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Parental Alienation during a Divorce or Custody Dispute

On Behalf of | Nov 29, 2022 | Family Law

Unfortunately, when custody disputes occur, one or more adults opposing others sometimes attempt to alienate children from their perceived opposition. This may be due to a host of emotions resulting from insecurity, anger, or even misplaced intentions. While the term “Parental Alienation” may, therefore, imply the specific involvement of just biological parents, in practice, it encompasses a far broader spectrum of negative adult behavior, all of which is poisonous to children. It can involve divorcing parents, separating partners, grandparents seeking custody, and even step-parents who have grown to love a child. Quite often, when a child’s resistance or hostility toward another caregiver suddenly occurs for no apparent reason, it may very well be the result of psychological manipulation by another adult involved in that child’s life.

When viewed through the lens of a Family Law dispute, this practice may take one of two forms or a combination of both. At times one caregiver may badmouth another, either in their presence or when they are alone with the children, in more subtle ways. On other occasions, that same caregiver might try to lavish extra praise on a child, provide gifts, or special privileges, to win over the child to “their side.”

Divorce and separation can involve feelings of betrayal and even hatred of an opposing party, causing one parent to engage in such conduct. The result, unfortunately, can manifest itself in children refusing to spend time with, or becoming fearful of, their other parent. Under such conditioning, adolescents may also deny past positive experiences; display a lack of remorse for hurting one parent’s feelings; repeat an opposing parent’s negative or demeaning words or phrases without even understanding them; lie; keep secrets; exhibit defiant behavior; or take up for only one parent, in effect choosing one over the other.

The interesting adjunct to some claims of parental alienation, however, is that adults who claim to be affected by such behavior, to blame the other parent, may have actually instigated it through their actions leading children to respond defensively. Adult dysfunctional behaviors include emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; abandonment; alcoholism; drug addiction; and/or sociopathic behavior. Any of these conditions can also result in adolescent reactions mimicking parental alienation, which nonetheless also results in great harm to the children who are exposed to it. Early detection and functional intervention must be taken in such cases. If you observe and fear that this may be occurring, you should immediately consult an experienced family law attorney to seek their advice and counsel.

Some Early Warning Signs of Parental Alienation

Many studies and articles have been analyzed and written about the indicators of parental alienation. It generally develops and evolves over some time. And perhaps you may have heard the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Well, indeed, in this instance, it is very important to monitor both the actions of the adult(s) you suspect are promoting alienation against you, as well as the early warning signs exhibited by children who are being manipulated. Look out for:

  • Poor Co-Parenting
  • A Complaining or Withdrawing Child
  • The Suddenly Uncaring or Adultlike Adolescent
  • The Child Who Levels False Allegations of Harm

Poor Co-parenting

Poor co-parenting can be observed when the child’s other conservator will not reasonably work with you. Quite often, when an alienating parent refuses to be around you, emotes anger or criticism, or even makes false accusations against you in the child’s presence, or with the knowledge that the child is listening, can induce sympathetic negative feelings in the child. Non-verbal cues, including dismissive gestures such as rolling one’s eyes, or shaking their head at you, can also influence a child’s behavior. Finally, it should again be stated that when alienating parties make a great effort to portray themselves in a good light, basically as the “Disneyland Parent,” this can indirectly draw a child away from their other parent.

A Complaining or Withdrawing Child

A child who is complaining or withdrawing can be an indication that parental alienation has begun. This may be evidenced when a child suddenly cannot provide a basis for their complaints or begin to voice unreasonable rationalizations for their behavior. Also, a child may state they don’t wish to see you as much or stay overnight. Many times, when children become withdrawn or reluctant to talk under such circumstances, they additionally may express nonsensical reasons for not wanting to see the alienated parent.

The Suddenly Uncaring or Adultlike Adolescent

A child who seems suddenly begins to be adultlike or uncaring can be uncharacteristically disrespectful, state horrible things to one parent, or exhibit an absence of guilt. Children experiencing such symptoms will often utilize the excuse that they have developed such feelings on their own without the influence of or input from others. Another symptom of this type is quite often evidenced by children who begin to start calling one parent by their first name rather than “mom” or “dad.”

The Child Who Levels False Allegations of Harm Against One Parent

This phenomenon might involve claims of either psychological or physical abuse, which may never have taken place. Such claims may even extend toward other adults associated with the alienated parent, such as their spouse, again whether the accused have done anything wrong or not. It should be pointed out, however, that this more extreme behavior usually manifests itself in the latter stages of parental alienation, but it should not be taken lightly. Generally, it occurs when a child has developed a great deal of hatred or animosity toward the alienated parent, such that they even want to hurt other loved ones.

Resulting Effects of Parental Alienation on Children

Parental Alienation has wrought many devastating and life-altering burdens upon hundreds of thousands of children in our country. It will continue to do so until so many misguided and uninformed adult caretakers wise up to the fact that by using children as a weapon, they are participating in seriously harming their young ones, qualitatively for life. We all should make ourselves more informed and educated about this fact. Adolescents impacted by Parental Alienation:

  • often end up in a string of conflicting behavior, not just with their parents but with others, they associate with.
  • can develop low self-esteem, loneliness and isolation, self-hatred, lack of trust, and a lack of friends.
  • also can develop sleep problems, poor eating habits (leading to weight gain or loss), or eating disorders.
  • generally perform worse in school and other activities… more seriously are prone to depression, substance abuse, and addiction.
  • quite often lose the capacity to give and accept love, not just from the alienated parent. Still, they are also prone to develop conflicted or distant relationships with others. They are at high risk of becoming alienated from their children in the future as they fail to understand family relationships.

Parental Alienations Effect on Targeted Parents & Other Adults

Although the effects of Parental Alienation are most alarming when viewed regarding children of all ages, this insidious act of manipulation also affects the adult lives around them.

Parental Alienation also often leads to:

  • devaluation of a parent’s actual role in life.
  • a sense of shame due to the loss or a lack of access to one’s children or grandchildren.
  • stress and depression in targeted parents and extended family members, including grandparents.
  • in addition, even the alienated parent’s friends may experience a sudden and confusing loss of connection, not only to the children involved, who may have had relationships with their children but to the alienated parent him or herself.

Legally Identifying and Preventing Parental Alienation

When Parental Alienation is identified early, and the affected party secures competent legal help, the opportunity to limit its effects on everyone involved is greatly enhanced. Our entire staff is well-versed in this fight, and yes, it needs to be won. Every case is different and, indeed, as mentioned above, some clients come to us having been accused themselves of such tactics, yet their children’s behavior in this regard has actually occurred due to the dysfunctional or sociopathic actions on the part of their spouse, and they need help in proving this, as well as
save their children. Izzo & Associates has developed a host of safeguards that can be utilized in either type of case. Some suggestions include the following:

  • staying in contact with the child’s other custodian, as well as the child, if you are able. Be polite and calm and ask the other custodian why they think the child’s behavior may have changed. Then, when you see your child, do not mention the other caregiver, but ask the child what may be bothering them. Keep notes of dates and facts to yourself.
  • if the other parent has ended or curtailed your contact, inquire why this is happening in writing. If visits are sporadic or less frequent, ask for makeup time and try to pose some sensible solutions. Again, keep notes of dates and facts, as well as all emails and texts displaying your calm and reasoned approach, along with your legitimate worry and concern. Remember, your legal counsel can present all of this later as evidence in court if necessary.
  • If all of this destabilizes you, do not hesitate to locate a counselor who will help you get through these thorny issues and keep you stable and emotionally ready to confront the task at hand. A therapist can also become an expert witness in court as to your stability.

Engage an experienced Family Law firm for legal counsel regarding your exact case fact pattern as early as possible. In such situations, we not only can provide specific guidance for our clients, but we always establish a strategy to address the advent of alienation and how to combat or end it. Engaging counsel early can make all the difference in not only saving your relationship with your child but in halting any psychological effects that your child may be suffering. Indeed, in many cases, our immediate legal intervention causes the alienating parent to back down, or if necessary, we can engage the court’s help to intervene in the best interests of your child.

The Texas Family Code is based on a ‘Child’s Best Interest Standard. Our laws prove that your child needs the love and support of both parents. Our firm is adept at identifying both your and your children’s needs, implementing a sound strategy to solve each issue as quickly and efficiently as possible while working with our clients as a team, keeping them in the loop, and educating them as to the best measures which they can take to move on with their lives. In addition, there are a host of other professionals who we utilize in cases involving parental alienation, such as counselors for the children; reunification therapists to heal any rift with your child; ad litem appointments by the court to protect your children while a case is progressing; and even Parenting Facilitators who can stand ready in the future to intervene, if necessary, even after a legal case has ended.

You can check out our page on Parental Alienation for more information or take a look at this PDF on how Parental Alienation can be Emotional Child Abuse.