What is Parental Alienation and How to Avoid It

Parental alienation is an insidious process that tends to happen over time. Its roots are deep and widespread. A Separation or impending divorce can breed resentment and anger between two parents which, in turn, sets the stage for parental alienation to occur. Fortunately, there are many ways to lessen the acrimony and anger of divorcing parents at the beginning and even during the process, which helps to prevent the occurrence of parental alienation. For example, the Court may direct one or both parties to engage in a parenting class for the purpose of teaching them how to co-parent and to educate them about the impact that their own negative behavior can be having on their children.

Many divorces are emotionally charged. It is normal to experience feelings of anger, resentment, sorrow, and anxiety. Sadly, it is not uncommon for one parent, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to foster a child’s alienation from the other parent. In fact, there are many ways that a parent can engender a child’s alienation from the other parent. Sometimes one parent will enlist the child as a confidant and share information which causes the child to resent, disrespect or fear the other parent. Sometimes, one parent may share their grief and the details of how they were wronged by the other parent, which may cause the child to feel like they must be that parent’s protector against the other. Younger children are easy to influence, and many teens already feel a “natural alienation” toward one or both parents and it certainly is not difficult to turn rebellion and naturally occurring feelings of sadness and anxiety into hostility.

In situations where a court suspects that intentional alienation is taking place, it has several options at its disposal to investigate and determine what is happening in the family dynamic.

Attorney for the Child:  Anytime issues of custody and parenting arise in a divorce case a Court will appoint an attorney to represent the child.  The child’s attorney is charged with making the child’s feelings, desires and opinions known to the Court. They can often assist in diffusing acrimonious situations.

Mental Health Evaluations:  In certain situations where the acrimony rises to the level of dysfunction or there are questions of mental health or parental fitness, the Court may appoint a forensic psychologist to meet with the child and both parents, to better understand the family dynamics, and to obtain an objective, professional handle on the situation and the status of everyone’s mental health. Reports from forensic psychologists are a valuable tool that a Judge has at his or her disposal to assist in the determination of what is happening and what lies in the best interests of a child.

Reunification Therapy.  If there has been a pattern of neglect, abuse, emotional abandonment, or ongoing substance abuse by one of the parents, a child’s refusal to see that parent may be justified and not viewed as intentional alienation by the other parent. However, if both parents are loving, sober and in sound mental health and always maintained a close connection with the child, but the child refuses to see a particular parent for no apparent reason, the Court has the authority to direct the child and alienated parent to engage in Reunification Therapy. The goal here is to uncover the root causes of the child’s refusal to see a parent, reduce the tension and heal the rift so that a healthy relationship can ensue.

Custody Modification.  In cases where a Court determines that alienation by one parent is entirely intentional and persistent, it may take the drastic step of removing the child from the care of the alienating parent and awarding custody to the parent who has been the victim of the alienation. This solution meets with varying degrees of success, greatly influenced by the length of time the alienation has occurred and the age of the child.

Contempt.  If, in fact, one of the parents is intentionally disobeying the parenting provisions of a prior custody Order, the Court can hold that parent in contempt and even deny that parent access to the child or children.

No two cases are the same. Of course, not all situations are quick or easy to resolve, and sometimes a bad situation can be made worse unintentionally by anyone or, a combination of the above options employed by the Court. Anytime that a Court is involved in issues of custody and parenting schedules the situation becomes far more complicated and parents surrender control over parenting decisions.

To the extent that both parents can agree either to mediation or to the collaborative process, they can maintain control over parenting issues and avoid the occurrence of alienation and destruction of their family which occurs all too often in the legal system.  It is in fact possible for divorce to be a fair, dignified and mutually beneficial process. When children are involved, this approach is kinder, healthier, and many times diffuses the potential for parental alienation to occur.

If you would like to discuss your family situation and the options at your disposal please contact us at 516-308-2922 or email us at Kmc@adrlawny.com.

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