What is parental alienation?
In parental alienation one parent engages in an emotionally manipulative strategy to try to convince the child that the other parent is bad and doesn’t love or care about them. To prove parental alienation, you must be able to show that the negative conduct by your ex is actually causing harm to your child. Parental alienation syndrome describes the child’s behaviour in response to the alienation and is a sign of harm to the child. Parental alienation makes it hard for the other parent to maintain a positive relationship with the child, often leading to the relationship being broken, which is obviously harmful.
Here are 5 warning signs that parental alienation syndrome is affecting your child
- Your child unfairly criticises you without evidence, specific examples or justification.
- Your child’s feelings about you are all negative and it’s as if you have no redeeming qualities.
- Your child claims the criticisms are all their own and based on their own independent thinking when in fact it’s obvious they’ve been fed these ideas by your ex.
- Your child doesn’t doesn’t seem to feel any guilt or regret about mistreating you or saying they hate you.
- Your child’s feelings of hatred toward you expand to include other family members, for example grandparents, causing even more family misery.
If your ex is attempting to alienate you from your child you need to be able to prove it but it may be hard to do. It can be difficult to prove that accusations made about you are untrue because you are trying to prove a negative.
What should you do to have a chance of being listened to?
1. As soon as you suspect parental alienation, always start to keep records of what’s happening – both the good and the bad.
Start making records whatever your circumstances. Keep records even if you find it hard to believe that parental alienation could happen and even if you hope not to have to use your evidence. You may not believe your ex would be so unreasonable but you can’t be sure. If you don’t keep records but then an allegation is suddenly made, apparently out of nowhere, you’re immediately on the back foot.
Keep a daily record of anything that happens involving your child and your ex, including conversations or incidents, even if they’re mundane and seemingly innocuous. Describe the behaviour of your ex and of your child. Your records of what happens with both your ex and your child can be crucial in proving that parental alienation is taking place.
Your ex may, for example, claim that you don’t want to spend time with your child. If you have records of the actual time you and the child have been together, what you did, where you went and who was with you, with the tickets to any events or activities and photographs of you together, these will prove the other parent is being misleading. If your child accuses you of not wanting to see them, record that too.
A log of activities is especially important if you find that there are repeated problems with your schedule of shared parenting or contact because your ex is not sticking to the plan. You may need to be able to show, for example, that you did arrive on time if it’s alleged you were late or that you did attend when it’s alleged that you didn’t.
To help keep your records, it’s best to keep all communication in writing. The problem with discussions, however well meant, is that they can so easily be distorted by your ex in the retelling. At the very least, if you have a discussion, write a note of what was said straight away afterwards. Save copies of texts or emails in case your ex claims you didn’t agree to something, or tries to argue that you did agree to something when you didn’t. If your ex sends you accusatory or inflammatory messages, always keep copies of them. If you start early and keep records carefully, you will be able to show a pattern of alienation over time.
2. Be alert to your child and notice behaviour and changes in their attitude towards you
Be alert to the warning signs of parental alienation syndrome. For example, if your child seems reluctant to come and visit you, or refuses to spend time with you when you’ve previously enjoyed a good and warm relationship, it may be caused by parental alienation and not simply that your child doesn’t enjoy spending time with you any more. Your ex may be actively encouraging and supporting your child’s resistance. Be suspicious if your child starts to tell you they don’t like you or even that they hate you. Notice if your child or your ex is keeping secrets. For example, if your child says they were told not to talk to you about something or if your ex won’t share reports from school. Be wary if it sounds as though your child is simply repeating what your ex says, rather than speaking independently. It means they’re being manipulated.
3. Communicate with your child and make sure they know you’re interested in them
If your ex is trying to get your child to believe that you don’t love or care about them and are not interested in what they’re doing, communicating is essential. Listen carefully to what they have to say and make it clear that you love them and want to be a part of their life.
Try to correct false or distorted information. Since alienating parents often lie to achieve their aim, make sure your child and other adults know the truth. This can be difficult if other adults are more aligned with your ex than with you but try to put your side of the story and stress that you have the child’s best interests at heart and aren’t trying to make an enemy of your ex.
4. Stick to the agreed or ordered arrangements if you can
If your ex is failing to stick to the agreed schedule, make records of the obstacles you’re facing. If your ex keeps trying to alter and/or reduce what’s agreed in terms of contact and shared parenting keep a record of each time it happens. Go back to court if you need to.
5. Talk to other adults who know your child well
While your child may not say much directly to you, they may mention things to other adults. Remember other family members may be contributing to the parental alienation. For example your ex’s parents or siblings may take their side and believe things said about you even if they are untrue. Neutral adults such as the child’s teacher or a coach may be better sources of information concerning your ex’s behaviour and its impact on your child. For example a teacher may notice a difference in your child’s conduct when staying with your ex as opposed to when with you. These kinds of people can be strong witnesses for you when you’re attempting to prove parental alienation.
6. Get legal advice
If your ex is accusing you of abusing your child then this is very serious and takes things to the worst level. You should take it seriously and immediately seek legal advice no matter how much you think it’s ludicrous. False accusations are a minefield and you can’t underestimate the damage that can be done if they’re not shown to be false. Social services and the police may become involved, raising the stakes and making it very traumatic and risky. You may find your child has been interviewed by a social worker and the police. Then you may be interviewed by the police yourself, charged and have to appear in court. Get legal advice as fast as you can.
If your child tells you about something that implies abusive or neglectful behaviour from your ex, take it seriously too but don’t overreact. Stay calm and seek professional advice about how to proceed rather than getting upset. Try to resist continually asking questions about it and don’t go straight to the police without a good reason. Show your child that you can deal with a problem sensibly. They will be relying on you to get it right.
Talk to your solicitor or other adviser and keep them up to date with what’s happening. If you have evidence of parental alienation, your solicitor will know how best to raise it with the court. For example, if your ex is continually requesting changes to the agreed arrangements or sets up special treats which tempt your child into refusing to see you, you should alert your adviser and see whether to get the court involved. While courts expect parenting plans to be flexible and take into account the needs of the parents and the children, one parent continually attempting to sabotage the plan may be alienating behaviour and should be outed.
7. Consider with your adviser whether there should be a psychological assessment of your child
In very serious cases psychological assessment might be necessary and allowed by the court. Your child may open up to a psychologist more than to you. Psychologists are trained to recognise the significance of certain behaviour and patterns you might not notice. Your child may feel more comfortable talking to a professional about things your ex is saying about you than telling you to your face.
Keep in mind that to prove parental alienation, you must be able to show that the negative conduct by your ex is actually causing harm to your child. Expert evidence from a child psychologist or psychiatrist may be necessary to prove it.