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Children of Divorce: Breaking the Resistance and Refusal Dynamic


Continuing Legal Education Topic

Parental Alienation is a hot Family Law topic. There is heightened awareness and increased repercussions for parents guilty of intentionally turning their kids against the other parent. With this increased attention to alienation, there is also recognition of the slippery slope pattern of rejection of a parent labeled RRD (Resistance, Refusal Dynamic). Experienced Livingston County Child Custody Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler recently attended a Family Law Continuing Legal Education seminar where Hon. T.J. Ackert of the 17th Circuit Court Grand Rapids; Ben Burgess of  Parmelee and Associates in Grand Haven; and Connie R. Thacker of Thacker Sleight in Grand Rapids, Michigan presented their session titled, “Overcoming Parent-Child Contact Problems.”

RRD (Resistance, Refusal Dynamic)

According to the ICLE seminar presentation materials, there are four basic categories for parent-child relationships that range from healthy and secure to estranged.

  • Strong attachment to both parents
  • Affinity to one parent; Attached to both
  • Aligned with one parent; Contact continues with the other parent
  • Rejection; justified or alienation

Resistance Refusal Dynamic

Attachment is a psychological term referring to the bond between parent and child. Attachment evaluation is similar to determining Established Custodial Environment. For instance, a therapist may ask who the child would go to for comfort and solace if she is hurt or fails a test or breaks up with a boyfriend. Attachment means that a child feels safe and secure in that parent’s care. The relationship includes feelings of trust, empathy and love.

Beyond that, a child may feel “affinity” to one parent more than another. The closer relationship may be a natural tendency based on age and gender of the child; time spent together; as well as personality and common interests. Affinity may be shown in terms of spending free time together, pursuing activities that both have in common, or seeking the parent for private advice. Although some affinity is natural and organic, some maybe artificially manufactured to win favor after divorce. The “Overcoming Parent-Child Contact Problems” presentation materials explain that positive and negative feedback loops can occur when one parent is preferred. Since the child tends to spend more time with the preferred parent, the shared experiences only increase the strength of that bond. Meanwhile, the parent who is not preferred, may begin to feel neglected and act out negatively. This further deters the child from contact with that parent, exacerbating the imbalance between parents.

Even if the issue began with innocent affinity, that pattern that may ensue is a child’s refusal to spend time with one of the parents. Sometimes, the preferred parent then tries to support the child’s wishes and may make up allegations of abuse or exaggerate negative situations. The rebuffed parent then accuses the other of parental alienation and costly litigation results.

In the past, all parties would have been recommended for traditional therapy to work through their problems. The ICLE seminar presenters urge intervention before the situation reaches litigation.

“It takes a collaborative team (lawyers, judges, mental health professionals, parenting-time coordinators, guardians ad litem) to facilitate an approach that is uniquely suited to that case and family,” according to the ICLE Family Law Seminar materials titled, “Overcoming Parent-Child Contact Problems” presented by Hon. T.J. Ackert of the 17th Circuit Court Grand Rapids; Ben Burgess of Parmelee and Associates in Grand Haven; and Connie R. Thacker of Thacker Sleight in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The courts are now recognizing how complex Resistance and Refusal situations are. In contrast to Parental Alienation, responses to RRD assume that all parties are contributing to the rejection situation (whether intentionally or unwittingly).

Spectrum of RRD Severity

Parent Child RRDThe ICLE materials state that mild RRD typically involves younger children who have not been impacted for very long. Mild to Moderate cases also involve rational, mutually-respectful parents who are open to working toward a healthy co-parenting relationship. The recommendations for mild to moderate RRD may include a combination of individual and family counseling; outpatient treatment for mental health issues; Parent Coordination; and detailed court orders.

According to the ICLE presentation, Moderate to Severe RRD may involve controlling parents; mental health problems; a child with polarized and inflexible views; infrequent parenting time; a child that threatens self-harm, running away, or harm to rejected parent; refusal to participate in treatment; and possible noncompliance with court orders. In these instances, the approach to resolving Moderate to Severe RRD may include either temporary or permanent custodial changes; intensive camps; comprehensive court instruction and oversight. A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Parenting Coordinator (PC) may be involved to make sure that the child’s best interests are maintained.

The goal of intervention is to recover a safe and healthy parent-child relationship. Additionally the hope is that all parties will gain coping skills, improved critical thinking and a positive perspective.

Kathryn Wayne-Spindler has been helping divorcing parents for more than 20 years. She is well aware of the incidious RRD pattern. She is careful to evaluate client’s family situations and offer advice and support for those involved in unbalanced parent-child relationships. For assistance with divorce, child custody, or post-judgment modifications, contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000. The experienced attorneys handles cases throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Washtenaw, Genesee, Livingston and Wayne counties. The law firm helps clients in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Wixom; Commerce; Waterford; West Bloomfield; New Hudson; South Lyon; Howell; Linden; Holly; Grand Blanc; Flint; Fenton and many more local communities.

Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates