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Parental Alienation


The divorce process can be an emotionally and mentally difficult period for both you and your children. One of the most important things you can do as a divorced parent is avoid alienating your children from your ex-spouse and your child's other parent.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is when a child is turned away from one parent, usually because of actions or words of the other parent. Things said and done can attribute to a child's indifference or hostility toward your former spouse.

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Naturally, this can be painful and damaging for children. And many parents going through a divorce engage in some level of alienating behavior, even if they don't mean to. Learn the signs of parental alienation and how to protect your children.

Three Levels of Parental Alienation

At some point, most divorced parents practice some alienating behaviors. Depending on how and when the behaviors occur will determine if they are problematic.

Low-level or mild alienators generally act with the best interest of the child in mind. Parents who have mild alienation behaviors tend to be cooperative with the other parent, share children's medical and school information, while trying to keep their interests separate from their children's. Parents with occasional moments of alienation may suggest with words or actions that the other parent has committed some fault or should be blamed for something.

Mid-level or moderate alienators tend to alienate the children from their ex-spouses more actively and more consistently than mild alienators. Some suggest that excessive emotional hurt, anger or resentment toward an ex-spouse causes moderate alienators to lash out, verbally bashing former spouses in front of the kids. They tend to recognize their children's best interest but don't always act in it. For example, they may be less flexible with sharing time with children.

High-level or severe alienators engage in an active, conscious campaign to alienate their children from their ex-spouses. They try to align children's views with their own and may insist that they're protecting their children, even if the other spouse has presented no threat to the children.

Parental Alienation Symptoms: Behaviors to Avoid

After a divorce, helping your children maintain a healthy relationship with both parents can be difficult. Be aware of the following common alienating behaviors and try working to avoid them from your daily routine so you can help your children recover emotionally from your divorce.

  • Sharing too much: Honesty doesn't mean telling your kids all the sordid details of your divorce. Telling your kids negative information about their other parent will hurt them and harm the relationship.
  • Giving false choices: Don't let your children choose whether to go to Dad's this weekend - legally, they can't. Plus, you could encourage resentment in them and your ex.
  • Keeping information to yourself: Medical records, school information, soccer schedules - everything should be shared between you and your ex. Withholding important facts makes things harder for everyone.
  • Using your kids as spies: Asking your kid to gather facts on your former spouse puts them in an awkward position. If there's something you need to know, ask your ex-spouse.
  • Ignoring children's needs: Your kids may need to tote belongings between houses, as well as talk on the phone and bond with your ex-spouse. Pretending these needs don't exist may harm your children's development and their relationship with both parents.
  • Refusing to budge: Sometimes, you may have to give a little on child custody days or child visitation time. Chances are, at some point you'll need your ex to be flexible in the future. Pointless rigidity doesn't benefit anyone.
  • Sabotaging your ex-spouse's time: Planning fun activities for time your ex is supposed to have the kids or over-scheduling kids so they have little to no free time with your ex causes hard feelings. Your kids will be sore about missing the fun, your ex is angry you tried to pull them away and your relationship with your kids suffers.
  • Rescuing your kids from nothing: Acting like you're saving your children physically or psychologically from their other parent when you don't need to may create a false illusion that one parent is unfit or dangerous.
  • Blaming your ex for the divorce: Even if it was your ex-spouse's fault, there's no need to share this with your kids.
  • Lying: When you tell your children false information, your ex may have to cover for you and you may be alienated from your children.

Keep in mind that these behaviors can make divorce even more difficult for children. Modifying your behavior may be difficult, but with a concentrated effort, you may prevent yourself from alienating your children from your ex-spouse or yourself.

Speak to a Divorce Lawyer about Children and Divorce

Discuss how to protect your relationship with your children  with a local divorce lawyer. Learn how to handle the legal aspects of divorce without involving your children in something that isn't their fault. Call 877-349-1310 or fill out a divorce case review form to connect with a divorce attorney near you today.

The above summary of parental alienation is by no means all-inclusive and is not intended to provide legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on parental alienation issues, speak to a divorce attorney in your area.