A lot of family law clients come to me feeling discouraged about their relationship with their kids. They feel their kids have been turned against them by the other parent. They feel like their individual relationship with their kids is being undermined. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this situation a lot at the firm, especially when it comes to a divorce. It’s called parental alienation. The effects of parental alienations can be devastating. We can help.
Parental alienation is when one parent manipulates the children to turn them against the other parent. It is actually defined as a syndrome that children suffer from. Parental alienation syndrome occurs when, “a child becomes an unwitting ally to the alienating parent,” and, “occurs when one parent campaigns successfully to manipulate his or her children despite the absence of legitimate reasons for the children to harbor such animosity.” 127 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 3d 237, Proof of Parental Alienation In Action For Modification Of Custody Of Child. If your kids resent you for seemingly no reason during a divorce battle, parental alienation may be the issue.
Parental alienation is a form of abuse. It is mentally and emotionally harmful to children. Parental alienation is particularly harmful because it occurs during developmental phases. There can be lasting implications of parental identification if it is not identified and addressed.
How can you identify parental alienation? There are a few classic symptoms to look for: (1) campaign of denigration against the parent; (2) weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the depreciation; (3) presence of borrowed scenarios; and (4) manipulation of children’s schedules to preclude visitation. Sometimes the manipulation is subtle and other times it is overt. Let go over each of those elements:
Campaign of Denigration: A campaign of denigration is when one parent tears down the other parent in front of the children. It is verbal criticism of the other parent that is not appropriate. This can be overt or obvious. It could be as subtle as saying “Your mom is lazy,” or as overt as “You have a deadbeat dad.” The alienating parent is filling the child’s head with negative and false perceptions of the other parent. It poisons the child’s mind. These negative statements about the other parent are not isolated. They are relentless and constant. The alienating parent becomes obsessed with throwing the other parent under the bus.
Weak or Absurd Rationalizations for Alienation: Weak or absurd rationalizations for alienation simply means there is no reason for the children’s resentment of the alienated parent. Sadly, the children or alienating parent must make up ridiculous reasons for the alienation. For example, I have seen where children refuse to see their parent on their birthday because that parent was late to their soccer game. Of course, the parent being late for the soccer game had nothing to do with the child’s refusal to see the alienated parent. It was simply a ridiculous excuse for the alienating parent and children to treat the alienated parent horribly.
Presence of Borrowed Scenarios: Borrowed scenarios occurs when the child takes on the alienating parent’s feelings about a situation. The presence of borrowed scenarios is usually obvious, because children will say things no reasonable child would ever say (absent some sort of manipulation). For example, if a wife is trying to get money in a divorce, and the father is contesting that, the child may say to the father “Well you won’t give mommy any money to feed us,” or, “You want mommy to be poor.” Children start to mirror the sentiments of the alienating parent.
Manipulation of the Children’s Schedules to Preclude Visitation: Besides forcing the children to emotionally distance themselves from the alienated parent, the alienating parent will do everything possible to minimize parenting time. Robbing another parent of their parenting time can constitute custodial interference, which is a crime in Arizona. The alienating parent will often schedule play dates or practices during the other parent’s parenting time. Nothing takes precedent over a parent’s time with their children. Of course, kids have sports, school, and other extracurriculars that often lead to scheduling conflicts. But the alienating parent purposefully manipulates the children’s schedule to minimize the other parent’s visitation. Sometimes, the alienating parent will even say to the kids, “Sorry, I had to schedule this play date because your mom/dad didn’t want to spend time with you.”
It’s important to note that children are just as victimized by parental alienation as the alienated parent. That’s why parental alienation is child abuse. The children don’t know they’ve been manipulated by the other parent. They don’t know they are hurting the alienated parent. Children generally believe what their parents tell them. So if one parent is relentlessly trying to undermine the children’s relationship with the other parent, the children really have no choice. They become pawns in the alienating parent’s scheme.
Courts do not like parental alienation. In Arizona, judges are required to put the best interests of the children above all else. One of best interests of any child is having a loving, nurturing, and meaningful relationship with each parent. Parental alienation makes that impossible. As such, judges will go to great lengths to put an end to parental alienation if it is occurring in a divorce or child custody battle.
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