Learning how to effectively co-parent during a separation can be a very difficult task. Parents must effectively communicate about the children while dealing with the breakdown of their relationship, and children must come to terms with their new reality and accept that their family unit is drastically changing. This can lead to conflict and strained relationships within a family. However, in certain circumstances, the conflict can last far beyond an adjustment period, especially if one parent is manipulating the relationship between the other parent and the child.
This is called parental alienation. Parental alienation is the intentional act of negatively influencing a child’s relationship with the other parent. Unfortunately, parental alienation is not uncommon and is often displayed during high conflict divorce proceedings.
Parental Alienation: What Are The Signs?
Parental alienation is typically identified during a separation and divorce period. However, it is entirely possible for parental alienation to occur in any family at any time. It is important to know the signs of parental alienation in order to protect your child and look out for their best interests. Some common signs of parental alienation displayed by children include:
- The child may idolize one parent while dismissing and belittling the other parent and/or openly share their rejection of the other parent openly with others;
- The child may act out in fits of rage and hatred towards the parent they are being alienated against or they may shut down and ignore this parent completely;
- The child may become hateful towards extended family or household pets that have a positive relationship with the parent they are being alienated against; and
- The child’s reactions to the parent’s behavior and efforts to reconcile the relationship may be blown out of proportion.
Some common signs of parenting alienation displayed by the parent manipulating the child may include:
- Allowing the child to make decisions about parenting time and help facilitate them refusing to see the other parent;
- Does not encourage or allow the child to contact or talk about the other parent while in their care;
- Openly talks about the short comings of the other parent to the child and others when the child is present and blames the other parent for the breakdown of the marriage; and
- Doesn’t believe the child needs any sort of relationship with the other parent and schedules activities during their parenting time to make them seem like the villain.
It is important to note that parental alienation can manifest in many forms and the above are simply examples of frequently displayed behaviors and actions and is not a comprehensive list.
What To Do If You Suspect Parental Alienation
If you suspect that your child is being alienated against you, it is best to speak with a lawyer about your legal rights and obligations. It is important to keep a record of your relationship with the child and the time you do spend together. This can be done by keeping a journal, communicating with the other parent in writing to request and confirm parenting time, and taking photos of your time with your child. You may also wish to enroll yourself in programs designed for divorced parents such as the Parenting After Separation Course or speak with a psychologist with the goal of improving your relationship with your child. While it may seem unfair that you need to do all the work to repair your relationship when the other parent is the one causing harm, these actions will show the court that you are proactive and give you the tools you need to be an effective co-parent.
Court Interventions for Parental Alienation
The court has processes in place to assist families dealing with parental alienation. These processes often include retaining a psychologist to work with all members of the family to determine strategies to move forward and create a positive co-parenting relationship. In certain situations, the court may order for supervised parenting of the parent found to be alienating the children or may reduce or even revoke their parenting time all together. The ways in which the court addresses parenting alienation will depend on the age and maturity of the child and as always, will seek to ensure their best interests are upheld and maintained.