Parental alienation is a term that is often thrown around in divorce and paternity proceedings, however, it is rarely ever truly understood at its core. Parental alienation is a process by which a child is turned against one of their parents due to the emotional manipulation of the alienating parent and it is devastating on children.
Unfortunately, parental alienation is often used as a tool in divorce and paternity cases to harass the other side into getting a favorable child support outcome or to cause psychological harm to the other party often in a “scorch earth type of setting”.
In most parental alienation cases, the parental alienation efforts of one parent are calculated to cause the child to bond more closely with the alienating parent while rejecting a close relationship with the other parent or breaking down an existing close relationship with the other parent. The parent alienating the child from the other parent hopes to gain an advantage in court either by driving a wedge between the child and the other parent so the child “now” wants to go with the other parent or in aiding the alienating parent to be able to “suddenly” claim the other parent is unfit to care for the child to support an argument that the other parent should have none or significantly less time-sharing and parental responsibility over the children.
In many cases, the alienating parent prior to the divorce or paternity proceedings did not demonstrate actual care for the children on a day-to-day basis, so the fact that the parent now is giving the child so much attention and power, the child, not realizing what is going on, can easily succumb to the manipulation and be estranged from their other parent by the deceitful and inappropriate actions of the alienating parent. Both the children involved and the targeted parent experience lasting negative impacts due to these actions.
Parental alienation can be seen in many forms; some common examples are when one parent:
- Makes disrespectful or disparaging comments about the other parent to the child
- Consistently fails to comply with a valid time sharing agreement in order to keep the child from seeing the other parent
- Uses the child as a messenger to communicate negative information to the other parent
- Makes the child feel guilty about interacting and enjoying themselves with the other parent
- Makes false claims about the other parent and states that they are abusive.
- Asks the children to lie.
In Florida, any behavior that is viewed by the court as intentionally done to hurt a child’s relationship with the other parent can be deemed parental alienation. Parents are required to encourage affection and a relationship with the other parent and not to involve the children in the parent’s conversations. Courts will view the parent that avoids disparaging the other parent much more favorably when considering fair child custody and time-sharing orders. Florida courts have held that parental alienation is deeply damaging to children and can represent sufficient cause to warrant a modification of an existing child custody arrangement or time-sharing plan. Actions of alienation are not taken lightly by the courts and certain extreme types of parental alienation can even cause a parent to lose custody of their child if the court deems that being in such parent’s custody is not in the child’s best interest.
A parent who is being alienated must take action quickly in order to mitigate and prevent further damage to their relationship with their child. The victimized parent needs to consistently continue trying to maintain their relationship with their child and must remain logical, keeping their emotions under control and resisting retaliating against the alienating parent. If the victimized reacts with anger it can give the alienating parent more fuel to their false claims about the other parent.
Another powerful tool in combatting parental alienation is therapy. If a parent suspects that parental alienation is going on, that parent should request that the court appoint a psychologist to repair the damage being done by the other parent. The alienated children should receive therapy in joint sessions with the targeted parent in order to maximize efficacy of the therapy treatment, as individual therapy might not be enough. The alienating parent must also be in treatment to learn to recognize and stop their alienating behaviors. Family therapy addressed toward helping the parents resolve the issues that motivate the alienation should also be considered as it can be very helpful getting to the root of the issue.
If you are a parent who is battling parental alienation, it can be one of the most difficult things you will ever face. We are here to guide you and help combat this difficult situation. Our firm is here to help with all your family law matters as well as any corporate or commercial law issues. We offer both in-person and virtual consults, please feel free to call our office at 305-460-0145 to schedule a consultation.