Unfortunately, when custody disputes occur, one or more adults opposing others sometimes attempt to alienate children from their perceived opposition. This may be due to a host of emotions resulting from insecurity, anger, or even misplaced intentions. While the term “Parental Alienation” may, therefore, imply the specific involvement of just biological parents, in practice, it encompasses a far broader spectrum of negative adult behavior, all of which is poisonous to children. It can involve divorcing parents, separating partners, grandparents seeking custody, and even step-parents who have grown to love a child. Quite often, when a child’s resistance or hostility toward another caregiver suddenly occurs for no apparent reason, it may very well be the result of psychological manipulation by another adult involved in that child’s life.
When viewed through the lens of a Family Law dispute, this practice may take one of two forms or a combination of both. At times one caregiver may badmouth another, either in their presence or when they are alone with the children, in more subtle ways. On other occasions, that same caregiver might try to lavish extra praise on a child, provide gifts, or special privileges, to win over the child to “their side.”
Divorce and separation can involve feelings of betrayal and even hatred of an opposing party, causing one parent to engage in such conduct. The result, unfortunately, can manifest itself in children refusing to spend time with, or becoming fearful of, their other parent. Under such conditioning, adolescents may also deny past positive experiences; display a lack of remorse for hurting one parent’s feelings; repeat an opposing parent’s negative or demeaning words or phrases without even understanding them; lie; keep secrets; exhibit defiant behavior; or take up for only one parent, in effect choosing one over the other.
The interesting adjunct to some claims of parental alienation, however, is that adults who claim to be affected by such behavior, to blame the other parent, may have actually instigated it through their actions leading children to respond defensively. Adult dysfunctional behaviors include emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; abandonment; alcoholism; drug addiction; and/or sociopathic behavior. Any of these conditions can also result in adolescent reactions mimicking parental alienation, which nonetheless also results in great harm to the children who are exposed to it. Early detection and functional intervention must be taken in such cases. If you observe and fear that this may be occurring, you should immediately consult an experienced family law attorney to seek their advice and counsel.