Divorce brings out emotional distress and affects the children involved in several ways. Messy child custody and visitation battles could lead to one parent doing things that degrade the other parent in the presence of the children. If nothing is done, the situation may escalate to a point where the other parent may feel they are alienated from their children. Family courts in California do not condone either parent trying to alienate their child/children from the other parent. They expect that parents cooperate and work together to co-parent when they are divorced.
If you believe your ex is committing parental alienation or your child/children have been alienated, it is time to retain a compassionate divorce and family law lawyer to help you understand your rights and prevent this negative behavior from going on. At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we have helped many parents facing parental alienation recover the love and relationship they once had with their children. We invite you to contact us right away, and we will find the best possible way to help you. Remember, it is not simply a family problem or an issue between exes. If need be, courts will intervene to take punitive and corrective action.
Defining Parental Alienation
In simple terms, parental alienation refers to the act of one parent deliberately distancing a minor from the other parent. A parent committing parental alienation works to undermine the other parent’s relationship with the children by continually belittling them in the child's presence. A parent may commit parental alienation when they consistently and strategically influence their child by:
- Telling lies and inventing stories about their ex (the other parent)
- Making negative comments about their ex
- Refusing to allow a child to talk or see their ex
- Breaking or bending custody guidelines, for instance, insisting on or enforcing a strict visitation schedule
- Comparing their ex to their new partner
- Enticing the child with nice things to avoid scheduled custody or visitation
- Restricting or controlling all communication or contact by the child with their other parent (in extreme cases, moving with the minor far away only to prevent visitation from the other parent)
- Keep information and secretes about the minor, their activities, critical educational and medical info, among other things, from their ex-spouse and deny them access to essential records
- Threatening contempt of court or other legal action over minor court order violations or disagreements
- Blaming the ex in the child's presence, for example, blaming them for the relationship problems, divorce, or the alienating parent’s struggles
- Criticizing the parent in the child's presence, often through outright or exaggerated false attacks, like domestic violence accusations
- Trying to make the minor feel guilty for conveying any positive opinion or feelings about their other parent
- Deferring to the young one for decisions about whether to see their other parent
Some of the scenarios that are considered parental alienation are, without limitation:
- A mother repeatedly telling the minor, ‘your father does not love or care for us, and that is why he left,’ and stuff like that
- A father says to his child, ‘your mother does not want to come and put you to bed tonight’ when in the real sense, the mother is ill and the father said he would put the child to sleep himself.
- A mother telling their child, 'your father canceled their visit since he does not want to see you,' when in the real sense, the father had a work-related emergency and could not make it.
- A father telling their child that their mother is a liar or has a drug abuse problem or other severe character flaws
- A mother sabotages the child's father's authority by persuading the minor that the father has poor judgment and cannot be trusted.
These acts distort the child's view of their other parent, making them feel hatred or fear towards them, refuse to see or visit them, or lie about their behavior.
Parental alienation cases are more prevalent after separation and divorce than people would love to acknowledge, making this an issue that parents should be conscious about.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
If the minor child adopts their parent’s statements or words, believes that they are true, and follows them by turning away their other parent, psychiatrists will deduce the minor has developed PAS. Parental Alienation Syndrome arises when one parent has constantly presented to the child a negative picture of their other parent to the extent that the minor does not want to spend time or see that parent anymore. The primary difference between PAS and parental alienation is that when it comes to PAS, the minor child has already embraced the negative perception of their other parent due to the campaign of the alienating parent to sabotage the relationship.
Doctor Richard Gardner is the developer of the PAS theory, which initially held mothers liable for their children's negative feelings towards their fathers. Applying the PAS theory in the present world may be problematic since expert psychologists can use this theory in family courts to disprove claims of domestic violence and child abuse the children might have witnessed or suffered.
Parental Alienation Signs
We have specific parental alienation signs to watch out for, consistencies in various proven cases showing that the signs may occur. Look out for these indications and keep comprehensive notes/records to ensure you can develop a compelling case against your ex-spouse if they are trying to undermine the relationship you have with your child/children:
- The minor’s feeling of hatred towards you extends to your family, including your new spouse, your other children, the child’s grandparents, or your family and relatives
- The child inventing stories about you that are not true
- The child using phrases and terms borrowed from grow-up language when describing your character, acts, or behavior
- The child expresses only negative feelings about you and only positive feelings towards your ex-spouse. Your ex-spouse is all good while you are all bad without any actual reason why
- The child passionately and constantly criticizes you without a specific reason or any proof why they feel that way.
- The child acts differently around you
- The child protects or defends your ex-spouse
- Unreasonable and aggressive demands around visitation schedules
What to Do If Being Alienated
If you are an alienated parent, take the high road. Stay cordial and calm while setting limits. Your ex-spouse's behaviors damage all the involved relationships, and family courts highly disapprove of them.
Generally, talking about these behaviors with your ex will not bear any fruits. You may have to seek legal advice and assistance from child psychologists or an experienced family law lawyer to help you through the situation.
Some family law courts consider parental alienation emotional and child abuse and could be grounds for custody modification and other action.
Parental Alienation Is Not Considered a Criminal Offense In California
California law does not consider parental alienation in itself as a criminal offense. However, proof of parental alienation can substantially affect child visitation and custody rights. The judge may rule in favor of the alienated parent if they find the actions called for it. Parental alienation is considered a criminal offense in California only if a parent committed an offense while trying to alienate the other parent. For instance, if the parent physically hurts the child and blames it on their ex-spouse or emotionally abuses the child while trying to control and separate them from their other parent, they will face criminal charges.
How Courts Address parental Alienation Cases
Whether parental alienation syndrome is a real syndrome or not, courts have admitted that parental alienation is a problem and have come up with ways to deal with it. When the court is presented with a parental alienation claim, it will have to find out why the minor is alienated and then find ways to repair and remedy the damaged relationship to establish the roles of both parents in bringing up the child.
Experts identify three parental alienation levels— severe, moderate, and mild. In moderate and mild cases, therapy can be used to solve the parental alienation case. Increasing the time the minor spends with the alienated parent can also help. Generally, an expert performs a custody evaluation to determine how severe the problem is and, from the results, recommends specific timeshare and therapy to enhance the child-parent relationship.
In severe cases of parental alienation, the only working solution is removing the minor from the alienating parent’s home and placing them with the alienated parent. In these cases, the alienating parent often lacks remorse and empathy and will go on damaging the minor and sabotaging any possibility to secure a better relationship with the alienated parent.
Before a judge switches child custody between parents, the parents must first undergo a psychological assessment, which may take between three and twelve months to end. Some psychological evaluators believe everybody can be healed with therapy; thus, they are reluctant to suggest that child custody be switched from the alienating parent.
Instead, they generally suggest a reunification plan that entails therapy. However, the issue here is that the benefits obtained from therapy will be quickly lost if the minor goes back to the alienating parent’s emotional control. Also, the fee of the therapists, evaluators, and lawyers can become huge.
After it is evident that reunification has not worked, the judge will need a new or the same psychologist to conduct a re-evaluation. A re-evaluation takes several months to end. Meanwhile, years pass, and parental alienation worsens.
While addressing a parental alienation case, the focus is on the alienated parent to pressure the judge to act fast. The court should be educated on the lasting effects of alienation by retaining experts. The experts can make the court understand better the long-lasting damage the children will have.
Proving Parental Alienation In Court
Unluckily, it is not uncommon for alienation to go unsolved until the family court intervenes. In California, family courts are needed to prioritize the child’s best interests in any child custody issue, including parental alienation considerations. However, proving parental alienation may be challenging. The parental alienation subject is not only sensitive for the parents involved, but it is essential to cause as minimal damage as possible to the minor during the investigations.
The most important issue is proving the minor’s feelings, actions, and opinions (that is, fear/distrust, refusal to visit, resentment, among others) are the outcome of the other parent’s alienating behaviors instead of a legitimate outcome of the minor’s own experiences with the alienated parent. A compassionate and skilled lawyer can apply these plus other methods of proving that parental alienation is taking place:
The Minor Themself as a witness
Under given circumstances, the minor in question may be asked to testify on the parental alienation matter. Generally, courts, lawyers, and parents all agree that calling upon a minor child to testify in a family court is the last option. A minor child is not supposed to sit in court and testify about their parents’ mistakes with the parents present listening to them. The child’s maturity, age, plus other factors determine what they can and ought to testify about in court or even be interviewed in a custody case, and an experienced family law lawyer can build a proper strategy.
Various experts may provide professional observation about alienation, particularly emotional and psychological effects on the minor, and assessments of alienating parent’s conduct. If a psychologist, parenting counselor, or therapist is involved in your case, they may act as witnesses.
Neutral Witnesses, Relatives, and Friends
Due to the innate bias of the parents themselves and their friends and relatives, having a neutral third-party witness who can objectively testify about behaviors and facts that can verify alienation claims can be helpful. Third-party witnesses may include:
- Caregivers and nannies
- Coaches and teachers
- Counselors and therapists
- Child custody evaluators
The witnesses might be on your ex-spouse's side. But when placed under oath, they will be forced to tell the truth.
Detailed Records and Documentation
Parents frequently leave a series of documents that prove their intent and conduct. This could include social media posts, text messages, emails from the alienating parent, and medical and school records that may prove alienating behaviors.
Records of your interactions and conversations with your ex and child are also helpful. Print out call logs, emails, text messages, and other records with your child and ex. If you had asked in writing to speak to or see your child and your ex denied your request, the records could be helpful too.
If you suspect your ex is alienating your child/children, you need to keep comprehensive records and proof of each disparaging remark they made. Include any comments your ex made to your child/children about you. Note down the time, date, and the comments made.
Most importantly, you need to follow your lawyer's advice to win a parental alienation case. You may feel frustrated after finding out your ex is alienating your child and want to take it out on them. You may become angry during counseling or mediation sessions, which is understandable. You might even be compelled to belittle your ex to the custody evaluator or judge.
However, you have to stay calm and prudent. It is essential to show the custody evaluator, therapists, judge, and counselor that you are not what your ex says. You want to appear as a steady, loving, and sound parent.
Your attorney will offer advice and guide you through the process. Do not go through the process alone. If you have a concern or an idea, share it with your attorney. Dealing with the situation yourself may make it harder to prove parental alienation.
Preventing Parental Alienation
Is it possible to prevent or reverse alienation? If so, how? You can prevent parental alienation. First, prioritize your children's needs. Alienating your young one from your ex-spouse may serve your short-term goals of being granted more visitations and becoming the preferred or favorite parent. However, it causes significant damage to the minor in the long run. If your ex is cooperative, you should develop a co-parenting plan. If you are concerned that your ex will not follow the plan, you can request protection by completing a Physical Custody Attachment Form.
You can use this form to demand that your ex keep a record of the child/children's activities, stop making negative statements/comments, not use the child/children as a messenger, and stop interfering with your time with the child/children. The judge may include these requests in your child custody agreement to encourage healthy and cooperative parenting.
Find a Divorce Lawyer Near Me
Parental alienation may lead to devastating psychological harm to you and your children and forever impact your relationship with your young one. Unfortunately, the alienating parent may not know when to stop, and the only solution may be litigation in family court. If you feel your ex is alienating your children, reach out to a family law lawyer for help with the litigation process. At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we will help you understand your rights and offer legal advice on the matter. After reviewing your situation, we will help you gather proof of alienation and argue it in court so the court can act as quickly as possible. We are skilled divorce and family law lawyers serving clients throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at 310-695-5212 today to schedule a consultation.