After a divorce or separation involving children, it’s hard for both parents and children. Parents are dealing with stress and change, and children can react to a divorce and the feelings of their parents in many different ways. A child may resent their parents after a divorce or become closed off from them. Parents have to learn to deal with their own emotions after a divorce and help their children through it.
If a child blames one of their parents for the divorce, it can make everything much harder on the parent and child. Co-parents can also have potentially negative emotions about each other after separation. Any of these things alone do not amount to parental alienation. However, it’s important that parents keep their negative feelings from influencing their children’s feelings. When a parent chooses to try and make their child or children favor them over the other parent, this may become parental alienation.
What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a psychological term that refers to a certain type of behavior kids exhibit after a divorce. Parental alienation is related to this, and it is when one parent manipulates or coerces their child or children into disliking, rejecting, or fearing the other parent. This often is done by claiming the divorce was the other parent’s fault or lying about the parent’s character or actions. The parent who is engaging in alienation may also attempt to keep the child from talking to the other parent or spending time with them.
The alienating parent may be doing this as a way to get back at the other parent or to gain more custody. Though the court does not have to listen to the child’s wishes during custody arrangements, it could. The alienating parent may want the child to state their preference or even repeat lies about abuse or neglect.
Parental alienation causes significant long-term emotional and psychological trauma and distress for children. If you have reason to believe that your child is subject to parental alienation, it’s essential to talk to an attorney. They can help you determine your next steps, how to gain evidence, and when to involve the court. Whether you are in the process of a custody case or have an established parenting plan, the court may take action to limit the other parent’s custody if they have been alienating your child.
How Do Parents Show Parental Alienation?
There are several ways an alienating parent may act. These could include:
- Being disrespectful to the other parent and undermining their parental authority or their love for a child
- Creating false accusations about the other parent, such as claims of abuse or violence
- Blaming the other parent for the divorce or separation
- Discussing the specifics of the divorce case with a child
- Encouraging children to avoid parenting time with the other parent
- Scheduling fun events when the other parent is coming to pick up a child
- Making it difficult or impossible for the other parent to pick up a child for visitation or custody
- Claiming a child has to choose one parent or the other
- Preventing a child from communicating with the other parent
The alienating parent may be building on negative emotions a child already has or creating the dislike of the other parent.
How Do Children Show Parental Alienation?
There are several ways a child may show signs of alienation, and these behaviors may worsen immediately after spending time with the alienating parent. A child may:
- Suddenly hate or fear the other parent for no tangible reason
- Reject any gifts from the other parent
- Refuse all communication with the other parent
- Refuse to spend any time with the other parent
- Be especially disrespectful to the other parent and say negative things
- Make false statements about the other parent as if they are true
- Make statements that mimic phrases spoken by the alienating parent
- Idolize the alienating parent
- Spy on the other parent
- Have a sudden dislike of the other parent’s extended family
- Express no guilt for the negative treatment of the other parent
In order to bring parental alienation to the court’s attention, you have to notice signs in a parent and a child. One important part of this is ensuring you are connecting and communicating with your children during divorce or separation. This is an impossibly difficult time for children, and it can help them to know you are supporting them.
Q: How Do You Identify Parental Alienation?
A: Both children and a parent engaging in alienating behaviors may show signs. Children may have an incredibly negative perspective of one parent and a very idealized perspective of the other and believe this viewpoint is their own choice. They may have no guilt over hostile feelings and actions towards one parent and that parent’s extended family.
Parents who alienate their children from a co-parent also show signs. They may falsely accuse the other parent of extreme negative actions like abuse. They may also interfere with the other parent’s custody or visitation time or prevent the other parent from communicating with their child.
Q: Do Judges Take Parental Alienation Seriously?
A: Although parental alienation is not legally recognized as abuse, many courts treat it as such. Even if a judge does not consider parental alienation to be abuse, proving abuse will affect the outcome of a custody case. This is because the action is harmful to the child’s mental, emotional, and psychological well-being and is therefore not in a child’s interests.
Q: How Do You Prove Parental Alienation?
A: To prove parental alienation, you have to show evidence in custody court. Evidence of parental alienation could include:
- Friends or family who have witnessed the parent’s harmful or alienating behavior.
- The child’s therapist, counselor, or other health professional, who can explain the mental state of the child.
- Saved communication from the alienating parent to the child or other parent, including voicemails and text messages.
Q: What Makes an Unfit Parent?
A: The exact definition of what makes an unfit parent depends on the state. Generally, an unfit parent is one who has proven incapable of caring for their child’s basic needs, care, guidance, and support. This includes parents who provide unsafe or harmful living environments and/or are neglectful or abusive. A parent who is physically unable to care for a child or financially unable to provide for a child will be considered unfit.
A Father’s Rights Family Law Attorney
If you suspect parental alienation, you may want to discuss your situation with a family law attorney. You may be able to talk with your co-parent, find professional help for a child, or address the alienation in court. The attorneys at Stange Law Firm can help you determine your next steps. Contact us today.