Child custody disputes between parents are emotionally challenging for everyone involved, but these issues are exceptionally difficult for children. When a child expresses unwarranted dislike or animosity toward one parent during or after a divorce, he or she may be expressing what is known as parental alienation syndrome.
Characteristics of Parental Alienation Syndrome
Parental alienation is characterized by the continuing expression of dislike or ostracism of one parent, often most strongly communicated in the presence of that parent. The behavior may involve hurtful or degrading language or actions.
Other identifiers of the behavioral syndrome in children include:
- Confidence and lack of guilt regarding the hurtful behavior
- No demonstrated reason for the mistreatment of the targeted parent
- Use of hypothetical and/or absurd scenarios rather than factual evidence to rationalize the behavior
- Contention that the decision to alienate the targeted parent belongs solely to the child Expressed support of the non-targeted parent’s feelings or actions
- Attempts to get others to share the feelings of anger and dislike
It is important to understand that the targeted parent is not responsible for his or her alienation. In some cases, parental alienation syndrome may be brought on by the non-targeted parent’s behavior. The other parent’s actions may involve “brainwashing” as well as subconscious processes that promote and reinforce the child’s feelings, further extending his or her anger and dislike.
Signs of Parental Alienation
Has your loving child suddenly become angry and hostile? Your child may simply be expressing anger about the divorce. However, this behavior could also be a sign of parental alienation.
Parental alienation syndrome is a deliberate attempt by one parent to distance the children from the other parent and destroy the parental relationship. A parent can cause parental alienation by speaking poorly about the other parent. They might also tell lies, limit contact, and/or interfere with communication. Further, the parent might emotionally punish the child for any positive interactions with the other parent. Some parents may also fraudulently accuse their ex of neglect or abuse.
Behaviors that may indicate parental alienation include:
- Unusual animosity. Your child seems to fear or despise you. He or she may be unwilling to spend any time together. Your child may also refuse to acknowledge good experiences from the past.
- Everything is your fault. You become the bad guy. Your child acts like your ex can do no wrong, even forgiving inexcusable behavior.
- Your child repeats your ex’s words and phrases. He or she seems to be following a script. You may hear the same labels your ex has used to describe you.
- Your child rejects your family members. Your child’s anger extends to your family members. The child avoids important family events or refuses to spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
- Your child denies being influenced by your ex. When you ask your child about his or her words or behavior, the child may vehemently deny influence from the other parent.
Parental alienation is common during divorce and custody battles. If you suspect your ex’s behavior is causing alienation, discuss the situation with your child custody attorney. You may need to take legal action. Parents who are willing to manipulate their children are rarely willing to negotiate through mediation. Ask your attorney about counseling or filing a contempt petition of your custody order.
Every child deserves a healthy relationship with both parents. Likewise, no one should manipulate your kids. Take steps now to protect his or her well-being and your relationship.
Parental Alienation Syndrome: If Your Ex is Turning the Kids Against You
Strategies to Remedy Parental Alienation
While remediation of parental alienation is difficult, researchers recommend the following strategies:
- Be persistent and rational when dealing with the child.
- Maintain a positive, even-tempered and loving attitude.
- Avoid discussing the custody case with the child.
- Avoid discussing the other parent with the child in a negative manner.
- Seek the assistance of a professional specializing in child-parent conflict.
The Legal Side of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation can escalate to abuse, which is a serious legal issue. Parents who are the target of this behavior at any level are urged to discuss the situation with an attorney right away.
If you’re being targeted by this type of behavior from your child, the attorneys at Petrelli Previtera can help you work through these difficulties. We are committed to helping individuals find solutions to these and other problems resulting from family-related legal issues. Call us at (215) 523-6900 for assistance.