In Parents' Coaching, Parents' Tips

What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome

parental alienation

Today, about half of all marriages end in divorce. This means many children are growing up in separate households. While many parents are able to make things work so their children have easier transitions and adjust better to their new living situation. However, some parents work hard to push the other parent out of their child’s life. This is called parental alienation. Some parents don’t make an effort at parent alienation but still manage to alienate the other parent. Others take all the steps they can think of to separate their child from the other parent and stimulate feelings of hate and distrust.

What Is Parental Alienation?

In general terms, parental alienation refers to the act of turning children against the other parent. In some situations, this is done on purpose, while other parents don’t strive to alienate the other parent, but the damage is just as severe. Unfortunately, this phenomenon can be difficult to detect and nearly impossible to prove for many people. This is why it is important to learn as much as you can about this syndrome and its effects. Children who have divorced parents often go through enough emotional trauma without having to worry about what one parent wants them to think of the other parent. Unfortunately, the only loser in these situations is the children. This type of behavior can cause severe mental and emotional damage that can be difficult to reverse and can even result in a loss of custody or visitation time.

What Behaviors Constitute This Problem?

There are many ways in which parents can alienate the other parent from their child. They often tell the child bad things about the other parent with the intent of turning the child away from that parent. They often twist information and add details to make actions and behaviors worse than they really were. In addition to telling children bad things about the other parent, they may refuse to allow the child to see the other parent or may make false allegations that can harm the relationship between parent and child. Any behavior that contributes to a breakdown in the parent-child relationship can be seen as alienating behavior.

Symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome

While it can be difficult to pinpoint behaviors or actions as parental alienation, many children exhibit signs of this condition to indicate the other parent needs to step in before the damage is too severe. If this behavior isn’t stopped early enough, the damage can become so severe therapy may be needed to reverse the effects. In certain situations, the damage may become irreversible, causing a complete breakdown between the parent and child beyond what can be repaired. Not all symptoms may be identified, but if you notice the following, it may be time to explore the possibility further.

  • Giving the child the choice whether to visit the other parent. Children should never be asked if they want to visit for any reason.
  • Talking about the reasons for the marriage’s failure. Children don’t need to know why the marriage broke up or who is perceived to be at fault.
  • Refusing to allow children to transport belongings between homes.
  • Blaming the other parent for the breakup of the marriage, financial difficulties, new relationships or other problems.
  • Denying access to records, including school, medical and dental.
  • Refusing to be flexible in scheduling, particularly in terms of vacations and extra curriculars or scheduling activities during the other parent’s time.
  • Assuming an abusive partner will also abuse the child without proof of such actions.
  • Asking the child to choose between parents.
  • The child refuses to forgive a parent when a mistake is made.
  • Suggesting adoption or a name change when both parents are active in the child’s life.
  • The child gives vague details for being angry at a parent.
  • Keeping secrets or creating a private method of communication, including secret words.
  • Spying on the other parent through the child.
  • Tempting the child with special treats to prevent visitations.
  • Acting hurt or upset when the child leaves to visit the other parent.
  • Asking the child about the other parent’s personal life.
  • Physically or psychologically rescuing the child when it isn’t necessary.
  • Making demands outside the court order.
  • Listening in on phone conversations between the child and other parent.

It can be difficult to identify situations of parental alienation because some symptoms are exhibited by the other parent, while others are shown by the child. In some situations, these actions may not be a problem, especially if they are a solitary action. However, if you notice any of these signs, it may be time to look into the matter more deeply.

How to Detect the Issue

Before you take steps to prove parent alienation, you need to learn how to easily detect the issue. There is a specific list of criteria that must be met in order to prove your case. As you evaluate the possibility, it is important to check off whether any of these criteria fit with your situation:

  • Blocking access or contact
  • Making false abuse allegations
  • A deteriorating relationship since the time of separation
  • Development of intense reactions by the children

Before you start looking for the symptoms, it can be useful to understand the different types of alienators. This can help you identify if you are facing a case of parental alienation syndrome. There are three basic types:

  • Native Alienators — These individuals take a passive approach but will occasionally do or say something alienating.
  • Active Alienators — These people often alienate the other parent as an act of anger. However, they often feel guilty about what they do in a fit of anger.
  • Obsessed Alienator — These parents make it their life mission to alienate their children from the other parent.

The severity of the condition will vary, depending on the level of pursuit the other parent takes. It is much easier to handle a case with a native alienator than cases with obsessed alienators.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Some individuals have a higher risk of becoming the target of parental alienation. Whatever the status of your relationship, it can be useful to determine whether you are at an increased risk so you can keep your eyes and ears open. Some of the common risk factors include:

  • Withheld visits
  • Late returns
  • Uncontrolled anger, particularly in front of the children
  • Intrusive or controlling third-parties, such as grandparents and stepparents
  • Threatened abduction
  • Suggestions of abuse
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Presence of severe mental disorder
  • Interference of phone calls

The Effects of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a serious problem that can have dramatic negative repercussions. In many ways, parent alienation can be seen as abusive to the child because it causes undue emotional distress and can lead to other serious mental health issues. It can be difficult for a child to identify that a parent is causing the problems and even more distressing to have mixed feelings about one parent because of information fed by the alienating parent. In many cases, counseling is necessary to reverse these effects. If severe damage has been done to the parent/child relationship, reunification therapy may be needed. If you can prove this syndrome, you may be able to reduce the amount of time the child spends with the other parent or could even pursue supervised visits.

What about Parental Alienation Laws?

While laws will vary widely by state, there are certain factors that are similar, regardless of where you live. The burden of proof lies on the parent who is being alienated, but it can often be easy to prove with the right steps. In some cases, you may need to hire a guardian et litum to evaluate the situation and determine if parental alienation is taking place. Therapy for the children can also play a major role in successfully identifying the situation. Before you pursue your case, it is important to talk to a lawyer to go over your rights and the specific laws in your state. It may be difficult to prove, but it is well worth the effort to set your child free and ensure he is given the chance to live a life free of pressure from one parent or the other.

Parental alienation syndrome is a serious problem. While it has occurred for many years, it is more recently coming to light as a real problem that should be handled appropriately. Children are already under a lot of pressure when it comes to divorce. They want to keep both their parents happy and may often feel torn between one parent or the other. Understanding the signs of parental alienation, as well as the risk factors and who is at an increased risk will help you determine if you have a case. There are many parental alienation cases each year. To ensure children make it through the years after their parents’ divorce with less emotional damage, it is important for parents to put the child’s needs first. This means making sure they can decide how they feel about each parent without outside influence.

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