One of the biggest fears that parents have about custody battles is that the other parent will turn the child against him or her. Parental alienation is an unfortunate reality for many family law cases. Understanding how it happens, and how it can be stopped, will go a long way in preserving your relationship with your child. The child custody attorneys of MacKay & Martin, LLP fight to protect their clients' parental rights and interests, and we can put a stop to alienation in your case.
What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation occurs when the other parent is actively engaging in efforts to turn your child against you. It's more than simply insulting the other parent in the child's presence. Parental alienation is a deliberate attempt, often exhibited by a series of actions, to brainwash and manipulate a child to the point that the parent-child relationship is damaged and/or destroyed. It has even been assigned a psychological label – parental alienation syndrome – due to the sometimes permanent impact it may have on the child.
What Are Some Actions That May Lead To Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation may result from concerted efforts to undermine, interfere with, or completely ignore the other parent's relationship with the child. More specifically, some of the actions that could lead to this troubling development include:
- Criticizing the other parent in front of the child, including through exaggerated or outright false attacks
- Blaming the other parent in front of the child; for instance, blaming the parent for the divorce, relationship problems, or the alienating parent's personal struggles
- Blocking the child from contacting the parent, or interfering with or making it unnecessarily difficult
- Attempting to make the child feel guilty for spending time with the other parent
- Deferring to the child for decisions on whether to visit the other parent
- Failing to include the other parent in extracurricular activities
- Failing to inform the other parent regarding important medical, educational, and other matters, and denying access to pertinent records
- Insisting on and enforcing a strict visitation schedule
- Threatening contempt or other court action over minor disagreements or violations of court orders
Some of the effects that these behaviors may have on the child include:
- Distrust or fear of the other parent
- Resentment towards the other parent
- Not wanting to have anything to do with the other parent
- Behavioral problems, including poor discipline, when spending time with the other parent
- Mimicking or repeating the same criticisms made by the alienating parent
How Do I Prove Alienation?
In most cases, the alienation will not stop unless and until the court steps in. California judges are required to consider the best interests of the child in any custody matter, and that includes considerations of parental alienation.
Proving alienation can be difficult. Not only is the subject matter extremely sensitive for both parents, but it's imperative to do as little harm as possible to the child during the investigation process. An experienced and compassionate child custody attorney can explore these and other methods for proving that alienation is occurring:
Relatives, friends, and neutral witnesses – The parents themselves, plus their relatives and friends, will likely be witnesses. However, they will have obvious biases. You should, therefore, consider also having neutral third-party witnesses who can offer objective testimony about facts and behaviors that can substantiate your claims.
The child as a witness – Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to have the child testify about the alienation. This, of course, requires a delicate approach since the objective is to not further aggravate any problems. The child's age, maturity, and other factors will determine what he or she can testify to in court, and you should work with your attorney on developing an appropriate strategy.
Expert testimony – Experts may be able to offer professional observations about parental alienation, specifically psychological impacts on the child and evaluations of the alienating parent's behavior. If a therapist or parenting coordinator has been involved in your case, these individuals may potentially serve as witnesses. It may also help to bring in an expert witness who can help the court understand what parental alienation generally is.
Documentation – Parents often leave a paper trail that evidences their behaviors and their intent. In your case, you may have direct sources such as emails, text messages, and social media posts from the offending parent. Written evidence can come in other forms as well. Let's say you have your child enrolled in little league sports, and that activity is something the two of you enjoy. The other parent may attempt to withdraw the child from the sport as a means of interfering with your relationship. Records may exist proving this was tried.
In some cases, the child is the one who sends electronic communications or makes social media posts evidencing a soured relationship (and the other parent's role in it). All of these may be relevant pieces of evidence in your case.
Can Parental Alienation Be Fixed?
Judges frown upon parental alienation because of the way it harms children. Every case is different, but there are options for trying to undo the damage. You may be able to have a reunification therapist or counselor appointed to help repair the relationship. Another option is modifying the previous custody order to limit the other parent's ability to interfere. An attorney can guide you through these and other ways to possibly fix what went wrong.
Let Us Help Protect Your Relationship With Your Child
Litigation may be your only recourse against a parent who is determined to turn your child against you. Let the attorneys of MacKay & Martin, LLP, go to work for you. We know that alienation can have long-lasting negative effects on your child, and we can help stop and possibly reverse the damage. Give us a call today to discuss your legal options.