We’ve addressed a host of issues that divorced people face with their co-parents here on our blog. For example, not long ago, we talked about what to do if your co-parent is intentionally disobeying your custody agreement.
However, on occasion, co-parents experience a problem so serious that it’s actually been labeled a “syndrome” or medical disorder by some: parental alienation. This is more serious than one parent criticizing their ex to their children or in front of them. It often involves a parent lying about their ex to their child, saying the child’s other parent doesn’t love them (and never did) and maybe even telling them their other parent is dangerous.
Some parents brainwash their kids or rewrite history so they believe that they never had any good times with a parent — even when there’s evidence to the contrary. One psychologist says, “When you show [victims of alienation] pictures of happy vacations where they were smiling at the beach or show them videos, they will say I was just faking it, I didn’t even like him. And it’s pictures of them when they are 5 and 6 years old. So, it can get that severe.”
When parents are successful at alienating their child from another parent, it’s often the kids that push that other parent away. The parent who’s engaging in parental alienation may keep their co-parent and child apart by saying they’re only abiding by the child’s wishes or that their child is afraid of their other parent.
It’s the kids who are the real victims of parental alienation. The impact can last well into adulthood — causing a lack of trust in relationships and even estrangement from both parents.
The American Psychological Association is still researching parental alienation and hasn’t yet gone so far as to label it a syndrome. However, one attorney notes that family courts have seen firsthand how destructive it is. He says, “I have won custody just on that issue.”
If you believe that your co-parent has been engaging in parental alienation, your priorities likely include getting that parent to stop their behavior, perhaps modifying the custody and visitation agreement to limit your child’s contact with that parent and seeking help from a child therapist. Your family law attorney can help you do what’s best for your child before it’s too late.