Divorce, when there are children involved, is always going to be a difficult situation to navigate. It is hard enough for parents to handle their own feelings and help their children through the process too. However, there are some parents who take an opposite strategy and actually work to alienate their children against their ex-spouse. This is known as “parental alienation,” as in the parent is actively working to alienate the child from the other parent emotionally, physically, psychologically, etc. Not all divorcing parents take this path, but if they do, there are usually some clear signs.
1) The child takes the side of one parent against the other. In other words, the child puts their lot with one parent and teams up with that parent against the other parent. Of course, this may happen to some degree given the anger that the child may feel towards both parents over the divorce. However, when the child is displaying disproportionate amounts of anger or hostility against one parent in favor of the other, this could be a sign of lingering alienation.
2) The child knows a lot more than they should about the divorce. This could be because the other spouse has told them about the problems of the marriage that led to the break up including infidelity or financial difficulties. This is rarely an appropriate topic for a parent to share with a child even outside of a divorce, and it is particularly inappropriate when the parents are divorcing.
3) The child has a choice about visitation, regardless of the court schedule. If the parent gives the child the choice of whether to see the other parent, this is a strong sign of alienation as they are allowing the child to decide which parent they prefer to spend their time with. The purpose of the court-ordered visitation is so that both parents can retain an active and involved relationship with their children. Allowing the child to decide runs contrary to the court's order (which is not usually negotiable by the child) and further turns the child away from the other parent who does not get to spend time with the child.
4) The child is being used by the other parent as a spy. This may sound very cloak-and-dagger, but it can be as simple as the child reporting back to the other parent how messy the house was, or that a new partner was over, with which the other parent may then attempt to use to negotiate the custody arrangement. This can also manifest in the child asking probing financial questions that they would otherwise have no reason to know or understand.
5) The other partner withholds information. Forgetting to share details about inconsequential information is not a red flag. Purposely “forgetting” to notify the other parent about a major school event, play, or athletic match can certainly fall into this category. The purpose, of course, is to keep the other parent away from the child during these very important events in their life and further alienate the child from the other parent.
If you suspect that you and your child are being subjected to parental alienation, the best place to start is to speak with an attorney regarding your rights and options in this situation. Regina Taylor is an experienced, compassionate attorney who is ready to help. Contact us today to get started.