Protecting the Children of
High-Conflict Divorce
For most children, growing up with a feeling of competence and pride is a challenge in itself, even within a supportive, protective family. But for the children of conflict-ridden, angry divorced parents -- the situation for one-third of all children of divorce -- it is nothing short of a miracle. As divorce research grows, it is increasingly apparent that continued, unresolved conflict between parents is the major obstacle to their children's adjustment in childhood as well as later in life.

Divorced parents often fight about a wide array of issues, from each other's parenting skills to the details of visitation and sharing the child. These ongoing disputes, in addition to the all-too-frequent disparagement of one another, place the child in an untenable position that is worsened by the child's belief that most of the conflict centers around him or her. Both routine activities and the genuinely special moments of childhood are often marred by parents' anger.

Caught in the Middle provides parents embroiled in conflict and the professionals who treat them with the means to work out these conflicts. The early chapters of the book offer advice to help recognize the roots of parental conflict, and explore in detail the ways children of different ages are affected. The later chapters discuss mediation by a parenting coordinator and offer a model for co-parenting; a detailed plan for containing, regulating, and resolving anger.

Garrity and Baris, child psychologists who have concentrated on the field of divorce counseling for twenty years, examine the causes and consequences of parental conflict and here offer concrete advice to make co-parenting work -- even in a high-conflict divorce -- to the benefit of all involved, particularly the children.

[from the inside covers]

Garrity and Baris, Caught in the Middle

About the Authors

Carla B. Garrity, Ph.D., is a child psychologist in private practice in Denver and an instructor at the School of Professional Psychology, University of Denver.

Mitchell A. Baris, Ph.D., is a child psychologist in private practice. Garrity and Baris are coauthors of Children of Divorce.

[from the inside cover]

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments    v



2 Why Work It Out?  11
3 Understanding Conflict Developmentally  29
4 How to Assess Conflict  41
5 Normal Visitation versus Conflict Visitation  51
6 Identifying and Understanding Parental
7 A Comprehensive Intervention Model
for Parental Alienation
8 Creating a Parenting Plan for High-
Conflict Divorce
9 Implementing the Parenting Plan 127

Appendix A: Parenting Plan    155
Appendix B: Parenting Checklist    162
Appendix C: Parenting Coordinator Agreement    168
Appendix D: Child Therapist Agreement    171

References    173
Bibliography    178
Index    181

[from the hardbound edition]


"Garrity and Baris explain the nuances of how high-conflict divorce affects children and then provide concrete strategies for minimizing the damage. This book offers hope for improving the lot of children of high-conflict divorce. Divorcing parents, their relatives, their therapists, lawyers, and judges will find a great deal of use in this first book of its kind."

--Ann Haralambie, P.C.
Attorney at Law

"This book should be required reading for every couple who is considering divorce and for all professionals who are working with divorcing couples. [It] is by far the best book available on this important topic!"

--Howard J. Markman, Ph.D.
coauthor, We Can Work it Out:
Making Sense of Marital Conflict

"A gem! I have already begun putting my new learning to use with high-conflict families appearing in my courtroom."

--Arline S. Rotman, Justice
Probate and Family Court, Worcester, Massachusetts

"Our knowledge and understanding of the effects of divorce on children has been elevated to a new level. [It] offers new hope to the unwitting victims of high-conflict divorce -- the children. I applaud this book and expect it will be a standard reference in the field for many years."

--Geri S.W. Fuhrmann, Psy.D.
University of Massachusetts Medical Center

"A timely, practical book. It is clearly written; complex family dynamics are well illustrated and made understandable...a valuable source book for legal and mental health professionals, as well as parents themselves."

--Janet R. Johnston, Ph.D.
Director of Research, Center for the Family in Transition,
coauthor, Impasses of Divorce

"This marvelous book presents a insightful examination of the destructive effect conflict between parents on their children, and goes one step further than other books in offering techniques for working with these parents -- techniques that give hope and understanding to the professional."

--Christine A. Coates, J.D.
Dispute Resolution Services
Boulder, Colorado

[from the back cover and inside cover]

Read more reviews of this book on the website:
Caught in the Middle:
Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce

Caught in the Middle on


The level of intensity of parental conflict is the most potent factor in children's postdivorce adjustment. High conflict between parents is the single best predictor of a poor outcome. Fortunately, it is also one of the factors over which parents have the most control.

Aggression, behavior problems, and depression are frequent early responses to being caught in the middle of continuing animosity between parents. Later in life, too, the children of high-conflict divorce are very likely to suffer serious emotional problems. Ten to fifteen years after a divorce, such children report haunting memories, especially of episodes of physical violence.

Conflict does not, however, need to be physical to be harmful to children. For children, conflict is any situation that places them between their parents or that forces them to choose between them. Being in the middle means anything from hearing one parent belittle the other's values to vicious verbal attacks; from threats of violence to actual violence; from implicit appeals for exclusive loyalty to explicit demands that children side openly with one parent. Whatever form it takes, all conflict hurts. The more intense, pervasive, and open the hostility is, the greater is the damage to the children. And the longer it lasts, the greater the toll it takes.

Caught in the Middle:
Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce

page 19

...[A]lienating parents frequently discuss with their children issues that should be worked out between adults. Very frequently, financial concerns are at the center of these discussions. One day Ilana, a twelve-year-old girl, walked into her father's bedroom and found him openly crying as he wrote out the checks for his monthly bills. When she expressed her sympathy, her father told her what a hard time he was having financially. He claimed that the girl's mother, on the other hand, had a rich boyfriend who bought her lavish gifts and ensured that she would have no money worries. He also distorted the facts, claiming that he was obligated to pay her child support if he wanted to continue seeing Ilana.

It is also very common for parents to thrust children into adult discussions not only about finances but also about visitation and scheduling. An alienating parent may encourage them to say they don't like to visit or that they want to go less often or not at all. Concerns about a targeted parent's dubious judgment or moral character may be used as an excuse to push children into interparental conflicts: "Please inform your mother that the movie you saw last weekend upset you so much you couldn't get to sleep" or "Tell your dad to see his bimbos on his own time."

Caught in the Middle:
Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce

pages 79-80

Introducing New Parenting Figures to Children. It occasionally happens that a child becomes atttached to a parent's new significant other before the parent does. While a parent and his or her friend are still exploring the possibility of a serious relationship, the child may come to rely on the dating partner for support or a sense of an intact family. Parents, therefore, will need to agree that they will not bring a new person into their children's lives until there is some commitment to a long-term relationship. This judgment must, of course, be left to each parent; neither parent should be entitled to dictate the other parent's dating behavior.

When such new relationships are established, parents need to feel sure that their own importance to the children will not be diminished, no matter what the children call the new person. Some parents, for example, object to the child calling a stepparent "Dad" or "Mom." It is probably best, however, to allow the child to use the name that feels most comfortable as long as he or she recognizes clearly that "Mom" will always be "Mom" and "Dad" will always be "Dad."

Caught in the Middle:
Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce

page 150

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Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce

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Protecting the Children
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Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce

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Learn more about this book also written by Carla B. Garrity and Mitchell A. Baris:

Children of Divorce:
A Developmental Approach to Residence and Visitation

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