Divorce is never easy for everyone involved. It is an emotional and highly charged situation in many cases. This volatility is only made worse when accusations of parental alienation are brought forward by one parent against the other.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is when one parent attempts to brainwash or otherwise turn their child against the other parent. The allegation of parent alienation in a divorce case is a serious matter.
Parental alienation goes way beyond interfering with visitation rights and involves manipulating the child to change their attitude about the other parent. Proving the allegations in court can be difficult, as many judges have yet to acknowledge parental alienation as being a real problem.
Is There a Checklist Regarding Parental Alienation?
In the case of Fielding v Fielding, 2013 ONSC 5102, the mother alleged that the father was turning two of their three children against her. In court, the mother’s attorney called an expert witness who presented 17 alienating strategies that the alienating parent used. This parental alienation checklist has almost become standard in the industry. The checklist includes:
- Talking about the other parent
- Limiting how much contact the alienated parent has with the child
- Interfering with communication either by not allowing the parent to speak with the child or coming up with excuses as to why the child can’t have visitation
- Limiting how many photographs of the alienated parent are allowed and/or limiting how much the alienated parent is brought up in conversation
- Withdrawing love or expressing anger toward the child
- Forcing the child to choose between parents
- Telling the child the other parent doesn’t love them
- Giving the child the impression that the other parent is somehow dangerous
- Telling the child about personal adult and litigation information
- Forcing the child to somehow reject the alienated parent
- Requesting that the child spy on the alienated parent
- Telling the child to keep a secret from the alienated parent
- Asking the child to call the alienated parent by their first name and not Mom or Dad
- Asking the child to call their new step-parent Mom or Dad, and referring to their new spouse as Mom or Dad to the child
- Not allowing medical, social, academic, or other information about the child to be given to the alienated parent, and keeping their name off the records
- Changing the name of the child to remove any association with the alienated parent
- Cultivating a dependency on themselves and undermining the authority of the alienated parent
Some courts now use this checklist to identify parental misconduct that can seriously damage a child’s relationship with one of the parents and may be evidence of parental alienation.
Given how serious an allegation of parental alienation is, a checklist such as the one listed above could be of use to a judge and family law attorneys if it is judicially recognized.
How Do You Combat Parental Alienation?
There’s been a lot of debate as to whether or not parental alienation syndrome rises to the level of a mental illness, and the truth is, it really depends who you ask. However, it’s important to realize that anyone can be taught to learn, hate, love, or feel one way or another about a given person or situation.
If you believe you are a victim of parental alienation, there are a few things you can do in an attempt to combat it. Below is a handy checklist on how to fight against parental alienation. It includes:
Don’t become an alienator yourself. This is one of the most important things to remember when combating parental alienation. It’s only natural to feel under attack or fight back and try to explain yourself. Additionally, you may want to tell your child all of the horrible things the other parent has done. Don’t do it! This is a form of parental alienation as well. Don’t get suckered into responding to false allegations and get in a war of he said versus she said.
Tell your child you love them all the time. Whenever you get to see your child, tell them that you love them and care about them. Tell your child that they are always on your mind. Make your child feel cared about and cherished.
Always use positive language. This is one of the items on the checklist that is the most overlooked by parents. Instead of telling your child “I miss you,” tell them that you can’t wait to see them again. Avoid any negative language, even if it’s subtle. Saying that you miss your child shows regret, which is a negative emotion. By saying that you can’t wait to see them again, you are using positive language and excitement.
Don’t stop trying to make contact with your child – ever. Even if you’re pretty sure your emails, telephone messages, voicemails, etc. are being intercepted and never reaching your child, don’t give up. Changes may not occur in the short term, so keep a journal or calendar of all your efforts to make contact with your child. This could, in the long-term, prove useful for both you and your child when and if they find out the truth.
Keep yourself under control. Find a way to handle your emotions and follow any orders or agreements issued by the court. Don’t give the alienating parent any reason to make you the villain to your children. Keep in mind that an alienating parent doesn’t need any ammunition, because they can always make something up. If they do make something up, this is easier to overcome. While it may be hard to keep your emotions in check, find someone to talk to such as a friend, family member, or therapist.
Don’t blame your child. It’s vital to recognize that your child is a victim in this whole situation. This can be challenging because the alienating parent quite likely has programmed your child to spy on you, challenge you, and report back on everything you said and did, who you talked to, who was at your home, etc. This is not your child’s fault and it’s important that you don’t blame or become angry with them. This type of behavior only feeds into what the alienating parent is telling your child.
Just be yourself. You are enough. Don’t overcompensate. Act as you normally do, and by doing so, you won’t appear to be who the alienating parent is saying you are. Don’t try to be extra-special; just be the caring and loving person you are. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
Keep to your plan. If you have special plans or arrangements that include your child, leave them in place – even if you think the alienating parent will not let you have the children. If you are late or don’t show up even one time, the alienating parent will twist that around and present it as proof to your child that you don’t care about them.
Make memorable moments with your child. Something as simple as talking while on a long walk or doing something with just you and your child such as playing catch, reading a book, or watching a movie can be made into a memorable moment. It’s not about having fun all the time; it’s about creating a memory that will stay with your child throughout their lives.
Hire a team of professionals. By having a team of professionals on your side, you can make your case stronger. You should have a therapist, an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney, scholarly studies on parental alienation, articles, etc. at your fingertips. Keep in mind that any professional you hire should be well-versed in parental alienation so they can advocate for you in court.
In conclusion, parental alienation of a child in any form will more than likely stay with your child throughout their lives. Your child is caught in the middle of a serious situation, and the effects can be long-lasting. Your child may need extensive counseling to overcome the brainwashing to which they’ve been subjected.
Many children become withdrawn, have self-esteem issues, or turn to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with the emotional scars parental alienation causes. It’s important to always be there for your child and support them in any way you can.
The checklist above is there to help you deal with this serious and high-drama situation. When one parent maliciously tries to turn a child against another parent, this is parental alienation. It’s real. It exists. Parental alienation is not just a tactic to gain the upper hand in a bitter custody battle; it is affecting your child in ways that may not manifest themselves for years to come.