What Is Parental Alienation, and How Do You Spot It in Your Case?

What Is Parental Alienation, and How Do You Spot It in Your Case?

When intense marital conflicts escalate to the point of animosity, many couples turn to divorce as a viable solution. Unfortunately, even if divorce is the best option, any degree of increased conflict between parents and instability in the home can have adverse effects on any children involved.

Family court judges can appoint mental health experts as custody evaluators. These evaluators assist in determining the future well-being of any children involved. As psychology and mental health have evolved over the years, custody evaluators have become better versed in identifying more covert forms of abuse, specifically emotional abuse.

Parental alienation is a type of emotional abuse. One parent employs it as a weapon against the other during custody battles.

Defining Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a strategy involving one parent deliberately showing their child unwarranted negativity toward the other parent. The ultimate goal is to harm the child’s relationship with the other parent by manipulating the child’s feelings.

Often confused with parental alienation, parental alienation syndrome (or PAS) is used to describe the symptoms exhibited by a child suffering from parental alienation.

PAS is a disorder first recognized by Dr. Richard Gardner in 1985, often seen in custody battles. He defined PAS as a disorder where children, influenced by one parent, start to disparage the other parent and their family. It is only applicable if the hated parent has not abused, neglected, or otherwise behaved in a way that deserves the criticism of their child. 

How Can I Spot Parental Alienation?

In their assessment, a custody evaluator will examine various characteristics related to both the targeted and alienating parent.

Signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome in Children

  1. The child consistently displays intense hatred toward the targeted parent.
  2. The child’s language mirrors that of the alienating parent.
  3. The child vehemently refuses to visit the targeted parent.
  4. Many of the child’s beliefs align closely with the alienating parent’s.
  5. The child holds irrational and sometimes delusional beliefs.
  6. The child’s beliefs are not based on personal experience but relatively information provided by others, specifically the alienating parent and possibly their friends and family.
  7. The child exhibits unwavering hatred without any sense of ambivalence or recognition of positive qualities in the targeted parent.
  8. The child demonstrates a lack of remorse or guilt regarding their behavior towards the targeted parent.
  9. The child and alienating parent consistently work together to disparage the targeted parent.
  10. The child may appear outwardly normal and healthy, but discussing the targeted parent triggers intense hatred or negative emotions.
  11. The child may hold the alienating parent in extremely high regard, like a heroic figure who can do no wrong
  12. The child believes their rejection of the targeted parent is their idea.

Signs of Parental Alienation by the Alienating Parent

  1. Disparaging the targeted parent
  2. With-holding information from the targeted parent, such as medical and academic reports.
  3. Calling the targeted parent by their first name instead of “Mom” or “Dad”
  4. Confiding inappropriate information to the child, such as details of disputes or the divorce proceedings.
  5. Forcing the child to choose between the targeted parent and the alienated parent.
  6. Limiting contact between the child and the targeted parent or otherwise interfering with communication.
  7. Telling the child that the targeted parent is dangerous or abusive
  8. Telling the child that the targeted parent does not love them.
  9. Withdrawal of love and using other forms of emotional abuse to shape the child’s opinions of the targeted parent.
  10. Deliberately scheduling activities and events that the child will be excited about during your scheduled parenting time.

Long-Term Effects of Parental Alienation

The potential long-term effects of this abuse on your child’s well-being can be devastating. Some of the commonly reported effects of parental alienation, as documented in child’s welfare literature include:

  1. Impaired ability to form and maintain future relationships with others (be it platonic, romantic, or professional)
  2. Decreased self-esteem and self-worth
  3. Loss of self-confidence
  4. Feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression regarding their involvement in the deterioration of their relationship with a previously cherished parent.
  5. Difficulty controlling impulses, leading to aggression and potential delinquent behavior.
  6. Academic challenges and disruptions in school performance.

What Should I Do If I Suspect My Ex Is Alienating Me From Our Child?

If you suspect that your ex-partner is attempting to alienate your child from you, it’s crucial to take steps as soon as possible. The first step is consulting a family law attorney who can help you understand your situation. A family law attorney can help you decide if requesting a formal hearing to present your case is worth it.

While alienation may not have direct legal consequences, it can often be addressed in court. The parent can provide the judge with a detailed explanation of the changes in the child’s behavior, aiding the judge in determining a new custody arrangement that prioritizes the child’s well-being. Additionally, a custody evaluator or mental health professional may be called upon to evaluate the alienation case,

If you’re concerned about potential alienation from your child, prompt action is essential. Aside from contacting an attorney, you should seriously consider the following.

Keep a Daily Record

If you aren’t already doing so, maintain a daily record of occurrences involving your child, including conversations or incidents with the other parent. These records can be essential in proving that parental alienation is occurring.

For instance, if the other parent files a motion to modify your parenting plan, claiming you lack time to spend with the child, you can counter this with detailed records of the time you’ve spent together, such as tickets to events or activities you’ve gone to together, or photographs of you spending time together.

Note any special requests for adjustments your ex-spouse proposes to the court-ordered parenting plan. Alienating parents often request changes and then shift blame onto you if you disagree or refuse.

It’s important to note that courts vary in their approach to a child’s ability to make decisions regarding visitation with the non-custodial parent. Generally, the courts typically view parents who offer their children the opportunity to go against a court order unfavorably. If your child mentions something like, “Dad said I don’t have to see you next week unless I want to,” note it down.

If communication with your ex-spouse is challenging, do your best to keep it all written down, such as through email and text.

Request a Guardian Ad Litem

A guardian ad litem serves as a court-appointed officer responsible for advocating for your child’s best interests and ensuring compliance with the other parent’s court orders.

The court may assign the guardian ad litem to visit the child in the other parent’s residence and witness their interactions. They will conduct interviews with both parents and the child, jointly and separately, and provide the court with a report based on their observations and findings.

Depose the Other Parent

Suppose your former spouse initiates legal action, such as filing a motion to modify custody, and you suspect it may be driven by alienation. In that case, conducting a deposition is advisable to understand their motives and objectives.

Consult an attorney to help you understand what questions to ask to reveal potential ulterior motives or evidence of alienating behaviors.

What Isn’t Considered Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is only applicable if the alienated parent has not abused or neglected the child or behaved in a way that would justify the child’s anger, fear, and hatred toward them.

In every action we take, there are both intentional and unintended consequences that can occur automatically.

Occasionally, parents may make negative remarks or display negative body language without realizing it. This behavior isn’t considered parental alienation, but it should be something that individuals can strive to become aware of and address.

If you have genuine concerns about the other parent’s behavior with the children or their ability to keep them safe, expressing these concerns or raising questions is not parental alienation. While the other parent may perceive it defensively, it’s not intended to be.

When a child complains about the other parent, it’s easy to feel conflicted. In such situations, it is wise to seek advice from a neutral third party because it can be difficult – if not impossible – to be objective when it comes to your ex-partner. A therapist or a school counselor are great resources for your child to discuss their feelings and resolve issues constructively.

If the other parent declines to let you have some of their parenting time for you to have a special event with the kids, it’s not parental alienation. They may have prior commitments, and it’s best not to assume negative intentions. Even if you later discover they had no plans and declined your request without reason, assuming good intentions fosters a healthier co-parenting dynamic.

Often, ex-spouses default to assuming harmful intentions, but it’s essential to try to break this pattern and extend the benefit of the doubt as best you can.

How Can a Family Law Attorney Help?

If you are worried about parental alienation from your child throughout your divorce and custody determination, you are not alone. It can be incredibly frightening and isolating to feel like your ex-partner is turning your child against you, but you are not powerless.

Sarah Henry Law offers consultations to help you understand all your options. Call us today at 864-478-8324 or fill out this form to coordinate a consultation with an empathetic, experienced family law attorney today.

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