When a divorce occurs, the effects can be difficult for the entire family. The divorcing couples have a lot on their minds as they must navigate the divorce process and prepare for life separated from their spouse. With all the stress, time, and effort that goes into the divorce proceeding, it is easy to overlook the effects of the divorce on the children. Children are vulnerable to stress from a divorce because they are witnessing the splitting of their family, often for reasons that they do not know or understand. The situation can be especially stressful if one parent engages in parental alienation.
Parental alienation is a serious problem that has detrimental effects on children that can spread to others within the family. It is very important for divorcing couples to be aware of the signs of parental alienation from their ex-spouse, as well as the common behaviors of parental alienation syndrome in their children. If you are concerned about the effects your divorce can have on your children, a trusted family law attorney can help resolve issues involving your children with solutions that are in their best interests.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is the deliberate attempt of one parent to disrupt the relationship between their child and the other parent. The parents that engage in parental alienation do so through many different behaviors and attitudes such as excessive badmouthing of the other parent, refusing to cooperate with the other parent’s visitation, and limiting contact between the child and other parent. Typically, children want to continue to show their loyalty to both parents in the aftermath of a divorce, but parental alienation can make this extremely difficult. Over time, the pressure will cause children to go through a loyalty conflict in which they will feel like they must choose sides. This often results in the child siding with the parent causing the parental alienation, and they begin to develop negative feelings towards the other parent.
The most common behaviors from a parent that can cause parental alienation include the following:
- Constant badmouthing of the other parent.
- Acting mad or upset when a child has fun with the other parent, this causes the child to feel guilty and confused about their relationship with their parents.
- Monitoring or limiting the communication between your child and the other parent, such as screening calls and reading text messages.
- Interrupting visitation of the other parent by shortening their visitation time or refusing to respect their visitation rights.
- Refusing to keep the other parent updated on the activities in the child’s life.
- Blaming the other parent for the divorce and problems within the family.
Behaviors that Lead to Loyalty Conflicts
The behaviors described above are exhibited by parents in the beginning stages of parental alienation. As the alienation progresses, the parent may engage in more intense behaviors that can create a loyalty conflict. One such behavior is discussing the specific details of the divorce with the children. Parents tend to do this as a way to justify their efforts to alienate the other parent and to help bring the child to their side in the conflict. However, sharing the details of the divorce with the children can negatively affect their emotional and mental state.
Another behavior that can create a loyalty conflict is repeatedly telling the other parent that their children have no interest in seeing them. Eventually, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the children will begin to believe that they shouldn’t want to spend time with the other parent. This type of behavior accelerates the loyalty conflict by causing the child to believe that they are better off not having a relationship with the other parent.
Parental Alienation Syndrome
When a child succumbs to the pressure caused by parental alienation, they begin to suffer from what is referred to as parental alienation syndrome. At this point, the child has sided with the alienating parent and begun to engage in negative behaviors towards the other parent. The most common behaviors of children affected by parental alienation syndrome include the following:
- The child begins expressing hatred of the other parent even though there is no abuse or neglect coming from that parent to justify the hatred.
- The reasons for the child’s hatred are weak or ridiculous.
- The child may show a strong, automatic devotion to the alienating parent which is unusual behavior in a normal child.
- The child will adamantly deny that their decision to reject their parent is due to the influence of the other parent.
- Children will treat the alienated parent poorly without feeling remorse for their actions. By this point, they believe that their parent is unworthy of their respect.
- The child usually supports the alienating parent in any conflict between their parents, regardless of the situation.
- Children will usually adopt and repeat the accusations made against the alienated parent by the other parent, right down the exact phrasing.
- The hatred expressed by children towards their alienated parent may extend beyond the parent to include that parent’s family and friends.
The process of a divorce is already difficult on children and subjecting them to parental alienation after a high conflict divorce can make matters much worse. Parental alienation can seriously compromise, if not ruin, a child’s relationship with a parent which is something no child or parent should have to experience. Divorcing couples must remember that the well being of their children should always be more important than their conflicts with each other and neither parent should ever attempt to undermine or sabotage their child’s relationship with the other parent.
If you are going through a high conflict divorce and you are concerned about how the outcome may affect your children, the trusted divorce attorneys of Allen Gabe Law, P.C. can help. Our attorneys have experience dealing with a wide range of scenarios in a divorce and can help you develop a child custody plan that is in the best interests of your children. If you suspect that your spouse may be engaging in parental alienation, we can discuss your options with you to help resolve the issue.