Parental alienation is a difficult reality for some parents who go through divorce. Hostile and passive aggressive behavior directed toward the other parent is emotionally harmful, and it can damage a once-happy parent-child relationship.
If you’re involved in a high-conflict situation, alienating tactics and parental alienation are more likely to occur.
Above all, you and your child deserve to enjoy a healthy relationship. Robinson & Henry’s family law attorneys can facilitate legal efforts to help stop the damaging conduct before it gets out of hand.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation happens when a child emotionally and physically separates from a parent due to psychological manipulation by the other parent. When asked, the child usually cannot provide legitimate reasons for the rejection or indifferent behavior now directed toward the parent.
The parent who is the victim or intended victim of parental alienation is referred to as the target parent. The parent who renders the alienating attacks is called the alienating parent.
Parental alienation tactics and subsequent effects can range from mild to severe. Therefore, you do not have to experience complete detachment from your child to be affected by alienating behaviors.
Parental alienating behaviors still damage families without the results ending in absolute parental alienation.
What Parental Alienating Behavior Looks Like
Alienating behavior can take many forms. Sometimes it’s blatant, but other times it’s more subtle.
Here are a couple of typical scenarios:
Parroting Disparaging Comments (blatant example)
It’s your weekend with your child. You’re having a nice time, and inexplicably your seven-year-old casually says to you, “You’re gonna get what’s coming to ya.”
The remark takes you aback. You think it’s strange because your child isn’t upset, and they don’t seem to realize the meaning behind it.
When asked why they said that, the child looks confused, teary, and responds with “I don’t know.”
This is an example of parroting a disparaging remark. The child likely heard the comment from the alienating parent or one of their surrogates.
The comment may or may not have been intended to manipulate the child’s feelings toward you. Nevertheless, the remark stuck with the child. As a result, over time, this type of negative commentary can have devastating consequences.
Child is Forced to Choose (subtle example)
A school event is scheduled during your parenting time. As you and your child look for a seat in the auditorium, the alienating parent waves the child over to sit with them.
On the surface, this action seems harmless, but it is not. Since it is your parenting time, and the child arrived with you, your child is put in a difficult position: they must choose between you and the other parent.
A child faced with that kind of pressure is in a catch-22 situation. Consequently, the child often suffers guilt and fear. The child feels badly for sitting with either parent. And the child is scared of losing the alienating parent’s love if they show interest in the target parent.
As a result of ongoing stress, such as having to choose, the child may eventually separate from the target parent.
Common Parental Alienation Tactics
Makes Disparaging Comments
The alienating parent makes negative remarks about you, your new spouse, or your family in front of the child. They also allow others to insult you and your loved ones.
Your calls are rejected, and your child is told you never phoned. The alienating parent excessively texts or calls during your parenting time. The child is harshly questioned about why they didn’t immediately respond to the texts or calls.
Erases You at Their House
The child feels they cannot talk about you or your loved ones when they are with the other parent. The alienating parent accomplishes this by withholding love, expressing anger or disapproval, or outright telling the child not to discuss you or your loved ones.
Gives Specifics About the Divorce and Adult Issues
Your child knows why the marriage ended, including hurtful details. The other parent confides in the child about legal matters and portrays themselves as a victim to inspire pity and loyalty from the child.
Parentification is a role reversal of sorts. Your child ends up acting as a parent to the alienating parent. For instance, the child feels like they must meet the emotional needs of your ex-spouse due to guilt trips or projecting victim mentality. Another example: allowing your child to choose whether to visit you despite a court-approved Parenting Plan.
Limits Your Involvement
You’re in the dark about school events, doctor appointments, and other important information. The alienating parent may go so far as to make major decisions without your input, such as a medical procedure or a change in schools.
Undermines Your Parental Authority
Your ex tells the child your rules don’t matter or overrides a punishment, such as grounding, when they are not with you. As a result, the child stands their ground when you give positive parental influence.
Implies You’re Incapable/Creates Doubt and Fear
Calls to check on the child when they’re with you to “make sure they’re OK.” The alienating parent tells the child to contact them if they “get scared” at your house or need anything when they’re with you.
This further promotes that you’re not dependable and the child’s only caretaker is the alienating parent.
Asks Your Child to Report on You
Your ex may prompt your child to act as a spy or pepper them with questions about visits with you.
Makes False Allegations about You
This is a serious parental alienation ploy. You may be painted as having been emotionally or physically abusive to your ex. An alienating parent may go so far as to accuse you of sexual abuse, or they may plant stories in the child’s head that you’ve abused them.
Effects of Parental Alienation Tactics
Effects on Target Parent-Child Relationship
Like parental alienating cases themselves, the effects of the behavior can be mild to severe. In mild to moderate cases, the child may still be able to have a loving relationship with the target parent as long as the alienating parent is not aware of it.
For instance, in moderate cases the child may begin to placate the alienating parent. The child may tell the alienating parent they do not have fun at the target parent’s home. But when they’re with the target parent, they project love toward them.
In more severe cases, detachment from the target parent may begin. The child may develop a fear of the target parent. Consequently, the child becomes apathetic to the target parent and refuses to see them at all.
Effects on the Child
In addition to a damaged relationship with the target parent, the child can experience a number of negative side effects.
The short- and long-term consequences can include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Decline in academic performance
- Low self-esteem
- Loss of trust
- Anger management issues
Colorado Courts Take Parental Alienation Seriously
By law, divorced parents must foster a positive relationship with the child and the other parent. So when parental alienation cases crop up, the courts take it seriously.
A family court judge considers the parents’ ability to encourage a loving relationship, among other factors, when he or she decides or modifies parenting time.
“In determining the best interests of the child for purposes of parenting time, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including:
The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party.”
C.R.S. § 14-10-124
Therefore, a judge can modify parenting time if they find a parent is hindering the relationship between the child and the other parent.
How You Can Fight Parental Alienation
Keep Good Records
It’s important to keep track of parental alienation instances. This will allow you to show an attorney what has happened over time, and the documentation will strengthen your case if you end up in court.
- Take screen shots of text messages
- Retain emails and letters
- Be sure to save voicemails
- Write down details about hostile calls
- Document behavior by your children
Your detailed log should include dates, times, and specifics about each episode.
Take Legal Action
You can ask the court to order a Child Family Investigator (CFI) to evaluate the matter. A CFI in a neutral professional who provides investigative findings and makes recommendations about parenting time to the court.
A CFI visits both homes, interviews the parents, and sometimes they’ll interview the child. Generally, the parties split the cost of the Child Family Investigator.
If your ex is not allowing you to see your child, you can have your parenting time enforced through a contempt or enforcement proceeding.
Finally, you can also ask to modify parenting time. In severe cases a judge can restrict or permanently modify a Parenting Plan to the detriment of the alienating parent.
Our family law attorneys recently helped a client gain considerable parenting time
after the other party denied visitation and displayed alienating behaviors.
Let Us Help End the Unhealthy Behavior
Contact Robinson & Henry’s family law attorneys if you believe the relationship with your child is threatened by parental alienating behavior.
We offer free initial consultations. Schedule yours today online or call (303) 688-0944.