Understanding and Proving Parental Alienation

It's enough of a shame for a relationship between two parents to fall apart. Whether they were married or in an otherwise positive child-rearing relationship, to watch the foundation fall apart at the seams is always unfortunate.

Where it gets darker and sadder is when battles for custody and their child or children's affection are thrown into the mix.

A scornful relationship between two parents can be extremely detrimental for a child that can become irreparable. This is especially the case when one parent loses sight of the big picture and begins to use a tactic known as parental alienation.

What is Parental Alienation?

In turbulent, high-conflict child-rearing relationships, sometimes one parent attempts to psychologically manipulate their child/children into being alienated from the other parent.

Often, alienation comes in the form of fear, disrespect, and/or hostility towards the victimized parent. It can even be far-reaching enough to impact a child's relationship with other relatives and family friends.

Parentectomy Versus Parental Alienation

A paper called "Parentectomy in the Crossfire," took an in-depth look at this issue. (See Collette C. Summers and David M. Summers, The America Journal of Family Therapy, 34:243-261, 2006.)

A parentectomy refers to a fully-severed parent-child relationship. However, that's not necessarily the same as parental alienation—as the separation from a former guardian can benefit their son or daughter.

Regardless, the two terms do cross over in many ways. And it's important to decipher whether a parentectomy has occurred due to methods of parental alienation. The paper in question discusses the need to interpret the many factors involved before deciding upon custody.

What are Examples of Parental Alienation Tactics?

It’s not unheard of for former spouses to use derogatory and profane language to describe their ex in front of a child. This is an alienation tactic and paints the target as an adversary.

Also, this action miseducates the child and promotes disrespect. This kind of behavior can manifest when a child begins to refer to the victimized parent on a first-name basis, a direct act of disrespect. Frequently, the child learns this through the actions of an alienator.

Alienation can manifest itself when a child is coerced into spying on a target parent. Furthermore, an alienator might encourage their son or daughter to keep secrets from the alienated ex, therapist, or custody evaluator.

Such actions teach a child utterly reprehensible values because they're now complicit in the deception. Over time, it will backfire and hurt a child's trust, self-esteem, and ability to be truthful.

Parental alienation can display itself in mild and severe forms. Badmouthing in the heat of the moment can be just as destructive as a more comprehensive, calculated character assassination.

The above notion especially rings true when there's no counter behavior to lessen the impact of off-the-cuff insults.

How Can You Pinpoint Alienation?

An ugly custody battle means you need to defend yourself at all costs, or else you could lose your relationship with your child. The article I've cited has provided forensic investigators with suggestions that can shed some insight on this front.

First and foremost, when the alienator demonstrates frequent writing of convincing, defamatory, and speculative letters consisting of questionable statements and unclear timelines, that should act as a red flag. Often, when these letters are analyzed, it's revealed that deception is being used to demonize the target parent in the eyes of a third party (e.g., custody evaluator).

Another critical warning sign is the refusal to speak to the target parent. This alienation effort is combined with the unilateral decision to hire an independent evaluator – or therapist – to "treat" the child.

It's common for these independently hired guns to favor the alienator, but when dealing with them legally, know that they can be held accountable via licensing boards and ethics committees. In many cases, though, these therapists themselves can be viewed as victims of the alienator's manipulations and start aiding and abetting with the best of (misguided) intentions.

Defending Yourself Against Alienation

Obviously, child protective services social workers should understand the many subtleties and complicated dynamics involved in alienation, but don’t count on it. Social workers may lack sufficient training on the issue or may be susceptible themselves to manipulation by the alienating parent.

As such, it's up to you and your legal team to take note of alienating tactics being used against you, and then show CPS what's happening.

Not only could it save your relationship with your child, but it may be necessary to get your name off the Child Abuse Central Index.