Parental alienation and the devastating impact on parent-child relationships
When parents split up, the goal should be to minimize conflict for the welfare of the children involved. Unfortunately, when communication between parents breaks down, it often leads to one parent attempting to undermine the relationship between their children and the other parent. This is known as parental alienation, and it can have a devastating impact on parent-child relationships.
Continue reading to learn more about this troubling phenomenon, and be sure to contact a Howard County child custody lawyer if you need help navigating a situation involving parental alienation.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is a sociological term that references the very real tendency of some parents to try to sabotage the relationship between the child and the other parent. This behavior often occurs in high-conflict divorces, but plenty of intact families have experienced this behavior as well.
Many times, parental alienation is deliberate. For example, one parent talks negatively about the other parent directly to the child, intending to sow doubt of the other parent in their child’s mind.
However, this behavior may also be subconscious. Perhaps the parent is not intentionally trying to degrade the child’s relationship with the other parent, but they allow their emotions to get in the way and end up making poor decisions. For instance, perhaps they are constantly venting to their best friend about the other parent in situations where the child can overhear. Obviously, the effect here is the same. The child is left feeling torn and guilty, and that stress can be extremely damaging, both short and long-term.
That being said, the Courts are very aware of the detrimental effects of parental alienation on children and will not tolerate this behavior in any capacity. Alienation can occur in a variety of ways, including:
- Gossiping, badmouthing, or lying to the children about the other parent
- Encouraging children to take sides in disputes
- Withholding affection or rewarding/punishing children based on their feelings about the other parent
- Limiting contact between the child and the other parent
- Refusing to let the other parent have a role in major decisions
Signs, causes, and effects of parental alienation
It can sometimes be difficult to detect parental alienation, as it often takes place over a long period of time and involves subtle changes in the relationship between the child and the targeted parent. However, there are some red flags that may indicate parental alienation.
These signs often involve the child’s behavior and attitude toward the targeted parent. These may include:
- Demonstrating a sudden and unexplained change in attitude toward the other parent, despite previously having a positive relationship
- Expressing distrust, hostility, or hatred toward the other parent without any rational justification
- Refusing to communicate with the targeted parent and avoiding their calls or visits
- Rejecting relatives of the targeted parent
- Being overly defensive of or idealistic toward the parent instigating the alienation
Possible causes of alienating behavior
It is important to understand the underlying causes of parental alienation in order to address the problem effectively. Generally, parental alienation can be traced back to a combination of two main sources: parental conflict and an emotionally immature parent.
When divorced or separated parents are unable to resolve their conflicts in a respectful and mature manner, one parent may decide that the best solution is to turn their children against the other parent. This is particularly true of parents with an immature emotional capacity who may be unable to handle the conflict more constructively. The goal is often to “win” the conflict or “punish” the other parent, rather than to account for the child’s best interests.
Emotionally immature parent
Some emotionally immature parents may also use parental alienation as a tool for gaining control over their children. These parents may be threatened by the idea of their children having strong relationships with both parents, and they may use alienation tactics to maintain a sense of power.
Effects of alienation
The effects of parental alienation can be devastating to both the child and the targeted parent. The child may feel confused and anxious, torn between loyalty to their parents and a desire for acceptance from both. They may no longer confide in the targeted parent or feel comfortable expressing positive feelings, leading to a decrease in emotional intimacy and impeding the targeted parent’s ability to have a meaningful role in their child’s life.
In cases involving older children who have the right to choose which parent to live with, parental alienation can even result in formal, Court-ordered alterations to the child custody agreement. This can result in the targeted parent no longer having any type of contact or relationship with their child.
Addressing parental alienation
The longer parental alienation persists, the more difficult it can be to reverse the damage. Therefore, it is essential to take action as soon as you recognize signs of alienation.
One of the most effective ways to address parental alienation is to consult a family law attorney. If the other parent’s manipulative tactics are resulting in disruptions to your parental rights, a lawyer can help you take legal action. The Court may issue an order requiring the parent to stop their alienating behavior and allow you to resume your parental rights as laid out in the custody agreement.
Mediation and family counseling can also be effective in addressing parental alienation. A qualified mediator or counselor can help both parents identify the underlying causes of the conflict, discuss solutions, and work toward achieving a more positive co-parenting relationship.
It can also be helpful to seek out mental health support for both yourself and your children. If the damage caused by parental alienation is extensive, a therapist can help you and your children work through the pain and anger to rebuild a healthy relationship. A support group can also be a valuable source of comfort and understanding, while organizations such as the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization can provide further support and assistance.
Consult a family law attorney for help today
Parental alienation can be challenging to navigate, but you do not have to do it alone. With the help of a Howard County child custody lawyer from Coover Law Firm, LLC, you can fight for your parental rights and take legal action against the other parent’s alienation tactics.
If you believe your former partner is hindering your ability to have a meaningful relationship with your children, contact us today at (410) 553-5042 to discuss your legal options.