How to Deal with Parental Alienation
Any father who has been the targeted parent of parental alienation and witnessed first-hand its dangerous effects always wants to know, “how could I have avoided this?”
Parental alienation disorder is a mental condition in which a child, usually one put in the middle of a contentious divorce, allies strongly with one parent and rejects a relationship with the other parent without legitimate justification.
To prevent or combat alienation requires a great deal of patience, according to Dr. Richard Warshak, author of “Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing“, a book that gives parents powerful strategies to preserve and repair loving relationships with their children.
“Don’t overreact, don’t allow your contact to be interrupted, and hang in there,” he advises. “If the child expresses distorted views of you, provide the information to help clarify issues when appropriate.”
There are actions you can take to reduce the likelihood of parental alienation occurring, according to Warshak, who is an internationally renowned lecturer and authority on divorce, custody, and the psychology of alienated children.
Some of it depends on your spouse, but the parent can certainly maintain regular contact with the children and keep the arranged schedules of contact consistent. It’s also important to not badmouth the other parent and to not give your kids the third degree, he said.
The alienated parent tends to overreact, tries to talk the child out of their feelings, withdraws from the child and accuses the child of just repeating the other parent’s complaints, according to Warshak.
“You don’t want to jump to conclusions and conclude that the other parent is always trying to turn the child against you,” he said. “Innocent situations may turn out to just be innocent situations. Don’t immediately assume alienation is occurring.”
If you’re on civil terms with your ex-wife, it’s important to discuss your concerns with them. If you aren’t on that level, you need to seek counseling with a third party.
Of course, if the alienation extends to denying contact then it’s crucial to get legal assistance to ensure your rights are protected and orders enforced.
“You cannot allow your contact with the child to be interrupted. Time and space is the beginning to the end of the relationship,” said Warshak.
There are criminal penalties in most states for interfering with a parent’s rights, including interfering with the parent’s time or decision-making authority.
How you bring this issue to the court’s attention will depend on the severity of the situation – was it willful? A legitimate misunderstanding? A one-time occurrence?
First, you must bring this issue to the court’s attention if you want to enforce your ordered rights. Your court will not enforce its order unless a party brings to the court’s attention something that needs enforcing.
In addition to consulting a lawyer in your area for a thorough review of your case and the laws applicable to it, consider these options, as detailed by Cordell & Cordell divorce lawyer Jennifer Paine:
Informal Court Enforcement: Research the resources in your area for parenting time and custody enforcement. Many states do not require a court motion before a judge to enforce court orders. Other resources, such as parenting time monitors, counselors, and custody mediators, exist. In some states, parents who have missed visitation with their children may file a complaint to request make up parenting time.
Contempt: If your ex simply refuses to follow your court’s order, consider filing a motion to have your judge hold her in contempt for disobedience.
The judge will order her to comply, perhaps with make up parenting time, and you will create a record of your denied time in the event you need to modify the order later.
Motion to Modify: If your ex purposely denies your time, if your child is unhappy or if you suspect something about your current order just does not “work” and a change would be better, consider filing a motion to modify physical custody or parenting time.
In general, your unhappiness with the order is not enough; you must show a proper cause or change in circumstances since the last order to justify the change. Some states require a higher burden if you are not a joint physical custodian.
Document: Be sure to document when you will exercise parenting time and what happens if parenting time goes awry. Confirm the dates you intend to exercise parenting time in writing. Keep a journal to document your concerns. This is somewhat therapeutic, and it will also refresh your memory when discussing your case with a lawyer and if you need to testify in the future.
Be precise and professional, and avoid any nasty naming calling – writings from you may be admissible in court as substantive evidence or for impeachment.
The divorce attorneys for men at Cordell and Cordell Family Law handle many domestic litigation issues. Contact the Cordell & Cordell office nearest you or learn more information about parental alienation on DadsDivorce.com.