What Is Parental Alienation?

Parents talking with the words, "what is parental alienation?"

Divorce is hard for any couple. That moment you realize the person you have given your heart and soul to is no longer the same and the relationship isn’t healthy for either one of you is terrifying. It is especially so when you have children in the marriage.

Children have a harder time processing divorce than parents do. It is especially difficult when there is open animosity between the parents, and the child is unfortunately stuck in between. In some cases, while one parent may take the high road and leave their emotions about the divorce in court and with a trusted confidant, the other parent may not be able to do that. Their anger or hurt runs over and they are spilling their guts or their thoughts about the divorce to their child, and that child begins to pick up and share those same feelings. 

In these cases, it is almost as if your partner is turning your child against you, making you seem like public enemy number one and thereby isolating you from your child. This situation is known as parental alienation syndrome and it describes the actions and the behavior of your child. Here is a closer look at parental alienation and what it means for you and your child.

Understanding Parental Alienation

In 1985, Richard Gardner first coined the term parental alienation syndrome as a way to describe the behavior of a child who was subjected to one parent discrediting the other parent in front of the child.

For example, one parent could tell their child that the other doesn’t love them enough to make the effort to see them or that they prefer their new family over them. These accusations can have an extremely harmful impact on the child’s perception of the alienated parent and alter that relationship. 

Over time, these accusations, especially if repeated, can become the reality for the child even if what is being said isn’t necessarily true. This can cause the relationship between the alienated parent and their child to completely crumble or become rocky to the point where the other child refuses to speak or see the alienated parent.

Terms That Are Associated With Parental Alienation

  • Alienator: The parent making the accusations against the other parent
  • Alienated: The parent who is the subject of the allegations

What Are the Symptoms of Parental Alienation?

There are distinctive behaviors that can tip a parent off that they may be being alienated by the other parent. These symptoms are as follows:

  • The child is constantly criticizing the alienated parent. These criticisms are often unfair. 
  • When asked about the criticism, the child cannot use any evidence to justify their feelings. This can also be seen as the child using false reasoning or the lack of specific examples.
  • The child has only negative feelings towards the alienated parentIt is normal for children to show some stress behaviors during a divorce. Their emotions and feelings may be all over the place. However, a child only showing negative emotions and feelings towards one parent is a red flag.
  • The child claims their feelings are all their own and not coming from the alienator: As mentioned earlier, mixed feelings are normal for children whose parents are going through a divorce. However, when strong feelings of negative emotion are all that is being said and the allegations are harsh with no basis while the child argues otherwise, this is not normal. This is a sign that the other parent is sharing accusations against the alienated parent. 
  • The child shows unwavering support towards the parent doing the alienation.
  • The child doesn’t feel guilty about mistreating the alienated parent.
  • The child is using words or phrases that seem to come from an adult vocabulary more than a child’s. This can also be seen as the child talking about events that never happened or things that happened before the child was born.
  • The child’s feelings toward the alienated parent bleed over to include other family members from that parent’s side of the family, such as grandparents or cousins.

What Should I Do About Parental Alienation?

If you suspect that your ex-spouse is trying to alienate or turn your child against you, there are a few steps you need to take:

  • Document any changes of behavior you notice. This includes keeping track of the date, time, and the statement or behavior you observed.
  • Speak with other family members the child has been around to see if they have noticed any odd changes in behavior.

If the behavior continues to worsen or does not get better after the divorce or custody hearing, it is best to take them to see a child psychologist or a counselor. This will give the child a safe space to talk about their feelings, get the support they need, and find strategies on how to protect themselves.

It is also extremely important to contact an experienced family law attorney for help if the alienator continues to try and turn your child against you. A family law attorney, such as Alison Grant, Attorney at Law, can help send a formal letter detailing the consequence of their actions and bring the matter to court if necessary.

Get the Support You Need

Alison Grant, Attorney at Law is dedicated to her mission of providing legal support and acting as an advocate for individuals going through a divorce or child custody battle. Divorce and child custody cases are never easy, which is why it is important to have an individual you can trust to help you through the process. Contact Alison Grant today for more information on our services or to set up a consultation.