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Noncustodial mother concerned about alienation and daughter's eating disorder

Your Question:
Hello, I am the NCM of a 9 year old girl. We live in different states. I signed custody to BF after a long battle(long story). It has been 4 years and it is obvious that our daughter is needing some counseling. She has gotten in trouble at school, is disrepectful to me and all of my family, and I get blamed for her behavior. She was also molested at the age of 6 by SM's Step brother. She counts calories, fat grms and carbs and has constantly told me that I make her fat when she visits me. (She is a growing child, yes a little bigger than most kids, but not obese and it's in her genes. Her BF was really big at her age.) I am worried about her getting an eating disorder. I know she is hurt and the constant alienation that is happening is not helping matters. I have some posts on SPARC, and tried some advice, but it doesnt seent to be working. I know that it is very expensive and time consuming to change custody back and without good cause it is almost impossible. I am not in a position to do that yet. I have tried to talk to BF about putting her in counseling and he says she doesnt need it and it's too expensive. Can I petition the court to make it an order? How do I start if I can. The case is jurisdicted in AZ. They have alot of do it yourself court forms available. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

PS. I have bought a few books on Amazon that I havent gotten yet about how to deal with alienation so hopefully those will help too.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. You're in a tough spot, for sure.

I think you have a very good handle on your unforunate situation, and I agree with much of your perspective on your barriers. I think about the only promising part of what you've written is that you seem very aware of your limitations to do much of anything immediately; and that lets us brainstorm your long-term approach.

First, I think if you have any chance at all of helping this little girl, your priority is to salvage your bond and do everything to combat any alienation tactics going on. Among the books you've ordered, make sure Divorce Poison by Richard Warshak is on your list. It's excellent (if you haven't yet ordered it, there's a convenient link to it via Amazon on my Resources page).

Restoring your bond may mean that you'll have to chill a little while on doing any tough love or serious intervention. That's absent any true urgent emergency, of course. If her eating disorder continues for another several months before you're in a better position to try to address it with her, it won't kill her. That may be hard to do as a caring parent, but if she doesn't like you, you can't help her.

The book Divorce Poison gives many tactics for helping to remind a child of her positive relationship with an alienated parent... watching home videos of earlier years, talking about fond memories, infusing a very high fun/responsibility ratio as a short-term strategy, etc.

At the same time, I'd suggest finding a psychologist who is experienced in child custody matters (i.e., and hence likely experienced to conflict between parents that could lead to alienation) as well as incidence of young eating disorders. Your insurance may cover it. This individual can offer you specific guidance to help keep you on a good path with building your daughter to a place where you and/or a professional can intervene. Also, you would provide much background to this person by the time your daughter first sees him/her (if that ever happens), so that would save some time.

As far as a custody change, I think your window for doing anything about the molestation by stepbrother is probably closed... it's been three years. If stepbrother is no longer around, and if you knew about it for 3 years, too late. However, if stepbrother is still around and if you just found out about the molestation (i.e., and the molestation was corroborated by an investigatory agency), then you have something to immediately jump on.

As far as trouble at school, I'd suggest that you build a good relationship with her school, albeit long-distance, if you haven't already. Regardless of what's been told to the school about you (if that bashing has occurred), I think if you were to call the principal, introduce yourself, and talk from a place of concern about your daughter and ask if the school has any guidance, that approach may be welcomed. During the conversation, you can ask if the principal would be the best person to talk with, because you'd like to check in once or twice a month and help support whatever they suggest with getting your daughter back on track. Building up such a relationship can also help you later in court-- if the school recommends therapy, that's your slam-dunk for getting an order made.

If possible, moving closer to her may open new doors for you. If you and her father live in the same city, when you return to court you can likewise seek a modification to the parenting plan to see your daughter more, in addition to seeking orders for therapeutic intervention. I don't know your personal situation, so I don't know the feasibility of moving.

Finally, given that you have huge situational challenges and limitations in your attempts to be the caring parent, I'd make sure that your brain is fully upgraded to SuperParent status. There are subtle ways to enhance communication between you and your daughter, and every little bit is going to help. The most helpful book I've found on this is called Breakthrough Parenting by Jayne Major. For convenience, it's likewise linked to Amazon on my Resources page.

I really feel for you and wish you the best of luck. Please let me know how things go.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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