Clinical Work with Parents in Entrenched Custody Disputes
Mr. and Mrs. P were locked in a bitter dispute over the father's access to their eight-year-old daughter, Julie . Mrs. P, a young woman who had been abandoned by her own father, and who was unable to emancipate from her intrusive mother, was convinced that she needed to protect Julie from an "uncaring, brutal" man. There was some real, though exaggerated truth to Mrs. P's views. Mr. P, a product of rigid, punitive, and shaming parenting, was highly affronted by his daughter'S refusal to visit him; he was also convinced that he need~g to rescue Julie from a "sick dependency" upon her mother. Armed with a court order for visitation, he invaded the home, shoved the mother and grandmother aside, and dragged the extremely frightened child, kicking and screaming, to his car. An intrapsychic split within this child mirrored the ongoing struggle between her parents, which was fueled by tribal warfare between the extended families . Anxious and phobic, Julie struggled with an unintegrated sense of herself: she was unable to separate and differentiate from her "good" mother, and was fearful of becoming like her "bad" father. This was concretely manifested by her attempts to shave off one of her eyebrows that "looked like Dad's." Not surprisingly, the child's disturbed behavior reinforced the parents' negative views and blaming of one another.