What is parental alienation?

Children of divorce most want to maintain a healthy and strong relationship with both of their parents, and also to be shielded from their parents’ conflict. But some parents use children as a “bargaining chip” throughout the divorce process. Some parents, in an effort to be viewed as the “chosen” parent, foster an environment in which their children are forced to choose sides. In more extreme situations, children are manipulated and actually encouraged to reject the other parent. These parents manipulate and encourage their children to reject, resist contact, or show extreme reluctance to spend time with the other parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

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 a behavioral syndrome 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.

The Negative Effects of Parental Alienation

Not only does parental alienation result in the child’s emotional rejection of the targeted parent, it also causes the loss of a capable and loving parent from the life of that child. Every child has a fundamental right and needs to maintain a loving relationship with both parents, irrespective of divorce.

The Warning 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 that 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:

  1. 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.

  2. Everything is your fault. You become the bad guy. Your child acts like your ex can do no wrong, even forgiving inexcusable behavior.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 and the law

Parental Alienation, What is it and how does it fit in family law?

Parental alienation is a term that describes the behavior of a child, often during high-conflict divorces, who rejects one parent and identifies strongly with the other. The alienating parent, usually the one with primary custody, manipulates the child into adopting their hatred for the target parent.

In family law, when a child is involved in a dispute, the best interest of the child is the central concern of the law. Child custody, child visitation, and child support issues are all determined based on what is in the best interest of the child. Parental alienation interferes with this public policy issue by interfering with the child’s best interests. It is a form of child abuse, which the courts can consider when making orders for the child.

Standing up to parental alienation

If you are a targeted parent dealing with parental alienation, you may feel alone and confused about what to do. There is help available through the courts.

How Do Courts View Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation can certainly play a role in a court’s decision regarding custody. Pennsylvania courts, for example, determine the best interest of the child by considering a number of factors, including which party is more likely to encourage or permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other party.

How do I fight parental alienation?

If you are the targeted parent of parental alienation, you should speak with a family lawyer to discuss your legal options. You can obtain legal remedies to protect your relationship with your child. Some of the possible remedies available in court are:

How to Handle Parental Alienation in a Custody Dispute

In child-custody disputes, the courts are guided by evidence in making their decisions in the best interest of the child. It is important to have evidence to support any claims of parental alienation in your child-custody dispute. This may involve the testimony of mental health professionals who have had a chance to evaluate the child’s relationship with both parents.

The report from a custody evaluator may impact the parental rights of the parents. If parental alienation is indicated, the court may allocate more parenting time to the targeted parent to repair the relationship between the child and that parent.

FAQs About Parental Alienation

How You Can Prove Parental Alienation?

Like any other case that involves a child, the best way to prove parental alienation is with documented evidence. The courts will only be swayed by evidence of the harm suffered by the targeted parent and/or the child. Social media posts, emails, call logs, and witness testimonies from teachers, counselors, or therapists are all useful pieces of evidence that can help to prove a case of parental alienation.

How To Involve the Court

The courts provide different remedies in parental alienation cases. There are civil and criminal remedies that a targeted parent can benefit from like custody modification, injunctions, mandatory therapy, and criminal prosecution. Persons seeking these court-ordered remedies must follow the court’s practices and procedures to commence an action.

How do I find a Parental Alienation Lawyer?

If you do not already have a lawyer, you can reach out to your state or local bar association to receive a recommendation. There are also private attorney referral services that make recommendations for different types of lawyers. You should work with a lawyer that is experienced, and you are comfortable with.

Is parental alienation hard to prove?

Parental alienation cases can be hard to prove, but that does not mean that they are impossible. It is important to keep detailed records and follow the advice of your lawyer to build a strong case.

What is proof of parental alienation?

The first indication of parental alienation will likely be a change in your child’s attitude towards you. Other indications will be the alienating parent’s continuous actions designed to frustrate your access to the child. As much as possible, restrict communication between you and the alienating parent to written form like emails and text messages. Keep call logs and any other form of documentation that your lawyer may advise.

How do I know if I have parental alienation?

The common signs of parental alienation include: refusal to interact with the targeted parent, unjust criticism and harness towards the parent, use of derogatory words that echo the sentiments of the alienating parent, and unwavering support for the alienating parent. If you suspect your child may have parental alienation, you should speak with a medical professional and your lawyer, as soon as possible.

What are examples of parental alienation cases?

In one controversial custody case out of Michigan, the family court judge, Judge Lisa Gorcyca, sent three juvenile siblings to a detention center after refusing to visit with their estranged father. The children were deemed in contempt of a court by disobeying her order to have a “healthy relationship with your father.” Judge Gorcyca blamed the mother for poisoning the children’s attitude toward the father, even suggesting that the mother had brainwashed her children. Ultimately, Judge Gorcya held the mother responsible for alienating the children from their father.

In another significant custody case earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a trial court’s determination that a child’s mother would be awarded primary physical custody of the parties’ daughter was unreasonable, since the trial court’s consideration of the statutory custody factors actually weighted heavily in favor of granting primary custody to the father. In, W.C.F. v. M.G., 2015 Pa. Super LEXIS 231 (PA. Super Ct. 2015), the court found that parental alienation was a critical issue, noting that the father was more likely to promote the child’s relationship with the mother rather than the mother would with the father stating, “mother is not likely to encourage or permit frequent and continuing contact between father and child.” Furthermore, the court concluded that while shared physical custody was feasible both geographically and financially, “awarding primary physical custody of father might be of significant benefit to the child at this time, and might make mother realize that her lack of cooperation and attempts at alienation will not be rewarded by this court.”

Can you reverse parental alienation?

Remediation of parental alienation is difficult but there are a few recommended strategies, that a target parent can use to deal with the situation. Parents must maintain a positive attitude, refrain from bad-mouthing the alienating parent, and avoid discussing the legal issues between the parents. It may be necessary to seek the help of a professional counselor or psychologist to mend and manage the relationship with the child.

Is there a Parental Alienation Syndrome Test?

There are a few psychological tests that counselors and psychologists use to assess children and make a diagnosis of parental alienation syndrome. These assessments involve a series of questions designed to evaluate the child’s perception of each parent, and uncover any biases or alignments that emerge.

What does a Parental Alienation Lawyer do?

A parental alienation lawyer’s role will vary depending on which of the parties they are representing. If they are representing the target parent, they may help them identify parental alienating tactics, and gather evidence and documentation to prove a parental alienation case.

If they are representing the alienating parent, they may advise them to stop the behavior and encourage a relationship between their child and the target parent. They will also make them aware of the potential legal risks and the impact on their lives if the behavior persists.

A lawyer may be appointed by the courts to represent the best interest of the child. The lawyer acts as an advocate on behalf of the child and seeks solutions to resolve the issues between the parents.

Are you a target 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.

Contact a Parental Alienation Attorney Today to Discuss Your Options and Protect Your Rights

We are committed to helping individuals find solutions to these and other problems resulting from family-related legal issues. Call us at 866-465-5395 for assistance.