One of the custody factors both attorneys and judges remain on the lookout for is signs of parental alienation. This concept sounds invented, but it is a real problem that can manifest in two ways:
1. One parent attempts to turn the child against the other parent.
2. A child rejects one parent due to the other parent’s views.
The presence one or the other will raise flags for the Court and will certainly cause a Judge to reconsider his opinion if it is bad enough. I can go on at length about the negative impacts this has on your custody case, but it is my hope that you know by now not to do this. And if you didn’t already know, now you do. Instead of lecturing you about how to behave, which trust me, for some parties, it is well worth the mention, I thought about approaching this topic with the estranged parent in mind.
What do you do if you have bad blood?
The easy answer is to do nothing- to roll with the punches and hope that you can rebuild your relationship later.
I hate that answer. It is so passive that it has the ability to add even more fuel to the fire. If you are in the first scenario, this plays out with the other parent telling the child “see, I told you she doesn’t care about you”. In the second, the child arrives at that conclusion internally. The easy answer is to give up.
I’m willing to bet that if you’ve found your way to my blog, you aren’t interested in simply giving up. Passivity reeks of apathy, and nothing loses custody more quickly than “I don’t care”. Well, that’s not entirely accurate; some things DO lose you your kids quicker than a general lack of caring: abuse.
****If you or someone you know is in a situation that is dangerous or harmful, or if someone you know is dangerous and harmful, stop reading this and seek help immediately. I always recommend starting with contacting your local law enforcement. ****
I don’t want to dive too deeply into the darkness, so I’m going to keep these scenarios light. I think you have discovered by now that you don’t need your fists to abuse your kid, especially if your youngster is emotionally sensitive. Sometimes, it’s verbal. It might be mental or emotional. My point is, it isn’t always obvious, and it isn’t always your intention. Not all of it even classifies as abuse. If abuse is present, it obviously must stop immediately. But like I said, it isn’t always obvious, and it isn’t always abuse.
So, what can you do if you think you are the victim of parental alienation?
Step 1: Analyze.
Maybe the problem really is you. Maybe it is your relationship with a new partner. Perhaps there is a communication breakdown within your relationship with your child. Analyze why you think your child may be acting out against you, and mentally remove the other parent from the scenario. Does your 6 year old cry for over an hour when you discipline him? It’s possible that method of discipline is too harsh for him. Does your 17 year old daughter adamantly refuse to come to your house during your custody time? Perhaps she is hurt because you expressed concern about her weight and she is internally struggling with body image issues. There are so many scenarios that we could come up with, but try to get to the bottom of why your child is acting against you, and try very hard to think of reasons that could be beyond the other parent.
Step 2: Ask what’s up.
Even if you have a hypothesis from step 1, have a conversation with your child, and do it from a loving, concerned place. Do not assume to know how they feel, but use phrases such as “I have noticed that you seem to be unhappy when you have to come here. Are you unhappy to come over? Why?” and make sure they know that they can be honest without hurting your feelings. They may tell you something you never even considered. Or they may tell you exactly what you thought- that Mommy doesn’t like your new girlfriend and so they don’t like her either. It’s always better to ask rather than assume.
Step 3: Brainstorm remedies.
Once you can identify what the problem is, you can work towards a solution. Maybe you’ve found that parental alienation did not influence your child’s behavior. Maybe you need to have a discussion about your new husband, or why your 8 year old can’t play video games until 11pm. Maybe you need to manage your anger better, or discipline them more gently. Even if steps 1 and 2 were a bust, think of things to improve your relationship. Maybe you can incorporate more quality time into your visits. If they don’t want to talk to you, do fun activities that require limited communication. Sharing an experience will help to bring you closer.
Step 4: Discuss your concerns.
If you have an attorney, speak with them about this issue- run ideas past them and get their perspective. I love clients to tell me what they’ve observed and their proposed solutions. Speaking with your attorney will give you a new perspective or comfort in handling the situation. If you have a relationship with the other parent, or if you have a “working” relationship with the other parent, try to express your concerns. Come out with a white flag waving so they know you aren’t picking a fight. Being calm and vulnerable will help. “I was thinking about why Jack didn’t want to come with me the other day, and after speaking with him, I realized that he has some very negative and off the wall feelings about my new relationship. I know that it is going to be an adjustment, but has he mentioned anything to you about it? What are your thoughts?” Even if you know that the other parent is the one putting thoughts into your child’s head, they might not know it. And if they do, the last thing they want is to hear about it from you. Calm and vulnerable.
Step 5: Therapy.
Individual, family, group, it doesn’t matter. Therapy is an option before, after, and in-between all of these steps. There is absolutely no shame in seeking therapy, and being the person to suggest it shows great initiative- to be the one wanting to fix things.
This obviously was not an exhaustive list. For more specific information or more steps you can take in your own case, contact my firm at firstname.lastname@example.org. Parental alienation is a real problem, but it might not be the only issue worth resolving, and I am happy to help however I can.
This article was written by writer and content strategist, K. Gleason.
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