Parental alienation is a problem that is present in more than 10% of custody cases. It’s a problem because judges are not trained in how to deal with it and how to address it.  Read on to learn more about parental alienation and what you should do if it’s affecting your custody case or your child.

First, parental alienation is caused by one parent indoctrinating or manipulating the child to turn against the other parent. They accomplish this in any number of ways. There’s a lot of lies and manipulation. The lies might be as simple as “your parent did this to you when you were little and you don’t remember”, “your parent did this to me”, “you can no longer have piano lessons or swimming lessons because that parent won’t pay”, etc. It might be lies like that. It might be worse lies saying that you’re a bad morally corrupt person.

There’s manipulation, where the parent may look to become more of the child’s friend and turn say bad things such as “your other parents should not have scolded you” or, “they shouldn’t have punished you”. There’s an alliance between the alienator and the child that is inappropriate. The alienator may also ask the child to choose – “Do you love me? Or do you love your other parent?” It’s one or the other and of course the child is going to pick the alienator. It can be damaging psychologically to the child when one parent looks to turn the child against the other parent. The child bond with the parent is extremely important for the well development and mental health of your child. And it is destroyed by the act of alienation.

It’s important that you recognize alienation when it’s occurring. It’s not hard to miss. There are ways to tell if your child’s being alienated against you. For instance, your child goes from loving you to hating you. They may even actually say to you, “I hate you”. They stop trusting you. And you know this, you’ll see your child spying on you. When you’re talking or writing something or looking at the computer, your child will say embarrassing things to you out in public just to hurt you. They’re not going to listen to you. They may accuse you of being a bad person of being hateful disobedient. They will threaten you. They will stop coming to visit you. They’ll say I don’t feel safe with you all horrible hateful things. The

Important thing that you have to remember is the behavior is the result of the other parent, not of the child and you can’t blame the child or ask the child to react maturely. Your child is being hurt emotionally.

Children of who have been alienated very often suffer their whole lifetime with depression, anxiety, and/or self-hatred. There’s a higher elevated risk of suicide. It requires intervention. If you believe your child’s being alienated against you, you are probably right and you have to take action.

The Seven Things You Should Not Do

The first thing you need to know is there are about seven things that you cannot do. The first one is don’t challenge the child’s belief – don’t think that you can just rationalize it with comments like “Well, you loved me yesterday. What did I do that caused you to hate me today?” Don’t ask the child to rationalize his or her emotions. They’re being damaged. They’re in a perpetual state of confusion. You’re not going to get anywhere. You’ll probably make the problem worse. Don’t argue with the child. Even if the behavior is that bad, just leave the child to exhibit the behavior and ignore it. As hard as it may be, it’s the better thing – don’t say “Who told you that?” – all you are doing is creating or furthering that divide. You know who told the child – don’t ask, it’s tempting, but don’t personalize or internalize your child’s behavior.

There’s a part of you that knows if the kids being manipulated, even though your feelings are hurt, this is not about you. It cannot about be about you. You have to be mature and you have to defend your child. So don’t do that. Don’t challenge the other parent. Don’t go to the other parent and say, “You’re hurting our kid. Stop it.” You’re just going to make matters worse. Don’t challenge the other parent don’t get angry and don’t allow other people who may be well intended. Family members don’t allow them to talk to your child to try to make it better. It’s a problem that needs to be dealt with professionally.

Things You Should Do

There are things that you should do. You should absolutely be consistent. You should maintain your same access schedule. Say you have your child on a week, on week off basis – no matter how miserable that week is with your child, you should maintain the access schedule that you have. You should be consistent – be consistent in how you react to the child’s bad behavior. You should make sure that your home is safe for the child. And I don’t mean childproof locks, I mean, emotionally safe that your child’s not going to be challenged that your child has room to decompress, to be alone, to explore. Make sure you have a safe home for your child. You might try to make peace with the other parent. Apologize if there’s something that they think you did wrong, even if you don’t think you did wrong, if you could create peace, chances are you might be able to overcome some of the obstacles. But I think the most important thing that you have to do is to involve the help of an experienced well educated reunification therapist. It’s a very complex dynamic that gets put in motion when the parental bonds are destroyed and need to be fixed. You might actually meet resistance from the other parent, that there’s a good chance that you’re not going to be able to get this under control and that you’re going to have to litigate.

If You Have to Litigate

So let’s take a look at that. If you have to litigate and the issue of parental alienation is in your custody case, you need to prepare for trial long before the other parent (the alienator) knows that you’re planning to go to trial. What you are looking for is you’re looking for evidence of the alienation that the other parent is alienating and that your child has been, or is being harmed. So you look at things like the text messages. Try to download your kid’s phone, get those text messages, especially the text messages between your child and the alienator. Same with emails – especially that between the alienator and your child. Look at your child’s social media accounts and download as much of that as you can. Look at your child’s communications with their other friends. You may also try to do some research – find attorneys who have experience dealing with parental alienation in their custody case. So you know that these concerns are going to be addressed.

If you are lucky enough to have your child working with a reunification therapist, you may ask for who’s a specialist who can explain to and train the court in what’s involved in parental alienation – that parental alienation exists here and how it’s best to respond to the alienation. It is a very specific harm to a child, and it’s very specific actions that have to be taken. Without taking these actions, you are risking having a judge completely unfamiliar with parental alienation, make a decision that is going to be harmful to your child.

The attorneys at Pare & Associates have more than 50 years of experience in domestic litigation and with parental alienation. For more than 30 years, we have helped clients in Germantonwn, Gaithersburg, and throughout Montgomery and the surrounding counties with legal services in Family Law, Estate Planning, Criminal Defense, Bankruptcy, and Personal Injury.