Child custody disputes are often very personal. When disagreements arise, parents can find themselves attacking the character of the other parent, all in hopes of achieving the kind of child custody and visitation outcome that they think is best for their child. While some of these allegations may have merit, such as those pertaining to neglect, abuse, and drug use, others are false. Yet, a parent can use false statements to manipulate their child so as to create distance between the child and the other parent. This is known as parental alienation.
How parental alienation works
Children are susceptible to manipulation. Sadly, some parents take advantage of this fact. They might tell your child false things about you, such as that you were abusive to the other parent during the course of your marriage or that you engaged in infidelities, all with the goal of changing your child’s perception of you. These allegations can even go so far as to lead a child to believe that you physically or sexually abused him or her in the past.
But using false statements is just one way that parental alienation can occur. Your child’s other parent might also try to breed resentment amongst your child by scheduling fun activities during a time when you’re supposed to be visiting with the child, which turns you into the bad guy when you make your child miss the activity so that you can visit with him or her. The alternative is that you miss out on time with your child. Either way, you’re being pushed away from your child.
Custodial parents have a lot of power over their children. They decide who has access to the child, what the child hears, and who is informed about the child’s life. This means that a custodial parent can cut a noncustodial parent out of a child’s life simply by cutting off access and failing to keep the noncustodial parent informed on the child’s medical, schooling, and extracurricular activities. Some of this gatekeeping is made with the best intentions, as erroneous as they may be, but other times it is carried out as a way to “get back” at the noncustodial parent. Either way, it poses a very real threat to your parental rights and your relationship with your child.
What can you do about parental alienation?
It’s easy to feel hopeless when you’re being subjected to parental alienation. The allegations and damaged relationship with your child might not play well for you in court, and even if you are able to right the wrong you might think that the damage is already done.
But family courts are becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of parental alienation. As a result, they are open to hearing arguments pertaining to parental alienation and improper parental gatekeeping and issue appropriate orders accordingly. This means that you need to be prepared with strong arguments that are supported by compelling evidence. This might include carefully crafted witness testimony and documentary evidence, keeping the focus on signs of alienation such as the use of language that doesn’t track the child’s age, unfair criticism that isn’t supported by the facts, and unwavering support of the other parent.
Of course, parental alienation is a tricky issue to address. But you can’t just sit back and let your relationship with your child be ruined. Therefore, if you think that your child is being subjected to manipulative behavior that is driving a wedge between you and him or her, then now is the time to discuss your set of circumstances with an attorney who can help you develop the legal strategy that you need to protect your child, your relationship with him or her, and your child’s best interest moving forward.