Parental Alienation is very serious as there is no “cure” if it is allowed to go on for a period of time. A parent cannot get back the time lost and things missed during this unfortunate period of alienation from their child. Depending on how long the alienation has gone on and to what severity, the relationship may be lost for good and the child irreparably harmed.
Most would agree, including the courts, that children need to have a good relationship with both parents in order to grow up with the best chance at becoming productive members of society. Unfortunately, divorce and separation is usually a difficult time for people to see this as important and allow their anger at the other parent to become open and obvious.
How Parental Alienation Occurs
Primarily, the way parental alienation is done is with:
- Badmouthing: Criticizing and belittling the other parent or making sure the child feels that the other parent is dangerous, crazy, and unworthy of the child’s love.
- Interfering with Contact: Dropping off the child late, picking up early, making excuses to cancel a visit, refusing to allow phone calls or any contact with the other parent and excessively calling the child while he is with the other parent, supporting the child’s refusal to visit.
- Causing Rejection: Making the child feel guilty for loving the other parent, creating conflict between the child and the other parent, forcing the child to choose between his parents, talking to the child about adult matters.
- Undermining Child’s Relationship: Questioning the child for details of a visit, asking the child to spy on the other parent, encouraging the child to call that parent by his or her first name, changing the child’s name to exclude the other parent, asking the child to take notes or photos while in the visit
- Undermining the other Parent: Refusing to provide information about school, medical care, and activities; refusing to notify the school, sports team coaches, doctors, and others of the other parent’s contact information; having a step-parent refer to him/herself as “Mom” or “Dad”, refusing to invite or provide information to the other parent about birthday parties, graduation, parent-teacher conferences, school plays or concerts, and the like.
Not Everything is Parental Alienation
Not everything is “parental alienation.” In my experience alienating behaviors by both parents are not uncommon in high-conflict divorces and may lead to estrangement as opposed to Alienation. Parental Alienation is a deliberate attempt by one parent to distance the child from the other parent. On the other hand, estrangement follows conflicts and disagreements or arguments between the parents and child. This leads to some of the same feelings in the child but those feelings are due to the behavior of the parent and lead to estrangement.
As an example, the father who leaves his family for another woman and spends time with her and her children and no time with his own children. In this situation, he is likely to become “estranged” from his children due to their feelings of hurt and disappointment.
Estrangement is Not Alienation
Estrangement results from a parent’s behavior toward the child which causes the child to feel betrayed and not interested in the parent as opposed to Parental alienation which is a parent actively working at causing the child to feel betrayed by the other parent causing the child to lose interest in the other parent.
An estranged parent may still blame the other parent for the child not wanting to spend time with them. It is critical to look at the behavior of both parents to find out what is really going on. Also, it’s important to look at the reactions of the parent.
A parent who has been alienated is likely to continue to work on the relationship with the child, attempt communication, stay in touch and use the court system to keep fighting for the relationship. The alienated parent will not want to give up.
A parent estranged from a child due to their own behavior has a more laid-back attitude of “things will work out” give them time” or let’s wait and see. They may not actively continue to work on the relationship or regularly communicate as they are waiting for the child to “come around.”
Whether parental alienation or estrangement, in both cases, the children suffer. If you believe parental alienation is present in your parent-child relationship, please contact our family law attorneys today to schedule a confidential consultation.