[Unthinkable Series] Is Parental Alienation Real And How To Fix It?
In an article for The Atlantic titled, Can Children Be Persuaded to Love a Parent They Hate?, Barbara Bradley Hagerty describes what happened to the children of a Toronto family during their divorce in the early 2000s.
The father of the family had custody of the kids during summer break. During the summer days, the kids played, swam, and had outdoor fun as all children do during the summer. But at night, the father would keep the children up until the wee hours of the morning, badmouthing their mother. He would tell them that she was depressed, that she didn't really care about them, and that she was addicted to prescription drugs.
Their father's behavior went on for six years and even drifted into the school year. He would call his children at their mother's home every night just to tell them how bad their mother was. If the kids ever defended her, he would get angry and hang up the phone.
Parental Alienation Defined
The story in that article is an extreme example of parental alienation. Parental alienation is a manipulation process used by one parent against another. The result is that the child becomes estranged from the targeted parent. That estrangement shows up as fear, disrespect, or hostility toward the targeted parent. Parental alienation is controversial because the American Psychiatric Association does not recognize it as an official mental disorder for the parent or children.
Parental Alienation Behaviors
Even parents who do their very best to create a strong bond between their child and co-parent can demonstrate alienator type behaviors without even realizing it. These behaviors include:
• "Badmouthing" or portraying the targeted parent as unloving, unsafe, and unavailable;
• Limiting contact and communication with the targeted parent; or
• Undermining the targeted parent's authority.
Signs of Parental Alienation
According to Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D., a nationally recognized expert on parental alienation, children who are affected by parental alienation will display 1 or a combination of 8 behaviors:
• Extremely negative views toward the targeted parent and lack of interest in improving the relationship;
• Frivolous or absurd reasons for hurt and anger with the targeted parent;
• Viewing favored parent as always good and the targeted parent as always bad;
• Always siding with the favored parent over the other;
• Being cold or hostile toward the friends and family of the targeted parent;
• Exhibiting a lack of remorse for hurting the targeted parent's feelings;
• Claiming their feelings toward the targeted parent have nothing to do with behaviors of the favored parent, and
• Parroting the favored parent's words even when they don't understand their meaning.
Parental Alienation In Family Court
Because parental alienation is not officially recognized as a mental disorder, Texas family courts take a conservative approach when dealing with cases where parental alienation might be at play. Even when the parental alienation evidence is overwhelming, the courts will lean toward parents making joint decisions about their child's welfare unless that evidence includes dramatic or traumatic details.
Addressing Parental Alienation Head On
If you are the target of a parental alienation campaign, keep these tips in mind:
1. Keep Records. Always keep a journal of dates, times, witnesses, and descriptions of any interactions that bolster your claim of parental alienation.
2. Get Professionals Involved. Seek the help of therapists and counselors for you and your children if you feel they are being harmed or manipulated.
3. Stay Cool. Never retaliate or act in anger, as this will serve to confirm the alienating parent's accusations.
4. Keep Your Side of the Street Clean. Pay your child support on time, follow the specifications of custody orders closely, and never badmouth your co-parent no matter how much they are badmouthing you.
5. Seek Legal Help. If you are looking to make modifications to your custody arrangements because of parental alienation, you need a skilled lawyer by your side to help you present your case.
Don't let parental alienation stop you from having the loving parent-child relationship you deserve. Contact Angela F. Brown and Associates today to schedule a private and confidential consultation as soon as possible.
This is the third article in our Unthinkable Series. We'll publish articles about some of the unique custody situations we've encountered in our practice with tips to help you overcome similar challenges during the series. Then we'll host a live Q&A session where you can get your custody questions answered in real-time later in the week. If you have questions about this series or would like to submit a question for our live Q&A, please contact our office here.