How Parental Alienation Affects Children After Divorce

The decision to end a marriage brings with it an emotional roller coaster. Feelings of rejection and betrayal mixed with anger and hatred may cloud judgment and cause a person to look for any possible way to get back at their spouse. Although Virginia child custody laws stress that the best interests of children must be paramount, divorce attorneys from Hampton to Williamsburg know how often efforts by one parent to manipulate and turn a child against the other parent come to light. The effort to turn a child against a parent may or may not be intentional, but it can have a long-term effect on parents and children.

Children Deeply Affected by Divorce

It’s too easy for parents thrust into the emotional turmoil of a divorce to forget or ignore how it affects their children. Psychologists caution parents about underestimating the extent to which a divorce generates an array of emotions in their children, including:

  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Grief

Seeing their parents in conflict with each other may cause children to be confused about how to react. Even without prodding by a manipulative parent, children may feel pressured into choosing sides. Children may do poorly in school, have difficulty making social and emotional adjustments, and exhibit other behaviors in response to their parents getting a divorce.

When a parent engages in a deliberate course of action to turn a child against the other parent during a divorce or child custody dispute, child custody attorneys and judges must address it. Proving alienation can be difficult, but the Virginia child custody laws give courts the ability to take appropriate action to prevent a continuation of harm to a child by a manipulative parent.

What is Parental Alienation?

It is shockingly easy for a parent to manipulate children and turn them against the other parent. One expert puts the number of parents who have been affected by another parent using tactics to turn their children against them at 22 million.

Tactics may include the following:

  • Telling children their parent is a threat to them;
  • Asking children to divulge conversations they have with the other parent;
  • Making it difficult for the other parent to communicate or have contact with the children;
  • Undermining the parental authority of the other party;
  • Accusing the other parent of wrongdoing without any factual basis;
  • Sharing details of the divorce with children to paint the other parent in a bad light

What is Parental Alienation? (cont.)

Alienation does not happen by accident. It is a deliberate strategy used by a mother or father to discredit the other parent. For example, it may be alienation to tell children that the only reason they do not live together as a family is because the other parent no longer loves them. It may cause the children to refuse to visit with the parent or display hostility during visits.

Parents who suspect their former spouses of engaging in tactics designed to turn their children against them should look for warning signs of such behavior.

Common Signs That a Parent May Be Engaging in Alienation

According to family law attorneys familiar with cases involving deliberate tactics designed to alienate a parent, the effects on a child may differ from family to family. Some of the most common signs may include:

  • Children displaying anger and hostility toward a parent;
  • Children being openly defiant toward only one parent;
  • Children becoming withdrawn and distancing themselves from one parent;
  • Children making negative or derogatory statements about a parent mimicking things said by the other parent;
  • Children becoming emotionally attached to one parent while withdrawing from the alienated parent;
  • Children refusing to acknowledge anything positive or favorable about the alienated parent while expressing only positive things about the other parent

Parents and their child custody attorneys must be cautious when evaluating a child’s behavior to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusion. For example, children who withdraw or distance themselves from a parent may be exhibiting signs of alienation, but those signs also may indicate abusive conduct by the avoided parent. When parents and their divorce attorneys have evidence of alienation, legal options may be available to them.

Using the Virginia Courts to Fight Against Manipulative Tactics

Courts confronted with disputes about child custody and visitation focus on achieving a result favoring the best interests of the children. Virginia law presents judges with factors to consider in reaching a decision, including:

  • Involvement a parent has in a child’s life and the parent’s existing relationship with the child;
  • Contributions a parent has made and will continue to make in raising and caring for a child;
  • Propensity of a parent to support contact and a continuing relationship with the other parent;
  • Willingness of a parent to continue and maintain a close relationship with a child

Judges may also take into consideration evidence of a parent engaging in conduct designed to interfere with a child’s access to the other parent. Not only does such conduct cause alienation, but it may also demonstrate an unwillingness on the part of one parent to work together and cooperate with the other to resolve issues affecting the well-being of the child.

It is difficult to generalize about the effect parental manipulation and alienation may have on a child later in life. One study concluded that childhood exposure to alienation may be responsible for social dysfunction and a negative self-image in adults. Judges take alienation very seriously.

Evidence of parental alienation may be cause a judge to order a mental health evaluation to help it to reach a decision. Based upon the results of the evaluation and all of the evidence presented in a particular case, a judge may decide that a change in the custody or visitation arrangements is in the best interests of a child in order to counter the tactics of one of the parents.

Get Advice from Denbigh Law Center’s Child Custody Lawyers

The family law attorneys at the Denbigh Law Center have provided trusted legal advice and outstanding representation in child custody, visitation and all matters pertaining to the relationship between parents and children since 1982. Contact them today to schedule an appointment by calling 757-877-2244.