Updated: Nov 8, 2022
When representing parents and children in family law matters, lawyers should have a basic understanding of trauma bonding. On the surface, trauma bonding sounds like bonding over shared traumas or overcoming difficult situations together, but this is incorrect.
There is nothing positive about trauma bonding.
Trauma bonding is an entanglement that keeps individuals (including children) stuck in dysfunctional and harmful relationships with their abusers by no fault of their own. The bond is created when someone supposed to love and care for you is repeatedly mean, hurtful, and frightening but then apologetic and loving.
With children, the apologetic and loving gestures that occur may look like gifts, special outings, intense love and attention. In fact, childhood survivors often confirm that when their parents were not abusive, they were very creative, dynamic, and loving.
When love and harm co-exist regularly, it starts to feel normal, but it is not. Instead, it is unhealthy, damaging and traumatic. It can become a child's point of reference for "loving" relationships in the future and a set up for an intergenerational cycle of abuse. Further, the after-effects of trauma bonding can include depression and anxiety.
When a child's parent is scary and abusive, be it through yelling, intimidation, threats, or witnessing a sibling or a parent threatened, berated or bullied, abuse is happening, and the environment is fertile for trauma bonds. Remember, family violence includes more than physical violence.
Perhaps surprisingly, intense emotional attachments can be created in abusive situations, and these attachments can feel like love and can be described by the child as loving. This can make trauma bonds challenging to see; worse, they invite children to seek connection with their abusive parent.
Hard-to-spot trauma bonds are an important consideration when contemplating a Voice of the Child report or a PN8 assessment where allegations of family violence are a component. The "high conflict" frame in family law contexts is often used to explain parent-child contact problems without a solid look at the impact of scary and abusive parenting. In addition, expert parenting assessors often fail to identify abuse and trauma bonds. https://womenslegalcentre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Rise-Womens-Legal-Centre-Section-211-Toolkit-1.pdf
When allegations of family violence are raised in family law files, seek an assessor with a strong background in domestic violence. Consider drafting orders requiring the assessor to demonstrate compliance with the AFCC model standards for the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Guidelines for Intimate Partner Violence: A Supplement to the AFCC Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation. https://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/PDF/Guidelines%20for%20Examining%20Intimate%20Partner%20Violence%20(1).pdf?ver=rwMhgvyR8hww3RMiXlB6hQ%3d%3d and to specifically assess for childhood trauma.
Have you visited Co-Parenting College?
Parent-Child Reunification Therapy. Sometimes The Cart Is Before the Horse. https://www.luxpsychology.ca/post/parent-child-reunification-therapy-sometimes-the-cart-is-before-the-horse
Substandard Expert Assessments are Common When Domestic Violence is Alleged in Family Law https://www.luxpsychology.ca/post/substandard-expert-assessments-are-common-when-domestic-violence-is-alleged-in-family-law
What Does Intimate Partner Violence Have to do With Children if You Are Separated? https://www.luxpsychology.ca/post/what-does-intimate-partner-violence-have-to-do-with-children-if-you-are-separated