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It’s no secret that divorce is difficult, even in the very best of situations.  Even in situations where both parties to the marriage agree that divorce is for the best, and are able to put their differences aside and work cooperatively toward resolution of the issues between them, it isn’t easy.  Simply because of what it is and all that it entails, divorce is stressful.  It can be all the more so, however, if you have a spouse, or an ex-spouse who is unable to put differences aside, or worse, who actively works against you and intentionally attempts to make your life difficult.

Even if you have decided that divorce is for the best, you may assume that your spouse could never turn against you – that your spouse would never intentionally take actions to make your life difficult.  Unfortunately, however, divorce often causes people to act in unexpected ways – sometimes people even surprise themselves with the intensity of their feelings and their desire to act in ways that may differ significantly from their normal pattern of behavior. Sometimes these behaviors can occur during the divorce process itself, and in other cases, the behavior may actually occur after the divorce has been granted.

Parental Alienation

Certainly, in most divorces, the most emotional and contentious issues between parties can often concern their children. This only makes sense, as what we love the most often has the capacity to cause us the most pain.  Unfortunately, either during or after a painful divorce, one parent may begin intentionally trying to harm the other parent indirectly through the children that they share together. The “official” legal term used to describe these behaviors is parental alienation.

Parental alienation occurs when one parent intentionally tries to turn the children against the other parent.  In the course of making these attempts, the parent seeking to harm the other parent may attempt to convince their children of any number of things that aren’t actually true.  The parent may try to convince the children that they aren’t safe with their other parent, that the other parent doesn’t love them as much, that the other parent might eventually replace them with another family.  Outright attempts at alienation may be made, or attempts may be more subtle – such as encouraging the child to call one parent “just to be safe” when they are with the other parent – small attempts like this to undermine the child’s sense of security around the other parent can often amount to significant emotional harm and distance in the long-term.

Signs That Your Ex May Be Engaging in Parental Alienation – And Steps You Can Take to Counter Those Behaviors

If you suspect that your spouse may be engaging in parental alienation,

  • Your child tries to avoid visiting you or your side of the family;
  • Your child always takes sides with the other parent against you;
  • Your child unexpectedly begins to display a great deal of anger and resentment toward you;

Certainly, it can be very upsetting to realize, or even suspect that your spouse may be attempting to turn the child that you love so much against you.  While there are certainly consequences to that parent’s actions and legal avenues you may be able to pursue to protect yourself, there are also steps you can take when you are with your child to try to counter the negative influences of the other parent.  These include:

  • Never speaking badly of the other parent to your child even if you may be tempted to;
  • Continuing to be your normal self – don’t try to change your behavior drastically by buying the child lavish unexpected gifts, allowing the child to break your normal rules, or otherwise indulging the child in the hopes that it will gain you extra favor;
  • Loving your child unconditionally.  No matter what, make it clear to your child that you love him or her unconditionally, and that you always will.
  • Refusing to blame your child.  Even if your child seems to be irrationally and unreasonably angry or resentful toward you, do not make your child feel as if he or she is at fault for their conflicting and confusing feelings.  It can, after all, be very difficult to be a child in general, and even more so when one parent is actively trying to turn that child against the other parent.
  • Continuing to have fun with your child, and reminding them of all of the fun, happy times you have shared together.  This will not only lift your child’s spirits, but will also help to counteract the negative thoughts and feelings the other parent may actively be trying to project onto the child.

While all of these behaviors are important and helpful, it is also necessary to realize that actions do, as always, have consequences.  If you suspect that your ex-spouse may be actively trying to turn your child against you, you should know that there can and should be very real consequences for those actions.

Consequences of Parental Alienation

Often, parents who engage in parental alienation do not thoroughly think through the fact that engaging in this behavior can ultimately work against a parent in an eventual custody fight.  When making decisions about child custody, judges will always look to protect and serve the best interests of the children involved. If evidence is ultimately presented in court showing that one parent was intentionally attempting to alienate the children from the other parent, a judge may find that it is no longer in the best interest of the child for the parent engaging in the manipulation and alienation to continue to have custody.  Clearly, attempting to engage in this behavior can backfire drastically on the parent engaging in the manipulation, and for that reason among many others, it is best to avoid such manipulation entirely.

It should also be said loudly and clearly that even beyond the potential legal consequences of parental alienation, those parents who attempt to turn their children against the other parent are ultimately doing far more to harm their children in the long run than they are the other parent. It is important for children to feel loved, secure, and able to trust and rely upon both parents at all times – but especially during a time as difficult as divorce. If the other parent truly poses no risk to the child, and the urge to turn the child against the parent is coming from a desire for revenge, the parent who is angry should seek a better, healthier outlet for the expression of that anger.  Doing so will be of benefit to everyone involved.

If you suspect that your ex-spouse may be attempting to engage in parental alienation, it is important to remember that you do have rights, and you can and should seek to protect them. As parental alienation can be harmful to children as well as the parents involved, it is always a good idea to consult a therapist and allowing your child time to work through their issues with that therapist if it would be helpful.  In addition, it is always a wise step to consult your attorney, so that you can take the necessary steps to seek a change in custody or otherwise legally protect yourself if necessary.  Finally, if you believe it may be beneficial, you can attempt to talk with your ex-spouse about the behavior.  In some cases, the other parent could in fact be unaware of the effect their comments or behaviors are having on their children, and may be willing to try and change once those harmful behaviors are brought to their attention.

Call the Law Office of Dustin McCrary Today

If you have reason to suspect that your child or children may be the victim of parental alienation, you should know that you may in fact have legal remedies available.  Consulting with an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in family law about your suspicions, and what your potential remedies might be is always a wise step.  Taking this step early can help you to protect your children and your family as a whole from the very negative and lasting consequences that parental alienation can have. At the Law Office of Dustin McCrary, family law is our passion, and helping families like yours through the difficulties that can often be associated with divorce is our purpose.  We would welcome the opportunity to help you with this, or any other of your divorce-related issues and encourage you to call us today.  We look forward to speaking with you soon.

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