How to prevent children from suffering during divorce

No matter their age, the offspring of divorce suffer, and their reaction to it can, and usually does, have long-term effects, mostly negative.

 Philip Marcus (photo credit: COURTESY PHILIP MARCUS)
Philip Marcus
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Everyone knows how horrible divorces can sometimes be. They can descend into bitter quarrels, ugly fights over property and child visitation rights – all caused by disappointments, mismatched expectations, frustrated dreams and inconsolable hurt. The couples involved are sometimes so immersed in their resentfulness and misery over the failed marriage that they have little room or patience for the real victims of divorce: the children.

No matter their age, the offspring of divorce suffer, and their reaction to it can, and usually does, have long-term effects, mostly negative. The children’s base, their security, is undermined at best. At worst, they are often used as pawns in the clash of wills. This may take the form of one parent preventing contact between the child and the other parent. This is parental alienation. Alienated children are tossed into an emotional tempest, with long-term damage to their ability to function in school, among their peers and with themselves.

Into this crying need for a remedy came Philip Marcus, a retired judge of the Jerusalem Family Court who has been operating on both an individual basis and in cooperation with others to raise public awareness of the costs of alienation for youngsters where marriages fail. He is a member of organizations, in Israel and internationally, with concerned academics, practitioners and other professionals, including psychologists, social workers, lawyers and educators, who spread their message via public lectures, guidance groups, professional training schools and the written word.

Training and helping

They have set up programs to train professionals who work with children to detect signs of distress when fighting between parents affects their children, and have introduced intervention programs to mitigate the damage, sometimes even before litigation begins. They support research on the effects on children in different settings. Their outreach to public workers has included lecture series to doctors, social workers, professionals, teachers and school counselors in all streams of education. Sometimes their outreach is spread virtually, via webinars and social media.

The subject is being developed in many other countries, sometimes initiated by people from wide-ranging fields who have been in touch with Marcus and who collaborate with him. He mentions, among others, two international organizations: the Parental Alienation Study Group, which includes over 1,000 members from 40 countries that works on research, treatment and prevention, of which he is a leading member; and the Two Wishes Foundation, which he founded together with biologist and filmmaker David Curl from Australia and Scottish child psychiatrist Nick Child, which aims to change the way people and institutions regard the value of families for children.

A gavel in a court of law (credit: REUTERS)A gavel in a court of law (credit: REUTERS)

Marcus points out that Israel is way ahead of most other countries in identifying the problem and making efforts to deal with adverse effects on the younger generation.

“The Israeli family court system is considered one of the best in the world for dealing with cases involving children, including resolving cases of parental alienation. The voice of the child is definitely heard”

Philip Marcus

“The Israeli family court system is considered one of the best in the world for dealing with cases involving children, including resolving cases of parental alienation,” declares Marcus. “The voice of the child is definitely heard.”

Where there is suspected harm to the offspring, the court quickly gets the social and psychological services to intervene.

Marcus comes to his involvement in this burning issue from his background of being one of the first judges of the Family Court in Jerusalem from its inception in 1997, where he served for l7 years.

The Family Courts deal with all cases in which the parties are members of the same family. These include the results of separation and divorce – arrangements for the children, property issues and maintenance – and wills and estates, guardianship of disabled persons, adoption, violence in the family, etc. He was especially attuned to the problems of the elderly and the disabled in that capacity.

The Marcus family made aliya in 1978 from England, where Philip had trained and worked as a lawyer. They came to Israel with three children, and had four sabras subsequently. He was requalified here as an advocate, worked in private practice for 15 years and specialized in family law. This was put to good use once he became a judge in the Family Court in Jerusalem. He dealt with thousands of family court cases in the l7 years he worked in that capacity, and gained valuable experience.

After Marcus retired in order to concentrate on research and working for reform, he became a consultant for legal family issues both in Israel and abroad. He is a specialist consultant to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on family law issues, and to the Knesset Committee on Children’s Rights. He has given seminars and lectures to professional audiences in Belgium, Ireland, Ukraine, Russia, the US, India, Singapore, Australia, and other places. He is a consultant to those working to reform family law and family courts throughout the world, so as to prevent or reduce damage to children in ongoing divorce situations.

He was course director for a six-part online seminar, together with the Tel Hai Academic College, that was given to senior officials from Malta on parental alienation, and most recently was the keynote speaker at an international seminar in Malta. He is now preparing a formal consultation on family law and family court reform for the ministries of Justice and Social Affairs and Social Services, and a course for court officials on improving services. 

Together with academics from the University of Malta and experts from Israel, he is advancing research on the human and financial costs of child-parent contact failure, with a view to persuading policy makers around the world of the savings that would result from prevention programs.

Philip Marcus is making a major contribution in many countries to the prevention of harm to children, including reform of family law and making family courts more aware of and more responsive to the needs of children caught in parental disputes.  ■

The writer is a social worker and author who lives in Jerusalem.