Advice Scene - Family Matters

Episode 214 High Conflict Divorce

with Dr. Richard Warshak

Dr. Warshak’s book, The Custody Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 1992), advocated mediation of custody disputes and greater father involvement, two reforms that have since become mainstream in U. S. law and practice. His second book, Divorce Poison: How To Protect Your Family From Bad-Mouthing And Brainwashing (HarperCollins, 2002/2010), now in its 25th printing, is translated in six languages and is the world’s best-selling resource on parental alienation. 

Dr. Warshak appears in the PBS documentary Kids And Divorce, and is co-author of a DVD for children and parents titled, Welcome Back Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, And Overcoming Parental Alienation

As an international media guest commentator Dr. Warshak has contributed to segments on more than 75 topics including celebrity divorces, custody disputes, parental alienation, child abuse, stepfamilies, child psychology and parenting, and helping children cope with fears and trauma. He has been interviewed by the major television networks in the U.S., and in Canada, England, and Germany, including ABC 20/20, NBC Today, NBC Dateline, CBS, CNN, BBC, CTV, Fox, Geraldo, and CourtTV. His work has been featured in international print media in the U.S., Canada, England, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Columbia, and New Zealand, including the New York Times (Sunday front page story), Washington Post (cover story), USA Today (cover story), London Sunday Telegraph, Il Giornale (Italy), Toronto Star, Globe and Mail (editorial, front page, & Life section), Macleans (Canada), and Time magazine (1980, 2004, and 2011)

Dr Richard A Warshak

Dr. Richard Warshak’s groundbreaking research, trenchant challenges to gender stereotypes, and passionate advocacy for children have made him one the world’s most respected authorities on divorce, child custody, and the psychology of alienated children. As a White House consultant, and through his writing, speeches, legislative and courtroom testimony, videos, and workshops, Dr. Warshak has had a profound impact on the law and well-being of families where parents live apart from each other.

Since 1977 Dr. Warshak has examined assumptions and practices in family law in the light of logic and scientific data. His studies on father and mother custody, remarriage, relocation, parenting plans for young children, the approximation rule, children’s preferences in custody disputes, and parental alienation appear in 13 books, more than 65 articles, and more than 100 presentations, and are cited often in the professional literature and in case law and legislatures throughout the world. His most recent work is a law review article analyzing judicial discretion, the best-interest standard, and alternative custody presumptions. Dr. Warshak has delivered keynote speeches throughout the U.S., in four Canadian provinces, in Germany, and in Israel.

A graduate of Cornell University, Dr. Warshak is a clinical, research, and consulting psychologist, Clinical Professor of psychology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and a member of the Editorial Board of three professional journals. 

Dr. Warshak was a White House consultant on child custody and one of 60 top experts invited to participate in an American Bar Association family law reform initiative. His amicus brief on relocation, endorsed by the leading authorities on divorce, was accepted by the Supreme Court of the State of California.

Academic Articles

Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report

by Dr Richard A Warshak [2014]

Two central issues addressed in this article are the extent to which young children’s time should be spent predominantly in the care of the same parent or divided more evenly between both parents, and whether children under the age of 4 should sleep in the same home every night or spend overnights in both parents’ homes. A broad consensus of accomplished researchers and practitioners agree that, in normal circumstances, the evidence supports shared residential arrangements for children under 4 years of age whose parents live apart from each other. Because of the well-documented vulnerability of father – child relationships among never-married and divorced parents, the studies that identify overnights as a protective factor associated with increased father commitment to child rearing and reduced incidence of father drop-out, and the absence of studies that demonstrate any net risk of overnights, policymakers and decision makers should recognize that depriving young children of overnights with their fathers could compromise the quality of developing father-child relationships. Sufficient evidence does not exist to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers. The theoretical and practical considerations favouring overnights for most young children are more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardise children’s development.

What Courts Can Do About Parental Alienation
by Dr Richard A Warshak [20 July 2013]

Parental Alienation Among College Students

by Aaron J. Hands & Dr Richard A Warshak [2011]

A sample of 50 college students responded to a questionnaire measuring perceptions of alienating behaviors on the part of their parents and their current relationship with each parent. Data revealed a higher degree of alienating behavior by divorced parents when compared to non-divorced parents. Mothers and fathers were rated about equally likely to engage in such behaviors. A higher incidence of alienated parent-child relationships in divorced homes approached, but did not reach, statistical significance. Students who were alienated from one parent report higher levels of alienating behaviours on the part of their parents. The results suggest that parental alienating behaviors, and the phenomenon of a child becoming alienated from a parent after divorce, are departures from the norm and worthy of attention and concern.

Parenting by the Clock: The Best Interest of the Child Standard

by Dr Richard A Warshak [2011]

The American Law Institute proposes that in contested physical custody cases, the court should allocate to each parent a proportion of the child's time that approximates the proportion of time each spent performing caretaking functions in the past. Examined through the lens of child development research, the approximation rule is unlikely to improve on the best-interests-of-the-child standard. The approximation rule is difficult to apply, creates a new focus for disputing parents, renders a poor estimate of parents' contributions to their child's best interest, and overlooks parents' intangible, yet significant, contributions to their child's well-being. Measuring past-caretaking time is difficult, and quantity of care does not correlate with quality of care. A best-interests standard that retains the benefits to children of individualized decision making is preferable in the context of contemporary reforms that accommodate new knowledge and encourage non-adversarial resolutions of custody disputes.

Helping Alienated Children with Family Bridges: Practice, Research and the Pursuit of "Humbition"

by Dr Richard A Warshak & Mark R. Otis [2011]

This article briefly summarizes and responds to feedback offered by Joan Kelly regarding Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships™. We emphasize principles that promote an educational atmosphere, as opposed to a therapeutic one, and the court's role in contributing to successful interventions with severely alienated children. Among the considerations discussed are: working with favored parents, economic comparisons of Family Bridges with counselling approaches, modifying the program for use in prevention and with milder cases of alienation, and issues related to training additional team leaders and conducting outcome research.

Family Bridges: Using Insights from Social Science to Reconnect Parnets and Alienated Children

by Dr Richard Warshak [2011]

​This article describes an innovative educational and experiential program, Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child RelationshipsTM, that draws on social science research to help severely and unreasonably alienated children and adolescents adjust to court orders that place them with a parent they claim to hate or fear. The article examines the benefits and drawbacks of available options for helping alienated children and controversies and ethical issues regarding coercion of children by parents and courts. The program's goals, principles, structure, procedures, syllabus, limitations, and preliminary outcomes are presented. At the workshop's conclusion, 22 of 23 children, all of whom had failed experiences with counseling prior to enrollment, restored a positive relationship with the rejected parent. At follow-up, 18 of the 22 children maintained their gains; those who relapsed had premature contact with the alienating parent.

Payoffs and Pitfalls of Listening to Children
by Dr Richard A Warshak
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. 

In a Land Far, Far Away: Assessing Children’s Best Interests in International Relocation Cases
by Dr Richard A Warshak
International relocations alter the analyses of best-interest factors normally considered in domestic relocation cases and introduce additional factors. The foreign nation’s laws, judicial practices, customs, educational system, and political status create a climate that can be favorable or hostile to the child’s best interests, to the left-behind parent’s rights of access, and to the intentions of the court that issues the original custody orders. This context requires custody evaluators to give heightened scrutiny to the reasons for the proposed move. A critical focus, more significant than in domestic relocations, is how the moving parent will co-parent and support the child’s relationship with the left-behind parent. Experts who fail to adjust their procedures and analyses to the unique aspects of international relocation compromise the quality and helpfulness of their work to the court and to the parties.

Advice Scene - Family Matters

Episode 214 Parental Alienation: Web Extra with Dr. Richard Warshak