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Parental Alienation

Have you ever felt like you are being pushed away from your own child?

Have you ever felt like you are being pushed away from your own child, and there is nothing you can do about it? Is your ex-spouse constantly trying to cut you off from your child’s life, planting seeds of doubt and hatred in their mind? These could be signs of parental alienation, a form of psychological abuse where one parent intentionally turns their child against the other parent.

 In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what parental alienation is and its impact on a child’s well-being. We’ll also explore some available legal actions that alienated parents can pursue to address this issue.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation refers to the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent against the other. This type of behavior can occur during or after a divorce or separation when one parent tries to create conflict between the child and the other parent. 

This parent’s behavior is often associated with high-conflict custody disputes, where one parent uses the child as a weapon to hurt the other. In severe cases of parental alienation,  the child may completely reject the targeted parent and refuse to have any contact with them. This can lead to long-term damage to the parent-child relationship.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

The term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) was first introduced by an American child psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Gardner, in the 1980s. He described it as a disorder that occurs when one parent actively turns the child against the other parent through various alienating behaviors such as bad-mouthing, brainwashing, limiting contact, and manipulating the child’s emotions. PAS is not recognized as a valid diagnosis in the mental health community, but the concept of parental alienation is widely accepted.

Causes of  Parental Alienation

There are various reasons why parental alienation may occur, and here are the most common ones:

  • High-conflict divorce:  When a marriage ends, it can result in extreme conflict, anger, and resentment between the couple. This can lead to one parent trying to turn the child against the other by making false accusations, blaming them for the divorce, and creating an unhealthy environment for the child.
  • Narcissistic behavior: Narcissists often have a strong sense of self-image and desire to be in control. Therefore, when faced with a divorce or separation, they may manipulate their children by painting themselves as the victim and the other parent as bad or unworthy.
  • Relational problems: Parental alienation can also occur when there are pre-existing issues in the relationship between the child and the alienated parent. This could be due to neglect, abuse, or a lack of emotional connection.
  • Remarriage:  In some cases, parental alienation can occur when a stepparent enters the picture. The biological parent may feel threatened by the new relationship and try to turn their child against their former spouse in an attempt to gain control or seek revenge.

Types of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation encompasses various tactics used by one parent to control a child’s feelings, thoughts, or behavior toward the other parent.

These actions can range from subtle remarks to overt manipulations. So, now that you understand what parental alienation is, we can take a look at some of the most common tactics.

1. Encouraging the child to speak negatively about the targeted parent. 

This can include making derogatory remarks about the parent, spreading false rumors or lies on social media, and using negative language, criticism, or blame.

2. Limiting contact between the child and the targeted parent 

This could involve creating various excuses to prevent the child from spending time with the targeted parent, such as scheduling activities during the other parent’s parenting time/withholding visitation rights, or discouraging communication between the child and the other parent. In extreme cases, the alienating parent may even relocate with the child without informing the other parent.

3. Parentification

Parentification occurs when a child must take on a parental role, often due to a guardian burdening them with emotional responsibilities or sharing inappropriate details about parental conflict. This places the child in an adult-like role for which they are unprepared, blurring the boundaries between parent and child and causing undue stress. The child may also feel compelled to take sides, no longer acting as an impartial party but feeling responsible for protecting one parent from the other. This form of manipulation constitutes a form of child abuse that may require years of intensive therapy to address.

4. False Allegations

Many alienating parents resort to making false allegations against the targeted parent in an attempt to discredit them and turn the child against them. This can include unsubstantiated claims of all forms of domestic violence, such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or inappropriate behavior towards the child. Such accusations are not only damaging to the targeted parent’s reputation but also cause great emotional distress for both the parent and the adult children.

5. Gaslighting

Most people are familiar with the concept of gaslighting. It’s when an individual constantly questions another person’s reality, leading to feelings of doubt and uncertainty.

With this tactic, the manipulating parent will distort their child’s perception of the world. They can do that by denying events or experiences that they had with the other parent.

By invalidating the child’s memories, they instill confusion, which will drive a wedge between them and the targeted parent.

6. Alienation by Rewards or Punishment

This manipulation tactic uses rewards and punishments to influence the child’s behavior toward the alienated parent.

For instance, the manipulator may offer the child gifts or special privileges for rejecting or showing disdain toward the other parent.

Conversely, they may impose punishments like withdrawal of privileges or a lack of affection when the kid shows interest in the targeted parent.

By doing that, the manipulator is effectively conditioning the child to stay away from the other guardian.

How Parental Alienation Can Affect Children and Parents

Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse, and it can have severe consequences not only on the child’s relationship with the rejected parent but also on the child’s overall well-being. 

Here, we will discuss the impact on both parties:

Effects on the Alienated Child:

  • Emotional distress: Children who are victims of parental alienation may experience negative feelings such as anger and low self-esteem, and this can also lead to mental disorders such as anxiety and depression due to the strain of being caught in the middle of their parent’s conflict.
  • Confusion and guilt: Manipulating a child’s perception of their other parent can cause confusion and guilt, as they are forced to choose sides in a conflict that is not theirs.
  • Trust Issues: Children who have experienced parental alienation may struggle with trust issues in their relationships, as they may have difficulty trusting others due to the betrayal and manipulation from their own parents. This can impact their ability to form healthy relationships in the future.
  • Loss of a healthy relationship with the alienated parent: Continual exposure to negative remarks or false allegations about the alienated parent can damage the child’s relationship with them and make it difficult for them to trust or have a healthy relationship in the future.

Effects on the Alienated Parent:

The estrangement from one parent can also affect the child’s relationships with other family members, such as grandparents and other siblings. It can create a sense of division within the family and cause long-term damage to their overall support system. 

Below are some potential impacts:

  • Emotional distress: Being alienated from one’s child can cause immense emotional pain, leading to feelings of isolation, helplessness, anger, and even depression. The constant rejection from their child can also negatively affect the alienated parent’s self-esteem.
  • Damaged relationship with the child: The alienated parent may also experience a damaged relationship with their child due to the negative influence and manipulation of the other parent.
  • Financial strain: In cases where child support payments are involved, the alienated parent may struggle with financial strain due to the lack of support from their ex-partner.
  • Legal battles: Parental alienation can also result in legal consequences for the parent who is engaging in such behavior. They may face fines, jail time, or even loss of custody rights. 

Legalities of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a serious issue that can have long-lasting effects on the child, the targeted parent, and even other family members. As such, it has become a hotly debated topic in family law.

In most custody cases, the court’s primary goal is to ensure the best interests of the child are met. 

Here are some legal actions that alienated parents can pursue to address the issue of parental alienation.

1. Mandated Reunification

If a person can prove in court that their co-parent is actively alienating them from their child, they can ask for a mandated reunification.

The judge will allow the targeted parent to spend time with the young one under the supervision of the court.

This will give them a chance to reconnect and rebuild their relationship without the interference of the manipulative or abusive parent.

2. Modification of Custody and Visitation Orders

Typically, a family court issues custody orders based on the best interest of the child. 

For instance, if a couple divorces and one moves out, the displaced party may not be able to provide a stable environment for their child while seeking permanent residence. 

In this scenario, the judge may grant the parent temporary custody while also providing visitation rights to the other guardian. However, if one parent manipulates the parenting plan to the detriment of the other, the custody arrangement can be modified. 

In these cases, the targeted parent can request a change in custody to become the primary custodial parent or ask for increased visitation time.

The court conducts a custody evaluation to determine the best course of action for the child.

3. Guardian ad Litem or Evaluations

Sometimes, it’s tricky to prove that deliberate alienation is taking place. That’s because the targeted parent can’t back up any claims in a court of law.

Yet, this doesn’t mean that the child isn’t being manipulated. In that case, the alienated parent can ask for a guardian ad litem.

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court-appointed individual who serves as the child’s representative in custody litigation. The GAL conducts an evaluation that may include psychological testing, interviews, and observations of both parents and the child. 

It involves gathering information about family dynamics and the child’s relationship with each parent and making recommendations to the court based on their findings. These assessments are conducted exclusively by legal professionals such as psychologists, social workers, or mental health professionals with expertise in family dynamics and child psychology. 

If the GAL finds evidence of manipulation or abuse, they may recommend court-ordered therapy or counseling for the child and the alienating parent. 

4. Treatment, Counseling, and Support Groups

In cases of parental alienation, it’s not just the parent-child relationship that suffers. The entire family unit is affected by the manipulation and denigration tactics one parent uses against the other.

Reunification therapy can help mend broken relationships between the alienating parent and child. It involves a series of treatment sessions to improve communication and build trust between the two parties. Family therapy can also benefit the entire family, allowing everyone involved to heal and move forward positively.

In addition, counseling for both the alienated parent and child can be crucial in understanding and addressing the underlying issues causing parental alienation. Support groups specifically for alienated parents can also provide a sense of community and support during this difficult time.

Violating Court Orders

If the manipulative parent fails to follow orders regarding the reunification of the alienated child and the targeted parent, the court can intervene.

For starters, it can charge the violating party with contempt of the court. In that case, they may have to pay fines or face other legal consequences.

Besides that, a judge may decide to alter the child custody agreement to ensure that both parents have an equal chance to connect and build a relationship with their child.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, parental alienation is a complex and damaging issue that affects all parties involved. Not only does it harm the child’s mental and emotional well-being, but it also takes a toll on the targeted parent’s mental health and financial stability.

It is crucial for all involved parties, including the court system and mental health professionals, to recognize and address parental alienation promptly. It is also essential for alienated parents to seek support and resources to help them cope with this traumatic experience and potentially take legal action against the alienator. 

By acknowledging and addressing parental alienation, we can work towards promoting healthy relationships between children and both of their parents and, ultimately, the child’s well-being.

Parental Alienation Topics:

Associated Clinical Signs: