Parental alienation is a highly contentious subject which often comes into play during high-conflict custody disputes. It is a subject which makes an already complex problem more complex, and demonstrates why nobody who has children should even think about divorcing pro se.
The term made its first appearance in 1985. It describes the phenomenon by which one parent will badmouth, accuse, and block access to the other parent until the child comes to hate and/or fear the target parent.
The use of this phenomenon in court and custody cases is hotly debated. What makes it so controversial?
The Malicious Abuser With a New Defense
“Parental alienation” give some abusers an easy way to get concerns about their children’s safety dismissed. In some cases, abusers been successful in claiming the other parent is lying and trying to alienate them. This has had tragic results.
In these cases, the parent and the children find themselves in a futile battle to prove abuse nobody seems willing to believe.
Some groups are demanding alleged abusers be sent on to criminal trials before they can lose custody. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence feels this will be disadvantageous to victims of abuse.
The Vicious Manipulator Using Kids as a Weapon
However, parents do violate parenting time orders. Some parents do put children in the middle, bad mouthing the other parent and demanding the child “report” on what happened in the other parent’s home. This can destroy the child’s relationship with the other parent and can have an impact on the child’s mental health.
Sometimes they do it to hurt the ex. Sometimes they do it because they can’t stand the thought of not having the child’s full love and loyalty. Some do it because they’re terrified the ex won’t return the child. Sometimes it’s just the careless impact of human nature. And sometimes the child is the one putting up the roadblock, independent of the parent’s actions.
Whatever the reason, in this case a perfectly good parent ultimately loses access to his or her child as the relationship breaks down completely. These parents may be unsuccessful in fighting back or getting court orders enforced. Some are simply so demoralized they never try.
What This Means for Your Case
The problem, of course, is that both abusive parents and parents who use children as pawns do exist. Separating fact from fiction in a web of accusations can be difficult, especially for judges who have a limited amount of time to make decisions about the child’s welfare.
Remember that absent any abuse it is always far better for the child to have a relationship with both parents. Under normal circumstances, when you’re fighting for custody, focus on hard evidence of what makes you a good parent. Avoid speaking much about the ex at all. Show up with medical records, school records, evidence you have a bond with the child, evidence you’re fit to take care of the child, and anything else which can strengthen your case.
Under normal circumstances, you’re better off coming in armed with a co-parenting plan to show you intend to honor the relationship between the child and both parents.
See also: How to Create a Solid Parenting Plan.
If there is abuse you need lawyers who understand domestic abuse issues, and who can advocate for you. You need attorneys who will strengthen your case, for example, by telling you how to gather what you need to prove the abuse has taken place.
See also: Does a PFA Really Protect Abuse Victims?
If there isn’t, then you absolutely do not want to allege abuse as part of any kind of divorce strategy. It happens. Dirty tricks and bad advice abound in family court. But it’s not smart.
If you’re the victim of your ex’s attempts to turn a child against you then you also need attorneys who can help ensure the judge continues to support your ability to have a relationship with that child, someone who can help you prove your child is perfectly safe in your care.
Are you dealing with a high-conflict divorce? Do you have questions about how custody may be determined? Don’t try to handle your divorce alone. Contact us for a consultation today.