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 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 they stay with most of the time. In severe cases, the child may be openly hostile towards the other parent, the “noncustodial parent.”
Child alienation is sometimes called “parental alienation syndrome” or “parental alienation.” Parental alienation happens when one parent impresses a negative image of the other parent in the child’s mind or speaks negatively of the other parent to such an extent that it shapes the child’s view of the other parent.
The claim that there is a syndrome such as parental alienation has been debated in both the communities of psychologists and lawyers. Whether or not it has the status of a true syndrome, the fact remains that a court may determine that one parent has negatively influenced or undermined the relationship of the other with their child.
In addition, child alienation may or may not always be caused by the actions of a parent. In some cases, child alienation occurs as a natural result of the child’s reaction to a custody arrangement in a divorce or legal separation. Or, a child may simply exhibit their own reaction to their parent’s behavior.
Symptoms and signs of child alienation can vary by case, but they may include the following:
- Strong Aversion or Dislike towards a Parent: For instance, the child may make statements such as “I don’t want to go visit Mommy!” or “I don’t like being with Daddy!;”
- Avoiding One Parent: Even when the child visits with the other parent, they may dislike spending time with them or may lock themselves in their room to avoid contact with them;
- Constant Criticism of One Parent by the Other: One parent may place blame, fault, or accusations of rejection upon the other parent in communicating with their child;
- Speaking Negatively about One Parent to Others: One parent may communicate criticism of the other to the child’s siblings, friends, peers, or teachers;
- Running Away from Home: A child may run away from home, and this act may express an aversion to one or both parents;
- Ignoring One Parent or Not Spending Time with Them: A child simply may not spend time with the parent.
Again, each case is different, and children may exhibit these signs and symptoms differently.
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 has already manifested 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 formulating child visitation schedules.
The court will base all important custody and visitation decisions on the “child’s best interest” standard in all child custody cases. Thus, if the court suspects or observes any instances of child alienation or parental alienation, they may investigate further to determine which arrangement will be best for the child.
If a court were to find that a parent has engaged in behaviors that can be viewed as parental alienation, the court may well conclude that the parent is not serving the child’s best interest. A court might limit the parent’s custody of the child or visitation. In extreme cases, a court might even completely end a parent’s custody or visitation. A court might take other measures, such as ordering psychological counseling or intervening in parental alienation and restoring a healthy parent-child relationship.
In other cases, one parent may accuse the other of parental alienation because they think it might win them some advantage in a custody dispute. Courts are generally aware of the need not to take all parental alienation accusations as the gospel truth because they are not all based on fact.
If one parent raises a claim of parental alienation, a court will hear the evidence and review it carefully. The court understands the need to assess the credibility of the parents and any other evidence presented before the court draws conclusions and makes a decision.
Overall, the impact of parental alienation on a child custody case can be complicated. It is important for parents to keep in mind that ultimately they want to work collegially to ensure the welfare of their children. They both want to avoid conduct that could be perceived or could risk feelings of alienation towards the other parent in their children.
Of course, it is also possible that a child shows symptoms because one parent has engaged in physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of the child. In such cases, the court may even place a restraining order on the abusive parent and alter the custody or visitation arrangement.
IIn other cases, the court may determine that spending time equally with both parents is actually in the child’s best interest. This is done to help the child have equal exposure to both parents where possible. Of course, such determinations depend on each individual child custody case. There is no one formula for every situation.
How Can I Prove Parental Alienation?
If a person suspects that parental alienation is a factor in their family situation, they need to make an effort to collect information that might be used in court if that should become necessary. Among the steps a person might take are the following:
- Keep Records: A person wants to make detailed notes of incidents that have raised the issue in their mind. This record would include dates, times, whether witnesses were present, and if so, who. Notes would include such incidents as times when one parent prevented the other from seeing or communicating with their child. If a person’s child expresses negative attitudes towards them, they would want to note this as well;
- Seek a Professional Assessment: A person might seek an assessment from a professional in the mental health field. This person would be able to assess the conduct of both parents and the child to form an opinion as to whether parental alienation is an issue. Of course, this would require the consent of everyone involved;
- Obtain Testimony: A person might try to identify other people who have witnessed the other parent’s alienating conduct and the effect it has had on the child;
- Provide Evidence: A person would want to be able to provide any evidence they have that shows the other parent’s behavior, such as emails, text messages, or social media posts;
- Consult an Attorney: A person would want to consult an experienced family law attorney who can help advise the person of their legal options.
How Can Child Alienation Be Prevented?
Child alienation can often be prevented through diligent observation on behalf of the parents. Both parent(s) should take note if the child begins acting in a hostile or indifferent manner towards one parent. The parents should also avoid negative comments about the other, especially in the child’s presence. They are encouraged to make positive comments about the other party.
It may also help the parent to seek counseling from a social worker or a psychologist. These professionals 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 child alienation is an issue in a person’s situation, 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. It is recommended that a person contact the court first if any changes are made. That way, the order can be changed in a legal and enforceable way.
A person should not attempt to disrupt or change the current custody arrangement without informing the court and obtaining a modification of an existing order first.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Child Alienation?
Child alienation can seriously affect 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 child alienation. They can also help represent you during court hearings if a legal proceeding should be necessary.