Addressing Parental Alienation Issues Early Can Provide Lasting Protection to Children
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is when one parent attempts to turn one or more children against the other parent in one or more ways. Some examples include:
- Making negative or derogatory comments about the other parent in front of the child.
- Lying to the child about the other parent.
- Disrespecting the other parent’s rules and telling the child he/she shouldn’t have to follow the other parent’s rules (i.e., bed times, homework, chores, screen time, appropriate language, etc.).
- Failing to adhere to an agreed upon schedule – i.e., failing to drop off or pick up the child at the other parent’s home.
- Refusing to permit the child to spend time with the other parent for no legitimate reason(s).
- Refusing to permit the child to speak or text with the other parent for no legitimate reason(s).
- Providing inaccurate or no information to the other parent in order to prevent them from supporting the child (i.e., not communicating about sports events, school activities, teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, family therapy appointments, etc.).
Typically, children benefit from having healthy, ongoing relationships with both parents, even when the parents choose to no longer be romantically involved.
Often, parents can work out the best plans together to create child sharing agreements that support the needs of all involved in a mutually respectful fashion. Sometimes, though, one parent may choose a very destructive path to alienate the child or children from the other parent.
As challenging as it can be, the parent being subjected to these types of issues should choose not to retaliate by choosing similar behavior. Subjecting children to this type of negative behavior can be extremely harmful and may cause damage that manifests itself in a variety of emotional and behavioral challenges throughout the child’s developmental years.
If a parent sees a child being subjected to this type of behavior, they need to act immediately. Children in these situations need strong advocates to remedy this situation as soon as possible. If respectfully confronted in the early stages, some offending parents may be willing to work out a type of voluntary and healthy child sharing agreement with the other parent to avoid the need to hire an attorney and/or go to court to resolve these types of issues.
Other offending parents, though, will not respond, and the parent being subjected to this type of negative behavior will need to take more formal steps to prevent himself or herself as well as the child or children involved from being further harmed.
An option is to consider hiring an attorney to provide legal direction and consult as to next steps. Every situation is unique and requires personal attention to determine the various legal options that may be available to protect the individuals involved. For example, if no formal custody agreement has been established, an attorney could provide direction as to the potential benefits provided by this alternative. If a formal custody agreement is already in place but the other parent is not following the agreement, an attorney could also review the agreement and determine what next steps would be most appropriate to ultimately reach the desired outcome. In some cases, legal action to pursue the modification of the original agreement may be appropriate. Depending on the facts, additional legal options may be available as well to provide enforceable solutions that will reduce or eliminate this type of conduct in the future.
These issues rarely resolve themselves without legal action. If the parent who sees the child being subjected to this type of behavior does not take action, the offending parent will continue the alienating behavior and perhaps cause temporary or permanent emotional damage to the child and the child’s relationship with their parents. Often seeking legal advice early can provide valuable direction and options that could potentially resolve such conduct in the beginning stages – children faced with these types of issues need one or more advocates to help them as soon as possible; the non-offending parent usually is the first adult to recognize these harmful behavior patterns developing and is also in the best position legally to seek counsel immediately to support both the parent’s and children’s best interests during this difficult time.
Addressing issues as soon as possible can have both positive short-term and lasting results. Creating a structured framework for children to have meaningful relationships with both parents going forward is essential for the children’s healthy and long-term emotional development for years to come.
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