Bad feeling between former spouses and partners will often follow the breakdown of a relationship. Blame rather than a willingness to remember the good times and forget the bad result in implacable hostility and behaviour which affect the parties children and lead to parental alienation.
Very often this hostility by one parent will result in a parent seeking the children as allies against their other parent and their family to create a situation where the absent or non-custodial parent is alienated. This can be referred to as parental alienation syndrome. It is particularly difficult to deal but very harmful to the children.
Parental alienation syndrome is where the one parent, usually the one having care of the child, deliberately acts in a way calculated to alienate the child from the other parent. This is detrimental to the child and well-established as not being in the child’s best interest. Very often the alienating parent will seek to curtail all communication and contact with the child and even go so far as destroying mail or presents so that the child feels that the absent parent no longer cares. The alienated parent may be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the child’s life and will often be encouraged to call the alienated parent by abusive names. The child will be made to feel guilty if he shows any interest or love towards the alienated parent and encouraged to feel that any involvement will result in losing the support and security of the custodial parent. This can result in him saying and doing things in front of the custodial parent against the alienated parent to gain favour.
There are many symptoms of a child being alienated. These can include
- Lack of independent thinking by the child who imitates the alienators thoughts, feelings, and often instructions
- The custodial parent moving home with the child in order to make it difficult for the alienated parent to have regular contact
- Attempts to change the child’s name often to that of a new partner of the alienator
- Frivolous reasons being given to avoid contact such as that the child wants to be with friends or enjoy some special treat rather than have contact
- Where contact takes place the alienating parent will often interrupt the contact visit by telephone calls or the like expressing concern over the child and wanting to speak to him or her.
Although the child may well have had a happy and warm relationship with the now alienated parent before separation they will be encouraged to forget this and only concentrate on negative experiences.
There is no easy way to combat child alienation especially if it has taken place over a long period and is continuing. A firm approach has to be taken which will usually involve an application to the court to obtain appropriate orders usually for defined contact. This application should not be delayed but there are also other steps an alienated parent should take:
- Always remind the child of the happy times together before separation and the alienation set in. Supplement this with videos or photographs.
- Never criticise the other parent or put the child in a position of having to choose between you. Always talk positively about the other parent.
- The child should always be involved with the alienated parent’s extended family and made aware of their love for him.
- Never use the child as a spy against the alienating parent or ask him to tell on what that parent is doing
The essential thing if you see your child being alienated is to take immediate steps to counter the alienation and establish your position as a parent who although no longer living with your child maintains exactly the same love and affection. The family courts are there to help with this. Experienced family judges will be aware of when attempts are being made to alienate a child. They are charged with making orders to promote a child’s best interests and will use their powers to ensure that this involves the benefit to the child of a meaningful relationship with both parents.