Parental alienation is a term that refers to the efforts of one parent to turn a child against the other parent through psychological manipulation. It has been compared to brainwashing and can have long-lasting and sometimes irreparably harmful effects on the mental health of the child. It typically occurs in bitterly-contested divorce and child custody cases and can affect the outcomes of divorce and post-divorce court proceedings.
The court’s duty when deciding the issue of child custody is to base the matter on what is in the best interests of the child. Courts generally agree that a child should have a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents during and after divorce. Only in cases where a child may be at risk of harm would this be precluded. Those cases typically would involve a history of domestic violence or substance abuse on the part of a parent. In those cases, courts will generally grant sole managing conservatorship to the other parent or may allow limited and/or supervised limitation with the offending parent. In cases where parental alienation is alleged, the court would need evidence of this and, if found to be true, should consider it in its custody decision.
If you believe your child has been subject to the manipulations of parental alienation, you need to act quickly by discussing this with your family law attorney. First, you must ensure that you understand what parental alienation is and how it manifests.
Signs of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is achieved through various methods all done to break down the relationship the child has with the other parent. Below are some of the ways it can be done.
- Violating parenting plans, such as not allowing the child to have scheduled visitation time with you
- Speaking in derogatory terms about you in front of the child
- Refusing to let you communicate with the child when you are apart
- Refusing to allow the child to take his or her belongings to your house
- Giving your child false ideas and information about you as well as your extended family; these ideas could include how mean, abusive, selfish, or untrustworthy you are or have been
- Giving the child the impression that you do not really care for him or her
- Threatening to withhold approval or love from the child when the child wants to see you
- Destroying items, gifts, texts, or other communications you send to the child before the child ever gets a chance to see them
Such destructive behaviors create a distrust of you as a parent. This may then manifest in the child refusing to see you or have any contact with you. The child may also destroy items you have given him or her, act in a disrespectful, angry, or insulting manner around you, make suggestions about alleged abuse or neglect on your part, and ask questions or discuss your relationship with your ex-spouse that includes incidents proving your wrongdoing which he or she never witnessed.
How You Can Fight Back Against Parental Alienation
If you notice signs of parental alienation in your child, you should consult with your attorney who can discuss possible steps to take. Your attorney can go to court to get custody arrangements enforced, for example. Child psychologists can also be brought in to investigate and review the child’s state of mind. A parenting coordinator or counselor can be brought in by the court to evaluate. All of these professionals can provide testimony to be used on your behalf in court. In the end, if it is shown that a parent has intentionally engaged in actions to alienate your child, that parent may suffer custody consequences.
Parental alienation is a complex and emotionally-charged matter and is best handled with the help and resources of a trusted legal team. At Hunt Law Firm, PLLC, we have successfully resolved countless custody cases for clients in Katy and throughout greater Houston.