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Parental Alienation and Narcissistic Abuse in Divorce

In litigious divorce cases, one of the issues co-parents may have to deal with is parental alienation.  Parental alienation occurs when one parent manipulates a child such that the child refuses to have a relationship with the other parent and as a result, hostilities abound.  Many times, parental alienation is tied to narcissistic behaviour.  An individual with narcissistic traits will thrive on the use of control and manipulation in order to retain what he/she deems as the “perfect image.” Parental alienation, whilst may be satisfying to the alienating parent, will have devastating effects on a child and the alienated/loving parent and is never in the best interests of the child.

Here are a few things to consider and look out for if you are involved in a divorce with a narcissist and dealing with parental alienation:

  1. Look for Potential Warning Signs of Parental Alienation:
    Each and every situation look different and your warning signs will be specific to you. However, here are a few of the more common signs to look out for: the alienating parent will vilify the loving parent; vilification of the loving parent may then extend to his/her extended family and friends; the alienating parent will employ guilt trips upon the child in order to obtain a desired result; the alienating parent’s projected feelings about the loving parent may be highlighted in the child’s own opinion.  These warning signs can be displayed in certain behaviour such as the following examples:  The alienating parent will refuse to respect the loving parent’s time with the child; the alienating parent will tell the child about adult issues including that the loving parent does not love or care about the child; the alienating parent will guilt trip the child by acting hurt if the child is nice to the other parent; the alienating parent rewards the child for talking badly about the other parent.  Ultimately, at the core of parental alienation is that the child is left in the middle feeling as if he/she has to choose between one parent over the other.  A healthy message that should normally be relayed to a child is that he/she does not have to choose between either parent and that both parents, despite being divorced, love the child and want what is best for him/her.  This idea of healthy parenting is not a concept that a narcissistic abusive co-parent can understand.
  2. Be Aware of the Risks:
    The main risk of parental alienation is that it will cause destruction in the relationship between the child and the loving parent, despite the fact that it is the alienating parent who is causing the divide between what once was a healthy relationship. Many times, a relationship between a child and loving parent is irreparably destroyed due to parental alienation caused by the narcissistic parent. What results is either a toxic/resentful relationship between the child and loving parent, or in the worst-case scenario, no relationship will be in existence between the loving parent and the child. This ultimately is the goal of a narcissistic parent who aims to destroy the relationship between the loving parent and the child.  This then allows the narcissistic parent to have full control of the child and full control over the loving parent.  It is therefore important to be aware of the warning signs of narcissistic parental alienation before it gets to the point where no relationship exists between the loving parent and the child.
  3. Do Not Compete:
    If you are up against a narcissistic parent who is indulging in a parental alienation campaign, it is important that you do not try and compete with this individual and his/her behaviour. Instead, it is important to focus on your own parenting styleyou’re your own relationship with the child that is focused on healthy values. Whilst a narcissistic parent may try and bribe a child with gifts and excess, it is important to instead focus on parenting your child with love, empathy, stability, truth, presence and a peaceful environment.  Long-term, this will prevail once a child is old enough to comprehend the full picture of what has been occurring.
  4. Ask for Help:
    Dealing with a narcissistic abusive co-parent is not an easy task and should not be handled alone. You should be asking for help from third-parties such as family and friends who can maybe intervene and assist in the peaceful communication between you and your co-parent. You may also need to speak with a therapist to learn how to deal with a narcissistic abusive co-parent and develop your skills on how to communicate with him/her and with your child. In very difficult cases, you may also need to seek solicitor advice as your solicitor may be able to assist in finding a solution for your situation.
  5. Take Care Of Yourself:
    Finally, it is important that you take care of yourself when dealing with a narcissist in your co-parenting journey. It is a difficult task to deal with someone who may be manipulating and attempting to control you and your child. It is important that you take time for yourself, whether it is talking it out with a therapist or spending time with family and friends, enjoying the hobbies that make you happy and strengthening yourself so that you are able to create boundaries with your co-parent and learn to be mentally strong despite the circumstances.

If your co-parent escalates his/her narcissistic behavour to physical abuse, this is when you will need to seek professional assistance and report any abuse to the authorities.  Speak to someone who can support you in safely reporting any abuse to authorities and ensure that you and your child are not in danger. This is also the time to speak with your solicitor so he/she can assist with legal action in protecting you and your child against an abusive spouse.

Co-Parenting Checklist for the Summer Holiday

In our last article, we discussed the importance of peaceful co-parenting and being prepared when planning your summer holidays with the children. In this article, we will continue on with our discussion by providing you with a short key checklist of things to keep in mind ahead of the children’s summer holidays:

  1. Co-Parenting Summer Holiday Checklist:
    1. Review co-parenting agreement/order(s) prior to planning your summer holiday with the children.
    2. Plan a meeting/telephone call with your co-parent to discuss holiday plans and ensure both of you are on the same page about the upcoming summer holidays.
    3. Plan your holidays with the children accordingly and obtain necessary paperwork/documents including but not limited to passports, birth certificates (if necessary) and Deed of Parenting (if necessary), Covid vaccination and vaccination records.
    4. Provide a detailed summary of travel plans to your co-parent after tickets and plans are purchased and solidified.
    5. Provide to your co-parent the emergency contact details for the children when traveling for the summer holidays.
    6. Discuss any financial considerations with your co-parent about the children’s holiday travel plans and activities.
    7. Enjoy your holidays with the children!
  2. Questions to Ask Your Solicitor Prior to the Holidays:
    1. After reviewing the children’s holiday agreement/orders and there is any confusion, ask for clarification from your solicitor so you are not misinterpreting or misreading the agreement/orders.
    2. If there are disagreements about the summer holidays, ask your solicitor what can be done to assist in the process.
    3. If an application must be made to the court, ask your solicitor detailed questions about the application including how long it will take to obtain a court order and if there is anything that can be done to expedite the process and what the costs are.
    4. Ask your solicitor if you need to bring additional documents with you when traveling with the children other than a passport such as a birth certificate and/or Deed of Parenting.
    5. If you have a history of issues with your co-parent, ask your solicitor if there are any safeguards or steps you can take in advance to avoid issues/conflict during the holidays with the children.

The above is a handy checklist of the things you should review and prepare in advance of the summer holidays. It is always better to be overprepared when it comes to the children’s holidays.  The last thing you want is to have any issues or conflict during your holidays with the children or even worse, not being able to travel with the children for the holidays because of a disagreement with your co-parent over the summer holidays. Speak to your solicitor when in doubt!

Half-Year Review of the Most Interesting Divorce Stories of 2023

We have already reached the halfway mark of 2023! Over the last six (6) months, there have been many interesting stories regarding divorce and here are some of the more interesting highlights mid-way through 2023!

  1. Positive Effects of Divorce: According to an article published by Fortune Magazine, a study finds that divorce can have a positive effect on performance at work. According to the individuals studied, divorce allows individuals to have a clear mind at work. Perhaps the reason is that the stress associated with divorce can negatively impact work performance. This is especially true when many individuals compare divorce to a death. Thus, it follows that once a divorce has occurred, the focus can now be on moving forward, allowing individuals to focus on work product instead.
  2. Divorce Rate in Morocco Increases: According to the national prosecutor’s office in Morocco, the divorce rate has significantly increased between 2016 and 2021 going from 72,000 cases to 126,000.  The cases of reconciliation are also declining. It is known that Morocco has adopted Moudawana, the family code introduced in 2004 which guarantees women equal rights to file for divorce.  This is in contrast to the law previously where only the husband could legally decide to end the marriage.  Legal advocates in Morocco believe this is one of the main reasons why the divorce rate has increased in Morocco.
  3. Higher Divorce Rates in 2023 in the UK: Solicitors in the United Kingdom are bracing for a surge in divorce filings in 2023 after the change in law in 2022.  In the UK, many solicitors dub the first working Monday in January as “Divorce Day” because marital problems become worse over the Christmas holidays.  Solicitors are now embracing for a spike in divorce filings this year because on 6th April 2022, England and Wales adopted a “no-fault divorce law” pursuant to the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act which allows couples to legally separate without either party having to admit any wrongdoing.    Thus, the new law allows couples to divorce without placing blame on either party. Perhaps the no-fault divorce may also remove the “heat” associated with divorce, ending the blame game in a divorce.  
  4. Celebrity Divorce: Emily Ratajkowski: Hollywood celebrity, Emily Ratajkowski publicly declared that she does not believe divorce is a sad thing. According to Ratajkowski, individuals should not be afraid of divorce if they are unhappy in a relationship. Ratajkowski said in a podcast, “I don’t think divorce is a sad thing. I know a lot of people are unhappily married for a very long time because they’re so afraid of divorce. I don’t think that’s a good way to live.” Ratajkowski has been divorced since 8th March 2021 and has since been romantically linked to several high-profile celebrities.
  5. Celebrity Co-Parenting: Ali Wong: Hollywood comedian and actress Ali Wong said in a Vanity Fair Magazine article that she and her ex-husband of 8 years has not stopped being “best friends” since their divorce. In fact, Ali Wong states that their friendship is stronger than ever despite their romantic relationship being over. The former couple share two daughters and according to Wong, the two still travel together with the children and state that they remain “amicable and they will continue to co-parent lovingly.”

Divorce remains a hot topic throughout this first half of the year of 2023.  Later this year, we will provide a further update of other noteworthy news regarding divorce to wrap up the year!

Preparing for the Summer Holidays with your Co-Parent

It is never too early to begin your preparation for the summer holidays.  This is especially true if you and your co-parent have difficulties agreeing on the logistics of the summer holidays. If you and your spouse are/were involved in a high conflict custody case or have a history of difficulties when making decisions about the children, preparedness is key ahead of the summer holidays.

Here are some tips on how to prepare and make seamless transition into your sunny summer holidays with ease and peace!:

  1. Review Your Agreement/Orders: Before you buy your tickets and make plans for the summer holidays, it is always a good idea to review your agreement with your ex-spouse and any orders that the Family Court may have issued with respect to child custody arrangements and the holidays. It is important to review your agreement/orders so that you are in compliance with the custody arrangements for the summer holidays.  As a safeguard, it may also be a good idea to speak to your co-parent about your plans so that you are on the same page about the children’s holiday schedule and there is no room for miscommunication or misunderstandings.  Another way to safeguard any issues with your co-parent is to also plan in advance and accordingly so that if there are issues with cancellation or delayed flights, then you have sufficient time to bring the children back home in time for your co-parent’s holiday plans with the children and/or the start of school.
  2. Communicate with your Co-Parent: As mentioned above, communication with your co-parent is key to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding when it comes to the children’s holiday schedule.  If you are or were involved in a litigious divorce and it is difficult to communicate with your co-parent, then speak to your solicitor about communicating your travel plans with your co-parent well in advance of your travel plans.  The last thing you or your co-parent want to deal with ahead of the holidays is disagreement and argument over the children’s holiday plans and/or during the holidays as this will only ruin your time with the children and your children will sense the tension.  You can avoid such disagreements and arguments by speaking directly with your co-parent about your plans with the children and ensure your co-parent is fully aware of the plans before any tickets are purchased.
  3. Provide Adequate Details About The Children’s Holidays: If you and your co-parent are on good terms, this will not be a difficult task.  However, if you and your co-parent are having difficulties in communication and/or do not speak on a regular basis, it may be a difficult ask to provide transparency with respect to the children’s holidays.  Many times, litigious co-parents do not want the other parent to know about the details of their holidays and do not feel the other parent is privy to these details.  Whilst this is understandable in certain situations, it is important to remember that this is not about you.  This is about the children.  It is important for your co-parent to be made aware of the details of the children’s travel plans.  This includes a detailed itinerary of travel such as the date of travel to/from their home and if there are additional travel plans within the trip.  Other details you should provide to your co-parent is the contact details of the children during the trip and any other relevant details that may be important.  For example, if your child is traveling with you and has additional travel plans within your trip to travel with family friends, this is something that should be disclosed to the other parent.  The other parent is entitled to know where the children are during the holidays and how to reach them.  It is also important to allow your children to be able to communicate with your co-parent even during the holidays.  If your agreement/orders allow for your co-parent to have telephone/FaceTime with your children, you should ensure that the agreement/orders are followed even during the holidays.
  4. Ensure Finances Are In Order For The Holidays: It is also important that before you embark on your journey, that your finances are well in order with respect to the children.  For example, if your co-parent is required to provide extra monies for the children’s holidays, be sure to communicate this with your co-parent so that you are both on the same page about the activities and adventures the children will be participating in on the holiday.  It is important to ensure that the shared costs for the holidays are shared indeed.   Any disagreement about costs related to the children’s holiday plans can easily be resolved with direct communication with your co-parent.

If there are disagreements about the children’s holidays and there is no way to handle the disagreement, this is the time when you will need to speak to a solicitor.  If you and your spouse are in disagreement over the agreement/orders regarding the children’s holidays, you may require court intervention. If court intervention is required, it is important to recognize that it will take a considerable amount of time before you can be heard before a judge and before a decision is made. It is for this reason that you should prepare well in advance of the children’s holidays to ensure that you and your co-parent are in agreement with the children’s plans. If there is no agreement, then at least there will be sufficient time to mediate or seek court intervention before the holidays approach.


Spotlight Profile – Jacky T. K. Lai, Mediator

In this spotlight profile, we are speaking to Jacky T.K. Lai, a mediator and barrister at IceHouse Chambers in Hong Kong.  Jacky is a mediator and mediation advocate with experience in over 850 cases that includes disputes involving children and finances.  Jacky has also utilized his expertise as a mediator to train others in the field (as Trainer with Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), Training Qualifications UK (TQUK)/The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) and Hong Kong Professional Mediation Association (HKPMA), and as Coach with many other institutions).

Jacky, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and training?

I am a barrister called to the Bar in June 2007, mediator, arbitrator and lecturer on mediation and negotiation topics for universities and mediation institutions.  I like to mediate on various sorts of cases including matrimonial matters.  I find resolving conflicts through interest-based negotiations very satisfying, and I am grateful for the trust that I receive from the parties and learned friends.

I received my general mediation training in 2008 from the Accord Group in liaison with HKUSPACE, and my matrimonial mediation training in 2010 from Hong Kong Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (CMAC).

You have considerable expertise in your role as a mediator and as a mediation advocate.  First, can you tell us why you advocate mediation first in any legal dispute?

Parties usually have too much information but lack of insight.  With their entrenched long-time hatred towards one-another they become too emotionally entangled and entwined into an “Avenger” mentality, thereby losing sight of other dimensions and bigger goals in their lives.  They often get tunnel-vision.  Mediation gives them an opportunity to zoom-out and to hear from each other.  Once communication starts, then understanding at a deeper level can commence.  Of course, the parties may still choose not to settle, yet it is ensured that it is an informed decision, and not because of a lack of communication nor mutual understanding.

You have worked in numerous mediations and in various disputes not only matrimonial disputes. Is there a common theme that you notice in all your mediations that results in a successful mediation? Is compromise the key element to a successful mediation?

The common themes are: broader outlook on the disputes, new dimensions and new observations on life and the issues, a more realistic and a more objective assessment of the law, the facts and the evidence, as well as the perspectives of the opponents.  Sometimes, they just need a platform, a facilitator, a face-saving setting to settle the case.   We mediators are the catalyst in the sessions.

Compromise is NOT a key element to a successful mediation.  Compromise is only a minimalist approach towards settlement.

What works in mediation is: Collaboration. Understanding. Communication. Objectivity. Positivity.  Rethinking.

What can couples do to prepare for a successful mediation?

Have a pre-mediation meeting with a good mediator accompanied by their solicitor/counsel and supported by a trusted and beloved one.  The pros and cons, the costs and benefits and the strategy and tactics, are all re-examined thoroughly, in a safe environment, and the couples are empowered to make decisions.  Of course, trust and rapport are being built throughout the process, and the trauma, pains, suffering and fears are being acknowledged and addressed as well.  If the wound is not healed, at least antiseptic is applied and a bandage is attached to it.  Active listening and empathy are the key elements.

Through your experience, you have come across mediations where a resolution is simply unattainable.  In your matrimonial mediations, what has been the key element of an unsuccessful mediation?

Inadequate insight, mutual understanding, active listening, rethinking, new dimensions or outlook of everything else are common themes.  Tunnel-vision and inadequate wisdom and courage to walk a new path, objectivity, positivity are also common themes.  Many times, the root is insufficient love towards themselves and the children.

In a nutshell, what is lacking is the absence of the essential elements of interested-based negotiations.


About Jacky Tsk Kin Lai, Mediator and Barrister at IceHouse Chambers
Jacky T.K. Lai, a mediator and barrister at IceHouse Chambers in Hong Kong.  Jacky has been a mediator and mediation advocate in over 850 cases that includes disputes involving children and finances.  Jacky has also utilized his expertise as a mediator to train others in the field.
Jacky has been a barrister-at-law in private practice in Hong Kong since 2007. He practices in civil and criminal litigation as well as mediation. Jacky received his Bachelors Degree in Economics and LLM from the University of Hong Kong, MBA from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and LLB from Manchester Metropolitan University. He obtained his HKIAC Accreditation as General Mediator in 2009 and Family Mediator in 2012 by the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), and the Hong Kong Mediation Accreditation Association (HKMAAL) Panels of General and Family Mediator since its inception in 2012.
Jacky has been a member of the HKIAC Users’ Council since 2009.  He is the Chairman of the General Mediation Division (GMD) under the Hong Kong Mediation Council and person-in-charge of the Council’s Membership Committee.  He was the Honorary Secretary of Hong Kong Mediation Council (HKMC) under the HKIAC last year, and member of HKIAC’s General Mediation Interest Group. He acted as Vice-Chairman of the HKIC Family Mediation Interest Group, Person-in-charge of Building Management Sub-Group and Person-in-charge of Labour and Employment Mediation Sub-Group. An HKMAAL accredited mediator (General and Family), he has served as a mediator in hundreds of cases.
Jacky has a wealth of teaching, coaching and judging experiences with many universities in Hong Kong with particular emphasis on Mediation and ADR. He is Head Trainer and Chief Assessor of mediation course for Training Qualifications UK, Office of Qualifications and Examination Assessment (TQUK/ Ofqual) and Assistant Head Trainer of HKMAAL 40-hour curriculum, Mediation Subject Expert of Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and International Mediation Competition Coach and Judge of International Chamber of Commerce, Professional Mediator on many mediation panels and mentor mediator for the Joint Mediation Helpline Office.
黎子健先生  LLB, LLM (HKU), BSocSc, MBA, FHKI Arb, MCIArb
黎先生自 2007 年起在香港擔任私人執業大律師。他的執業領域包括民事和刑事訴訟以及調解。 黎先生在香港大學獲得經濟學學士學位和法學碩士學位,在香港中文大學獲得工商管理碩士學位,在曼徹斯特都會大學獲得法學學士學位。他分別於 2009 年和 2012 年獲得了香港國際仲裁中心(仲裁中心)認可的一般調解員和家事調解員資格,並於 2012 年香港調解資歷評審協會有限公司(調解資歷評審協會)成立起獲得其一般調解員和家事調解員資格。
黎先生自 2009 年起擔任仲裁中心益友會成員,也是仲裁中心轄下的香港調解會(調解會)的榮譽秘書,且任仲裁中心一般調解興趣小組成員。他曾為仲裁中心家事調解小組的副主席、物業管理調解推廣小組負責人和勞工及僱傭關係推廣小組負責人。 作為調解資歷評審協會認可的調解員(一般和家事),他曾在數百個案件中擔任調解員。
黎先生在香港多所大學擁有豐富的教學、培訓和評審經驗,尤其重視調解和其他替代性糾紛解決方式。 他是英國特許資歷培訓處/評核及考試規例局認可的調解課程的首席培訓師和首席評估員、調解資歷評審協會40小時課程的助理首席授課者、香港學術及職業資歷評審局的調解事項專家、 International Chamber of Commerce國際調解比賽教練和評委、多個調解小組的專業調解員和 聯合調解專線辦事處的導師調解員。