Children who are going through their parents’ divorce often have to deal with many scenarios they’ve never experienced before. For some, the fighting between their parents is traumatic. It’s possible that a parent will take advantage of this to try to turn the child against the other parent.

When one parent tries to make the children turn against the other, it’s known as parental alienation syndrome. The courts recognize that this isn’t in kids’ best interests. This is why it’s illegal for parents to do this.

What is parent alienation?

Parental alienation is a deeply distressing situation in which one parent, often the custodial parent, attempts to manipulate or undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent. This manipulation can take various forms, including:

  1. Badmouthing: The alienating parent continuously denigrates the other parent in the child’s presence, making false accusations or negative comments about their character, abilities, or behavior.
  2. Limiting Contact: The alienating parent may actively hinder or restrict the child’s contact with the other parent, sometimes even going as far as violating court-ordered visitation schedules.
  3. Manipulation: The alienating parent may use emotional manipulation, such as guilt-tripping or false claims, to turn the child against the other parent.

Impact on Children

Parental alienation can have profound and lasting effects on children caught in the middle of a custody battle. Some of these effects include:

  1. Emotional Distress: Children may experience anxiety, depression, and confusion as they are forced to choose sides between their parents.
  2. Damaged Relationships: Parental alienation can cause long-term damage to the child’s relationship with the targeted parent, often leading to estrangement.
  3. Psychological Consequences: In severe cases, children subjected to parental alienation may carry emotional scars into their adult lives, affecting their self-esteem and ability to form healthy relationships.

Why would a parent turn their children against their co-parent?

Parental alienation is a complex and emotionally charged issue that can arise for a variety of reasons in child custody disputes. While the motivations behind one parent’s attempts to alienate the other can vary from case to case, some common reasons include:

  1. Resentment and Anger: The breakdown of a relationship or marriage can lead to intense negative emotions, such as anger and resentment. In some cases, a parent may use parental alienation as a means of getting back at the other parent for perceived wrongs or to gain a sense of control.
  2. Desire for Sole Custody: Some parents may believe that by alienating the other parent, they can bolster their chances of gaining sole custody of the child. They might think that if the child becomes estranged from the other parent, the court will be more likely to award them full custody.
  3. Fear of Losing Custody: A parent who is concerned about losing custody may resort to parental alienation as a defensive tactic. They may believe that by discrediting the other parent, they can secure their position as the primary caregiver.
  4. Lack of Effective Coping Mechanisms: Coping with the emotional upheaval of a separation or divorce can be extremely challenging. Some parents may lack healthy coping mechanisms and, as a result, engage in destructive behaviors like parental alienation.
  5. Influence from Family or Friends: Sometimes, the extended family or friends of one parent may encourage or even pressure them to engage in parental alienation. This external influence can exacerbate the situation.
  6. Misguided Belief in the Child’s Best Interest: In some cases, a parent may genuinely believe that they are acting in the child’s best interest by distancing them from the other parent. They might mistakenly think that the other parent is harmful or detrimental to the child.

The parent who’s doing this can use various methods to place a wedge between the child and parent, including lying to the child in hopes of brainwashing them. These tactics might begin slowly at first and become more pronounced over time. Unfortunately, they sometimes progress to the point that the child refuses to have anything to do with their other parent.

Addressing and Preventing Parental Alienation

Preventing parental alienation is crucial for the well-being of children and the success of co-parenting arrangements. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Open Communication: Encourage open and respectful communication between both parents. This can help address any underlying issues and reduce the likelihood of alienation.
  2. Mediation: Consider professional mediation or counseling to help parents work through their differences and create a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interest.
  3. Legal Intervention: If parental alienation persists, consult with your attorney and seek court intervention. Judges can order therapy or counseling to address the issue.
  4. Child’s Best Interest: Always prioritize the child’s best interest over personal grievances or animosity. Put the child’s well-being first in all decisions and interactions.

As parents, you must be careful in handling child custody matters to ensure that you’re doing what’s in their best interests. Any parent who’s going through this should ensure that they’re considering how each decision will impact their children. You’ll want to take swift action if parental alienation is part of your child custody situation to ensure that it doesn’t irreparably harm your relationship.