What is Parental Alienation?
The term, “Parental Alienation” is usually used in the context of divorce and custody matters, and refers to the psychological manipulation of a child towards the other parent. Parental alienation often occurs during an acrimonious divorce when one parent begins to voice their displeasure about and distain for the other parent. Negative comments about the other parent can become highly destructive to the relationship between the child and the targeted parent. If left unchecked, parental alienation may have a lifelong and highly negative impact on the child’s relationship with both parents and the relationships they attempt to create in the future.
The Warning Signs of Parental Alienation
- Your child requests that you do not attend certain functions: After school events, games, plays, parent teacher conferences, etc.
- Your child suddenly begins to display a defiant attitude toward you
- Your child has become argumentative, arrogant, and emotionally distant.
- You feel that you have become a targeted parent, and your child is being manipulated by their other parent.
The Best Interests of the Children
What children of divorce want and need is to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both of their parents.They also need to be protected from the conflicts between their separating parents. No matter what is happened between you and your child’s other parent, it is imperative that you do not suggest or demand that your child choose sides.
Parental Alienation Hurts the Child
This kind of negative behavior by a parent is referred to “parental alienation, and it involves the subtle and not so subtle “programming” of a child by one parent to destroy the child’s relationship with other parent. The alienating parent attempts to manipulate the child by denigrating the “targeted” parent in an effort to destabilize and inhibit the child’s relationship with that parent.
Dr. Richard Gardner
Renowned child psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gardner, who coined the phrase, “parental alienation”, wrote a book called ”Boys and Girls Book About Divorce.” The book, which was published in 1970 when divorce was becoming much more common in the U.S., offered advice to children about coping with the stress of their parent’s separation. Dr. Gardener defined parental alienation as an issue that:
“…arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”
When Reunification Becomes Necessary
Every child needs and wants to have loving relationships with both parents. When they are denied that by one parent, parental alienation becomes a form of child abuse. Children who have been separated from a parent, in the absence of abuse, may have to be reconnected with the alienated parent through a reunification process. Research has indicated that through this process, many alienated children can very quickly and reestablish a loving relationship with the parent they previously rejected.
Children Need Both Parents
Research shows that hatred is not a natural emotion for a child, and hatred must be taught. A parent who seeks to teach a child to hate their other parent risks the mental and emotional health of the child, and any attempt at parental alienation represents a persistent danger to the well-being of that child. Parents who strive to alienate their children from the child’s other parent, need to know that this kind of behavior is damaging and cruel. Every child deserves and should have the right to establish loving relationships with both parents.
What If I am Experiencing Parental Alienation?
If a you suspect that your child’s other parent is causing your child to distance themselves from you, it is possible for you to seek assistance from the court. It is important to know however, that parental alienation cases will often involve the hiring of professional experts to conduct investigations into all family matters. Following the investigation, a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) or a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) will provide a court with an assessment of the family dynamics between both parents and the children.
The Bercovitz Law Firm
Colorado family law cases that involve parental alienation are especially difficult, and a parent who is experiencing this issue should consider consulting with and retaining a highly-experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. Elissa Bercovitz has experience with parental alienation cases. Her practice focuses on domestic relations matters related to the dissolution of marriage (divorce), legal separation, the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities (parenting time, custody, and child support), maintenance (spousal support/ alimony), paternity, step-parent adoption, relocation cases, the division of assets and debt, LGBTQ family law matters, post-decree modifications, and guardianship. Elissa also handles mediation for family law cases.