In some divorce and child custody cases, children may exhibit what is known as “child alienation” symptoms or child alienation syndrome. This is where the child exhibits a strong resistance to being with or spending time with one of their parents. 

In other words, the child strongly prefers one parent over the other, usually preferring the “custodial parent” (the parent who they stay with most of the time). In severe cases, the child may be outright hostile towards the other parent (the “noncustodial parent”). 

Child alienation is also sometimes referred to as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” or “Parental Alienation”. Parental alienation happens where the parent paints a negative image of the other parent in the child’s mind, or where they speak negatively of the other parent. 

However, child alienation may or may not always be caused by the actions of the parent. in some cases, child alienation occurs as a natural result of the child’s reaction to the divorce/separation custody arrangement. 

Symptoms and signs of child alienation can vary by case, but they include:

  • Strong aversion or dislike towards the other parent. For instance, the child may make statements like “I don’t want to go visit Mommy!” or “I don’t like being with Daddy!”.
  • Hiding from or avoiding the other parent. Even when the child visits with the other parent, they may dislike seeing or spending time with them, or may lock themselves in their room to avoid contact with them.
  • Placing blame, fault, or rejection upon the other parent.
  • Speaking negatively about one parent to their siblings, friends, peers, or teachers.
  • Running away from home.
  • Ignoring the one parent or not spending any time at all with the parent.

Again, each case is different, and children may exhibit these signs and symptoms in different ways.

How Does Child Alienation Affect Child Custody?

Child alienation and parental alienation can strongly affect child custody arrangements and determinations. For example, the court may discover that the child is already manifesting a dislike toward or fear of one parent. In such cases, the court will generally factor this information in when creating a child custody order or when formulating child visitation schedules.

In all child custody cases, the court will base all important custody and visitation decisions on the “child’s best interest” standard. Thus, if the court suspects or observes any instances of child alienation or parental alienation, then they may conduct further investigation to determine which arrangement will be best for the child. 

It may be the case that the child is manifesting symptoms because there are actual instances of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. In such cases, the court may even place a restraining order on the abusive parent and may alter the custody or visitation arrangement. 

In other cases, the court may determine that it’s actually in the child’s best interest for them to spend time equally with both parents. This is done in an effort to help the child obtain equal exposure to both parents where possible. Of course, such determinations will depend on each individual child custody case. 

How Can Child Alienation Be Prevented?

Child alienation can often be prevented through diligent observation on behalf of the parents. The parent(s) should take note if the child begins acting in a hostile or indifferent manner towards one parent. The parents should also avoid making negative comments about the other party in the child’s presence. In fact, they are encouraged to make positive comments about the other party.

It may also help for the parent to seek counseling from a social worker or an attorney. These are professionals who can teach parents how to recognize symptoms of child alienation or parent alienation. In severe cases, the intervention or guidance of a health or psychological professional may be necessary.

What if I Need a Child Custody Order to be Changed?

If issues with child alienation are affecting the custody or visitation arrangement, then it is often possible to get the custody or visitation order changed or modified. This is done by filing a request with the court. In fact, it is recommended that you contact the court first if any changes are made. That way, the order can be changed in a way that is legal and enforceable. 

You should not attempt to disrupt or change the current custody arrangement without informing the court and obtaining approval first.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Child Alienation?

Child alienation can have serious negative effects on a child’s upbringing and health. If you need assistance with any legal issues such as child custody or visitation, you may wish to contact a qualified child custody lawyer in your area. Your lawyer can help you recognize and prevent what child alienation is. They can also help represent you during court hearings if a legal proceedings become necessary.