Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to influence a child's views of the other parent with negative statements, interference with visitation, and other actions to discourage a child from having a positive, loving relationship with the other parent.
Many counselors and researchers have found that parental alienation can be incredibly damaging to a child's psychological well-being. One of the most common forms of parental alienation occurs when a parent tries to prevent a child from forming a healthy relationship with the other parent by denying visitation.
In many high-conflict divorce cases, the risk of parental alienation is obvious when one parent's negative views toward the other parent affect how the parent interacts with their child when talking about the other parent and the child's relationship with them.
In some cases, actions taken by one parent to alienate a child from the other may not be immediately apparent. Parental alienation may be subtle such as when one parent fails to inform the other about important events such as awards ceremonies and other events so that a child is manipulated into believing that the parent chose not to come to the event. Several other examples of parental alienation include the following.
- Making negative statements about the other parent in front of the child.
- Making excuses to deny visitation to the other parent such as scheduling problems.
- Interfering with another parent's visitation including phone calls or video visitation.
- Discussing inappropriate subjects with a child about the reasons for separation or divorce.
- Drilling the child with leading questions about what occurred during visitation with the other parent.
- Undermining a parent's role in a child's life by withholding information about school activities and doctor's appointments, or directing school officials not to allow the other parent to pick the child up from school.
- Encouraging a child to identify with a step-parent as a parental figure instead of their natural parent.
Signs to Recognize
Parents who have been alienated from their children may notice differences in their children's behavior such as the following.
- Hostility and other changes in a child's attitude toward a parent.
- Unwillingness to attend court-ordered visitations as scheduled.
- Requests by the child that the parent not attend school or sporting events.
- Reports from the child of negative statements made by the other parent.
These effects of alienation can occur even under circumstances where the parent who is experiencing alienation has made every effort to attend all visitation with their child and has made no changes in his or her parenting routines.
The effects of parental alienation on a child can be quite severe psychologically and just as damaging as many forms of child abuse. Children may conclude that they have formed negative ideas about the parent who is being alienated from them on their own, even if one parent is actively pursuing a course of conduct that is encouraging their child to form these beliefs.
What to Do About Parental Alienation
If you are experiencing parental alienation, it is important to speak to an attorney about your concerns to avoid further damage to the relationship between you and your child. In post-divorce modification proceedings, interference with court-ordered visitation may warrant a finding of contempt by a court. In some cases, parental alienation can warrant a change in child custody if a court believes that a non-parent would foster a healthier relationship with a custodial parent who has been withholding visitation.
In most circumstances, it is best for a child to have the closest relationship they can with both parents. If you are working with another parent to co-parent a child, try to be flexible and aware of what you say about the other parent in the presence of your child. Once parental alienation occurs, the effects can be very difficult to undo. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs and act quickly if you believe this is occurring.