How to Navigate Parental Alienation

Posted in Divorce on March 29, 2022

Divorces involving kids can be messy even in the best of circumstances. If one parent alienates the other, this can make the situation even tougher on the entire family. Parental alienation is when one parent tries to turn a child against the other by using fear, lies, insults or estrangement. Parental alienation can be consciously or subconsciously done by a perpetrator. If you suspect this is happening to you after your divorce, learn how to fight back.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is a term coined by child psychologist Richard Garner in 1985. He described it as a disturbance in which children are obsessed with the deprecation of a parent, which has been unjustified or exaggerated due to one parent’s behaviors. One parent’s negative, insulting or critical behaviors toward the other can rub off on a child, changing the way the child thinks about the other parent and ultimately alienating the victim. It is a form of psychological manipulation that can result in the child’s rejection or disdain toward the targeted parent.

Parental alienation can have negative repercussions on the child, as well. Family law courts state that children are better off when they remain in continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If parental alienation leads to less contact between a child and parent, both parties can suffer. Breaking down the child’s relationship with one parent, or making the child feel that he or she cannot be close to the other parent without hurting the first parent, can cause psychological and emotional distress for the child. In severe cases, it can be considered a form of child abuse.

What Should You Do About Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation can involve many actions and behaviors by the perpetrator, usually performed with the intent to convey to the child that the other parent is bad, dangerous, unsafe or abusive. 

It is not something that you should overlook or make excuses for. Even if you prefer to avoid conflict with your ex-spouse, it is critical to take immediate action to protect your relationship with your child:

  1. Find allies. You don’t have to face parental alienation alone. There are therapists, support groups, legal experts, parenting experts and friends who can help you through this difficult time. The right resources can help you understand the manipulation being done by your ex and find effective solutions.
  2. Track down proof. If your ex-spouse is making claims against you, such as claims of child abuse, track down proof or contradictory statements to protect yourself. You can have a trusted friend come with you during drop-offs and pickups, for example. Document everything your ex is saying about you, as well.
  3. Don’t stoop to your ex-spouse’s level. No matter how upset you are, don’t badmouth your spouse in front of your kids or spread rumors. Instead, maintain a positive, loving relationship with your child to ensure that he or she feels safe and heard. Take your child to therapy, if necessary.
  4. Speak to a family law attorney. A lawyer can help you create a plan for effectively dealing with parental alienation on a legal level, such as protecting your custodial rights as a parent. If it comes to it, your lawyer can help you argue for a change in custody because of an abusive parent. Although cases of parental alienation can be difficult to prove in court, a lawyer can help you document the issue.

You should not have to co-parent with a hostile ex, and his or her feelings toward you should not negatively affect your child. Going up against a narcissistic ex can be difficult and stressful, but it is important to stand up for yourself if your co-parent is intent on taking your relationship with your child away from you. If you’re facing parental alienation in California, contact a Solana beach family law attorney for advice and legal assistance today.