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What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is where a parent does things (you can call it brainwashing, alienating, or programming) to make a child not want to see or even know the other parent.
What is parental alienation syndrome?
Parental alienation syndrome describes the child’s behaviour in response to parental alienation.
How do I prove parental alienation?
To prove parental alienation, you must be able to show that the negative conduct by your ex is actually causing harm to your child. The parental alienation syndrome is itself a sign of harm to the child. If parental alienation makes it hard for the other parent to maintain a positive relationship with the child and may even lead to the relationship being broken, it is also obviously harmful.
But proving parental alienation is difficult because you are often having to prove a negative – that you did not do something, that you did not behave in particular ways, or that your child does not have reason to hate you.
5 warning signs that parental alienation may be happening
- Your ex prevents you from seeing or talking to your child on the phone or online. Your ex tells your child that you are too busy, preoccupied or uninterested in them.
- Your ex is very controlling of how the child communicates with you. For example, they may try to monitor all phone calls, text messages, or interactions you have with the child.
- Your ex plans special activities timed to clash with you seeing the child. For example when you’re supposed to be having your child for the weekend your ex invites your child’s best friend to a sleepover and then asks your child which they want to do.
- Your ex bends or breaks the shared parenting or contact plan which has been agreed or ordered or refuses to compromise on reasonable flexibility. For example, your birthday falls on a day when contact is not agreed and your ex refuses to let the child come to your birthday tea.
- Your ex is secretive with information about your child. For example, not sharing medical information, school reports or information about your child’s likes, successes or failures so you gradually lose knowledge of your child and become less involved in their life.
5 warning signs of parental alienation syndrome in your child
- Your child unfairly criticises you without evidence, specific examples or justification.
- Your child’s feelings about you are all negative and 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 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.
To defend yourself against parental alienation you must keep records!
These are difficult cases to prove and the best way to protect yourself is to keep a daily record of everything that happens involving your child, even good things because you never know when you will be accused of doing something bad when no such thing even happened. Make a record of conversations (making secret audio recordings is controversial and they are unlikely to be allowed as evidence, so make a record in writing) or incidents with your ex.
- As soon as you suspect parental alienation, always start to keep records of what’s happening – both the good and the bad.
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.Try to keep all communication in writing. Discussions can easily be distorted by your ex in the retelling. If you do have a discussion, write a note of what was said straight away afterwards. Save copies of texts or emails. 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.
- Talk to other adults who know your child
Neutral adults such as the child’s teacher or a coach may be valuable 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. Make a record of what they tell you.
- Get legal advice
If your ex is accusing you of abusing your child you should take it very 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.Talk to your solicitor or other adviser and keep them up to date with what’s happening. Your records will help you to do this. 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.
- 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 and tell them things they wouldn’t tell 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.
Your records will be crucial in proving that parental alienation is taking place if you can prove that your ex is lying or just exaggerating. The better the evidence the more ammunition you will have to defend yourself and you’ll improve your chances of success.