What is parental alienation and what can I do about it?

Parental alienation happens when one parent uses his or her influence over the child to make the other parent seem like the “bad guy.” It can happen both intentionally and unintentionally, and we see it a lot in divorce cases. The anger, hurt, and resentment one parent is feeling can sometimes spill over into their parenting. While it’s understandable that these feelings exist, it can be incredibly damaging to a child.

If your ex-spouse is trying to alienate you from your children, you need to be able to recognize the signs early. This is a common factor in custody cases, and you should be aware of the behavior that goes along with parental alienation.

How might my child’s parent attempt to alienate my child from me?

1. Being verbally disrespectful.

Even little slips, that adults might disregard, can have a damaging effect when they fall on little ears. Children, who don’t understand what you’re saying or why you’re saying it, can fail to understand sarcasm or figures of speech. They can, however, understand latent hostility, anger, resentment, and fear, and will pick up on these feelings themselves. It’s important that both you and your child’s other parent make a commitment to only speak positively about each other in front of your children. You may think that your child is too young to understand what you’re saying, but you’re in dangerous territory.

2. Using toys or candy to bribe the child.

It’s tempting to want to be the “fun” parent, and dads are probably more likely to undertake this kind of behavior than moms. Especially when they haven’t been the child’s primary caregiver prior to the divorce, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of behavior that wouldn’t fly under mom’s stricter scrutiny. When dads feel like they are at a disadvantage, they do things that mom wouldn’t allow in order to compensate.

3. Having a “no rules” approach.

The reasoning here is similar to the reasoning in number 2. It’s not hard to imagine that indulging the child is a quick way to move up on his or her list of favorite people in the universe. Ice cream before dinner? Why not? Video games all night? Sure! Dad is the fun parent! Before you know it, dad’s house is the place to be, and he’s loving the newfound attention.

4. Denying visitation.

If, suddenly, your reasonable request for time with the child is being denied, you are right to be suspicious. In most of the cases I see where parental alienation is an issue, this comes along with one of the other methods of alienation. Dad says, “I’m sorry, but she really doesn’t want to see you," and the reason is that the child has been hearing something bad about mom while she was with dad, or because she prefers all candy at mealtimes.

It can be difficult to manage when parental alienation is a problem. If you suspect that something like this is going on, you should make sure you start documenting every thing that makes little red flags go off in your head, and talk to a Virginia custody attorney sooner rather than later. The damage is being done, and the longer you let it go on, the more you may have to repair.

In many cases, children are able to manage the transition, and can maintain the same level of love and respect for each parent that they had before the divorce. It’s important to help facilitate your child’s relationship, not only with you, but also with the other parent. Ultimately, the court is concerned that you are making choices that promote your child’s best interest and that’s really what you want for your child, anyway.

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