Even congenial divorces involve moments of stress. In contentious divorces filled with anger and resentment, parents sometimes resort to behaviors that negatively affect their relationship with their children. Parental alienation is a prime example of conduct that divorcing parents should actively avoid.
First identified in the 1980s, parental alienation occurs when the alienating parent turns a child away from the other parent. For example, a divorcing mother may tell her preteen daughter that her father was a terrible husband and made horrible choices the daughter never knew about. Although the mother’s accusations may carry some truth, they are deliberately aimed at turning the daughter into an ally. They also put the daughter in an uncomfortable situation to choose sides.
After hearing unpleasant things about her father, the daughter may begin to form a vastly different opinion about him. Consequently, when she is supposed to stay at her father’s house, she might actively withdrawal from spending time with him out of fear, disgust, or misplaced loyalty. Many family court judges hear from children that they no longer want to have anything to do with a parent who has no record of documented abuse or legal problems. In these cases, parental alienation could be a reason the child is picking one parent over the other.
Children who are manipulated by an alienating parent are at a serious disadvantage. Ideally, children should spend time bonding with both parents throughout their lifetime, even when the parents choose not to stay married. From the non-alienating parent’s perspective, parental alienation can be just as harmful. Parents whose children have turned away from them due to parental alienation often spend years trying to restore communication and re-building trust. In certain situations, this only happens after the children become adults and realize that they were used as pawns.
The warning signs of parental alienation can be subtle or intense. A child may try to exclude one parent from their sporting events. They may also withhold important information from a parent, including school news such as dates for parent-teacher conferences. Children can and do act out during and after divorce. However, in the case of parental alienation, one parent supports the defiance toward the other parent by rewarding the child and fueling future defiant choices.
Parents who divorce should consider therapy for themselves and their children. Studies show that alienating parents commonly have untreated mental health issues that foster their need for narcissism and control. A therapist can help an alienating parent avoid making decisions that will likely bear long-term effects.
Children of divorce who enter therapy get the opportunity to talk about their feelings with a trusted third party, which may diffuse an alienating parent’s efforts. The children can also learn to better deal with the challenges that come with parental separation, such as moving to a new neighborhood and switching schools.
Parental alienation makes divorce harder on everyone. If you are considering getting a divorce, talk with a Chester County child custody lawyer at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. today. We will walk you through the divorce process. Call us today at 610-565-3700 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.