Righting wrongs: One man sets out to fight parental alienation

Anthony Cauchi knows all too well why parental alienation not only affects the mind but also the heart

In the United States, courts have tried to address the situation through mandated re-unification therapy
In the United States, courts have tried to address the situation through mandated re-unification therapy

At 45, Anthony Cauchi can speak candidly of the damaging effect of parental alienation, a relatively unacknowledged phenomenon affecting parents separated from their children. His 21-year-old son, from his first marriage, lives in Australia.

Now dedicating himself full-time to the organisation Happy Parenting for Happier Children, which he founded, Cauchi knows all too well that this type of abuse not only affects the mind, but also the heart.

“Parental alienation is a practice where one or both parents going through or recently having experienced a bitter separation freely express negative emotions and opinions about the other parent with their child.

“On occasions it leads the alienating parent to coach the child as a witness to false accusations and criminal reports. Alienating parents try to do their best through such tactics, to reduce the time the child spends with the targeted parent to a minimum both in terms of quality and quantity, in hopes of weakening the other parental bond,” Cauchi says.

The majority of victims who suffer parental alienation are men, he says. “Around 80% of victims are men, however around 20% of women, are also affected. It isn’t gender specific, it could happen to anyone. The reason why the majority are men is because the local system is still constructed to favour giving custody to the mother,” he says, referring to the legal system governing marital separations.

“The ‘alienating parent’ is more likely to have full custody of the child, which gives them power and control,” he says.

Cauchi says certain foreign courts have recognised parental alienation as a form of child abuse with long-term effects and severe outcomes for the child. Countries such as Brazil and Mexico, have enacted parental alienation as a criminal offence. Others have looked into suspending child support in cases where parental alienation occurs.

In the United States, courts have tried to address the situation through mandated re-unification therapy. “It involves the child and the targeted parent attending a four-day therapy session with an expert in parental alienation. The child also needs to be removed from the alienating parent for a minimum of 90 days so that the bond that has been broken between the targeted parent and child can begin to heal,” he says.

“We need more experts, not just general clinical psychologists, but psychologists trained in parental alienation to not just identify the situation, but work with the targeted parent and child to restore the bond that was broken.”

The time spent away from the alienated parent often leads the child to think the targeted parent no longer wants them. “The alienating parent often makes the child feel as though the targeted parent is dangerous, that they don’t love them or aren’t available for them to spend time with.”

Cauchi’s NGO, Happy Parenting Malta, wants to change a prevailing mentality and give men the right to be just as pro-active in their children’s life as mothers. “Men need to take a more pro-active role in their children’s lives. Children need both parents in order to thrive, and studies have shown that children who grow up with an absent parent are more likely to underperform academically, experience teen pregnancy, and suffer from mental health issues further down the line.”

The group is pushing for the courts to favour co-parenting custody agreements over single custody agreements whenever this is possible. “Parents who co-parent are less likely to experience conflict, and that translates into a happier child,” Cauchi said. “It allows for both parents to be in control and take responsibility and minimise the risk of parental alienation developing. Parents should create a schedule that puts their child’s emotional and psychological development first.”

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