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What is parental alienation?

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2022 | Child Custody and Visitation

Divorce tends to bring out many conflicting emotions that can boil over into competing interests, especially when it comes to child custody. Sadly, it is the children who often suffer the most in high-conflict divorces in California and elsewhere, as they are caught between two people who mean everything to them.

Some of the worst damage to a child, however, occurs when one side, often the custodial parent, attempts to influence the child’s feelings about the other parent, especially if they make allegations about child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence that the child does not remember occurring. This creates a profound disruption in the child’s connection to the other parent that may cause psychological issues later.

What happens when the child rejects one parent?

After the divorce is final, a child who shies away from one parent or refuses to be a part of the visitation schedule may be feeling estrangement or alienation. If the parent the child is avoiding has been abusive, neglectful, or overly strict, these behaviors can break the psychological bond the child has with them and can result in estrangement.

Parental alienation, however, occurs when the rejected parent has done nothing to create this break in the relationship. The alienator, often the other parent, pressures the child into hating the other parent by making disparaging remarks, suggesting negative motives behind the other parent’s actions, or otherwise sabotaging the child’s relationship to them.

How does parental alienation disrupt parenting time?

Parenting time interference can take many forms. One parent may physically prevent the other from seeing the child, such as taking the child or not returning them as planned, moving the child to another state, or otherwise violating the terms of the custody agreement. Indirect forms of disruption happen when the alienator does not let the child communicate the other parent.

Parental alienation can create behaviors that range from mild to severe that may require psychological treatment:

  • Mild alienation occurs when the child resists parenting time with the other parent but then enjoys the connection when they are together.
  • Moderate alienation is the child’s strong resistance to any contact with the other parent, and they remain resentful during parenting time.
  • Severe alienation occurs when the child resists and may run away or hide to avoid a visitation.

For parents in Carlsbad, recognizing the signs of parental alienation is the first step, as this can profoundly affect the outcome of a custody order. If they have become targets of parental alienation, they may find themselves in an uncomfortable defensive position, and must develop a strategy to fight for their parental rights and the emotional health of their children.