re­garding patterns and experiences during the process of divorce. Im­mediately following the parental separation, involvement with legal practitioners and the legal system was identified as a highly salient component of non-custodial fathers’ experiences, and a number of important differences emerged between contact and disengaged fa­thers in terms of the legal aspects of the divorce.

There was no significant difference between contact and disen­gaged fathers in their pattern of contesting child custody in court: of the 15 contesting fathers, 9 remained in contact with their children and 6 became disengaged. There was no relationship between pater­nal contact and spousal disagreement over the issue of custody at the time of the divorce, nor was there any difference between the two groups in terms of desired legal (paternal or joint) custody of the children. There was a difference, however, in relation to desired physical custody of the children at the time of the divorce (p < .05), with disengaged fathers expressing a desire for at least partial physi­cal custody with greater frequency than contact fathers; a startling 88% of now-disengaged fathers indicated that they had wanted, at the time of the divorce, to have their children live with them at least part of the time. Further, when asked about their desired level of contact with their children after divorce, disengaged fathers ex­pressed a wish for increased levels with much greater frequency than contact fathers (p < .001). Thus from the point of divorce, at which time they report a greater desire for at least partial physical custody, now-disengaged fathers’ requirements for post-divorce contact with their children appear to be greater than those of now- contact fathers.

The discrepancy between disengaged fathers’ initial desires in regard to child custody and access and the actual post-divorce ar­rangements made is striking. Clearly, those fathers who legally dis­puted custody did not constitute all of those who wanted custody of their children; there appear to be powerful factors mediating be­tween fathers’ stated desires at the time of divorce and the final outcome of paternal non-custody, and between these desires and fathers’ subsequent inaction vis-à-vis pursuit of custody. Fathers described the role of legal practitioners as crucial in transforming their aspirations regarding what could be achieved through the legal system; lawyers assumed a key role in persuading fathers not to pursue custody, or lessening their aspirations concerning their level of post-divorce contact with their children. In 55% of cases, law­yers actively discouraged fathers from pursuing custody; only 12% agreed with or encouraged it. In contrast, lawyers encouraged the pursuit of legal access arrangements; in this regard, fathers were often told that a “reasonable” level of access was the “customary” pattern of bi-monthly visitation.

There were significant differences between contact and disen­gaged fathers in their satisfaction with the legal maternal custody arrangement, with 12 of the 14 fathers satisfied with the legal ar­rangement being contact fathers, and 33 of the 51 dissatisfied being disengaged (p < .01). There were also differences in relation to fathers’ reasons for dissatisfaction with the legal maternal custody arrangement, with legal maternal custody determinations often cited by disengaged fathers as responsible for their loss of contact with their children (see Table 2).

Not surprisingly, as with legal custody, there were significant differences between contact and disengaged fathers in their reported satisfaction with the legal access arrangement, with all 10 of the fathers satisfied with the arrangement being contact fathers, and 29 of the 47 dissatisfied being disengaged from their children (p < .001).5 In contrast, there were no differences between the two groups in regard to their satisfaction with legal post-divorce finan­cial arrangements (property settlement and support payments), or any aspects of the legal financial arrangement.

Kruk_2Interestingly, in relation to custody and access, there was no as­sociation between the type of advice fathers received from their lawyers and subsequent paternal contact. There were no differences between contact and disengaged fathers in their lawyers’ encour­agement/discouragement of paternal or joint custody or their sug­gestions as to how to pursue access. Fathers’ overall ratings of law­yers vis-à-vis helping or hindering their subsequent relationship with their children, and of the judicial system in relation to its appropriateness as a forum for determining child custody and access arrangements, however, differed significantly between the two groups.

Those fathers reporting that legal practitioners had helped, both helped and hindered, or had no effect on the ongoing father-child relationship were more likely to be contact fathers (18 of 23 fathers), while a greater proportion of disengaged fathers stated that their lawyers had in some way hindered the relationship (31 of 52; ρ < .05). Although the great majority of both contact and disen­gaged fathers perceived the judicial system to be an inappropriate forum for determining child custody and access, all 6 of the fathers considering judicial resolution to be appropriate were contact fa­thers. While a high percentage of contact fathers reported satisfac­tion with the fairness of the court hearing regarding custody and/or access, almost all disengaged fathers reported strong dissatisfaction (p < .05).

One of the major repercussions of a judicial mode of determining post-divorce custody and access arrangements, according to both contact and disengaged fathers, is that the prevailing “adversarial” approach of legal practitioners and the legal system serves to en­hance or create an atmosphere of distrust and antagonism between the former spouses. Quite revealing in this context was the fact that while no differences emerged between contact and disengaged fa­thers in the reported level of conflict between the parents at the time of divorce (separation), there was a strong relationship between pa­ternal contact and reported post-divorce conflict between the par­ents. That is, there were no differences between contact and disen­gaged fathers as to whether a calm or turbulent atmosphere existed at the time of the divorce (before any major legal involvement of the parties); the differences between the two groups emerged only after legal processes had made their impact. While 39 of 40 disengaged fathers assessed their post-divorce relationship with their former spouses as unfriendly or non-existent, only 14 of the 40 contact fathers did so; 26 of the contact fathers described the post-divorce contact between the ex-spouses concerning their children as friendly or “middling” (p < .001).

For the majority (34 of 40) of disengaged fathers, contact with their ex-wives was reported as “non-existent.” For non-custodial fathers, discontinued contact with the former spouse clearly does not bode well for ongoing contact with one’s children: only 6 fa­thers had been able to maintain their relationship with their children while having no contact with their ex-wives. Paternal contact was strongly related to former wives’ encouragement/discouragement of fathers’ contact with their children after divorce, with all 40 disen­gaged fathers indicating that their ex-wives had actively discour­aged contact, compared with only 14 contact fathers (p < .001); for the majority of fathers, some level of encouragement on the part of their former spouses was necessary to facilitate ongoing contact with their children. There were also differences between contact and disengaged fathers in the ways their ex-wives had discouraged post-divorce father-child contact, with outright refusal of access be­ing dominant in the case of disengaged fathers.

In sum, marked differences exist between contact and disengaged fathers not only in regard to their experiences with lawyers and the judicial system, but also in their subsequent relationship patterns with their former spouses. These two related factors are critical in determining the consequences of divorce for fathers; that is, the actual boundaries of the post-divorce father-child relationship or the extent of child absence.

Factors After Divorce

Fathers’ adaptations to the consequences of divorce also influence the nature and extent of post-divorce father-child relationships. While non-custodial fathers’ level of contact with their children is constrained by legal access restrictions and what the custodial mother will allow, the strain of child absence is particularly pronounced for disengaged fathers, a reflection of the intensity of their involvement with and attachment to their children before divorce. Disengaged fathers deeply yearn for the children with whom they are no longer in contact; all 40 disengaged fathers indicated a desire for “a lot more” contact with their children, and the great majority presented as far from having come to any resolution of the grief connected to the absence of their children and loss of the pre-divorce paternal role.

Significant differences emerged between contact and disengaged fathers in the frequency, intensity and duration of physical and mental health problems resulting from the divorce (p < .01). The majority of disengaged fathers experienced stress severe enough to result in the development of new physical and mental health prob­lems: 28 (of 40) disengaged fathers developed physical symptoms, and 32 experienced mental health difficulties after divorce; the ma­jority of contact fathers reported no new physical or mental health problems. Disengaged fathers also indicated a significantly higher level of negative effects on their work or career (p < .01).

Although the effects of child absence were manifested in a num­ber of ways, the great majority of the disengaged (as opposed to contact) fathers in our sample displayed a number of signs of de­pression, resignation, and a full grief reaction connected to the loss of their children:

It has had a very, very negative effect – like death, mourn­ing – it is bad in every way.

It’s a very great loss. It makes me sad, I have periods of inter­mittent depression, I wake up at 4:00 a.m., I have a lot of sleepless nights. Of course my present wife has helped tre­mendously, and encouraged me to channel these feelings into positive endeavours. But there’s a tremendous feeling of loss and sadness, and it’s a loss which can never be regained. The period of a child’s life growing, in Elspeth’s case, from 8 to 14, is a vital period for her and a vital period for me, which has been lost forever.

I feel very bad — I feel I am lost with nowhere to go, with no direction. And I feel no one can save me; I don’t know how I can survive like this. I can’t sleep —all the time I think about them.

I feel numb —I don’t feel anything anymore. At first I felt completely terrified—for about 4 years. And then I just started losing all feeling. I don’t know what I feel right now.

Related to child absence is role loss, the loss of a set of functions that together constitute the “father” role. Again, the problems of role loss appeared to be more pronounced for disengaged fathers: for those fathers actively involved with their children before divorce and who defined their identity largely in relation to their parental role, as the pre-divorce relationship was perceived to be lost, so was the paternal role. Fathers considered themselves to be significantly less influential in all major areas of their children’s growth and development than did contact fathers, and rated their post-divorce parenting abilities significantly lower than contact fathers. Using Greifs (1979) framework, fathers were asked for their perception of any change (from before to after divorce) in ten functions that fathers perform vis-à-vis their children, which together constitute the “father” role (Table 3).6 In all ten areas of paternal influence, there were significant differences noted between contact and disen­gaged fathers; while all 40 disengaged fathers reported a decrease in influence in 8 of the 10 roles listed, the majority of contact fathers indicated either an increase or no change in paternal influence in 8 paternal roles.


Kruk_3Marked differences also emerged between contact and disen­gaged fathers with respect to their adaptation to the constraints of the new post-divorce “visiting” relationship. For disengaged fa­thers, “visiting” their children tended to engender persistent feel­ings of loss and depression, while a number of contact fathers were able to eventually establish a satisfying relationship with their chil­dren within these same limitations. Whereas for disengaged fathers, “visiting” their children signified the loss of the former relation­ship, for contact fathers it often presented an opportunity to develop an enhanced relationship, independent of mothers as mediators in the relationship.

Observed Differences Between Contact and Disengaged Fathers

Demographically, there were no observable differences between contact and disengaged fathers; there were no apparent differences between the two groups in relation to age, length of marriage, length of separation, or occupation and income of respondent. The sex and age of the children involved were marginal in determining whether a father continued ongoing contact or became disengaged, and initiator of separation was not a statistically significant factor vis-à-vis contact/disengagement. Whether or not a father was legally divorced was not associated with post-divorce paternal contact in our study, nor was remarriage of the father.7

Surprisingly, paternal contact did not seem to be associated with various “practical” difficulties identified in the literature as poten­tially inhibiting a divorced father’s subsequent contact with his chil­dren. Post-divorce paternal contact was not associated with either the type and size of the father’s accommodation after divorce or the distance between the father’s residence and that of his children: adequate accommodation and close proximity did not ensure pater­nal contact. The majority of both contact and disengaged fathers did not consider distance, transportation, finances, or work schedule as significant problems in relation to their ongoing contact with their children.

The differences that emerged between contact and disengaged fathers in regard to a number of other factors, however, were con­sistent and striking (Figure 1); most significant is the marked dis­continuity between pre- and post-divorce father-child relationships. The patterns and experiences of 28 of the 40 contact fathers in the sample were diametrically opposed to those of 26 of the disengaged fathers. While 28 contact fathers consistently reported low levels of pre-divorce involvement, attachment and influence, fewer difficul­ties during the transition phase of divorce, and better adaptation to the consequences of divorce, 26 disengaged fathers had compara­tively high scores on all indices relating to the pre-divorce father- child relationship, reported multiple difficulties during divorce, and marked problems in post-divorce adaptation.


Kruk_Fig1In regard to fathers’ differential experiences before, during and after divorce, no differences were found between the British and Canadian sub-samples, suggesting a measure of universality in rela­tion to the disengagement phenomenon.


There are two distinct and significant sub-groups of non-custo­dial fathers, with diametrically opposed patterns of pre- and post divorce contact with their children: previously involved and at­tached fathers who became disengaged, and initially “peripheral” fathers who managed to remain in contact. The majority of the disengaged fathers in our sample consistently scored high on a variety of measures of pre-divorce involvement, attachment, and influence, whereas most contact fathers had consistently low scores on the same indices.

The striking discontinuity between pre- and post-divorce father-child relationship patterns observed above suggests a process with two interacting components: the consequences of divorce and fa­thers’ adaptation to these consequences. For previously involved and attached fathers, the negative consequences of divorce were paramount; of the multiple losses encountered, the most salient was the loss of their children and the pre-divorce father-child relation­ship. For those fathers who were previously less directly involved and attached, these consequences were less pronounced, and adap­tation—the development of a “part-time” parental identity within the confines of a “visiting” relationship—was not as problematic an issue. These previously “traditional” or “breadwinner” fathers often came to enjoy an enhanced level of contact with their chil­dren; improved relationships were possible within the constraints of “visiting” for these fathers, as assuming sole responsibility for their children on a limited access basis provided an opportunity to establish more meaningful relationships.

The key to explaining this finding lies in an understanding of important processes occurring in a relatively brief period of time during divorce. There is a critical period during which the nature of post-divorce father-child relationships are largely determined: the transition period from the time of divorce (separation) to about six months after, a time when access patterns become established and consolidated. This is also the stage when legal processes have their greatest impact, and when multiple adjustments are required on the part of all members of the divorcing family.

During divorce, the previously less involved and attached father, faced with perhaps weekly or bi-monthly contact in a “visiting” relationship, may find that with sole responsibility for his children during this time, his fatherhood role can become enhanced. The previously highly involved and attached father, however, faced with diminished contact and what he perceives to be rigid access arrangements, faces a dramatic disentanglement from the routines of daily life with his children – a drastic reduction of contact and role loss which, over a period of time, is a factor in his complete disengagement from the lives of his children (see Figure 2).

Kruk_Fig2The disengagement of non-custodial fathers after divorce appears to be the result of a combination of structural constraints and their own psychological response to the loss of their children and the pre-divorce father-child relationship. Both structural and psychological variables are inculpated as significant mediating factors between divorce and disengagement: on their own, each is usually insufficient to effect disengagement; combined, they are a potent force mitigating against an ongoing meaningful father-child relationship.

Existing divorce literature, while containing little empirical data in regard to fathers’ desired level of contact with their children after divorce, often contains suggestions that fathers simply do not want custody of their children and that disengagement is the result of men’s lack of interest in their children after divorce (Eekelaar and Clive, 1977). We would challenge such assertions; we found that the great majority of non-custodial fathers considered traditional legal access arrangements to be grossly inadequate and damaging to the father-child relationship, and wanted their children to live with them, at least part of the time. This was particularly evident in the case of now-disengaged, previously highly involved and attached fathers.

Legal practitioners play a central role in providing their clients with a basic knowledge of the law and legal processes, helping them to decide what to ask for, and shaping expectations of what they will get. If lawyers’ advice regarding post-divorce custodial options is discouraging, it is likely that fathers will lower their expectations; if the expectation that the best fathers can hope for is limited access, these expectations shape what fathers strive for–and settle for. Given that most custody and access arrangements only reach the court as a fait accompli, the way in which legal practitioners advise their clients is an important determinant of the final structural arrangements made. The majority of fathers, faced with explicit advice and strong direction from their lawyers toward maternal custody with limited parental access, and convinced on the basis of judicial precedent that they have a limited chance of success through the courts, eventually accept the predominant pattern of weekly or bi-monthly “visiting”:

I got the impression that there would be no problem getting access, getting Andrew to stay with me on weekends and so on —but it didn’t work out that way. He also told me that I should forget about custody, and to just concentrate on access, which I now realize was wrong.

The lawyer advised me to give the mother interim custody and not to worry about it or fight it. I didn’t know at that time that in fact, when you’re talking about custody, nothing is ‘interim’—anything that is ‘interim’ means that it is forever. I didn’t know that at that time.

By pre-adjudicating custody disputes on the basis of anticipations of what would happen were the dispute to be carried to court, legal practitioners perpetuate the perceived maternal custody bias of the judiciary: inaction because of an assumption of prejudice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and reinforces the status quo:

“… They don’t give men the benefit of the possibility that they may be good parents. They look at you as if you’re doing something wrong, as if you’re the guilty party. Lawyers and judges are the mainstay of the problems that men and children have, when it comes to men and children not having the right to maintain their relationship. And they support women if they decide to break the relationship — they promote women’s an­ger and bitterness, and promote destruction of the father-child relationship.”

Lawyers’ directions rarely differed for fathers; sole maternal custody with limited paternal access was almost universally recommended for the fathers in our sample. There exists, however, a heterogeneity of fathering roles within families. Thus while there were no differences between highly and peripherally involved and attached fathers in the actual advice they received from their law­yers regarding custody and access, the outcome for each group was radically different in terms of satisfaction with the custody and access arrangements that were made and the final outcome in regard to their post-divorce contact with their children. It may be the very fact of uniformity of approach among lawyers and the largely unvarying nature of judicial resolution of custody and access vis-a-vis fathers with vastly different patterns and experiences of fatherhood–applying a homogeneous approach to a heterogeneous population–that is largely responsible for the poor outcome of those fathers relatively highly involved with and attached to their children during the marriage. Fathers enter the legal process with radically different family life experiences; such heterogeneity warrants against a homogeneous approach, yet the legal process is bound by precedent, structured according to largely fixed rules in the determination of custody and access. Fathers with quantitatively and qualitatively different pre-divorce patterns and relationships with their children are subject to a system that does not differentiate between such patterns.

The consequences of divorce for fathers–the absence of their children, loss of the father role, and the limits and constraints of the “visiting” relationship–are determined by prevailing structural conditions, the workings of the judicial system and what the custodial mother will allow. Individual fathers’ adaptations to these consequences are the other half of the equation in relation to post-divorce contact. Adaptation to child absence, role loss, and the constraints of “visiting” is most problematic for those fathers previously highly involved with and attached to their children; restricted access following an active and highly emotionally invested relationship is tantamount to a complete loss of the relationship for these fathers. The perspective of attachment theory (Parkes, 1986; Parkes and Stevenson-Hinde, 1982) makes the relationship between the consequences of divorce and disengagement clear: those fathers most attached to their children before divorce are most likely to suffer the negative effects of the loss or absence of their children and their fathering role; reactions of intense grieving, characteristic of these fathers, are strong predictors of poor outcome.


A total of eighty non-custodial fathers, half of whom enjoyed ongoing and regular contact and half of whom were disengaged from their children’s lives, were interviewed in depth about various aspects of their divorce experiences and their relationship with their children before, during and after divorce, in an effort to better understand the phenomenon of non-custodial fathers’ disengagement from their children’s lives after divorce.

A striking discontinuity between pre- and post-divorce father-child relationships was observed: rather than post-divorce patterns reflecting the pre-divorce bond, the data obtained indicate a strong inverse relationship between the two. While a number of significant differences emerged between contact and disengaged fathers in regard to their relationship with their children before, during and after divorce, the most essential difference between the two groups appears to lie in the differential nature and quality of the pre-divorce father-child relationship. For non-custodial fathers, divorce results in a more salient loss where the pre-divorce father-child relationship was intense; the loss of the pre-divorce father-child relationship is much more debilitating where powerful attachment bonds exist, to the extent that those non-custodial fathers with the highest levels of pre-divorce involvement with and attachment to their children are most likely to subsequently lose contact.

Our data suggest that rather than reflecting a lack of interest in their children or the continuation of a disengaged pre-divorce father-child relationship, non-custodial fathers’ disengagement from their children’s lives is the result of a combination of structural constraints and fathers’ own psychological response to the loss of the pre-divorce father-child relationship. While positive outcomes of divorce can occur for some non-custodial fathers, namely those previously less involved with and attached to their children who are subsequently able to enhance their relationship, previously involved and attached fathers are the most vulnerable and “at-risk” group in regard to post-divorce disengagement.





Table listed according to column percentages.

Table listed according to column percentages.

Legal access determinations were made in 57 cases.

Table listed according to row percentages. Categories are pre-coded, listed in order of total amount of decrease of influence.

This lack of an association is qualified by the fact that only a small number — 9 in total—of the 80 fathers in our study had remarried. Of these, 3 were disengaged fathers.



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[1] Edward Kruk, PhD, is Assistant Professor, The University of British Colum­bia, School of Social Work, 6201 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z1 Canada. This study on which this article is based was funded by the National Welfare Grants Directorate, Health and Welfare Canada.

The making of a permanent ‘underclass’

The Worldview that Makes the Underclass 

by Anthony Daniels, M.D. [ aka author ‘Theodore Dalrymple‘]


Reprinted from ‘Imprimis’,  a 2014 publication of Hillsdale College with amendments

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on May 20, 2014, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Dearborn, Michigan. Dr. Daniels eloquently describes the inevitable result of progressive/socialist/Marxist government. Policies favouring the fracturing of families meld silently with those that induce addiction and an ever-increasing prison population.

The consequences and benefits of a ‘liberal’ society coupled to a welfare state are clear and obvious to us in Europe. However, we are slowly recognising that the ‘unintended consequences’ can be as disastrous as the benefits can be life-enhancing, and as negative as a non-existent or a small welfare safety net.


I worked for 15 years as a doctor and psychiatrist in a general hospital in a poor area of a British city (Birmingham), and in the prison next door (Winson Green), where I was on duty one night in three. The really dangerous people were in the hospital, perhaps because of the presence in the prison next door of very large uniformed men who exerted a strangely calming effect on the prisoners.

In the hospital, I personally examined many thousands of patients who had attempted suicide or at least made a suicidal gesture (not quite the same thing of course). They were overwhelmingly from poor homes, and each patient told me of the lives of the three, four, or five people closest to them—and I spoke to many of those people as well. I could not, of course, have spoken to so many people, and heard about so many others, without some general impressions forming themselves in my mind. One abiding impression was of the violence of their lives, particularly that between the sexes—largely the consequence of the fluidity of relations between the sexes—and also of the devastating effect of prevalent criminality upon the quality of daily existence.

Before I did this work, I had spent a number of years working as a doctor in Africa and in other places in the Third World. I also crossed Africa by public transport, such as it was, and consequently saw much of that continent from the bottom up. These experiences also helped me in my understanding of what I was later to see in England. As Dr. Johnson put it, all judgment is comparative; or as Kipling said, “What should they know of England who only England know ?” Indeed, what should anyone know of anywhere, who only that place knows?

On my return to England, I used to visit the homes of poor people as part of my medical duties. Bear in mind that I had returned from some of the poorest countries in the world, where—in one case—a single hen’s egg represented luxury and the people wore the cast-off clothes of Europeans that had been donated by charity. When I returned to England, I was naturally inclined to think of poverty in absolute rather than in relative terms—as people not having enough to eat, having to fetch water from three miles away, and so forth. But I soon ceased to think of it in that fashion.

In the course of my duties, I would often go to patients’ homes. Everyone lived in households with a shifting cast of members, rather than in families. If there was an adult male resident, he was generally a bird of passage with a residence of his own somewhere else. He came and went as his fancy took him. To ask a child who his father was had become an almost indelicate question. Sometimes the child would reply, “Do you mean my father at the moment ?” Others would simply shake their heads, being unwilling to talk about the monster who had begot them and whom they wished at all costs to forget.

I should mention a rather startling fact: By the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living at home. The child may be father to the man, but the television is father to the child. Few homes were without televisions with screens as large as a cinema—sometimes more than one—and they were never turned off, so that I often felt I was examining someone in a cinema rather than in a house. But what was curious was that these homes often had no means of cooking a meal, or any evidence of a meal ever having been cooked beyond the use of a microwave, and no place at which a meal could have been eaten in a family fashion. The pattern of eating in such households was a kind of foraging in the refrigerator, as and when the mood took, with the food to be consumed sitting in front of one of the giant television screens. Not surprisingly, the members of such households were often enormously fat.

Surveys have shown that a fifth of British children do not eat a meal more than once a week with another member of their household, and many homes do not have a dining table. Needless to say, this pattern is concentrated in the lower reaches of society, where so elementary but fundamental a means of socialisation is now unknown. Here I should mention in passing that in my hospital, the illegitimacy rate of the children born in it, except for those of Indian-sub-continental descent, was approaching 100%.

It was in the prison that I first realized I should listen carefully, not only to what people said, but to the way that they said it. I noticed, for example, that murderers who had stabbed someone always said of the fatal moment that “the knife went in.” This was an interesting locution, because it implied that it was the knife that guided the hand rather than the hand that guided the knife. It is clear that this locution serves to absolve the culprit, at least in his own mind, from his responsibility for his act. It also seeks to persuade the listener that the culprit is not really guilty, that something other than his decisions led to the death of the victim. This was so even if the victim was a man against whom the perpetrator was known to have a serious grudge, and whom he sought out at the other side of the city having carried a knife with him.

The human mind is a subtle instrument, and something more than straightforward lying was going on here. The culprit both believed what he was saying and knew perfectly well at the same time that it was nonsense. No doubt this kind of bad faith is not unique to the type of people I encountered in the hospital and the prison. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edmund, the evil son of the Earl of Gloucester, says:

  • This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune – often the surfeit of our own behaviour – we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!

In other words, it wasn’t me.

This passage points, I think, to an eternal and universal temptation of mankind to blame those of his misfortunes that are the natural and predictable consequence of his own choices on forces or circumstances that are external to him and outside his control. Is there any one of us who has never resorted to excuses about his circumstances when he has done wrong or made a bad decision? It is a universal human tendency. But in Britain, at any rate, an entire class of persons has been created that not only indulges in this tendency, but makes it their entire world outlook—and does so with official encouragement.

Let me take as an example the case of heroin addicts. In the 1950s, heroin addiction in Britain was confined to a very small number of people, principally in bohemian circles. It has since become a mass phenomenon, the numbers of addicts having increased perhaps two thousandfold, to something like 250,000 to 300,000. And with the statistically insignificant exception of members of the popular culture elite, heroin addiction is heavily concentrated in areas of the country such as the one in which I worked.

Heroin addiction has been presented by officialdom as a bona fide disease that strikes people like, shall we say, rheumatoid arthritis. In the United States, the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction quite baldly as a chronic relapsing brain disease—and nothing else. I hesitate to say it, but this seems to me straight-forwardly a lie, told to willing dupes in order to raise funds from the federal government.

Be that as it may, the impression has been assiduously created and peddled among the addicts that they are the helpless victims of something that is beyond their own control, which means that they need the technical assistance of what amounts to a substantial bureaucratic apparatus in order to overcome it. When heroin addicts just sentenced to imprisonment arrived, they said to me, “I would give up, doctor, if only I had the help.” What they meant by this was that they would give up heroin if some cure existed that could be administered to them that would by itself, without any resolution on their part, change their behavior. In this desire they appeared sincere—but at the same time they knew that such a cure did not exist, nor would most of them have agreed to take it if it did exist.

In fact, the whole basis of the supposed treatment for their supposed disease is rooted in lies and misconceptions. For example, research has shown that most addicts spend at least 18 months taking heroin intermittently before they become addicted. Nor are they ignorant while they take it intermittently of heroin’s addictive properties. In other words, they show considerable determination in becoming addicts: It is something, for whatever reason, that they want to become. It is something they do, rather than something that happens to them. Research has shown also that heroin addicts lead very busy lives one way or another—so busy, in fact, that there is no reason why they could not make an honest living if they so wished. Indeed, this has been known for a long time, for in the 1920s and 30s in America, morphine addicts for the most part made an honest living.

Withdrawal from opiates, the fearfulness of which, reiterated in film and book, is often given as one of the main reasons for not abandoning the habit, is in fact a pretty trivial condition, certainly by comparison with illnesses which most of us have experienced, or by comparison with withdrawal from other drugs. I have never heard an alcoholic say, for example, that he fears to give up alcohol because of delirium tremens—a genuinely dangerous medical condition, unlike withdrawal from heroin. Research has shown that medical treatment is not necessary for heroin addicts to abandon their habit and that many thousands do so without any medical intervention whatsoever.

In Britain at least, heroin addicts do not become criminals because they are addicted (and can raise funds to buy their drugs only by crime); those who take heroin and indulge in criminal behavior have almost always indulged in extensive criminal behavior before they were ever addicted. Criminality is a better predictor of addiction than is addiction of criminality.

In other words, all the bases upon which heroin addiction is treated as if it is something that happens to people rather than something that people do are false, and easily shown to be false. This is so whatever the latest neuro-scientific research may supposedly show.

I have taken the example of heroin addiction as emblematic of what, with some trepidation, I may call the dialectical relationship between the worldview of those at the bottom of society and the complementary worldview of what one might call the salvationist bureaucracy of the government. In the old Soviet Union there was a joke in which the workers would say to the party bosses, “We pretend to work and you pretend to pay us.” In the case of the heroin addicts, they might say, “We pretend to be ill, and you pretend to cure us.”

One of the possible dangers or consequences of such a charade is that it creates a state of dishonest dependency on the part of the addicts. They wait for salvation as Estragon and Vladimir wait for Godot in Samuel Beckett’s play; they wait for something that will never arrive, and that at least in some part of their mind they know will never arrive—but that officialdom persists in telling them will arrive someday.

Dishonest passivity and dependence combined with harmful activity becomes a pattern of life, and not just among drug addicts. I remember going into a single mother’s house one day. The house was owned by the local council; her rent was paid, and virtually everything that she owned, or that she and her children consumed, was paid for from public funds. I noticed that her back garden, which could have been pretty had she cared for it, was like a noxious rubbish heap. Why, I asked her, do you not clear it up for your children to play in? “I’ve asked the council many times to do it,” she replied. The council owned the property; it was therefore its duty to clear up the rubbish that she, the tenant, had allowed to accumulate there—and this despite what she knew to be the case, that the council would never do so! Better the rubbish should remain there than that she do what she considered to be the council’s duty. At the same time she knew perfectly well that she was capable of clearing the rubbish and had ample time to do so.

This is surely a very curious but destructive state of mind, and one that some politicians have unfortunately made it their interest to promote by promising secular salvation from relative poverty by means of redistribution.

Whether by design or not, the state in England has smashed up all forms of social solidarity that are independent of it. This is not an English problem alone: In France the word solidarité, solidarity, has come to mean high taxation for redistribution by state officials to other parts of the population, which of course are neither grateful for the subventions nor find them sufficient to meet their dreams, and which are, in fact, partly responsible for their need for them in the first place. And not surprisingly, some of the money sticks to the hands of the redistributionist bureaucracy.

By a mixture of ideology and fiscal and social policies, the family has been systematically fractured and destroyed in England, at least in the lowest part of the society that, unfortunately, needs family solidarity the most. There are even, according to some reliable research, fiscal and welfare incentives for parents at the lower economic reaches of society not to stay together, known as LAPs (living apart together). And as for the traditaional Middle Class – the spine of any society – that has been almost crushed out of existance.

Certainly the notions of dependence and independence have changed. I remember a population that was terrified of falling into dependence on the state, because such dependence, apart from being unpleasant in itself, signified personal failure and humiliation. But there has been an astonishing gestalt switch in my lifetime. Independence has now come to mean independence of the people to whom one is related and dependence on the state. Mothers would say to me that they were pleased to be independent, by which they meant independent of the fathers of their children—usually more than one—who in general were violent swine. Of course, the mothers knew them to be violent swine before they had children by them, but the question of whether a man would be a suitable father is no longer a question because there are no fathers: At best, though often also at worst, there are only stepfathers. The state would provide. In the new dispensation the state, as well as television, is father to the child.

A small change in locution illustrates a change in the character and conceptions of a people. When I started out as a doctor in the mid-1970s, those who received state benefits would say, “I receive my check on Friday.” Now people who receive such benefits say, “I get paid on Friday.” This is an important change. To have said that they received their check on Friday was a neutral way of putting it; to say that they get paid on Friday is to imply that they are receiving money in return for something. But what can that something be, since they do not appear to do anything of economic value to anyone else? It can only be existence itself: They are being paid to continue to exist, existence itself being their work.

It has been said that the lamentable state of affairs I have described has been brought about by the decline, inevitable as we now see it, of the kind of industry that once employed millions of unskilled workers, whose wages, though low by today’s standards, were nevertheless sufficient to sustain a stable, though again by today’s standards not rich, society. And I do not think that this view can be altogether dismissed. But it is far from the whole story. One of the curious features of England in the recent past is that it has consistently maintained very high levels of state-subsidized idleness while importing almost equivalent numbers of foreigners to do unskilled work.

Let me here interject something about the intellectual and moral corruption wrought by the state in recent years—and I don’t know whether it applies to America. The governments of Britain, of both political parties, managed to lessen the official rate of unemployment by the simple expedient of shifting people from the ranks of the unemployed to the ranks of the sick. This happened on such a huge scale that, by 2006—a year of economic boom, remember—the British welfare state had achieved the remarkable feat of producing more invalids than the First World War.

But it is known that the majority of those invalids had no real disease. This feat, then, could have been achieved only by the willing corruption of the unemployed themselves—relieved from the necessity to seek work and relieved to have a slightly higher subvention—but also of the doctors who provided them with official certificates that they knew to be bogus. And the government was only too happy, for propaganda purposes, to connive at such large-scale fraud. One begins to see what Confucius meant when he said, 2,500 years ago, that the first thing to do to restore a state to health was to rectify the names—in other words, to call things by their right names rather than by euphemisms.

There are three reasons that I can think of why we imported foreign labor to do unskilled work while maintaining large numbers of unemployed people. The first is that we had destroyed all economic incentive for the latter to work. The second is that the foreigners were better in any case, because their character had not been rotted; they were often better educated—it is difficult to plumb the shallows of the British state educational system for children of the poorest homes—and had a much better work ethic. And the third was the rigidity of the housing market that made it so difficult for people to move around once they had been granted the local privilege of subsidized housing.

I will leave you with an anecdote. As Mao Tse-tung might have put it, one anecdote is worth a thousand abstractions.

I had been asked by the courts to examine a young woman, aged 18, who was accused of having attacked and injured her 90-year-old great-grandmother, with whom she lived, while under the influence of alcohol and cannabis. She had broken her great-grandmother’s femur, but fortunately it did not prove fatal. (Incidentally, the homicide rate, it is said, would be five times higher than it is if we used the same medical techniques as were used in 1960.) I asked the young woman in the course of my examination whether her mother had ever been in trouble with the police.

“Yes,” she replied.

“What for?” I asked.

“Well, she was on the social,” she said—“on the social” in English argot means receiving welfare payments—“and she was working.”

“What happened?” I asked. “She had to stop working.”

She said this as if it was so obvious that my question must be that of a mental defective. Work is for pocket money, the public dole is the means by which one lives.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the view from the bottom, at least in Britain: but it is a view that has been inculcated and promoted from the top.

About the author:

ANTHONY DANIELS, who often writes under the penname Theodore Dalrymple, is the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Born in London in 1949, he qualified as a doctor in 1974 and has worked in various countries in Africa and elsewhere. From 1990 to 2005, he worked as a doctor and psychiatrist in a prison in Birmingham, England. He has written a column for the London Spectator for 14 years, and writes regularly for National Review and the Wall Street Journal. He has published more than 20 books, including Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics & Culture of Decline, The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism, and Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass.

About Imprimis

Imprimis is the free monthly speech digest of Hillsdale College and is dedicated to educating citizens and promoting civil and religious liberty by covering cultural, economic, political and educational issues of enduring significance. The content of Imprimis is drawn from speeches delivered to Hillsdale College-hosted events, both on-campus and off-campus. First published in 1972, Imprimis is one of the most widely circulated opinion publications in the nation with over 2.7 million subscribers.



Cross-border difficulties: what we know already

Cross-border relocation – experiences from the US




‘ROCK-PAPER-SCISSORS:  Playing the Odds with the Law

Of Child Relocation’

 by The Hon. W. Dennis Duggan

Family Court Review – April 2007


This article offers for inspection the proposition that the adversarial evidence-based litigation process is unsuitable for resolving custody cases in general and relocation cases in particular. It analyzes the leading cases from New York, Massachusetts, California, England, Canada, and Australia. It reaches a conclusion that no jurisdiction has devised a legal standard or formula that enables a judge to predict the future best interest of a child if that child is allowed to relocate with one parent away from the other. For this reason, the court has a duty to offer as sophisticated and friendly a settlement process and atmosphere as possible.

However, knowing that judges will still be required to resolve these difficult cases because they often seem impervious to settlement, the article offers thirty-six factors that a court should consider in all move-away cases. By relying on each of these factors that is relevant to the case, the parents will have an understanding of why the decision was made the way it was and it will also allow for effective appellate review.

Keywords: relocation; move-away; presumption; burden of proof; factors; international; best interest.


Abridged version

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle [1] states that, when one views the internal workings of an atom, the very act of that inspection changes the way that things look.

In family court, the inspection that we bring into parents’ lives changes them and almost always for the worse. Even the language the judiciary uses puts them in full battle mode. How often do we hear a parent say, “I’m going to fight for custody” or “He won’t even get visitation.

This, of course, is the language of our law. It is heard in all jurisdictions and in all languages. That said this commentary while it reflects Common Law – as it is found in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain (and of course former colonial countries including unexpected ones such as Israel), – is not exclusive to those countries who operate Common Law (and bear in mind it is now 7 years since it was first published – RW).

While a custody proceeding is pending, parents often do things that are directly contrary to their best interests, such as leaving a hateful, obscenity-laced voice mail on the other parent’s mobile phone the night before court. With this said, let’s review the 10 reasons why a custody case should never be tried and why this conflict resolution method should be condemned.


The 10 factors set out above apply to almost every proceeding in family court. Unfortunately, due to the parental dynamics that surround the issue of relocation, in relocation cases these factors are amplified. This makes relocation cases almost impervious to settlement. The reasons for this are obvious. In most cases, the moving parent has painted herself (the general consensus is that about 80% or more of relocation applicants are custodial mothers) into a corner by the life decisions that she has made before coming to court – like getting married to a man who lives in a distant city.

For the non-moving parent – one has to ask “What’s in it for him ?

With neither parent being able to back away or compromise their position, and seeing no common ground, the mother and father will look to a family court judge to force one of their hands – but which hand to force ?

There are other reasons why custody cases and especially ‘relocation’ cases should never be tried in a court. Setting aside for the moment the fact that the adversarial approach does not result in a better answer with any greater frequency than a rock-paper-scissors game, there is the problem of collateral damage.

The adversarial system in family court tends to bankrupt parents both financially and emotionally. Find me one parent who would do it again ?

At the end of a custody trial, parents who once had goodwill and respect for one another at the start, thoroughly hate each other at the end. And after that bruising ordeal we calmly expect parents to co-parent at a distance when they could not co-parent together. And, to top it off, we just put them through a process that has drained them of all interest in co-operation.

A New Phenomenon

There was not much call to develop a cohesive body of relocation law in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s in America because many more people stayed married and had fewer children outside of marriage – and even fewer parents moved.

However, in 1976, the D’Onofrio case from New Jersey really got it started and that decision has been followed widely.

Ever since then American courts have been flailing around trying to develop a coherent set of rules for relocation cases. They have struggled, mainly on three issues:

(1) presumptions, usually either in favour of or against the move

(2) burdens of proof and when and how they shift, and

(3) the factors to be considered.

Hippocratic Oath

In the following paragraphs the leading cases of New York state, California, and Massachusetts will be compared with the leading cases in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, to see if any appellate court has satisfactorily resolved the conundrum I present. These cases are:

1. New York, Tropea v. Tropea [FN9]

2. California, Burgess v. Burgess [FN10]

3. California, Lamusga v. Lamusga [FN11]

4. Massachusetts, Mason v. Coleman [FN12]

5. Great Britain, Payne v. Payne [FN13]

6. Australia, U v. U [FN14]

7. Canada, Gordon v. Goertz [FN15]

Reading the reviews of these leading relocation legal opinions from the highest courts in six significant jurisdictions there is no agreed-upon methodology to resolve these cases. Some courts, in my view, have violated the judicial Hippocratic Oath of ‘first do no harm’ (New York has told its trial courts to, in effect, “do your best”).

The 36 Relocation Factors

So what is a family court judge to do? A trial court judge can improve the odds of reaching a correct decision (or the least incorrect decision) by requiring the parents to provide as much evidence as is available on every factor that could conceivably impact the child’s best interest, the family dynamics, and the other equities of the situation.

Pooling judgments from over 60 state and international decisions and their respective statutes in several of those jurisdictions, I have distilled the 36 relocation factors.

If one examines the leading cases on relocation and the statutory provisions of the several states in which the legislature has addressed the subject, you will discover the following relocation factors – none of which, by the way, specifically mentions parks, schools, or weather. These factors are:

1. Length of the parent-parent relationship

2. Length of the parent-child relationship

3. Were the parents married ?

4. Parents’ time-sharing agreement

5. Quality of parenting time

6. Quantity of parenting time

7. Age, maturity, and special needs of the child

8. Reason for the move

9. Reason the staying parent objects to the move

10. The advantages of the move to the moving parent

11. Advantages of the move to the child

12. Disadvantages of the move to the staying parent

13. Disadvantages of the move to the child

14. Travel time and cost of travel

15. The demands or benefits of the moving parent’s second marriage/relationship

16. Feasibility of a parallel move by the staying parent

17. Feasibility of a move by the moving parent’s new husband or significant other

18. Does the staying parent really want custody ?

19. Is a change of custody practical?

20. Can meaningful child access for the staying parent be provided if the move is allowed ?

21. Will the moving parent comply with the access order?

22. The effect of the move on extended family on both sides

23. Personal misconduct by either parent

24. The preference of a mature child

25. Any agreement between the parents about relocations

26. The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community

27. The length of time the child has lived in a stable environment

28. The financial resources of the two family units

29. The expected permanence of the new custodial environment

30. The mental and physical health of all persons in the two family units

32. Ability of the parents to cooperate with each other

33. Ability of the moving parent to foster the child’s relationship with the staying parent

34. The effect on the child of any domestic violence

35. Any false allegations of sex abuse?

36. The citizenship status of the parents and the child

If a court receives evidence on as many of these factors as have relevance to the case and determines for each one whether it weighs in favor of one parent or another, a trial judge will have a fair chance of getting a relocation case right, but only if one parent clearly predominates. The considerations are, obviously, not all of equal weight and in different cases the same factor may have differing weight.


With all this said, I want to advocate for two things. First, we must create a process that encourages, empowers, and commands parents to reach joint decisions. Second, the legislature must create some bright-line rules that raise the bar for parental behaviors and expectations and that add some predictability to the process. Here are some suggestions:

To encourage, empower, and command parents to reach joint decisions requires a lot of education of the parents and the lawyers by the judge. It also requires that the judge create a settlement-friendly family court process. Courtrooms by their very nature put parents in opposition. In fact, when they enter a courtroom, we stop calling them parents and start calling them parties. No wonder they stop behaving as parents. Let us lower the threat level from red to blue and provide parents with an arena of calmness where rationality can prevail. Let us take the psychologist out of the courtroom and put him or her back into the consultation room where he or she can educate the parents about the challenges they will face raising their children if the parents are distant from one another. Let us also use mediation, through which the parents and their lawyers can assess the relocation factors in an objective manner and in a pressure-reduced setting.

Second, the legislature (and only the legislature) might want to consider some bright-line rules that express a social policy that favors two involved parents living near one another and that injects some predictability into the process. Here are a few suggestions to provide some food for thought:

1. It shall be a rebuttable presumption that it is in a child’s best interest to relocate with a parent who exercises more than 70% of a child’s parenting time, provided that the move is for a valid purpose and the location of the move is reasonable in light of that purpose.

2. A custodial parent shall be entitled to relocate with a child for any valid reason if (1) the parents were never married or never resided for more than 2 continuous years together as a family unit, (2) the noncustodial parent has only occasional or sporadic contact with the child, or (3) the noncustodial parent has failed to substantially support the child.

3. A relocation shall be deemed to occur when a child would reside more than a 1-hour drive from the noncustodial parent or when the move would otherwise significantly impair the noncustodial parent’s access that had been customary prior to the move.

4. If a relocation is prompted primarily by financial concerns, an offer by the noncustodial parent which ameliorates those considerations by an increase in support to the child or mother shall be a factor weighing against the move.

5. If a move is allowed, a noncustodial parent shall be allowed a dollar-for-dollar reduction in child support to offset any costs of exercising his parental access.

6. If a relocation is allowed that is not conducive to regular contact on at least a twice monthly basis, the noncustodial parent shall have a presumptive right to 75% of the total amount of all school breaks lasting longer than 3 days.

If we, as a society truly valued the rights of children beyond all others, we would have laws that commanded parents to live within the same school district as their children. We will never see such a law for many reasons but primarily, I believe, because much of the homage that we pay to children’s rights is lip service at best and hypocrisy at worst.

When a parent enters a lawyer’s office with a relocation case, he or she has embarked on a process that will cast his or her child’s fate to the wind. Once a contested custody case has commenced, a parent, by that point, has surrendered almost all control over the future of his or her child.

My advice – use ‘rock – paper – scissors.’

It’s faster, cheaper, and just as accurate.



The Hon. W. Dennis Duggan has been a family court judge since 1994. He is a trustee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and past president of the New York State Family Court Judges Association.
He is also a member and past director of the American Judges Association and the American Judicature Society. Judge Duggan is also a founding Board Member of the New York Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and its current president. Within the New York State Judiciary he serves on the Judicial Institute
Committee, the Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee and the Family Law Curriculum Development Committee. Judge Duggan is on the faculty of the National Judicial College and the New York State Judicial Institute.
He is a frequent lecturer at international, national, and state judicial and legal programs. He also writes a monthly column for the bar association newsletter on topical issues on the history of the law. Correspondence:



[1] Werner Karl Heisenberg (b. Dec 5th 1901 – d. Feb 1st 1976), German nuclear physicists and one of the key creators of quantum mechanics. Awarded Max Planck Medal (1933) and a Nobel Prize in 1932.


Divorce – the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’

under construction


Statistics, once upon a time, told us how many people divorced; whether they were male or female and why they were divorcing. But in our complex social world these basic parameters are rapidly being abandoned.

Today, all we get (for the most part) is ‘aggregated’ figures. ‘Metrics’, which can be defined as parameters or measurement tools enabling  quantitative assessment, comparison and/or to track or analyse performance or production are nowhere to be found. One has to be persistent to get any gender breakdown and there is always the likelihood that this aspect of data collections will one day cease due to budgetary requirements – as has happened in Canada where data on homosexual marriage numbers is non-existent.

But the primary areas for grave concern are related to divorce and custody analysis. By the late 1990s only the Totals which might appeared in government press releases, indicating for example, that this year’s total was 3% higher or lower than the 160,000 of last year.

In this environment Table A (below), showing the itemised number of ‘Divorces granted to a sole party’ (by gender and for what reason) is something of a rarity.

In the 1940’s when divorce was a rare occurrence in Britain the stated grounds and petitioner (the one bringing the action for a divorce), were clearly identified and published. The stigma was in being ‘named and shamed’ with the details appearing in the local newspaper or, if prurient enough, appearing in the Sunday sensational weekly press, e.g. News of the World etc. With the 1968 and 1969 Act that is now no longer the case.

And while some very basic analysis was normal (the who and the why), when “Quickies” were first introduced as an ‘emergency measure’, and hit a peak of 60,000 in 1947, even this gender analysis was abandoned.


Parliamentarians have been fond of excusing  – even in the 1960s – their divorce reforms on the grounds of defending the ‘deserted spouse’, i.e. the wife. But as the above figures show, this is more of a fiction than a reality (2,343 in 1981, falling to 276 in 2008), when weighing the totality of numbers involved.

Marriages falling apart due to mutual or unilateral lack of interest in the other partner, i.e.  ‘Separation 2 yrs + consent’ and ‘Separation (5 years)’ appear static over the decades.

What is interesting is the switch-over in the grounds for divorce by men and women since the 1980s. Adultery was once the preferred vehicle for obtaining a divorce since 1969 but gradually and reflecting the courts lax approach toward the wording of Unreasonable Behaviour” (there was an expectation of mental or physical cruelty in this ground). As a result the ‘behaviour’ ground now means anything anyone wants it to mean, and it thus has risen in popularity (48,825 in 1981 and 57,604 in 2008).

Perhaps reflecting our present lowered moral values, ‘Adultery’ as a ground for divorce almost halved between 1981 and 2008 (18,262 + 25,625 and 7,328 + 13,437, male / female, respectively).

Apart from the already mentioned ‘desertion; category the other grounds have remained surprisingly constant, re: 1/. Separation for 2 yrs with consent, 2/. Separation (5 years) and 3/. Others.

more recent Div tables here

then Custody shared residence absence of data.

then child murder

260 child murdered by parents since baby P – bit who is a parent in this modern definition ?

Dads, Daughters and Divorce

by Robert Whiston  FRSA   Aug 30th 2013

Germany_picSadly, not enough Dads realise the very positive impact they have on their daughters’ everyday lives.

Everyone expects Dads to identify with boys and ‘bond’ together through boy-based games and role play – but overlooked is the very great influence of a father’s role on his daughter and her perception of the world.

One study found that only 30% of fathers believed that active involvement in their daughter’s life was vital to her health and well-being. This is despite recent findings that a Dad’s influence is as great, and sometimes greater, than a mother’s.

Dads, and it has been well documented since the 1970s, shape a girls’ interactions with men later in life. Dads also affect their daughter’s self-esteem, independence and stress levels.

No one wants their daughter to choose the wrong sort of young man or to hang around with the wrong set of people.

Clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg puts it this way:

  • “In my years of psychology practice, I’ve met very few women who did not unconsciously or consciously pick a romantic partner based on the characteristics of her father.”

Dr Linda Nielsen Professor of Educational & Adolescent Psychology, at Wake Forest Uni. (USA) has for many years written papers on the beneficial impact of close father-child relationships especially girls and has written two books on the subject (see “Father Daughter Relationships: Contemporary Research & Issues” pub. 2012).

According to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services:

  • “Children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.”

This is a sentiment echoed in the research findings of Dr. Warren Farrell in his book “Father and Child Reunion” (for a summary go to ).

For his part, American musician and blogger Clayton Craddock says:

  • “. . . . my father is now one of my best friends. There is not a soul I respect or love more than my dad.
  • I am acutely aware that not all dads are like this and there are plenty of women (and men) who have been without a father or at least without a worthy one.
    But one thing we should never do is underestimate the importance of Dads.”

If you are a dedicated father, then what has happened to you, particularly if you’d been separated, teaches you to re-think relationships, marriage, fatherhood, parenting and especially our culture of divorce.

The impact leaves you wanting to be a social reformer and an advocate for fathers and their children. If you want change, then join a Men’s and Fathers’ organisation such as, Men’s Aid, F4J, Dadshouse or FNF, today.


Read more:

Reference: American musician and blogger, Clayton Craddock

PAS and DMS-5 – provisional acceptence ?

By Robert Whiston FRSA   Aug 29th 2913

This article is reproduced from an article first issued on May 29, 2013 by the ‘National Parents Organisation’ (USA) – formerly the Fathers and Families Coalition.

PAS is not yet recognised as a ‘syndrome’ but a ‘disorder.’

Release of Parental Alienation Study Group

International Task Force

Family unity took a major step forward at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on May 18-22, 2013, with the inclusion of language that describes the serious mental health problem of “Parental Alienation.”

For the first time, mental health professionals in the U.S. will have officially recognized concepts to diagnose children who experience Parental Alienation, strengthening the case against parents who strive to alienate children during divorce.

  • “This is an important advance for the psychological health of children and families,” said William Bernet, MD. Bernet is a leader of the Parental Alienation Study Group, the international task force that submitted the proposal to include parental alienation in DSM-5. Bernet, professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said, “Including language that is specifically applicable to parental alienation empowers the mental health and legal communities to address this important problem more directly and with greater clarity. These revisions to DSM-5 will reduce the harm that parental alienation causes to families.”

Parental alienation is a mental condition in which a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation or divorce – allies strongly with one parent and refuses without good cause to have a relationship with the other parent.

This process takes place when a parent or caregiver encourages the child’s rejection of the other parent. Parental alienation is driven by the false belief that the rejected parent is evil, dangerous, or not worthy of affection. When the phenomenon is properly recognized, the condition is preventable and treatable in many instances.

DSM-5 now includes the new diagnoses of “child psychological abuse” and “child affected by parental relationship distress.”

Moreover, “parent-child relational problem” refers to the concept of parental alienation, although the actual words “parental alienation” are not in DSM-5. Depending on the circumstances, each of these three diagnoses can be used in cases of parental alienation.

  • Child psychological abuse is defined as “non-accidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.” In many instances, the behavior of the alienating parent constitutes child psychological abuse.
  • Child affected by parental relationship distress should be used “when the focus of clinical attention is the negative effects of parental relationship discord (e.g., high levels of conflict, distress, or disparagement) on a child in the family, including effects on the child’s mental or other physical disorders.“ That is a very good description of how parental alienation comes about.
  • Parent-child relational problem now has a discussion in the text of DSM-5. The discussion explains that cognitive difficulties in parent-child relational problem “may include negative attributions of the other’s intentions, hostility toward or scapegoating of the other, and unwarranted feelings of estrangement.” That is a very good description of a child’s view of the alienated parent.

The Parental Alienation Study Group consists of a highly credentialed group of mental health and legal professionals and other individuals who are experienced in identifying and treating parental alienation.

The Parental Alienation Study Group initially proposed in 2008 that parental alienation should be included in DSM -5. Their complete proposal was published as Parental Alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11 (Charles C Thomas Publishers, 2010).

The Parental Alienation Study Group includes 130 individuals from 30 countries.