Kristen Paasch: Going after parental alienation

Not all holidays are created to sell greeting cards and flowers. Many are started to bring attention to something that our society needs to address. Parental Alienation Awareness Day, which hits in the spring, was designed to do just that – make more people aware of how children are harmed when they are alienated from one parent and how to prevent our family courts from becoming unwitting perpetrators of this offense. As the year charges on, we must continue to address this unfortunate reality.

newspaperParent alienation – characterized by behaviors that intentionally damage the relationship a parent has with a child – is an increasingly common form of abuse. It can affect intact families but is much more common among children affected by separation or divorce. To decrease the rates of parental alienation affecting our children, it is time Virginia updates its laws to support shared parenting.

Shared parenting refers to a flexible parenting arrangement after separation or divorce in which the child spends at least one third of the time, and as close to equal time as possible, with each parent, assuming both parents are fit and there has been no domestic violence. While shared parenting remains uncommon in the United States, it has been the norm in Sweden and Australia for years, and about 20 states have proposed laws in recent years to implement it, according to The Wall Street Journal. In just the last six months, for example, Missouri enacted a shared parenting bill, and reform in Florida traveled all the way to the Governor’s desk.

Although more and more state legislators are beginning to recognize the overwhelming research supporting shared parenting arrangements, nearly 80 percent of the time, courts award sole custody to mothers. According to federal statistics from sources including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, children raised by single parents account for:

  • 63 percent of teen suicides
  • 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions
  • 71 percent of high school drop-outs
  • 75 percent of children in chemical abuse centers
  • 85 percent of those in prison
  • 85 percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders
  • 90 percent of homeless and runaway children

Two mayors in Alabama recently brought attention to the harms of parental alienation by declaring a Parental Alienation Prevention Week, and I encourage mayors and other elected officials in Virginia to follow suit. Our children should not be used as weapons to “go after” a parent, and children’s relationships with their parents should not be intentionally damaged or destroyed in divorce or child-custody cases.

Together, let’s build a culture that supports children and safeguards their chances to have loving relationships with both parents.

Kristen Paasch is a member of National Parents Organization of Virginia.

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