Emotions often run high during a divorce, and when a spouse exhibits bitterness and anger against their soon-to-be-ex, children often get caught in the middle.
This can lead to a common syndrome amongst divorcing couples, known as parental alienation. Parents often intentionally or unintentionally manipulate their children to fear or turn against the other parent.
How are children manipulated?
When families break apart, children often suffer the most and too often feel that they have to choose sides in the divorce. Most parents consider their children the most important part of their lives but lose sight of that by expressing feelings of betrayal, failure or rejection against the other parent.
Alienation can occur through subtle comments one parent makes about the other to a child, knowing that it will trigger feelings of love and loyalty. The results not only hurt the alienated parent but can damage the child’s emotional and mental growth.
How to spot the signs
A child who has been manipulated against a parent can exhibit many types of behaviors, including:
- Withdrawing from the alienated parent
- Refusing to spend time with the alienated parent
- Showing separation anxiety when transferring from the manipulative parent
- Repeating rude or derogatory comments spoken by one parent about the other
When alienation occurs, another red flag is a child commenting on specific court matters of which they would not usually be aware.
Taking steps to combat parental alienation
While judges are aware that this condition exists, it can be challenging to prove parental alienation. An experienced family law attorney understands that courts always put a child’s best interests first. Your lawyer can take several steps to protect your parental rights.
These steps include court orders for a counselor to assess the relationship, request therapy as part of the custody order, modify custody plans and require parents to communicate with each other for all parenting matters and not use their children as messengers.