What is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation

In a contentious divorce, any child involved is in a precarious situation. As each issue becomes a battle, they become more vulnerable and sometimes a parent takes advantage of that vulnerability, weaponizing the child's relationship with the other parent in order to inflict pain and revenge on that parent. This is known as parental alienation.

In parental alienation, one parent tries to convince a child that the other parent doesn't care about them anymore or that he or she can't be trusted. It's extremely hard to identify because it most often happens when the parent and child are alone. The forms of alienation can be divided loosely into three categories.

Badmouthing/False Accusations – This includes:

  • Calling the other parent derogatory names
  • Blaming the other parent for the divorce
  • Telling the child the other parent is dangerous or unstable
  • Telling the child the other parent hasn't tried to communicate with them
  • Telling the child the other parent doesn’t love them
  • Withholding extracurricular schedules from other parent, preventing them from attending events and reinforcing image of uncaring parent

Manipulation – This includes:

  • Scheduling “fun activities” during the other's time, making the other parent look bad
  • Buying the child gifts
  • Allowing the child greater freedom, such as later bedtime and more snacks
  • Pretending to be hurt when the child has fun with the other parent

Interference – This includes:

  • Encouraging the child to refuse to spend time with the other parent
  • Interfering with the other parent's visitation schedule
  • Not allowing the child to visit extended family
  • Not allowing the child to take personal items to the other parent's home
  • Not allowing the child to bring or display items from the other parent's home, such as gifts
  • Making primary decisions concerning the child with no input from the other parent

Older children may recognize what's happening, but they may keep it to themselves in order to spare the feelings of the other parent. This creates conflicting emotions that will surface in some manner. Watch for signs, such as:

  • Becoming moody and sullen
  • Turning away from friends, groups, and activities that they once enjoyed
  • Having problems at school, such as acting out and low grades
  • Radically altering their appearance, such a dying and cutting their hair, getting piercings, and changing clothing styles

Without hard evidence, it's almost impossible to prove parental alienation, but there are some things you can do. Take photographs or videos of the parent and child interacting, watching for signs of tension in the child's behavior. Keep copies of emails and texts in which the other parent uses demeaning language. If your suspicions are correct, there's a good chance they are using this language in front of the child, as well. Talk to people who live near or work with the other parent. Witness testimonies also help. None of these things are illegal, but together, they may show a pattern of behavior that could be useful when the court makes the ultimate child custody decisions.

You can also take your child to a counselor who would be willing to testify as to what the child is being told by the alienating parent. Also, the Court can appoint a representative to represent the child and talk to both the child and the child’s therapist to confirm the alienation and then report it the Court.

In Texas, parental alienation is considered psychological abuse. It causes the child to suffer anxiety, confusion, depression, and lack of trust when they may already be dealing with the guilt of believing they caused the divorce. If you think your child is suffering from parental alienation, contact a family lawyer who knows how to protect you both from this form of mental attack.

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