We frequently receive calls from clients complaining that their spouse is causing their child to turn against them. This phenomenon is generally called “parental alienation.” When a parent alienates a child, it may manifest as the child not wanting to go with the other parent, the child may make complaints to the other parent mimicking those of the alienating parenting, or the child may act out physically or emotionally against the other parent, as some examples.
Alienation is caused by one parent badmouthing the other to the child or in front of the child. They may, for example, tell the child about how they feel victimized by the other parent’s actions during the divorce proceedings or that a child can’t do their favorite activity because the other parent won’t pay or is having an affair and spending all the money. Even where the child was previously very close to a parent, an alienating parent can, by repeating the “bad parent” mantras, turn a child away from the other parent.
Sometimes, however, a child can become emotionally removed from a parent because of “estrangement,” which occurs when the parent, by his or her own behavior, has affected the child’s feelings towards that parent. The estranged parent oftentimes refuses to take any responsibility for his or her own actions and they may lay all blame at the difficult parent/child relationship at the feet of the other parent labelling such actions as “alienation.” Estrangement sometimes occurs when a parent has a new spouse and fails to provide support for the child in favor of their new relationship. They may try to take out their anger and frustration on the other parent by refusing to pay for or engage in activities with the child. All of these actions serve to undermine that parent’s relationship with the child without any input from the other parent.
In either case, alienation or estrangement, or even some combination thereof, it’s important to keep the child’s best interest at the forefront. Therapy for the child and/or for one or both parents may be indicated, as a child not having contact with a parent is almost never in the child’s long-term interest.
In these situations it is imperative for attorneys to evaluate the case and obtain a detailed history to determine what is true and what may be a parental fantasy and what deserves the court’s immediate attention. The attorneys at Paule, Camazine and Blumenthal can help you with your alienation/estrangement cases.