Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Parental Alienation in Child Custody Cases?

Without diminishing the existence and impact of alienation, it is important to keep in mind that neither party in a divorce is at their best or at their most objective when it comes to their ex.  At the same time, it is natural for children to be terribly confused during the divorce process and to independently choose sides for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with intentional conduct by either parent.  

Before heading into the signs of alienation, let me point out that the single most powerful thing that can be done to combat parental alienation is to ensure that every custody order requires that the parent who’s custody period is ending be required to deliver the child to the other parent to commence the other parent’s custody time.  This simple requirement dramatically reduces the alienator’s ability to use “home base” in the alienator’s attempts to interfere with the non alienator’s custody time.  It also forces the alienator to actually deliver the children to the alienated parent which serves two practical purposes:  (i) it conveys non-verbally that regardless of the negative comments made by the alienator, the alienator is still delivering the child to the alienated parent; and (ii) It forces the alienator to either exercise parental authority to require the child to obey the court’s order or face contempt for refusing to obey the court’s custody order.

In my experience as a divorce lawyer handling custody cases over an extended time, I have seen alienation perpetrated by both men and women, by both primary custodial parents and non-custodial parents, by both parents simultaneously and by grandparents and other family members.  Regardless of who is engaging in the alienating behavior, they are guilty of causing irreparable harm to the child that can take years to overcome. 

That said, there are any number of identifiable signs or indicators of alienation. Not all indicators appear in all cases, but the following are signs of alienation.  These signs should not be viewed in isolation, but in combination, keeping in mind that alienation is a complex problem and that children are independently confused and prone to take sides:

1. Lack of independent thinking; the child imitating the alienator’s thoughts and feelings.

2. The alienating parent tends to seek to curtail all communication between the child and the alienated parent.  The alienating parent may destroy mail or gifts from the alienated parent. When the alienated parent shows up to pick up the children, the alienating parent conveys either directly or through the children that the children do no desire to join the alienated parent for that parent’s custody time.  When done through the children, the alienating parent will often be standing behind the children. 

3. Removing pictures of the alienated parent with the chidden and/or ex-spouse, often “justified” by claiming that the act was done because the alienated parent no longer desired to be part of the family.

4. The alienated parent is portrayed as at fault for the divorce and is blamed for all problems encountered by the children and the alienating parent.  The alienating parent may refuse to provide things the child likes and blame the alienated parent for not paying sufficient support.

5. The child calls the alienated parent a liar and other abusive names in a manner similar to the alienating parent.

6. The child insults, shows disrespect, and humiliates the alienated parent often on front of the alienator.

7. Alienated parents are viewed as being despicable, faulty and deserving of being rejected permanently.

8. The alienating parent claims, often adamantly, that they are encouraging the child to make contact with the alienated parent while seducing the child emotionally, often by scheduling particularly fun or exciting events that conflict with the alienated parent’s custodial time.

9. The child is made to feel guilty for any love shown towards the alienated parent. The child will deny any involvement with the alienated parent, fearful of losing the approval of the alienator.

10. The child fears rejection by the alienator if he or she expresses any positive feelings about the alienated parent or any desire to spend time with him or her.

11. The alienating parent views the children as possessions using terms such as “my child” where “our child” would be the appropriate expression.  The alienating parent is viewed as all good, all wise, and all powerful by the child who becomes dependent, manipulated by them. There is never questioning that what the parent says or does is always right.

12. The child tends to paraphrase statements used by the alienating parent. The words used are often untypical of words likely to be used by a child.

13. The child will speak about exaggerated or contrived abuse that has been experienced from the alienated parent.

14. The child or alienating parent makes statements insinuating quasi or actual sexual, emotional, and physical abuse suffered by the child.  If the alienated spouse in a new relationship, the alienating parent will suggest that the alienated parent is spending time on the new relationship that should be spent with the child while continuing to curtail the time the child spends with the alienated parent.

15. Where there are allegations of abuse, the language used by the child comes indirectly from the alienator such as, “he touches me inappropriately,” or “he has penetrated me”  When the child uses such terms that they do not otherwise use, it is suggestive that the terms were suggested to the child by the alienating parent.

16. Children who are alienated lose the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood in a one-sided manner.

17. The alienated child will often show signs of alienation from the alienated parent’s family.

18. The alienator may alienate the child against a therapist or custody evaluator unless they supports the alienator. Hence the therapist is seen as an enemy in the same light as the alienated parent.

19. The alienated child tends to see themselves in a very powerful position, especially in the severity of their antagonism shown to the alienated parent. This is all done following the programming by the alienator.

20. Some alienators move away from where their ex partner resides in order to make visits difficult or impossible.

21. Frivolous reasons are given for not wanting to be with the alienated parent. Even when told that if these frivolous reasons are resolved, the child will often claim they do not wish to be with that parent under any circumstances.

22. The child is encouraged to be with friends or play on video games in preference to being with the alienated parent.

23. A child who had a history of a good, happy and warm relationship with the now alienated parent before separation or divorce will claim that they do not remember past events with the alienated parent that made the child happy.

Again, parents must keep in mind that many of these signs can be simply a result of anxiety and confusion by the child resulting from the divorce of parents, the reduction in funds available to support the former lifestyle and generalized anxiety about the situation and the future.  Still, in alienation cases, a pattern will emerge and an experienced divorce attorney can help you find solutions.
Here are resources discussing the problem of parental alienation and suggestions for dealing with it:

As a divorce and child custody attorney in Orange County, I have two types of cases: Those in which the parents divorce amicably and focus primarily on how they can work together for the best interests of the children and those in which the parties can’t stand each other and, consciously or unconsciously, interact with the children in a way that undermines the other parent.  Unfortunately, the latter outnumber the former 100 to 1.  

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting some thoughts on ways in which two parents can become parents who can overcome their own differences in order to minimize the impact of divorce on the children and, hopefully, find a way to at least learn to get along well enough to mutually enjoy their children’s activities and life events (birthdays, graduations, weddings and the like).

Sharing child custody is rarely easy, in large part because you're trying to coordinate with someone you couldn't stand being married to.  Nevertheless, studies show that shared-custody works best when both parents are cooperative, respectful, agree on shared custody, and manage their emotions.

Believe me, I know what you are going through, because I have been there myself.  Some might say that sharing my personal experiences violates some boundary or other, but as a child custody and divorce attorney, I will do all that I can to help others see that a peaceful arrangement can be reached. 

When there are problems in co-parenting, in my experience at least, the problem almost always results from one or both parents attempting to exert control over the other parent through the children.  Both in my practice and in my own divorce, I have seen this repeatedly.  

Extracurricular Activities:

Extracurricular Activities are a fertile source of conflict, particularly in the early stages of co-parenting during and after divorce.  For example, one parent schedules activities that conflict with the custody time of the other parent OR the custody order says that both parents must agree on any extra-curricular activities and one parent always, or almost always, refuses to consent to, or participate in, such activities.

Both as a parent sharing custody and as an Orange County divorce and child custody attorney, I ask myself, and my clients this question: “is this an activity in which the child participated, or in which the child would have participated, if you and your ex were still married?”  To me, the answer to that question is the deciding factor.  

If, being as objective as possible, you conclude that this is an activity in which you would have allowed, or encouraged, your child to participate during your marriage, you need to set aside whatever reluctance you have and agree to, and participate in, the activity.  The goal here is to minimize the impact of your divorce on the children.  You can despise your ex as much as you want, though you’ll later see that there is a better way.  Still, however much you hate your ex, if you love your children, you’ll set aside your own issues and those of your ex for the benefit of your children.

Another issue that can be tough is attending the children’s activities that occur during the other parent’s custody time.  If, for example, your child is in little league, attend all the games and practices that you would have attended if you were still married to your ex - err even on the side of attending more.  And, don’t be offended or resistant if your ex attends activities during your custody time.  The goal is happy children, not happy parents, although the latter is more likely if you follow these principles.  

Neither my ex nor I would deny that there was a time during which we could not stand the site of each other.  Even a brief perusal of our respective declarations in support of this or that OSC or Request for Order would show that, even as attorneys, we were people first and lawyers second.  We had, and have, every one of the same feelings and emotions as any other couple going through a divorce and custody battle.  We both made mistakes arising out of our own unhealthy emotions at the expense of our children.  With time, however, following the principles in this post, we have reached the point at which we actually like each other again.  Though I have remarried, my ex and I now have a relationship that is akin to adult siblings.  We have re-discovered the things we liked about each other and have gotten beyond the things we couldn’t stand about each other.

And, we didn’t get there because we worked on our relationship as ex’s, but because each of us independently awoke to the fact that we only had one thing worthy of leaving behind when we are dead and gone, and that one thing our children, damaged as little as possible by our conflicts and divorce and as emotionally healthy as possible despite our divorce.  

As a result, my new wife and I often meet my ex and the kids, regardless of who’s custody time it is, to attend the kid’s activities, to have dinner together, either at a restaurant or at one of our homes.  We allow our dog, whom I got after the divorce, to spend time with my ex while she had the children - not always, but whenever the kids ask.

Many of you are reading this now, saying to yourselves: "This would never work with my ex!"  I know that because I was one of you.  You may be right at any given moment in time.  But, your children will suffer more than necessary if you and your ex cannot put the children ahead of your own conflicts.  Keep an open mind and watch for any sign that your ex would be receptive to an opening to discuss cooperation.  Sometimes that receptivity arises when one parent begins to lose control of the behavior of one or more of the children as they get older, more advanced in their own preferences, etc.  In almost all cases, this will eventually occur.

By: Robert R. Beauchamp
Law Office of Robert R Beauchamp
23120 Alicia Pkwy
Second Floor
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Tel:  949-370-8000
Fax: 855-370-8100

Avvo Guide on Parental Alienation

1 comment:

  1. Signs and symptoms of parental alienation in child custody cases and the single most powerful tool to begin to overcome alienation.