We know that family law issues can be hotly contested. Nowhere is this seen more frequently than child custody disputes. In many of these instances, each parent thinks that he or she knows what’s best for the child, and squabbles can therefore arise over just about any topic, from disciplinary tactics to educational decisions. Although these matters can be uncomfortable, they can also usually be addressed through communication and, when necessary, court intervention.
But sometimes these matters become so mutated that children are manipulated for the sole purpose of driving a wedge between them and their other parent, which can be a difficult matter to talk through. This is known as parental alienation, and it can have tremendous implications for the alienated parent and the child.
How parental alienation occurs
Before we get to the implications of parental alienation, let’s look at how it is carried out by manipulative parents. There are a lot of tactics that these parents can utilize to alienate their child’s other parent, but it oftentimes starts with seemingly minor statements to the child about the other parent’s lack of affection for the child or lack of willingness to care for the child. These statements, of course, aren’t true, but they can create a warped vision of the other parent in the child’s mind, thereby reducing the child’s desire to positively interact with that parent.
But parental alienation can take other forms, too. A child may be told intimate and inappropriate details of a marriage so as to change the child’s perception of the other parent, and the parental gatekeeping role can be exploited to cut the other parent out of conversation with the child and engagement in the child’s activities. A manipulating parent may also create scheduling issues where the alienated parent is forced to take the child away from a fun activity so that the child grows to resent spending time with that parent. In some cases, alienating parents even go so far as to brainwash their children into believing that they were physically harmed by their other parent.
The damage caused by parental alienation
The damage caused by parental alienation is significant. The child can grow to despise his or her other parent, which often manifests in unrelenting criticism of that parent alongside an unwavering support of the manipulative parent. This damage can be long-lasting, and an alienating parent often uses that damaged relationship as justification to seek further restriction of parenting time, sometimes even seeking to fully suspend it. This damage can be hard to repair and overcoming one of these custody modifications can be challenging.
What can you do?
If you think that you and your child have been subjected to parental alienation, then you need to take action now. Ask pointed questions about why your child is behaving the way that he or she is and take notes of all instances that may be indicative of alienation. You may also want to seek a court order for some sort of child custody or mental health evaluation so that you can have a professional determine if manipulative behavior is affecting your child. You can also speak to family members, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who may be able to testify as to the strong bond that you and your child once had.
Once you’re armed with that evidence, you may be well positioned to seek a child custody modification of your own. The good news is that family law courts are becoming more receptive to parental alienation arguments, which means that a well-reasoned position may have a receptive audience. So, if you’d like to build the best case that you can in this regard and maximize your chances of protecting your relationship with your child, then now may be the time to discuss you circumstances with an experienced family law attorney.