How to Respond to Parental Alienation
No one will tell you that sharing joint custody with an ex is a cakewalk, but disputes between the parents should never impact their relationships with the children.
Two parents can disagree on custody arrangements, support payments, or other aspects of their agreement, but forcing their child into these arguments can cause lasting damage. Most children do not have the maturity to understand or deal with the complexities of joint custody. Nor should they have to.
Unfortunately, parents can and do drag children into these arguments, often as a way to get back at the other parent. This is a slippery slope that can easily lead to claims of “parental alienation” and even go so far as child abuse.
The Nature of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to manipulate their child into developing an antagonistic relationship with the other parent. The parent may do this by sharing personal details about their divorce or former relationship, making derogatory remarks about the other parent, or claiming that the other parent doesn’t love or care about the child. However the parent goes about it, the end goal is to drive a wedge between the child and the other parent, which may lead to the child being disobedient with the other parent, refusing to follow the ordered child custody agreement and spend time with the other parent, or developing a strained relationship with that parent.
There are several ways that one parent can alienate the other, including:
- Insulting the other parent in front of the child
- Sharing details about the parents’ relationship with the child
- Preventing the child from seeing or speaking to the other parent
- Excluding the other parent from extracurricular activities
- Lying about the other parent or making false claims
- Making the child feel guilty for spending time with the other parent
- Coercing the child into spending more time with him/her by offering gifts
It is important to understand that alienation is different from estrangement. Estrangement occurs when a child and parent grow distant from each other due to justifiable reasons, such as abuse, disagreements, or opposing beliefs. Alienation, on the other hand, is caused by one parent acting to destroy the relationship between the other parent and the child.
What Can I Do If My Child Is Experiencing Parental Alienation?
The impact of parental alienation on a child’s development is still unclear. The term “parental alienation syndrome” has been floated around in some circles, but it is not yet an accepted medical term. However, there is general agreement that children should have healthy relationships with both parents, and the psychological manipulation used by one parent to harm the other parent through the child is damaging. Parental alienation can make children feel confused, angry, or depressed about their relationship with their parents, which may lead to long-term mental health conditions.
With your child’s development on the line, it is important to discuss your situation with an experienced San Diego family law attorney, who can explain how to get relief through San Diego’s family courts. Family courts put the child’s best interests at the forefront. If a child is being coerced by one parent to alienate the other parent, then the court may step in. A judge may modify the custody agreement to limit the child’s amount of time with the manipulative parent, require court-ordered counseling to repair the alienated parent-child relationship, and order the manipulative parent to attend therapy.
But to get the court to act, you will need to prove that your relationship with your child has been damaged due to the other parent’s actions. You may need to collect evidence, such as text messages, voicemails, social media posts, and letters, as well as witness testimony, which can include that of counselors, psychiatrists, family members, and even teachers.
Given that the burden of proof is on you, you should only trust your case to an experienced attorney. At Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C., our firm has more than 45 years of handling the most difficult family law cases in San Diego. Our team can sit down with you in a free consultation, explain your options, and fight to protect your relationship with your child.
Thomas M. Huguenor is a Certified Specialist in Family Law and Amelia J. Mattis has been selected as a Top Ranking Attorney by the American Association of Attorney Advocates (AAAA). If you bring your case to us, we will use all of our expertise to represent your best interests.
If you are experiencing parental alienation and need to learn about your rights in San Diego, call us today at (858) 458-9500.