OCB Clinicians’ Response
Judge Gorcyca, the Detroit Judge who ordered three minor children into juvenile detention for refusal to have lunch with their Dad, has set off a firestorm in the media and brought the issue of child alienation to national headlines. With the divorce rate holding steady at 50% and 10 to 15% of separating or divorcing couples being high conflict, the dynamic of children resisting or refusing contact with their mother or father is increasingly coming to the attention of the court. “Children’s rejection of a parent is a complex issue and there are numerous reasons and contributing factors to explain the nature and severity of the dynamic. The solutions must be just as varied, multi-faceted and customized to the needs of the specific family. There is no one size fits all remedy.” Dr. Barbara Jo Fidler, OCB Board Member. While this Judge’s order may seem draconian, the family’s conflicts have been dramatic and complex, as is often the case in the increasingly prevalent problem of children’s rejection of a parent.
The politics of child alienation, often referred to as parental alienation, are divisive and contentious. OCB is concerned that the current popular media coverage will oversimplify the complexity and challenges of addressing children’s welfare in these situations, as polarized debate tends to do. The issue becomes polarized when the focus is limited, as is often the case in the legal-adversarial context, to the behavior of only the favored parent as sabotaging and brain washing, or only the rejected parent as abusive and justifying the child’s rejection. Rather, we hope this tragic case can be an opportunity to advocate for real solutions for these families and children and to discuss more comprehensive, research-based approaches to the problem.
“While each family member plays some part in the overall dynamic, the child is never to blame and should never be the subject of punitive action by the court system under the guise of protecting or promoting the child’s welfare. To do so is to blame the victim, just as when individuals are victimized by domestic or sexual violence.” Dr. Matt Sullivan, Co-Founder of OCB. “The child’s behavior is symptomatic of the system’s failure.”
Family courts have been struggling with these dynamics for decades, and the remedies available to the court have been limited and generally ineffective. The adversarial court process can escalate the conflict and blame rather than support healthy coparenting, which benefits children. But according to Dr. John A. Moran, OCB Board Member,
“Without court intervention, the family remains stuck in co-parenting conflict resulting in the children’s loss of relationship with a parent and their extended family.” Innovators in the field, OCB included, are working to develop models and interventions to move families out of entrenched conflict, and require the court’s support and authority to redirect parents to these resources.
“Effective solutions will require a systemic approach to a systemic problem, meaning the participation of all family members, coordination with legal professionals and the court, and support from mental health professionals who have specialized training.” Dr. Robin Deutsch, Co-Founder of OCB.
“Without intervention involving the entire family, rigidly held beliefs, justified or unjustified, about the reasons behind the resistance or refusal are maintained, to the detriment of the children caught between loyalty to one parent at the expense of the other.” Dr. Peggie Ward, Co-Founder of OCB.
Speaking out in response to the uproar generated by her recent decision, Judge Gorcyca stated, “While this court’s remedy in this particular situation may seem drastic and offensive, so too, is the notion … that the only way to maintain a stable and loving connection with the mother is to vilify and reject the father.” OCB is dedicated to developing constructive alternatives for families and the courts that support healthy coparenting for the benefit of children.