Parent-child estrangement in high conflict divorce
Over the last twenty-five years, parent-child estrangement in high-conflict divorce cases has elicited much discussion within the psychological and forensic fields. Contributing significantly to this debate is the lack of empirical evidence to support the previous theories, observations, and descriptions surrounding this phenomenon. The present study utilized an original data set that was collected with seventy-eight families (e.g., mother, father, and child) from available written reports produced by a private Court-appointed licensed clinical-forensic psychologist. The overall purpose of the present study was designed to gain further insight into understanding parent estrangement tactics and behaviors within the identified sample. More specifically, this first purpose of the paper sought to establish and clarify the types and presence of estrangement behaviors that each parent and child engaged in within the present sample. The second purpose of the study was to examine the MMPI-2 validity and clinical scales via statistical examination to provide further insight into the parents of families in which estrangement was suspected, as well as differences among aligned and targeted parents.
Results showed that the presence of estrangement was significantly and positively correlated with total number of children and length of the target marriage. Furthermore, mothers were more likely to be identified as the aligned parent (as well as the primary residential parent), whereas fathers were more likely to be identified as the targeted parent. Significant differences were also found in that parents in families where estrangement was suspected were more likely to belittle or degrade their former partner, compared to families in which estrangement was not suspected. Notably, children in estranged families were more likely to criticize their mother’s (and not the father’s) parenting abilities during the context of the evaluation compared to the children in non-estranged families. With respect to the MMPI-2, results indicated that aligned parents showed statistically significant elevations on scales L, K, 1, 3, 4, and 0, whereas the targeted parents only had elevations on scales L and K. Implications for these findings were discussed, including applications to both assessment and therapeutic interventions with this family dynamic.
0451: Social psychology
0622: Clinical psychology