Currently, very few concrete parental alienation laws exist in the United States. Thankfully, courts still take parental alienation under consideration in divorce and custody issues. By taking the proper steps and working with existing laws to prove you are a victim of parental alienation, you can ensure your children’s safety and protect them – and yourself – from the consequences of parental alienation.
What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is the process of one parent psychologically manipulating children against the other parent. If successful, this type of manipulation can greatly complicate issues such as custody and visitation rights of both parents. It can also have serious negative results on your children’s psychological and emotional welfare, and effectively change their perceptions about the alienated parent.
Parental alienation often emerges in contested divorce cases, during which one parent attempts to get custody of the children over the other. It is also commonly found among parents who wish to modify their current custody arrangements by manipulating the children’s testimonies and wishes.
Parental Rights and Parental Alienation Law
Before a divorce or custody battle, each parent has a right to see their children. This can change in cases of abuse, criminal charges, and other potential dangers that one parent may present. When custody meetings or litigation take place, an arrangement is decided among the couple or a judge, depending on the level of animosity between the two parents.
Parental alienation, then, can seriously influence a parent’s rights to see their children. In fact, it can appear in a number of ways to interfere with custody arrangements, including:
- The children may testify against the alienated parent. Children who are influenced by parental alienation are essentially brainwashed to dislike the alienated parent. They might be able to testify against the alienated parent and ruin any chances they have of gaining custody.
- Slander or lies can influence the alienated parent’s character or reputation. Parental alienation often involves feeding the children lies about the other parent. If these allegations are brought up in court or confirmed by the influenced children, it could prove detrimental to the alienated parent’s character and influence their chances of getting custody.
- The children could be placed in a dangerous situation. If the alienating parent convinces the children that they are safe with them and unsafe with the other parent, when actually the contrary is true, it’s possible the alienating parent will be given custody. This could subject the children to any number of dangers, especially if the alienating parent abuses drugs or alcohol, or doesn’t provide optimal care for the children.
Because parental alienation constantly places the children’s wellbeing at risk, other countries like Canada have formed laws to prevent it from happening. Unfortunately, parental alienation law in America is currently nonexistent. However, this does not mean courts fail to consider parental alienation in a range of cases.
Current Parental Alienation Law in the United States
Although parental alienation law in the United States is minimal at best, that doesn’t stop courts from trying to prevent it or taking it into consideration. There have been a number of cases in the past couple decades that demonstrate this, including:
- Schulz v. Schulz. In 1991, a Florida judge ordered an alienating parent to cease speaking badly about the alienating parent. This case effectively prevented parental alienation rather than trying to repair future damage.
- Spencley v. Spencley. In 2000, a Michigan court found that both parents were guilty of parental alienation and were both working against the best interests of their children. The court removed the children from both parents and charged them with crimes such as neglect and child abuse.
In addition to trying to combat parental alienation within the home, many courts now recognize “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” or PAS, as evidence of parental alienation, or child abuse. PAS details specific symptoms in children that can result from parental alienation, although it is not a diagnosable condition. When added to other evidence, PAS can greatly impact the court’s decision regarding custody. It is also like that PAS will play a critical role in future parental alienation law, especially if it becomes a legitimate psychological illness.
How to Prove Parental Alienation
Parental alienation law may be lacking currently in the United States, but it’s important to keep in mind that you can still utilize parental alienation symptoms as well as PAS symptoms to help your case against the alienating parent. Also consider the following when trying to prove parental alienation.
First, be sure to collect any witnesses who could help testify in your favor. If your children are exhibiting signs of being brainwashed against you by their other parent, it’s likely that their teachers, daycare assistants, doctors, or other professionals who interact with them have witnessed these symptoms. Speak with these professionals, explain your concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask them if they will back you up in court.
When interacting with potential witnesses, try to leave your children out of the process as much as possible, especially if you strongly suspect they are victims of parental alienation abuse. They are already experiencing emotional trauma from the alienation, and shouldn’t be put in the middle of the conflict any more than they already are. If your lawyer suggests an interview or interrogation that could help expose the parental alienation, this is an option – but decide this at your own discretion to minimize any harm to your children.
Documentation plays a large role in proving parental alienation in the absence of parental alienation law, and it’s up to you to collect the necessary evidence. Make sure to document any interaction you have with your ex, including the following:
- Emails. Emails speak for themselves, literally. If your ex constantly criticizes your character or admits to any wrongdoing, this is ample evidence to bring to court and prove parental alienation.
- Texts. Similar to emails, texts can be powerful evidence in court.
- Social Media. Badmouthing and gossip can be a staple of social media, so use that to your advantage. Anything that your ex posts on their social media is fair game to use as incriminating evidence against them. You are also able to check your children’s social media accounts, which may provide further evidence of PAS that you can bring to court.
Participate in reunification therapy
On a more personal level, a specialized type of therapy called reunification therapy can help bridge the gap that your alienating ex has created between you and your children. This process can not only help heal your relationship with your children, but also give you a better idea of how deep the parental alienation is affecting them. By understanding their perspective and realizing how influential your ex is on your children’s minds, you’ll be much better equipped to face a court.
Parental Alienation Litigation and Trial
With the virtual absence of parental alienation law, your attempts to prove that this is a serious problem will require ample evidence from the methods above. As with any hearing or trial, it is absolutely essential that you keep calm and cordial during the meeting, no matter the circumstances.
Work with your attorney to convey the extent of the alienation taking place, how it is clearly affecting your children (and your relationship with your children), and the evidence you’ve gathered to this effect. With enough organization and documentation, the courts will definitely consider parental alienation as a part of your custody case.
As more and more cases of parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome are documented, parental alienation law will likely become a reality in the United States. Until that time, you still have options if you and your children are the victims of parental alienation. By utilizing case law, documentation and evidence-gathering, and working closely with witnesses and your family law attorney, you can make your case against parental alienation. By doing so, you’ll be protecting your children’s future as well as your future relationship with them.