Child Manipulation: How to Protect Your Child and Yourself

The challenge of protecting your child and yourself from child manipulation

It’s hard to protect against child manipulation by the other parent but here is the best advice you can have.

Child manipulation cases, often referred to as parental alienation, are complex and often require a lot of legal and medical/psychological expertise to expose and challenge. When one parent makes false allegations against the other and manipulates the child to join in, it can be extremely hard to prove that their allegations are untrue.  Children in these situations are not only vulnerable due to their natural immaturity but will be additionally confused and emotionally destabilised by their torn loyalties and insecurity.  They have become a prize to be fought over by those who should be protecting and nurturing them. 

A child may have been so manipulated by the alienating parent that they will say whatever that parent wants them to say and may even believe they are telling the truth. Don’t underestimate the uphill struggle to prove what is really going on. 

The harm caused by child manipulation

The harm child manipulation causes can be very severe

Sometimes child manipulation has been so harmful that:

  • There is an ‘intractable’ dispute over where the child should live or how much time they should spend with the other parent;
  • All contact has stopped altogether and there is implacable hostility between the parents which is harming the child as a result;
  • The child (usually an older one) opposes and resists the course of action being put forward by the social worker, expert or favoured by the court;
  • There are complex medical or mental health issues affecting the child or one or both parents;
  • There have been serious allegations of physical sexual or other abuse or domestic violence;
  • A child is abducted and in extreme cases this can be across borders and international

None of these are uncommon situations in extreme parental alienation cases. 

The challenge for professionals trying to expose child manipulation

The job of any professional – the social worker, children’s guardian, an independent expert such as a psychologist and, of course, the judge – involved in the case is to understand enough about what is happening to decide what’s in the child’s best interests. You have to hope that the professionals are sufficiently trained and competent to see through the alienating parent.  Doing so can be made even harder if the alienating parent has instructed skilled, aggressive legal representation (and it is interesting to consider what lawyers representing a manipulative parent are thinking when they energetically support the parent’s position).  

But seeing through the manipulative behaviour often requires a level of maturity, experience and judgement which is rare.  That means that the non-manipulative parent has to work hard to help the professionals and the court to understand the situation.  Do not assume that others will see things your way, just because you think it’s obvious. 

Do not underestimate how hard it is for a professional to decide who is telling the truth, especially if the child is already heavily influenced to parrot the allegations made by the manipulative parent.   Sadly, even the most well-meaning professional may fail to understand enough and ends up suggesting a plan for your child which you don’t agree with.  Your only protection is to produce the evidence to prove child manipulation.

What you should do to prevent or expose child manipulation

Keep records to protect yourself and to get the evidence you need. 

The key to success is to gather all the evidence of manipulation you can so that you build a record which proves your case.  Even though it is time consuming and tedious, record keeping is essential if you are to get a good outcome.  Of course, nobody really wants to start keeping detailed records of what happens during their time with their child or of every interaction with their ex but it is the only way to prove what is happening.

Every little example helps

Sometimes, each incident, such as an insinuation or a vague threat, can seem trivial on its own but when all such incidents are recorded a pattern can emerge to show how consistent or relentless the manipulative behaviour is.  Showing the pattern of events in a timeline can be key to persuading the court that the child is being systematically manipulated even if each individual event can seem trivial on its own.

False accusations, for example of aggression, abuse or substance misuse, are common in such cases but evidence gathering is key whether you’re already being falsely accused or not. Without a clear record of what both you and the alienating parent have said and done, made at the time events occurred and supported by some evidence to prove what you say is true, you have little hope of winning your case.  

Your records must be detailed and contemporaneous

You must keep meticulous records as soon as you embark on what’s likely to be a contentious family court case where one person’s word is set against the other’s.  Without some factual evidence the court will be left guessing what is the truth.  Keeping a record so that you have compelling and convincing evidence is the only way you will help the professionals involved and the court to come to the right conclusions. 

Make a record of each event as soon as possible so that it is fresh in your memory, you can remember exactly what was said and done and have evidence that you have not made it up or misremembered it.

Be prepared for trouble

You’ll probably already know that you are facing a contentious case because you will know what the other parent is like and the lengths they’ll go to to achieve their aims.  You need to match the effort they will make to win the child over and the only way to do that is to gather the evidence to prove your case.

Your records should include:
  • A record  of all contact you have with the other person, including emails, texts, phone calls, and in-person meetings whether the children are present or not. Be cautious.  Don’t make contact by phone or meet the other parent alone if possible. It can be difficult to prove what was said in a conversation.  If you have to have a discussion, make sure you write a record of what was said and agreed as soon as possible afterwards. Try to write down exactly what was said, rather than simply summarise the exchange.  Quote verbatim any threat or insult.  
  • If you have to make a call or meet the other parent, have a witness
  • Keep records of locations and times you go to that prove your whereabouts and when you were there, including photos of what you did, who you went with, receipts for bus fares, train fares, parking tickets etc;
  • Keep screenshots of social media posts (they can be deleted later so always capture them as soon as you see them) and copies of emails and other documents;
  • Record anything at all that seems relevant or may become so. 
Keep a record of good things too

Keeping records of good things as well as bad is really important too.  You not only need to prove that bad things have happened but you also need to try to prove that false allegations are untrue.  You may need to prove that your time with your child was enjoyable, that contact/visitation went as planned, that there were no tears or angry outbursts and that allegations of bad parenting are untrue.

Make records of how things are going when you have the child with you, what you did, showing that they enjoyed themselves and whether you were with someone else who can back you up like grandparents or other relatives or friends. In other words gather the evidence to prove your innocence by showing what actually happened.

Keep a record of how the allegations are dealt with

Once you have been accused of something, it is also important to keep records of how those allegations are dealt with.  Record what happens about the allegations such as the reaction of the police or social services if they become involved. Write down everything you remember about the interactions you have with others who become involved as a result of what’s been said about you, whether they are professionals or friends or family. Make a note of any witnesses to these interactions, make a note of what they witnessed and get their contact details. All this can help prove your innocence. 

Don’t stop making records

Although keeping detailed records can be tedious and seem a lot of work for nothing, don’t give up recording part way through. Gathering evidence is essential and could be the difference between being believed and not being believed. 

Get experienced legal advice and representation

Try to find a lawyer who is used to dealing with parental alienation cases and who is familiar with how best to conduct such cases. These cases are very difficult and need real expertise. You will possibly also need to involve an expert with specialist expertise in these types of cases to help the social worker and the court to assess the case.  An experienced lawyer will know who has that expertise and will advise on the advantages and pitfalls of different courses of action. 

ONRECORD:  The ideal way to keep these essential records

ONRECORD has been specifically designed for gathering evidence, organising it so that it is easy for others to understand and sharing it with key professionals.  ONRECORD takes advantage of mobile technology to help you make a record wherever and whenever you need to and to prove where and when you did so.  It enables you to securely share confidential information with your legal advisers or with friends and family who may be supporting you.

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