Regardless of the circumstances, divorce is often a challenging ordeal. The situation can become quite intense and frequently volatile, from battles surrounding property settlements and alimony to child support and custody agreements.
It can be especially difficult for children to navigate life between two households while maintaining quality relationships with both parents. In fact, in many instances, children are often placed in vulnerable positions where a parent forces them to choose sides resulting in the other parent's alienation and fracturing the parent/child relationship.
Parent Alienation and Fathers
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a term that was coined twenty years ago by Dr. Richard Gardner, a psychiatrist. As he was working with families primarily involved in custody struggles, he noticed a sort of 'brainwashing' that was occurring at the hands of one parent, which demonized the other parent, resulting in the child's rejection of this targeted parent. Although many in the mental health field acknowledge the adverse consequences of parental alienation, the general concept of PAS and parent alienation are still somewhat controversial ideas. Still, it is beneficial to understand what parental alienation is and how to address it.
One parent can become alienated when the other parent manipulates the child through negative and misleading comments and actions against the other parent. Some strategies that an alienating parent might use are forbidding the child from mentioning the other parent, misrepresenting the other parent to make them appear dangerous, or limiting contact with the other parent. This alienating parent's behavior serves to inflict psychological trauma on the targeted parent and adversely affect this parent's relationship with the child.
The practice of parent alienation causes harm to the targeted parent and the relationship with the child, and as more has become known about this issue, it has also been deemed a form of child abuse – one that is increasingly becoming more common. These children, 'programmed' to reject one of their parents, routinely end up spouting the negative remarks dictated to them by the alienating parent, expressing hate for the targeted parent.
This dynamic is often, though not always, instigated by the custodial parent. Because fathers represent a higher proportion of non-custodial parents, they are frequently the victims in these instances.
As a father who may encounter such a situation, it is imperative that you find a reputable family law attorney who has experience with this issue. Your attorney will work to protect your rights and best advise you on ways to safeguard your children's mental health and maintain or restore the integrity of the relationship you have with your children.
Signs of Parental Alienation
Although PAS and parental alienation are not officially recognized disorders, some signs can indicate that a child is possibly being subjected to this indoctrination:
- The child unfairly criticizes the targeted parent.
- Does not have any evidence or justifications for their criticism.
- Displays 'black and white' thinking about the alienated parent, espousing that this parent is bad and devoid of any redeeming qualities.
- Professes that the criticisms are their own and not the result of 'programming' by one parent. However, parental alienation is a deliberate campaign by the alienating parent that 'programs' the child.
- Maintains unwavering support for the alienating parent.
- Does not express guilt for hating or rejecting the alienated parent.
- Uses language that appears borrowed from adult language when referring to situations that never happened or happened before the child's memory.
- The child's hatred expands to that of other members of the alienated parent's family, such as grandparents or cousins.
If you are on the receiving end of this treatment, meaning you are the alienated parent, it can be extremely painful. But you must remember how important it is to continue to be a parent to your child as best as you can through this difficult time.
Two resources that will be invaluable to you are the services of a therapist and a qualified family law attorney.
Seek Assistance from a Therapist
If you believe that the other parent is waging a campaign of parental alienation against you, one of the first things you want to do is engage a knowledgeable therapist. It is essential to take steps to protect your child's mental health. A skilled therapist can help your child sort out their feelings and challenge false beliefs.
It may also be wise to seek out therapy for yourself as you are subject to the harmful effects of this alienation as well.
Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney
As mentioned previously, parental alienation is not a recognized disorder, so this can present a challenge in court when attempting to mount a defense in which parental alienation constitutes a significant factor. Additionally, judges may not fully understand the dynamics involved in parental alienation. However, this is where an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with cases involving parental alienation can help.
The Law Office of Jana K. Jones, PLLC understands the stressful nature of divorce and has a wealth of experience guiding dads through the added strain of parental alienation. If you are suffering through a painful divorce, do not go it alone. There may be certain legal options available to you. Please contact our office for a confidential consultation. We would love to see how we can help you.