During the month of April, two awareness days are observed which highlight very different realities for separated and divorced parents. The first awareness day, bringing attention to Parental Alienation, takes place on April 25. The day after, April 26, has recently become known as Shared Parenting Day. These two concepts, both affecting parents, have a night and day difference. One is absolutely tragic, and the other is absolutely ideal. By raising awareness for both, society can move away from the harmful impacts of parental alienation and move toward the benefits of shared parenting through state-supported laws.

As a collaborative family law attorney, author, and shared parenting advocate, I am passionate about raising awareness for both parental alienation and shared parenting. I serve on the national board of directors for National Parents Organization, a nonprofit committed to transforming the norms of shared parenting nationwide. We work to support shared parenting efforts across the country while lessening the likelihood of parental alienation. While these topics tie in with my professional career as a family law attorney, it’s much more than that. To me, this mission is also personal. I am a child of divorce who experienced trauma and brokenness when my parents separated which left long-lasting impacts well into my adulthood. As a result of my personal story, I wanted to become a family law attorney who helps families through separation and divorce without creating an adversarial environment for the parents or their children. That’s why I practice collaborative family law and I’m dedicated to keeping my clients out of court. I founded AN|R Law: A Negotiated Resolution in 2011, which was the first law firm in eastern North Carolina focused on collaborative family law. My office now has four locations across North Carolina in Raleigh, Greenville, Beaufort, and Wilmington, and we are honored to serve families across the state. I am proud to practice a type of law opposes parental alienation and supports shared parenting.

Parental Alienation

According to National Parents Organization, parental alienation is extremely harmful to children. The organization defines parental alienation as conduct by one parent to unjustifiably damage the relationship that a child has with the other parent. Through this conduct, an offending parent seeks to gain the exclusive loyalty of the children, often resulting in long term harm to the other parent and, especially, the children. According to a study published in 2016 in the Children and Youth Services Review, researchers from Colorado and North Carolina found that 13.4% of parents have been alienated from one or more of their children. The authors state that “tens of millions of adults and their children may be impacted by parental alienation, which is much higher than previous estimates and additional findings show evidence of parental alienation across all socio-economic and demographic indicators.”

The reality of parental alienation was highlighted in the 2020 documentary Erasing Family, directed by Ginger Gentile. In this incredibly eye-opening piece, she interviews several parents who were erased from their children’s lives through alienation tactics and follows young adults as they try to reunite with their broken families. According to the documentary’s finding, more than 25 million parents in North America have experienced parental alienation and estrangement. It is heartbreaking and sad, yet it is also preventable. 

I wrote about how divorce litigation can create lifelong conflict in my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture. In the book, I explore how litigated divorces can damage relationships with parents and their children and how divorce impacts future generations. Children of litigated divorce have an increased risk of complications in personal relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and violence. My research finds that:

  • 200% of children are more likely to get divorced when both spouses come from a divorced home
  • 50% more likely to get divorced when one spouse is from a divorced home
  • 18.9% of children living with one parent have a drug or alcohol problem
  • 18.8% of children of divorce suffered from a lifetime of alcohol dependence
  • 30% increase in likelihood of suicide attempts by adult children of divorce
  • 82% of 56 school shooters grew up in dysfunctional families and/or with separated parents

While these statistics are specific to children of litigated divorce, additional research finds that these topics are also issues and concerns for children who have been alienated from a parent. 

Shared Parenting

Shared parenting should be the norm in every state across America. I advocate for this every day as a North Carolinian, as a family law attorney, and also as a child of divorce. To date, state lawmakers in KentuckyArkansas, and West Virginia, have passed bipartisan laws that support shared parenting where 50/50 custody is presumed or considered for children whose parents are separated or divorce. Efforts are underway in dozens of other states to create these types of laws with work spearheaded by National Parents Organization and its partner groups. In fact, Shared Parenting Day, which takes place annually on April 26, was created to celebrate the passing of the nation’s first shared parenting law in Kentucky. The bill was passed on April 26, 2018.

Fueled by my personal understanding and passion, I am honored to help families through their separation and divorce journeys without creating an adversarial environment for the parents or their children. That’s where collaborative family law, a type of alternative dispute resolution, comes in. Through the collaborative process, family law matters are handled outside the courtroom in a respectful and controlled environment that doesn’t involve children. Each spouse, with their own attorney, come together for roundtable talks and discussions to decide how to untangle their marriage and resolve their differences. In addition to creating financial plans to split assets and debts, the divorcing couple will also create a parenting plan. This plan is meant to protect the wellbeing of the children involved and also provide structure for the co-parenting relationship for years to come. This plan, as outlined in the collaborative process, typically includes the: 

  • Assignment of decision-making responsibility concerning the health and education of the children
  • Creation of an on-duty/off-duty parenting schedule
  • Agreed upon set of standards of conduct for the parenting relationship
  • Development of a plan for work or education-related childcare if needed
  • Formation of a plan for schedule changes and future problem resolution outside of court

The collaborative divorce process is widely known as a healthier way to divorce, especially when children are involved. As a result, there is an extremely low risk of parental alienation and high result of shared parenting.

Enacting Change Across America

Together, we can make a difference in the fight against parental alienation by moving toward the goal of shared parenting. To learn more about how you can help advance shared parenting legislation, join the efforts underway through National Parents Organization. The nonprofit works to target key state legislators and get their support in moving important legislation forward. If you’re interested in taking action, you can click here to complete the NPO Legislative Advocate Form. If you’re able to donate funds, you can learn more about making a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

At my collaborative family law firm, AN|R Law, we are committed to helping North Carolina families separate and divorce in a healthy manner that protects the wellbeing of their children. If you’d like to connect with me and learn more about what you can do to support our efforts to spread awareness about shared parenting and collaborative law, let’s connect. You can follow me on FacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn with my handle @ANRLaw. You can also check out my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture, and listen to my podcast, “Divorce, Healthy!” which is available on all major listening platforms. 

About AN|R Law 

You can learn more about working with AN|R Law: A Negotiated Resolution for divorce and other family law matters in North Carolina by reaching out to our office. You can call 252-702-4376 or fill out this online contact form. We have four North Carolina locations in Raleigh, Greenville, Beaufort, and Wilmington to serve you and your family. 

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic or inviting me, Ashley-Nicole Russell, to speak at your next event or conference, I’d love to talk with you about the opportunity. I’m currently booking in-person and virtual speaking engagements for 2022. Please reach out to my team by emailing media@anrlaw.com.