Divorce and custody battles often cause emotions to run high. However, your child could be receiving quietly transmitted messages by both you and your ex-spouse that may cause them to become alienated from one parent.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent, normally the custodial parent, fails to properly use their parental rights responsibly.  A psychological disorder, parental alienation is when either you or your ex-spouse consciously or unconsciously tries to alienate your child from the other parent. 

This is accomplished through persistent behaviors or teachings by the alienating parent, or through brainwashing your child to hate or disrespect the other parent.

What Are Examples of Parental Alienation?

There are many examples of parental alienation. The most common signs are listed below. They include:

  • Giving your child a choice as to whether or not to visit the other parent.
  • Putting up resistance, or outright refusing to allow you to have access to your child’s medical and/or school records, extracurricular schedules, etc.
  • Giving your child explicit details about your marriage and/or divorce and the reasons for the divorce. Generally, the alienating parent will blame the other parent for the breakdown of the marriage.
  • Putting blame about any financial problems on the other parent, the changes in the family lifestyle, breaking up the marriage, and/or having a new partner.
  • Choosing not to be flexible with the visitation schedule in response to your child’s needs, or scheduling. Or, the alienating parent may place your child in so many activities that you don’t get the time to visit with your child.
  • Requiring your child to choose between you and your ex-spouse.
  • Using your child to spy on you or gather any information regarding your life after the divorce.
  • Acting hurt or sad when your child has a good time visiting with you.
  • Making demands upon you that are contrary to the orders of the court.
  • Listening in on your telephone calls between you and your child.
  •  Putting temptations in front of your child that interfere with your visitation.
  •  Badmouthing you in front of your child. This includes calling you derogatory names.
  • Filing allegations of child abuse with the court, and/or constantly dragging you to court over child support or alimony.
  • Not letting your child visit with your extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members.
  • Putting up obstacles to you and your child communicating. This includes blocking you from reviewing school and/or medical records.
  • Refusing to disclose their address.
  • Failing to notify you regarding any medical, educational, or other events regarding your child.
  • Continuously not enforcing visitation with you, claiming your child doesn’t want to see you. 
  • Making your child feel responsible for your or your ex-spouse’s happiness, sometimes to the point your child is protective over the alienating parent as if they were a child.
  • Discussing and/or involving your child in child support, court hearings, or other legal matters your child shouldn’t be involved in.
  • Hanging up on telephone calls if those calls don’t fit into the alienating parent’s agenda.
  • Refusing to communicate with you using fax, email, etc. so there isn’t any evidence of a paper trail.
  • Feeling it’s their right to show up late for your visitation, but insisting that your child must be returned exactly on time.
  • Making your child feel guilty if your child expresses that they want to see you.
  • Instructing your child’s school that you are not to be trusted, interfering, or clearly saying that you have lied to others about them and your child, including placing notes in school files about not allowing you to pick up your child.
  • Trying to completely control your child’s social life.
  • Lying to your child about the divorce, including giving them details that are untrue and impede your child’s ability to love you. 
  • Telling your child that you are abusing, stalking, and/or harassing them to the point of involving the police. This could go as far as the alienating parent filing false allegations of abuse and/or filing complaints with social services.
  • Encouraging your child not to follow the rules at your home.
  • If you give a gift to your child, the alienating parent may refuse to allow it in their home or forbid them to keep it. 
  • Refusing to allow them to take their pet on a visitation with you, even if you are happy to have the pet.
  • Trying to bribe, extort or threaten you into signing court documents that exclude you from your child’s life or do something to enhance the alienating parent’s position.
  • The alienating parent may physically or psychologically try to rescue your child when there isn’t any threat to the child’s safety.
  • Encouraging your child to be angry with you.
  • Encouraging your child to lie to the authorities about how they are treated while with you, even if there isn’t any evidence. 
  • Removing money from your child’s bank account given by you, and not allowing your child to spend it, or the alienating parent hasn’t spent it on your child.

What Can You Do About Parental Alienation?

To begin, it’s important that you document everything if you believe your ex-spouse is trying to alienate you from your children. Keep a calendar with all visitation and missed visitations. In order to combat parental alienation, you should also try to keep your emotions under control. By reacting in anger, you are only reinforcing your ex-spouse’s statements that you are unstable.

Next, it takes an extremely sophisticated mental health professional to identify that your child is suffering from parental alienation. They may require that you, your child, and your ex-spouse take a battery of psychological tests, do a detailed history, and observe all of you together or individually. Once they’ve completed this, they will make recommendations and write a report on the family. Nothing will happen to resolve parental alienation without intervention by the court. 

Get help from an experienced family law attorney to help you. 

Once you have the report from your health professional, you and/or your family law attorney should take the report to the court, which may have to be convinced that your child is being alienated and it’s not in your child’s best interest to remain in that environment. You should also work with your family law attorney to come up with a good parenting plan to show the court how well you would take care of your child.

You should also be prepared to spend some extra money to see your parental alienation complaint through to the end. 

Finally, focus on your child and never talk to your child about your case. Take the high road and never talk badly about your ex-spouse in front of your child. Never show your child any court documents, and don’t let your children hear any inappropriate telephone conversations. 

How Do the Courts View Parental Alienation?

Historically, family law judges tend to be rather conservative when issuing orders. Even in cases where the evidence is overwhelming that your child is being alienated, the court still may say that the best interest of the child is that both parents make decisions.

Family law judges are not inclined to place severe sanctions on the alienating parent. Because there isn’t a threat of fines, jail time, or the alienated parent receiving sole custody, the chances are not great that an out-of-control parent can be stopped.

However, if there’s a dramatic situation where the court orders are broken, this may force the court to change primary custody. It’s often just a matter of time before the alienating parent becomes desperate and goes too far. In that case, the court may start to recognize that the alienating parent is out of line and support you. 

Final Thoughts

Parental alienation is very real and more common than you may think. As your children get older, it may be possible to reverse the alienation with proper psychological therapy.  However, unless the alienating parent is stopped, it can be challenging to overcome.  

Parental alienation cases can be difficult to figure out, even for professionals in the divorce field.  It’s important that you have support from compassionate people while going through this extremely stressful time. While parental alienation isn’t easy, there’s a lot of hope if you take the right steps and behave properly.