Finding a way to effectively detect parental alienation is important in any custody or divorce situation. The warning signs that alert a child is suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome are not always clear, which is why it is important to keep a record of any behavior that is suspect and keep a detailed record including dates, times, things said, behavior issues and note any “secrets” your child may be keeping. I have experienced alienating parents keeping secrets with their child as a way of building a bond with the child and alienating the other parent.
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Warning Signs to Help Detect Parental Alienation
Some of the signs that help you detect parental alienation in your particular situation include:
- Quick to Anger: If a child is actively being alienated, he will be under a great deal of stress and it is unlikely that they have the skills to deal with that stress and will be quick to anger.
- Suffering from Low Self Esteem: When a child is told and believes that his other parent is bad or unworthy it makes them feel bad and/or unworthy since they are a part of that other parent.
- No Impulse Control: Again, children under stress without the maturity and tools to deal with it can lash out, fight, throw things, make bad decisions.
- Experiencing Separation Anxiety: Children are often very anxious about leaving the “safe” or alienating parent to be with the “unsafe” or alienated parent.
- Showing Signs of Depression: Divorce and/or separation is very difficult on children and with the addition of an alienating parent depression may increase.
- Experiencing Sleeping Problems: Children may have difficulty sleeping, have bad dreams because of their fear of being with the alienated parent and away from the alienating parent.
- Suffering from Eating Disorders: Children may feel they need to gain control over something in their lives and what they choose to eat could develop into an eating disorder which could then get the parents attention
- Experiencing Problems in School: A child who is in an alienation situation would tend to have more problems in school with the stress leading to an inability to concentrate and lack of impulse control leading to behavior problems.
- Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Studies have shown that alienated children have a greater danger of using drugs and alcohol. This is a result of the parents being oppositional to one another. There is no united front. The child realizes that if the parents are not talking to each other then he or she can get away with things another child with parents who were communicating may not.
An Alienated Child Will Choose a Side
In my experience, the alienated child will choose a side – the side of the alienating parent and will become absolutely certain that the other parent is at fault, a bad parent, a bad person and hate that parent. It is interesting that children usually have difficult times with both of their parents at some point. However, in situations of parental alienation, the child has so aligned with the alienating parent that it is black and white – one parent is all good and the other parent is nothing but bad. The child shows no remorse about shutting the other parent out and it is not uncommon to hear the child say things to or about the alienated parent that are words used by the alienator. Unfortunately, this often leads to the child actually hating the extended family of the alienated parent as well including grandparents, aunts, uncles and even refuse to see them.
False Allegations of Parental Alienation and the Narcissistic Parent
In some cases, it is also possible that the targeted parent is a narcissist which may lead to allegations of parental alienation that does not exist. In these situations, the case studies show that the narcissistic parent is unable to understand why the child does not adore the greatness of the narcissistic parent. The child will withdraw from the relationship and the only answer the parent can come up with is that it must be parental alienation.
Dealing with False Accusations of Parental Alienation
- When false accusations of abuse are raised you need to take immediate action.
- Keep a detailed diary of things that are being said and things that are taking place during parenting time.
- Request a GAL be appointed to reparent the child.
- Request court intervention if necessary
- Deposition of accuser
- Talk to adults around the child regularly (teachers, counselors, coach, religious leaders)
- Get the child into therapy with someone trained to work with children of divorce
- Maintain your relationship with your child / keep all court order contact
- Avoid negative interactions with the other parent
- Never disparage the other parent in front of your child
Alienation of a child against the other parent is taken very seriously by the family court system because it has been shown to have lasting harmful effects on the child. Many states have factors that include “facilitating a relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent” and if this is not done, as in the case with an alienating parent, that parent is likely to lose custody and may even be restricted to supervised visitation.
Asking the Right Questions to Prove or Disprove Parental Alienation
It may be that a parent who has experienced the same “alienation” concept by one of their parents when they were growing up may engage in the same behavior if those feelings or patterns are re-triggered during their own divorce or separation. Unfortunately, the family court system was not designed to look at what is right and what is wrong. The family court system is designed to look out for the best interest of the child.
- Remember it is your relationship and your time with your child it is most important to you.
- Create a chronology or outline of everything over a specific time frame; make it detailed for preparation; have the client review with family members to get everything down because if they are truly being alienated there will be plenty of evidence to support the claim.
- You need to prove that the other parent is actively destroying the relationship between your client and the child. Hire an evaluator. Bring up when you cared for the child alone for nights, weekends all times during the time you were together.
- Interview the witnesses have been interviewed.
- Your goal again is to not proof that you are right and that you are innocent your goal is to prove that the other parent has actively done this.
- Prepare this parenting plan with as much detail as you can to show them what is best by being prepared to show how you can do better and facilitate – don’t just say you are prepared, be prepared.
- Take a parenting class – be proactive.
Detecting parental alienation in a parent-child relationship or dealing with false allegations of parental alienation are serious matters with lasting consequences. Please contact our family law attorneys today to schedule a confidential consultation if you have concerns about parental alienation and how to proceed.