Parental alienation is not just a normal result of a heated child custody dispute. It is not inevitable in custody disputes, and if it’s happening to you, it’s important that you recognize the signs and take steps to stop it as soon as possible. As hurtful as it may be for you to experience it, parental alienation can be downright damaging for your child’s emotional health, and there can be long-term implications for the parent/child relationship.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation happens when one parent, intentionally or not, causes the child to reject the other parent. A child might be angry with one or both parents for their own reasons, and anger may be justifiable in some situations, such as abuse. But if one parent is causing the child to feel this way, or the child’s rejection of the parent is not justifiable given that parent’s behavior, then this may be a sign of parental alienation. Parental alienation can be mild, moderate, or severe, so learning to recognize the signs when it is still mild will help you put a stop to it quickly.
Alienating Behaviors to Look For
There are some common strategies that parents use in an attempt to alienate a child from the other parent. Some of the most common include:
- The alienating parent repeatedly badmouths and criticizes the other parent to the child, sending poisonous messages over and over;
- The alienating parent tells the child the other parent doesn’t really love or want them anyway, especially if that parent has a new family already;
- The alienating parent intentionally plans activities with the child during your visitation time, in effect forcing the child to choose between their parents;
- The denigration of the other parent may extend to that parent’s extended family members;
- Asking a child intrusive questions about the other parent/asking them to “spy”;
- Asking a child to keep secrets from the other parent;
- Attempts to limit contact or communication between the child and the other parent;
Unfortunately, this list is not exhaustive, these are just the most common methods employed. If you are starting to question other behaviors, however, you may want to see if you recognize any of the above.
Symptoms of Parental Alienation in Children
If your child is exhibiting any of the symptoms below, they may be experiencing manipulation and parental alienation efforts by the other parent:
- The child starts parroting words and phrases that the alienating parent says;
- The child’s anger and rejection are out of proportion to any triggering event;
- The alienated child speaks in absolutes and has no ambivalence towards either parent; they can’t think of anything good to say about the alienated parent, or anything negative to say about the parent who has manipulated them;
- The child has no guilt about the way they are treating the alienated parent, and may even try to manipulate them into buying gifts or granting favors or special treatment;
- The child’s rationalizations for the rejection are weak or frivolous;
- The child becomes defensive about the alienating parent, supporting them almost reflexively;
- The child defends their rejection as their own decision and denies any undue influence came from the alienating parent.
Again, this list is not exhaustive either, but chances are high that your child will exhibit at least one of these symptoms if they are the victim of a parental alienation campaign.
You Have Legal Options
While psychologists can debate whether parental alienation is a form of child abuse and discuss ways to treat the child, family law attorneys can intervene to help protect the child. Not surprisingly, judges do not look favorably on this type of behavior.
Start documenting the behaviors of both the other parent and the child. Save texts. Take screenshots of social media posts. Speak to other trusted adults like teachers and coaches to see if they have noticed certain behaviors. Protect your visitation rights and continue to see the child when it is your time, even if the child acts like they don’t want to. And seek legal advice.
An attorney who specializes in family law and child custody will be able to advise you on your legal options. If you are able to demonstrate alienation, he or she may suggest filing a motion with the court, at which time the court could decide to hold the alienating parent in contempt, modify the custody order, or impose reunification therapy. Although uncommon, in extreme and severe cases, a judge may even prevent the alienating parent from having any contact with the child. The judge’s priority will be to act in the child’s best interest, and separating a parent and child completely is rarely in a child’s best interest.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you and your child are dealing with the effects of parental alienation, the sooner you attempt to stop it, the better. Children can be emotionally damaged by this type of manipulation, so don’t delay in seeking legal advice. Talk to an experienced attorney at Kirkland & Sommers today about the steps you need to take to document the behavior, and let us help you develop a plan to protect your child and your parental rights. Call or email us today!