Parental Alienation

Too often in family law cases, we see parents attempting to alienate their children from another parent. The reality is, regardless of which spouse may have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage, it is important to remember, that just because someone doesn’t make a good spouse, does not mean that they will not make an amazing parent.  Often divorce is a chance for parents to reevaluate their parenting methods, and can be used a true wake up call for some. It is important to embrace the change and trust in the process. This article is going to cover symptoms and signs that a child is being subjected to parental alienation and the negative consequences of such.

The Standing Order for Family Law Cases

If you are going through divorce, then chances are you have seen one of these— they are required to be filed in every family law case. In Hillsborough County, the very first paragraph that outlines the responsibilities of parties in a family law case states, “It is the law that, in general, contact with both parents is in the children’s best interest, and that children are entitled to frequent and continuing contact with both parents when the parents separate or divorce.” Further, “the parent who is or wants to be the “parent with majority time-sharing” has an “affirmative obligation to encourage and nurture a relationship between the children and the alternative residential parent.”

The court takes this requirement very seriously. It is in your child’s best interest to have two parents who are willing to support healthy relationships, especially in the event of a divorce. Not only is the court requiring that parents do not alienate their children from the other parent, they are also asking parents to “encourage and nurture a relationship” with the other parent.   To read the entire standing temporary order, click here. This article is only covering alienation, but remember that being a good parent really goes beyond just tolerating the other parent, it requires proactive steps to encourage and nurture a relationship between the child and both parents.

Signs that a Child is Experiencing Alienation

  • Your children express anger or frustration with you, without any real basis, or cannot express why.
  • Your children argue with you and use language that is not consistent with children their age, or mimics statements made by their other parent.
  • Your children do not feel guilt when they are hurtful (this can be because they have been taught (directly or indirectly) to not take your feelings into consideration).
  • If your child automatically choses the side of one parent in any given topic (trying a new activity, going to a new camp, getting a new hair cut or getting ears pierced) without being willing to hear your side, or is automatically defensive without provocation.
  • Your children may develop a sense of co-dependency and feel the need to protect the other parent’s feelings, and proactively protect and adopt the other parent’s perspective, and will put the other parent’s needs above anyone else’s

The Short Term (Legal) Consequences of Parental Alienation

As stated above, the courts do not appreciate and will not tolerate attempts by either parent to cause alienation between a child and their parent. The courts can hold parents in contempt for certain actions that lead to alienation, which can result in the payment of attorney’s fees, requirement that a parent seek counseling, attend additional parenting classes, allow make up days if necessary, or in severe cases, modify the timesharing schedule. Not only does this mean that the court will look into readjusting the timesharing schedule, but they may limit certain types of communication, and reevaluate the parental responsibility. In addition, the courts may demand that the parties, as well as their children attend reunification therapy in order to bring balance back into the family’s life.

Long Term (Psychological) Consequences of Parental Alienation

Children who are subject to manipulation of a parent, resulting in parental alienation are likely to develop a lot of mental health issues as they grow up.  The children are likely to develop issues of self-hatred, low self-esteem, depression, abandonment issues, and are more likely of developing substance abuse issues.  In addition, they will not develop the ability to trust others, especially persons in positions of authority over their lifetime, as well as the ability to give an accept love to people close to them in their lives.

You May Be Causing Alienation and Not Even Realizing It

You may think that you are not alienating your child because you have not engaged in any affirmative action to prevent a relationship from being established, or because you haven’t said anything negative to your child about the other parent. Or perhaps you truly feel like you have a basis for your concerns, and you are trying to ‘feel out’ what is going on at the other parent’s house.  It is important to not try to be ‘sly’ with children, they are very intuitive and can pick up on cues very easily.  It is also important to realize that alienation is going to only create distance between you and your children in the end, because one day they will see through the passive aggressive comments and manipulation, and it is not going to reflect well.

What to Take Away from This

The reality is that alienation can happen subconsciously or intentionally.  Everyone going through divorce wants to feel supported and that they are in the right.  It is natural to try to find this support from family members because they are the closest to the relationship, and thus, their support is going to feel the most credible and the most genuine.  Alienation is done by parents to rather gain support to feel more loved, or better than the other parent. However, a child should never become the source of your sense of worth, be the one to validate your feelings, or become a dumping ground for your resentment. At the end of the day, your child is half of each parent, and undermining, shaming, or being disrespectful to their other parent, or when talking about the other parent can cause a child to develop many mental health issues in the future. It is important to continue to teach children how to be good co-parents and make the most of relationships, even in less than ideal situations.