Recognizing the Early Signs of Parental Alienation

Many married couples who divorce have children. Most of the time both parents recognize the value of each other in their children’s lives. Yet there are some parents who conduct a campaign of psychological warfare, doing everything they can to turn the child against the other parent. This behavior can happen before, during, or after divorce.

Parental alienation is most common in high-conflict divorces where at least one of the parties has intense anger toward the other. One parent might want to make the other “pay” for real or perceived transgressions by destroying their relationship with their child.

Parents at higher risk of becoming alienators are those with certain personality disorders like extreme narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. A former spouse who shifted the blame on the other person and never compromised is also more likely to try to turn the child against the other parent.

Parental Alienation Can Begin Subtly

The strategy to drive a wedge between parent and child can start in very small ways. Perhaps visitation needs to be cut short because the child has a birthday party to attend. Next, summer camp conflicts with parental time. Over time, these excuses become more common. Soon, the child begins to push away when they are with the other parent. Sometimes, they lash out at the parent.

Unbeknownst to the alienated parent, their former spouse has been feeding the child a steady stream of lies and exaggerations.

Changes in a child’s behavior can be a sign that one parent is manipulating their relationship with the other parent:

  • The child starts to resist spending time with the other parent.
  • The child begins to be hostile toward the other parent.
  • The child takes extreme action like running away to avoid being with the other parent.
  • The child says hurtful things to one parent while idealizing the other parent.

A child exhibiting these behaviors may have the childhood disorder parental alienation syndrome (PAS). The syndrome, originally coined by American psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gardner, focuses on the child’s behavior. Their hatred of the other parent is part of a campaign of denigration of one parent by the other.

Parental alienation refers more to the behaviors of the parent, such as the following:

  • Defying court orders
  • Blaming the other parent for the divorce
  • Making nasty comments about the other parent
  • Falsely accusing the other parent of abuse
  • Buying the child’s devotion
  • Telling the child that the other parent abandoned them

In ways big and small, the other parent slowly teaches the child to distrust and dislike their other parent.

Take Early Action to Combat Parental Alienation

Both parents need the flexibility to make small, temporary shifts in visitation. There will be doctor’s visits, athletic programs, music recitals, and other conflicts. That should be expected on occasion.

When a pattern develops and the child’s behavior changes, seek advice from one of our experienced attorneys. Without proper intervention, the child will adopt the attitude and feelings of the alienating parent.

If parental alienation is suspected, consider following this advice:

  • Don’t retaliate against the other parent
  • Speak with a licensed therapist
  • Document missed visitation or other violations
  • Collect evidence such as emails, texts, or social media posts

With the help of an attorney, targeted parents can take steps to push back against alienating behavior.

Children Are Hurt by Alienating Behavior

The alienating parent is often too caught up in their own hatred to see that their actions are not just hurting their former partner. The child is negatively impacted in both the short and long term.

The effects on a child include the following:

  • Reduced ability to establish and maintain future relationships
  • Diminished self-image
  • Heightened guilt and depression
  • Decreased impulse control
  • Increased behavioral and learning difficulties at school

Keeping a child from a loving relationship with both parents hurts everyone involved.

It should be noted that there are circumstances when a parent should have limited or no access to a child. Domestic violence and drug/alcohol abuse are examples of when a parent must protect their children through court action.

Legal Support to Defend Against Parental Alienation

The most important connection you can have is your relationship with your child. You and your child are buoyed by the emotional support, love, and affection. If you believe your former partner is trying to turn your child against you, talk to us as soon as possible. At Jason M. Barbara & Associates, P.C., we will offer specific steps to counteract the alienating behaviors and hold your ex accountable.

Don’t back down if your former partner is manipulating your relationship with your child. Schedule a free consultation with one of our seasoned attorneys by calling (516) 406-8381.