After a divorce, it is not uncommon for one party to have negative feelings toward the other party. Generally, adults can handle this in a number of different ways while working through these emotions. When there are children involved, however, negative emotions can quickly become parental alienation.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is the act of one parent turning the child against the other parent. While many people assume this to be the intentional act of distancing a child from another parent, the process might be wholly unconscious. The fact that the alienation was not intentional, however, does not diminish the devastating effect of one parent damaging a child’s relationship with the other parent.
How does this happen?
As the alienator, a parent has numerous tactics at his or her disposal to discredit the ex-spouse, including:
- Divulging unnecessary relationship details: The alienator might choose to share family secrets with the child that cast the other parent in a negative light. Instances of infidelity, for example, or even stories of past criminal activity can shade a child’s feelings.
- Bending or breaking custody guidelines: By missing appointments or being late to a custody exchange, the alienator can make the subtle, yet consistent, point that the other parent’s time is not important.
- Becoming protective of personal items: The alienator might become insistent that the child only brings the necessary clothing to custody exchanges. A favorite book, popular video games and comforting toys, however, will always stay at the alienator’s house. This can subconsciously build negative associations with the alienated parent.
Are there common signs that this is happening?
While certain actions of the alienator might raise red flags, the alienated parent must be aware of various signs or symptoms exhibited by the child, including:
- The child constantly and unfairly criticizes the alienated parent
- The child shows unwavering support for the alienator
- The child shows no guilt about mistreating the alienated parent
- The child shows no mixed or positive feelings toward the alienated parent – they are all negative feelings
What can be done?
It is important to act quickly and decisively. Make detailed records of events, dates and times of when you witnessed your ex’s lack of respect toward you in front of the child. Additionally, make notes of negative things your child has said to you that might have come from the other parent. Contact an experienced family law attorney and explain your worries. A lawyer can provide the suggestions and representation you need.