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Signs of Parental Alienation During Divorce


What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is a complex situation that arises when a child becomes estranged from a parent, often due to the manipulation of the other parent. In high-conflict divorces or custody battles, one parent might try to damage the child's relationship with the other parent. This can involve tactics like making negative comments about the other parent, badmouthing their lifestyle choices, or even lying about past events.

Over time, this manipulation can cause the child to develop intense negativity towards the targeted parent. They may unreasonably criticize them, refuse to see them, or even parrot the alienating parent's accusations.

Recognizing the Signs of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a serious issue that can have lasting emotional consequences for both the child and the targeted parent. Signs that your child might be experiencing parental alienation include:

  • Unfounded negativity. Your child expresses intense dislike or anger towards the targeted parent, often without a clear reason.
  • Rigid justifications. Your child has pre-fabricated reasons for not wanting to see the targeted parent, often mirroring the alienating parent's talking points.
  • Lack of empathy. The child shows little to no concern for the targeted parent's feelings, even when they are sad or sick.
  • Black and white thinking. The child sees the targeted parent as all bad and the alienating parent as all good.
  • Borrowed language. Your child uses phrases and criticisms about the targeted parent that seem directly copied from the alienating parent.
  • Campaigning against the alienated parent. The child actively tries to turn others, like friends or family members, against the targeted parent; in this instance, this can be a sign they are mimicking the behavior/practices of the other parent.
  • Severing ties. The child refuses any contact with the targeted parent, even phone calls or video chats.
  • Unrealistic expectations. The child sets impossible standards for the targeted parent's behavior, making reconciliation nearly impossible.
  • A sudden shift in attitude. If the child previously had a good relationship with the targeted parent, a sudden and unexplained shift in attitude can be a sign of alienation. For instance, the child may exhibit signs of anxiety or fear when around the targeted parent, even in a neutral setting, when they previously loved spending time with them.
  • Guilt-tripping the targeted parent. The child blames the targeted parent for the strained relationship, often using guilt to manipulate them.
  • Fabricated memories. The child may accuse the targeted parent of things that never happened, often encouraged by the alienating parent.
  • Isolating the child from the other parent's support system. The alienating parent may limit the child's contact with the targeted parent's family and friends. This isolation helps the alienating parent avoid having the child exposed to positive opinions about the other party.
  • Disrespectful behavior towards the targeted parent. The child may be rude, disrespectful, or even aggressive towards the targeted parent. As we mentioned, they may parrot some of the language the alienating parent uses, which can lead to the child criticizing or being verbally harmful to the targeted party.

How Do Judges React to Parental Alienation?

The courts do not look favorably at parental alienation. Should the alienated parent be able to prove to the court that alienation occurred, judges may admonish the manipulating party. The court may also modify an existing custody order or be swayed in a current custody case.

Remember, the court prioritizes the best interest of the child, and as we mentioned, parental alienation can have a damaging effect on a child. Children who are manipulated away from a loving parent miss out on a crucial relationship and can experience feelings of guilt, confusion, and sadness.

This alienation can lead to difficulty forming healthy attachments in the future and emotional problems down the road. The child may also be deprived of important cultural or familial heritage passed down through the alienated parent.

Ways to Combat Parental Alienation

Parental alienation can make visitation time incredibly difficult. Here are some ways to navigate these visits:

  • Focus on building a positive relationship. Don't engage in arguments or try to force a connection. Plan activities the child enjoys and create a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Show genuine interest in their life and listen without judgment.
  • Maintain consistency. Stick to a routine during your visits, even if it's just small things like having pizza for dinner every other time. Consistency provides a sense of security for a child caught in the middle of conflict.
  • Be patient. Rebuilding trust takes time. Don't expect negativity to disappear overnight. Celebrate small victories and focus on the long game.

If the alienation is severe, involving a therapist specializing in parental alienation can be immensely helpful. They can provide guidance on communication and strategies for rebuilding your relationship with your child.

While a parenting plan can't completely prevent parental alienation, it can include provisions to discourage it. One important addition is a communication clause. This clause can outline expectations for respectful communication between parents, including a ban on badmouthing each other in front of the child.

A communication provision can also establish preferred methods of communication, such as email or a co-parenting app, to minimize conflict and create a clear record of interactions. This can help the alienated parent document any attempts to undermine their relationship with the child and potentially hold the other parent accountable in court if necessary.

Get Legal Counsel

At The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc, our attorneys can help you gather evidence and present your concerns about parental alienation to the court. Whether you are involved in a divorce or child custody case, we can offer you comprehensive, personalized counsel to help you address and combat parental alienation. We can also help you with the other aspects of your divorce case (i.e. property division, spousal support, etc.).

To schedule an initial consultation, reach out to our team at (949) 577-7935.

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