The divorce process is difficult for everyone involved, and that is perhaps most true for children. Younger children often do not understand what divorce is and older children can become resentful. Parents must be aware of the impact divorce can have on their children in order to make the process as easy for children as possible. However, sometimes a marriage deteriorates to a point where there is a lack of communication, or at least a lack of civil communication. Unfortunately, when that happens, it is not uncommon for parents to try and use their children against each other. Sometimes it is not intentional, but other times a parent actively seeks to damage the relationship a child has with the other parent. This is known as parental alienation. When parental alienation occurs, a child can develop what is referred to as parental alienation syndrome.
Common Parental Alienation Behavior
According to Newsweek, parental alienation syndrome was first referenced by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985. While relationships with children are unique to every parent, there are some common types of behavior that indicate parental alienation is taking place. Some of these behaviors include:
- Making derogatory or defamatory statements about the child’s other parent;
- Blaming the child’s other parent for personal misfortunes or unhappiness;
- Making a child feel guilty for enjoying time spent with their other parent;
- Allowing a child to determine whether they want to spend time with the other parent even if a court order is in place;
- Asking a child to choose between one parent and the other;
- Giving incorrect information to the other parent about a child’s activities to prevent the other parent from engaging with the child in those activities;
- Sharing extremely personal information about the relationship between the parents or other personal relationships the alienated parent may be engaged in; and
- Asking a child for detailed information about the other parent’s personal life.
These are only some of the common behaviors a parent may engage in while attempting to alienate a child from the other parent.
Symptoms of Parental Alienation in Children
Dr. Gardner listed eight symptoms of parental alienation that appear in children. According to SocialWorkToday.com, these include:
- Campaign of Denigration: A child becomes consumed with hatred of the targeted parent and refuses to acknowledge positive experiences shared with that parent.
- Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations: A child will make wild accusations to justify their dislike of the alienated parent, or fail to adequately rationalize that dislike.
- Lack of Ambivalence: A child will view the alienating parent as perfect while viewing the alienated parent as completely flawed.
- Independent Thinker Phenomenon: While the child’s dislike of the alienated parent is the result of the alienating parent’s behavior, the child will still insist that the choice to reject the alienated parent is theirs alone.
- Absence of Guilt: The child may exhibit a lack of guilt for the way they treat the alienated parent and may also attempt to gain things from the alienated parent under the guise of being owed what they want and without gratitude for receiving it.
- Reflexive Support for the Alienating Parent: When conflict arises, a child exhibiting symptoms of parental alienation will side with the alienating parent regardless of how absurd that parent’s position might be in the conflict.
- Borrowed Scenarios: A child may make accusations toward the alienated parents using words, phrases, and/or ideas borrowed from the alienating parent that they may not fully understand and without supportive detail.
- Rejection of Extended Family: A child’s behavior toward the alienated parent will often spread to that parent’s extended family, damaging relationships with extended family members.
Some of these signs may be easier to spot than others, and some may just occur in the normal course of a child’s development. If you suspect parental alienation is taking place, you might consider approaching the topic with a child psychologist or other professional who can help determine the source of a child’s negative behavior.
Combatting Parental Alienation
It can be difficult to address parental alienation with the other parent or even with your children. However, there are some steps you can take that can help you combat the damage that can be caused by parental alienation. These include:
- Do Not Alienate the Other Parent: While it will hurt that the child’s other parent has attempted to alienate you, the answer is not to engage in the same behavior. Doing so risks deepening the divide in your relationship with your children as well as causing more stress for everyone involved.
- Avoid Directing Anger at Your Kids: Try to stay as positive as possible when you notice the symptoms of parental alienation creeping up. You are likely going to hear some pretty bad things from your kids, and you may have the urge to lash out at them in anger. Try to remember that your kids have been directed to feel this way by the behavior of their other parent, and being angry with them will not change that.
- Seek Legal Recourse: If your child’s other parent denies you access to the children or makes it difficult for you to contact them, do not stop trying to be present in the child’s life. Continue trying, and seek a legal remedy to issues concerning custody and visitation. If there is a court order in place for custody, then you have the right to ask the court to enforce that order.
- Be a Good Parent: In cases of parental alienation, the other parent often lies about your abilities as a parent and your feelings toward the child. By being present and engaging in meaningful activities with your children, you can help your child realize how valuable their relationship is with you.
These are just some of the ways you can combat parental alienation. If you believe the alienation is unintentional, simply communicating your concerns with the child’s other parent can make a world of difference in all of the relationships involved.
Your relationship with your Florida divorce attorney does not necessarily end when a divorce is finalized. There may be times when you need to return to court, such as to request the modification or enforcement of a custody order. If you have questions or concerns about custody or other divorce issues, or if you are interested in seeking the modification or enforcement of an existing custody order, contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation where you can find out more about what might be involved in the process.