When parents separate or divorce, children are forced to adjust in multiple ways. No matter how parents feel about each other, it’s critical that children continue to feel loved and secure, which requires a level of compromise and joint effort between the parents.
Unfortunately, not all parents put their child’s interests first during a divorce. Sometimes, one parent engages in manipulation that undermines and damages the other parent’s relationship with the child. This type of relationship damage is called parental alienation, and it can lead to grief and emotional anguish, not to mention concern for the children’s wellbeing and sense of security.
In this blog article, we’ll explore parental alienation and help you identify it sooner rather than later. We’ll also discuss what to do about parental alienation and provide advice about how to address the problem.
What Is Parental Alienation and Why Does It Happen?
Parental alienation occurs when a parent-child relationship deteriorates and becomes less close than it was due to interference and manipulation from the other parent. The engagement becomes more negative, less frequent, or both, and the parent feels like they’ve lost critical elements of their connection with their child. Parental alienation can range from mild to severe.
Relationships between parents and children will naturally evolve as the child (and the parent) grow and change. Even people who are very close with their parents can probably remember times in their life when the relationship became more distant for a while.
However, parental alienation is different than the natural relationship changes that life brings. Parental alienation happens because one parent engages in behaviors that actively harm the other parent’s relationship with the child. This type of harmful behavior is most common in cases that involve divorce or separation.
Sometimes, the other parent is deliberately working to alienate the child from the other parent out of anger or spite, but that’s not always the case. The parent who’s causing the alienation may not realize what they’re doing on a conscious level, or they may tell themselves they’re only doing what is best for the child.
No matter why parental alienation happens, it can lead to emotional harm and trauma for both children and parents. So, parental alienation always needs to be recognized and addressed as early as possible.
Parental Alienation: Warning Signs and Symptoms
Most children, especially young children, want to please their parents. When one parent fosters negativity toward the other, the child can feel conflicted and guilty. A child who is starting to experience parental alienation might experience, anxiety, anger, depression, problems at school, eating or sleeping disorders, and other behavioral issues.
The parent who is causing the alienation may hide their behavior or make no secret of it. Either way, watch for signs that parental alienation may be beginning in your family. The other parent might:
- Deny you access to your child in person or over the phone
- Withhold important information about your child or their activities
- Schedule alternatives to tempt your child away from your scheduled time
- Eavesdrop on your phone calls or monitor your text messages
- Lie to you or your child about events and conversations
- Refuse to pass along gifts or money you send to your child
- Allow or encourage your child to say negative things about you
- React poorly if your child says positive things about you
- Interrupt your time with your child with lots of phone calls or text messages
- Instruct your child to spy on you and report back
- Use your child as a messenger instead of communicating directly
- Unnecessarily share details of the divorce or settlement your child
- Deliberately cause your child to experience hardship (skipped meals, unmet needs) and then blame you
- Make statements that cause you to worry about your child when nothing is wrong
- Refuse to be flexible and make reasonable changes to scheduling and visitation
- Offer your child more than an age-appropriate say in scheduling and timeshare details, often while encouraging or manipulating the child to side with them in disagreements
If you see or suspect any of these alienating behaviors, you need to monitor the situation and determine what is going on. Just because one or two of these occur does not mean parental alienation is occurring. As mentioned above, relationships between parents and children change over time. However, if these actions are occurring on a regular and consistent basis, you should act sooner rather than later for the sake of your child’s wellbeing and your relationship with them.
What Can I Do About Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation can be very difficult to prove in court. However, if you can provide evidence and make strong arguments, you may be able to convince the court to intervene, possibly by changing the custody arrangements.
To gather evidence of parental alienation and make a compelling case in court, you should follow these steps.
Keep a Record of Events
Write down the date and circumstance any time you believe you were denied rightful access to your child. You should also record any incidents where your ex lied about you or spoke negatively about you in front of your child. If you end up in court, the records you’ve kept may help establish patterns of alienating behavior and convince a judge to intervene.
Create a Paper Trail
Hold on to emails, texts, and other communications in which you asked to see your child or discussed legal arrangements. Not only does this prove your effort to maintain your relationship with your child, but it could provide valuable proof if your ex lies about these conversations or doesn’t keep to their word.
An experienced therapist who has training in family issues should know about parental alienation and understand how to fight it. If you suspect parental alienation or see it starting to happen, talking with a therapist can be a valuable step. Not only will therapy give you and the child tools and vocabulary to address the issue, but it will also show that you’re working to improve the situation.
You may even want to consider asking the other parent to attend counseling sessions with you. These sessions can be joint or occur separately. Either way, it could lead to valuable progress. And making these types of efforts can only help your custody case, no matter how your ex responds. If you make a legitimate attempt to reach out and your ex refuses, a court may look favorably on your efforts in a future hearing.
Act Fast and Be Tenacious
Fighting against parental alienation can feel frustrating and exhausting, especially when the problem has become severe. However, you wouldn’t give up if the threat to your child were related to health or safety, so don’t give up here. Your relationship with your child, as well as their overall wellbeing, are at stake.
Remember also that it’s important to address parental alienation as soon as possible. If your ex succeeds in damaging your relationship with your child, it can create a vicious cycle. Your ex may claim that you’re spending less time with your child because you don’t care, which may drive your child further away. It’s never too late to try and repair the damage done by alienation, but it’s also never too early to
Don’t Fight Bad Behavior With Bad Behavior
If you believe your ex is trying to harm your relationship with your child, the worst thing you can do is to respond in kind. Do not talk badly about your ex in front of your child, and don’t try to keep your child away from the other parent in violation of a custody order or agreement. Remember that when you take the high road, the law is on your side. Family court judges do not take kindly to parents violating court orders or badmouthing each other in front of their children. If your ex is engaging in these behaviors and a judge finds out, your ex will be in trouble. But if you start behaving the same way, all your leverage will be gone.
Talk to an Experienced Family Law Attorney
As mentioned, parental alienation can be difficult to prove in court. However, an experienced attorney should have the resources and training required to identify parental alienation and bring it to light in court. Sometimes, a lawyer can help you address the problem without even going to court. Your attorney can communicate with your ex and let them know you have representation and are dead serious about fighting for your relationship with your child, which may make your ex think twice before continuing to lie and manipulate.
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Myers Law Firm Can Help With Parental Alienation and Child Custody Issues in Charlotte, North Carolina
At Myers Law Firm, we understand parental alienation and other complicated issues that come up during a separation or divorce. We have years of experience guiding clients through family law matters, and we can come up with practical, affordable legal strategies to address whatever needs and challenges you’re facing.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.