Filmmaker Shows Kids Don’t Have to Be Collateral Damage of Divorce: Interview with Ginger Gentile by Later Mom Melissa Couch Salim


 

The documentary film is so well done. Parental Alienation is a topic now being shared and discussed as a result of your work over the years. Your first film, Erasing Dad, started the conversations in Argentina and now Erasing Family has a large U.S. and even wider global reach. Congratulations!!! How did you find the families featured in the film, and how were you able to get them comfortable sharing their difficult and intimate stories? All of families were found on social media. Lauren, only 12, reached out to me and said she was an erased sister. I then talked with her mom and we decided to film. With all of the families it was a long process, sometimes a year, to build trust. Talking about the heartbreak of a messy divorce isn’t easy but the families found it healing.

The family court and custody laws are so different in every state and vastly different in each country. Do you feel this movement could create a standard in how we manage divorce and custody throughout the world? I hope that we can create a standard where we abolish family court and instead families get help and treatment so they can heal. And that kids are taught in school how to pick a healthy partner and what a good relationship looks like, so they don’t repeat the mistakes of their parents.

Is Parental Alienation being more discussed in the courtrooms today? While now everyone in family court knows what parental alienation is and knows it is a problem, very few judges and lawyers know how to solve it. The key is not to try to resolve an alienation case in the courtroom as it is very hard to prove. Focus on the behaviors of the other parent and how they are not following court orders. Erasing Family makes a strong case that the court is not the best venue to heal families that are hurting.

In your interviews with judges, do you get the sense that court hearings and trials could potentially shift towards a family mediation at some point? A lot of judges feel like they are dealing with impossible cases and an extreme caseload. They are unable to give the time each case deserves and most have no training in child psychology. Sometimes the family court assignment is given as punishment to a judge! So many judges would prefer that mediation become the standard. Unfortunately, many family court lawyers make a lot of money from custody battles and they tend to push litigation. There is definitely a shift as people see the toll that parental alienation has on kids.

Often times, during a custody battle, we assume the father is typically the one being alienated from the child. Is this true? While custody is most often awarded to mothers, parental alienation affects both moms and dads equally. Two moms are featured in our film and half of the parents who reach out to me on social media are erased moms. Moms have a lot of shame because society judges women very harshly who don’t see their kids.

Do the kids that you talked with and interviewed prefer Shared Parenting over packing and moving households? What surprised me in making Erasing Family is that all the kids I talked do wished they had shared parenting (joint custody). Even when they liked one parent more than the other. Only one girl said she didn’t like the moving, but when I asked her who she’d rather live with she said that the move was better than being cut off from a parent. What stresses kids are when they are forced to choose and their parents fight, not splitting time between parents.

It was nice to see the daughter reunite with her father in the film. Were there more reunions that took place after the film debuted? Yes! There have been many! One happened before the film was released, one of the mom’s met her daughter after almost a decade of no contact. The other was the result of the film. Ashlynn, when she reunited with her dad, loses contact with her mother and sister. After the film came out they healed as a family and are now talking (after they said they never would!)

I was very surprised to see “adoptions” taking place as a result of parental alienation. Do you see laws shifting in this area? Where perhaps a judge meets with the family before adjudicating this paperwork. Yes, the ease of a step-parent adopting a child is uniquely American and disturbing. We tend to see adoptions as positive so we don’t want to talk people out of it, but we don’t think about the parent who has been left behind. In addition to talking with the family, the parent who will lose parental rights must be found and made to appear in court. I know of one father, not in the film, who lost his daughter because a blizzard prevented him from appearing in court.

Many incorrectly believe that a parent can be easily replaced by another person as long as they fill this role. I unfortunately don’t see any shifts happening as we don’t even have statistics on how often this happens. And this is the ultimate form of being erased: removed from the birth certificate, as if you never existed as a parent.

Your next documentary will be about the admissions process of Ivy League Universities. Can you give us a brief overview of this?  I have been hired by Cora Media to direct a documentary that asks if the Ivy League is truly a meritocracy and how their admissions process effects society as a whole. We filmed during the pandemic with an all-female crew! (A first for me, I have often been the only woman on an all-male crew, but never with only women!) and we are continuing to film in the spring. 

How can people use this film as a way to heal their families?  First, take care of yourself. If you watched the film and got emotional, we set up a free textline (865)4FAMILY to offer resources and emotional support. On our website www.erasingfamily.org you can get great resources as well as a Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce that we want posted in every school.

Share the film. Share it with young people, even if they are not children of divorce, so they can share it with friends. The film is designed to help young people reunite by showing them that it is time to stop the blame game and start the healing!

We would also love for the film to be shown in law schools, psychology departments, high schools and in family law associations.

 

Erasing Family is currently available to watch on Tubi, Amazon, Vimeo, iTunes, YouTube. Amazon Prime.

 

 

 

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