Marriage-Divorce Coaching


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Due to health reasons, the Divorce Support Plus website was closed several years ago, but Sharon Shenker is returning to her passion of helping others through family reconstruction, or even better, saving families by reconstructing the relationship(s).

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

PAS Q & A, Part Two


PAS Q & A, Part Two
: begins with an explanation of the difference between PAS and Estrangement, and then points out some of the behaviors of both the “Alienating Parent” and the “Alienated Child,” and offers some tips on what you can do if your child is being alienated.

As previously stated, a high-conflict divorce in which one of the parents is being negatively criticised, put down as a parent or for who they are as a person, and visits or communication are made difficult, are often mistaken as cases of PAS because Parental Alienation or PA includes many of the same mild to moderate behaviors of an alienating parent, but… they do not progress into Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Highly conflicted couples can argue with each other almost every time they speak. Couples experiencing Parental Alienation involve an ‘alienating parent’ and a ‘target parent’ which can be either the mother or father. The dynamic goes beyond the constant arguing. The dynamic becomes that of one in which the child or children are caught in the middle and drawn into siding with one parent to basically go into battle against the now rejected parent, with whom the child had previously had a fine relationship. This point is of crucial importance: the ‘Alienating Parent’ begins to either consciously or unconsciously manipulate the child(ren) against the other parent with no new circumstances and no real justification. By that, I mean that there is no real reason, risk, danger, threat or incident to make a healthy, normally concerned and protective parent believe there is a need to prevent the child(ren) from seeing, speaking with, and visiting the targeted mother or father.

Another very difficult family dynamic, which requires professional assistance from someone who is trained in differentiating between PAS and other reasons that a child might be refusing to see their parent, is called ‘Estrangement.’ There are many, many cases in which a parent truly feels like they are a victim of Parental Alienation, when in fact they are not. It is essential for this family’s history is be looked into, to see how all the relationships were from before the separation up until the present instead of simply going by the fact that the child is not willing to speak to or visit the other parent because there are many reasons for the symptom of contact refusal. It must be deeply looked into by someone with training in differentiating between PA, PAS and Estrangement to know whether or not the presumed target parent is actually a victim of PAS.

As Dr Darnell wrote, in 1997, “Parents must be cautioned not to conclude that all parent-child relationship problems are caused by alienating behaviour. When there is true abuse, it is natural that a parent will feel protective towards the children. This is not alienation.”

Dr Willian Bernet, as the keynote speaker at the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation, in May or 2011, shared information on The Differential Diagnosis of Contact Refusal that must be considered such as: personality differences, separation anxiety, an appositional defiant disorder, the child’s way of escaping from or attempting to reduce the conflict, etc. It can also be that the parent is suffering the consequences of their own actions or behaviors in the past, getting pay-back so to say, or that there is some form of abuse taking place at that parent’s home.

A trained professional must look at all the possible reasons for a child’s contact refusal to know whether it is actually a case of PAS to be able to help the family correctly. The professional must thoroughly investigate the behaviors and actions of both parents and the child to know if it is a case of PA, PAS, or Estrangement.

The Parental Alienation Awareness Organization states:
Badmouthing the rejected parent, such as
• Speaking negatively about a parent to, or in front of, the child.
• Inaccurately or untruthfully telling the child about the rejected parent, or suggesting they are unsafe or dangerous.
• Exaggerating minor flaws in the rejected parent.
• Inappropriately confiding adult information with the child.
Interfering in a child’s contact with a rejected parent, such as
• Throwing out gifts and letters from the rejected parent.
• Calling excessively during the time with the rejected parent.
• Early pickups or late drop offs for time with the rejected parent.
• Forbidding any reference to, or photos of the rejected parent.
• Scheduling activities that compete with time with the rejected parent.
• Monitoring or forbidding communication or time with the rejected parent.
Manipulating a child to reject a parent, such
• Withdrawing love, including guilt for having fun or feeling love toward a rejected parent.
Undermining child’s relationship with the rejected parent, such as
• Asking the child to spy on or keep secrets from the rejected parent.
• Forcing the child to choose between parents.
• Creating conflict between the child and rejected parent.
• Interrogating the child after time with a rejected parent.
• Providing the child with inappropriate information about finances, marriage or divorce issues.
• Accusing the rejected parent of causing emotional pain to the favored parent that the child should help to heal.
• Giving the child parental decision making authority, ie whether to visit with the rejected parent.
Undermining the rejected parent’s role in the child’s life, such as
• Refusing to provide the child’s information (medical, educational, etc) to the rejected parent.
• Not inviting/informing the rejected parent of important events. (awards, honors, graduations, etc)
• Refusing to provide others with the rejected parent’s contact information.
• Rewriting history to reduce a rejected parent’s role in the child’s life.

It is essential to remember that many of the above behaviors may be utilized in high conflict divorces and mild to moderate Parental Alienation (PA) without it actually being Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

PLEASE be aware of, and understand this important and seriously differentiating factor - in PAS, the child is not feeling upset, disregarded, or worried about hurting anyone’s feelings. They are anxious because one parent will be upset if they see the other or angry at the other parent for various reason.

S/He has taken on the (unintentional or unintentional) Alienating Parent’s attitude, beliefs and behaviors towards the Target Parent, to the extreme, as will follows. First, let's look at a few reasons for Estrangement - when a child who is not suffering PAS but might refuse contact with the other parent:

- The parent has been late or not shown up at scheduled times in the past... the child is then angry and basically paying them back for their neglect.
- Normal personality/behavior preferences for the custodial parent and their immature emotional level makes it too difficult to cope or to understand the gravity of refusing to see the parent 'just because' they don't prefer them.
- The child might not like where the parent lives, that their friends are not there, that they do not have the same toys/rules/schedule...etc.
- They might be annoyed and feel maltreated or neglected because you have a new partner and spend time with them during their visits.
- The child might be worried or anxious about leaving the other parent alone, especially if they know of an affair on that parent's part that broke the other parent's heart... and accidentally indoctrinated the child into feeling they must stand by that hurt parent to show loyalty. A form of taking sides, but not PAS!)

*-*-*- The children in the above incidents have chosen to refuse contact with the parent for actual, valid or perceived to be valid reasons, unlike with PAS.

• Express relentless, unambiguous hatred toward the rejected parent and their side of the family.
• Obsessively parrots the favored parent without regard for their own historical experiences.
• Refuse to spend time, visit, or communicate with the rejected parent.
• Hold negative beliefs about the rejected parent that are inconsequential, exaggerated, or unfounded in reality.
• May lack the capacity to feel guilty about inconsiderate or cruel behaviors toward the rejected parent, or to forgive any past conflicts.

• Do not argue or get defensive with your child, it creates bad feelings and is not likely to change his/her mind.
• Let your child k now that you have a different understanding of the situation and you would be willing to share your perspective if and when the child is interested.
• Continue, in any possible way, to let the child know that he/she is loved.
• Control your own anger and stay calm, even when hurt of frustrated.
• Hold yourself to the highest possible standard of behavior (do not give the alienating parent ammunition).
• Work on improving your own parenting skills.
• Always call/pick up the child at scheduled times, and be there even if you know the child won’t be available.
• Create positive experiences/memories with your child.
• Provide mental health treatment for yourself and your child with professionals experienced with parental alienation.
• Build a support network with friends, family, community resources, and support groups.
• Become educated and help others involved with your child to learn more about parental alienation.
• Attempt to work constructively with the other parent, either directly or through mediation.
• Continue to attempt positive communication, on a regular basis, even if the child rejects or ignores it.

Do not ignore the problem – it will not go away.
• Never give up hope and never give up on your child.

The next blog offers tips as to what a teacher, friend of the family, clergyman, parent of the child’s friend, family member, counsellor or coach can help.

Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. The information shared here is not intended to replace professional assistance or to be used for diagnosis purposes, but, you can certainly share it with your professional as a reference along with my contact information.

Sharon Shenker, Specialized Family Life Coach
Divorce Support Plus,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

PAS Series: High Conflict vs Parental Alienation


PART ONE: High Conflict divorce and Mild to Moderate Alienation

Correction: I mistakenly reported Dr Campbell as thperson who said, “Just as early detection of cancer can save live, Early detection of PAS can save families.” It was actually Dr Kathleen Reay who said it… so, thanks Dr Reay!

Let’s begin by answering a simple question: How common is conflict in separating couples?

Most divorces and separations have at least some conflict, but the majority of couples are said to be able to handle and work through their problems with the relationship ending on reasonably good terms. I keep reading about a statistic that states that only 10% of break-ups are actually high-conflict cases that require court intervention. I think that is a rather low figure – why else is so much attention needed and focused on helping this minimal 10% of families?

The majority of people experiencing high-conflict separations and divorces, however few or many there are, might be very surprised to read this and learn that some of their behaviour and dynamic is now considered by most professionals and experts in the field to be even more serious than most people think, and called Parental Alienation (PA).

For a long time, highly conflicted couples were taught decision-making, problem-solving, and effective communication skills because it was believed that they were lacking the appropriate skills to get along in a business-like fashion after the split. Around the same time, every city, church, synagogue, social worker, therapist, and Family Life Educators, began offering specialty Divorce Support Groups, Parenting Education and Co-Parenting Workshops, similar to all of mine at Divorce Support Plus from 1999-2005. Groups were considered to be essential forms of Adult Education and provided the perfect arena for a sense of belonging and not being the only one with such a problem. Naturally, for those who like being in groups, to hear other people’s situations and how they are handling them and to speak up if one chose to. Supervised Visitation programs and centers opened up, with social workers and psychologists on staff, like the ones in my own city, (PCAAP) Parent-Child Assisted Access Program begun with the aid of Dominic D’Abate, and AMCAL. Family Courts will overwhelmed with family court cases that were being handled by lawyers trained in the adversarial approach, so finally, Mediation began to be offered as a means of a way to reduce battling over the largest, and smallest of issues. Then, along came Collaborative Divorce and Collaborative Divorce Teams, but still many, if not the majority of theses families, were not able to be helped.

What is it about conflict during and after a divorce that makes it so difficult to be resolved and/or stopped?

Some of the issues resulting in conflict can and often do get resolved by Divorce & Parent Education Programs. For example, “After the Storm: Resolving Post-Separation Conflict” offers an excellent program that is based on sensitizing and educating parents in the skills to resolve disputes on their own. But, as good as this program is for high conflict families, those who are experiencing more than “just” high conflict, and are living through “alienation” need a different type of intervention than this service provides.

So, what is the difference between high-conflict, and alienation?

Conflict is a part of life. But, while conflict is inevitable even within marriages where the two parties still love each other and plan on staying together, many couples never resolved one of the initial stages in relationships in which we learn how to negotiate and compromise our two belief systems and views. So, if/when these couples do not seek help to save their relationship by tuning up on their communication, active listening, assertive communication, and problem-solving skills (along with some family-of- origin work) they get to battle it out and/or learn how to do all of this with each other while going through a divorce – if they have children. If there are no children, they get to go on their separate merry ways, never learning how to communicate with each other effectively, but have no need to. But, hopefully, they will learn how to accomplish this stage in relationships with their next partner.

Alienation is totally different!
Here is what the dictionary shares for alienation:
1. the act of alienating.
2. the state of being alienated.

–verb (used with object), -at•ed, -at•ing.
1. to make indifferent or hostile: He has alienated his entire family.
2. to turn away; transfer or divert: to alienate funds from their intended purpose.

And, this is what Dr. Douglas Darnall describes as parental alienation (PA):
“rather than PAS, as any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that could evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent.”

To make it simple, the difference between high conflict divorce and alienation or parental alienation, is that high conflict is between the two parents. It might affect issues relating to the children, such as access time with them, money towards their needs, or even whose parenting style will be best in child-rearing the said child, but it is not literally trying to destroy a healthy, nurturing relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent for no apparent reason. Parental alienation has a ‘targeting’ parent and a ‘targeted’ parent.

Some typical methods of engaging in parental alienation, will include such things as:
• interfering with visitation or access time with/for the targeted parent
• telling lies to the child(ren) about the targeted parent
• making telephone contact very difficult, never private or denying any for the targeted parent
• speaking poorly of the targeted parent to the children
• speaking poorly of the target parent to other people in the presence of the children
• convincing the child(ren) that the targeted parent is either not good or not needed

Parental Alienation is the act of one parent, consciously or unconsciously, turning the child(ren) against the other parent, with no real justification, through the use of manipulation, lies, fear, delusions, false accusations, loyalty issues, threats of withdrawal of love, morality issues, and more. Parental Alienation in Mild to Moderate forms can still be prevented from turning into full-blown PAS if caught in time! Strategies used in true PAS are now be likened to those used by cult leaders to brainwash their followers.

But, not all children who do not see or do not want to see a parent are doing so because of Parental Alienation, and we will get into that in Part Two: The Difference Between PAS and Estrangement

Don’t forget to leave comments so that you can be heard… and maybe help someone else or be helped yourself! Plus keep coming back for the rest of this series, and all others following. Yes, follow me so you know when I post new blog articles!

Sharon Shenker, Marriage & Family Coach
After many years of already working with children and their families, in 1999 Sharon founded Divorce Support Plus to help couples prevent family breakdowns or to assist them through and beyond a family reconstruction - without destruction!

For further information,
phone: 514.804.3585,
skype: sharon.shenker

All articles written by Sharon Shenker, are copyrighted, and can be used elsewhere but must include contact information.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Parental Alienation Syndrome, Introduction to Series

A child asks, "Who Do I Pick?!"

I received an email last week that read as follows:


From what I understand, you attended the conference on parental alienation last weekend. As a ‘Target Parent’, I wish I could have made it! However, in your article, you stated that you were ‘trained in differentiating parental alienation and estrangement’. Can you share any of the criteria to look for when making such a differentiation? How does one tell the difference?

I’m hoping you can post this important information on your website. You also stated in your article that ‘Tomorrow, I`ll tell you more about the conference and all the speakers’. I am really looking forward to reading everything you have to say about it.

Thanks a million for taking the time to read my e-mail. Anything you can do to spread awareness and education about this issue might help save my family from indescribable pain.


I am going to answer in a 4-part series because I believe this issue deserves our full awareness, attention, education and understanding.

In Part One, I will be discussing the behaviors quite often seen in high-conflict divorce situations which was referred to by one of the experts at the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome, Dr. Terence Campbell, as ‘Mild to Moderate Alienation.”

Part Two will begin with an explanation of the difference between PAS and Estrangement, and then point out some of the behaviors of both the “Alienating Parent” and the “Alienated Child” and offer some tips on what you can do if your child is being alienated.

Part Three will offer tips more specific to how a teacher, friend of the family, clergyman, and counselor or coach without professional training in dealing with PAS can do.

Part Four will provide information on the speakers at the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome and offer a list of all of books and websites for further information.

But, before I even begin, I want to make my view very clear.
My belief is that Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS, is both a very serious infringement on a child’s right to having a relationship with each of their parents, and it should be seen, understood and classified as a form of child abuse and/or mental illness (in the DSM-5). Since my own high-conflict divorce, in 1982-4, I have believed that even mild to moderate parental alienation is child abuse, yet a form of abuse that even many professionals do not fully understand and/or know what to do to stop it from progressing into full-blown PAS. Having personally seen the harmful effects it has had on hundreds of innocent children, my own and those that I have spoken/worked with over the years, I continue to be vigilant in helping couples to work on “a family reconstruction without destruction!” I know from work experience that many mild-to-moderate cases can be prevented from turning into severe levels of PAS if caught and properly dealt with soon enough.

“Just as early detection of cancer can save lives,
Early detection of PAS can save families.”
Dr. Terence Campbell - - and me!

Please come back to read this important series, hopefully beginning tomorrow!

Sharon Shenker, Marriage & Family Coach
After many years of already working with children and their families, in 1999 Sharon founded Divorce Support Plus to help couples prevent family breakdowns or to assist them through and beyond a family reconstruction - without destruction!

For further information,
phone: 514.804.3585,
skype: sharon.shenker