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Could a custody dispute damage a child's mental health?

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If any of our Maryland readers have been through a divorce with children involved, they know that the entire process can take quite a toll on everyone, including the children. When the divorcing parties cannot agree to a parenting plan, the court will need to get involved and weigh many different factors in making a final determination. A child custody dispute can not only further embitter the soon-to-be ex-spouses, but it can also make the children involved feel as though they are right in the middle of the anger and fighting. That the children in this type of situation will have widely ranging emotions is a given, but is there a chance that they could actually develop a mental disorder from the custody dispute?

There are proponents out there of a condition which has been termed as "parental alienation." The condition refers to a situation in which a child in the middle of divorcing spouses sees their relationship with one of their parents corrupted and "poisoned" by the other parent. And, in recent years, the proponents of the so-called "condition" have been attempting to get it listed among the official catalog of the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders.

However, the APA has decided that the "condition" will not be included in its newly revised catalog of disorders. That is not to say that parental alienation does not occur - because it does - it is just to say that it will not be officially recognized as a mental disorder by the APA.

Regardless of the official connotations, it is important that parents involved in a divorce are aware of how their children may be affected by overly negative disputes. If both parties try to focus on the best interests of the child during litigation, there is a greater possibility for a positive outcome for everyone.

Source: The Chronicle, "Psychiatric group: Parental alienation no disorder," David Crary, Oct. 11, 2012

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