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Understanding Parental Alienation

on Dec 29, 2017 in Child Custody, Divorce

The effects of a divorce on the entire family are lasting and significant.  Often, children are affected because they are young and do not understand how to deal with emotional trauma.  Further, children are susceptible to manipulation.  This sometimes results in parental alienation.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child, damaging his or her relationship with the other parent.  Sometimes it is referred to as a hidden disease.  It will consume everyone involved if not dealt with appropriately.  It occurs when one parent is unable to separate the conflict of a marriage or divorce from the well-being of the child.

Symptoms of Parental Alienation

  • The symptoms of parental alienation include:
  • A parent asking the child to pick his or her “side;”
  • A parent denying the other access to school and medical information;
  • A child angry with a parent for no reason;
  • A parent making frequent unfounded complaints to child services;
  • A caretaker that denies visitation;
  • A parent includes the child in issues in the divorce;
  • A parent says degrading things or makes false abuse claims; or
  • the parent plays the role of victim with the child with the other parent as the perpetrator.

Frequently, parental alienation has many symptoms.

How Does Parental Alienation Happen?

Often parental alienation is the result of manipulative comments over an extended period of time.  A parent makes these comments, creating a negative view of the other parent over weeks or months.  Further, the nature of the comments vary widely.  For example, a mother tells her son that his father does not love him.  Or, when a mother is away for work, the father says she is avoiding her son because she does not want to see him.  Sometimes, one parents wrongfully convinces a child the other parent is a physical threat.  Often, parental alienation targets an entire side of a family, including extended family members and even friends of the family.

Sometimes, parental alienation occurs only in a child’s mind. One parent’s off-hand comments affect a child’s thinking and their perspective of the other parent.  Further, parental alienation is not always intentional.  Best practices involve parents avoiding saying negative things about the other parent.  A child’s mind and emotions are fragile.  Children absorb everything around them, good and bad.

Why Does Intentional Parental Alienation Occur?

Intentional, or targeted, parental alienation occurs for a number of reasons.  Some parents use it to achieve a favorable outcome in divorce and child custody proceedings.  Other times, parents use it to hurt the other parent.  Of note, when a court determines a case involves intentional parental alienation, it backfires on the manipulative parent.  Courts can require supervised visitation for a manipulative parent.

My Spouse is Engaging in Parental Alienation — What Do I Do?

If your spouse is engaging in parental alienation, what should you do?  First, do not take on this issue yourself.  Remember, the emotional well-being of your child is most important.  Taking this issue head on puts your child in the middle.  Never ask your child to take sides, directly or indirectly.  This is true even when your spouse is in the wrong.  Instead, contact a professional.

Start by hiring an experienced, well- qualified family law attorney.  Explain your entire situation, including your concerns about parental alienation.  Then trust your attorney’s advice.  He or she sees parental manipulation regularly while this is likely your first time.  This also applies when your attorney disagrees with your conclusions about parental alienation.  Sometimes, the actions of your spouse do not rise to the level of intentional parental alienation.  When those actions are parental alienation, your attorney decides how to alert the court to this problem.

Work with Other Professionals

After consulting with and retaining an attorney, a child benefits from therapy.  The therapist must be neutral, not favoring either side.  Instead, the therapist favors the child.  Family law attorneys work with therapists on a regular basis.  Your attorney and your soon to be ex’s attorney can assist n finding a professional agreeable to both sides.

When appropriate, inform a school counselor of a pending divorce.  He or she will have ongoing access to the child at school, when the parents are at work and unavailable.  Both parties should meet with the counselor, ideally together, but separately if necessary.  Again, this is not a time for one party to seek an advantage.

Document any steps you take to deal with parental alienation.

Work with the Other Parent

When you determine the parental alienation is unintentional or in the mind of the child only, work with the other parent.  This is true whether you are the parent alienated or not.  It is not in the best interests of your child to be alienated from either parent.  Always put the needs and well-being of your child above all else.  Parental alienation of the other parent may appear to benefit you in the short term, but injures your child.

Ongoing Relationship

While a romantic relationship or marriage is ending, parents with a child in common have an ongoing relationship.  Often, this only revolves around a child in common.  Remember, sporting events, school plays, and high school graduations are in the future.  Even after a child reaches adulthood, marriage, the birth of grandchildren and other future events occur.  A child custody dispute is not the time for a scorched-earth attitude.  Do not harm your child or do lasting damage to your relationship by engaging in parental alienation.

Considering Divorce?

If you are considering divorce, contact the experienced divorce attorneys at Fait & DiLima.  Our legal team includes a case manager, paralegals, as well as divorce attorneys.  Together we work with you to calm the storm and return you to what’s most important.  Contact us for a consultation today to discuss your situation.