Divorce, custody, and visitation are often complicated and emotionally charged proceedings. In this tug-of-war, children may be distant and emotionally detached. As a parent who is going through a contentious divorce or custody battle, you may wonder whether this behavior is simply a reaction to the stressful events or whether parental alienation may be to blame.
It is important to understand exactly what parental alienation is, how to combat it, and how it can affect child custody and divorce proceedings.
What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is an all-too-common tactic that a parent may use to try to ruin a child’s relationship with the other parent. This is often achieved by constant and calculated criticism, vilification, and denigration of the targeted parent.
Parental alienation is a form of abuse. If left unchecked, it may develop into parental alienation syndrome (PAS).
The effects of parental alienation can be devastating for both the targeted parent and the child. It unfairly severs the bond between the parent and their child and takes away the child’s right to know and be raised by both parents.
Unlike physical abuse that has outwardly recognizable signs, parental alienation is often difficult to identify. Some common types of parental alienation include:
- Undermining your authority and decisions on discipline.
- Making disparaging comments about you, your significant other, or other family members.
- Playing the role of the “victim” with you as the “perpetrator.”
- Making false allegations of abuse to turn the children against you.
- Attempting to place another person in your parental role (such as insisting the children call a new spouse “mom” or “dad”).
Signs of Parental Alienation
Because each child is different, it is important to watch for changes in your child’s behavior if you suspect that a campaign of alienation may be in progress. Some common signs of parental alienation include:
- The child may be unusually combative or argumentative.
- They may make exclusionary requests, like “Don’t come to my soccer game” or “Don’t attend parent-teacher night.”
- Failure to remember or identify positive bonding experience in the past.
- Criticism of the targeted parent. These denigrating comments often sound as if they are repeating remarks made by the other parent.
Unfortunately, a parental alienation campaign can take such a heavy psychological toll on children that they may feel as if the alienation and rejection of the other parent was the child’s own idea. Children often do not realize that they have been persuaded and manipulated into having these negative feelings about the other parent.
What to Do About Parental Alienation
If your ex-spouse is waging a campaign of parental alienation against you, there are a few things that you should do immediately. First, you should document anything you notice, keeping track of dates, statements made, and what you have observed. Depending on the age of your children and your specific family situation, you may wish to speak with them directly about the treatment and discuss why it is wrong. This should only be accomplished following consultation with a licensed professional counselor, psychologist, or psychologist who can assist you in having the conversation in an age-appropriate manner.
It is a good idea to contact an experienced family law attorney for help. Your attorney can inform your ex-spouse of the laws against alienation and may send a formal letter detailing the consequences of this continued action. If necessary, the matter may need to be presented to and resolved by the court.
By hiring an attorney to represent you, you can rest easier knowing that you have a legal advocate working on your behalf to protect your relationship with your children.
Get the Legal Help You Need
At New Beginnings Family Law, our supportive Huntsville child custody and divorce attorneys are here to help you preserve your relationship with your children. We understand the devastating effects that parental alienation can have, and we are prepared to help you put a stop to it.
Contact us by phone, chat with us live on our site, or fill out a contact form to schedule an appointment with us today. We’re ready to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us now.