You get divorced from your spouse, not your children. Most divorcing parents want to spend as much time with their kids as possible while recognizing that their ex wants the same thing. But in some cases where the breakup was particularly bitter or contentious, one parent tries to turn the children against the other to try to deny the second parent any custody or parenting time at all.
Convincing a child that they do not love one of their parents is called parental alienation. It can severely damage the relationship between a parent and their children, and the rift can take years to heal.
As painful and unfair as it can be for the parent, a child who loses their relationship with one of their parents due to parental alienation is the one who suffers the most. Recognizing signs that your spouse is trying to turn your children against you is the best way of dealing with it in court. Signs of potential alienation include:
- Disparaging remarks. One of the first signs that your ex is trying to alienate you from your kids is negative remarks that the ex makes to the children or in front of them. They might tell the children that you don’t love them, insult you, or give a one-sided account of the divorce that makes it all your fault. Such messages from a trusted parent can confuse a young, impressionable child. Eventually, the child will start believing they are true.
- Parentification. It is putting a young child in a position where they have to make decisions about things they are not ready to make on their own. For example, the alienating parent can tell the child that it’s up to them whether they should spend the weekend with you as promised. After manipulating the child to refuse the parenting time, the alienating parent can claim it was the child’s decision. Another form of this is not enforcing rules and structure, making the alienating parent’s home the “fun” house where the kids would rather stay.
- Undermining authority. In a healthy co-parenting relationship, both parents generally agree on the rules for things like homework, bedtime and extracurricular activities. But an alienating parent will not back you up, undermining your authority with the kids until they stop listening to you.
A sound child custody order balances each parent’s rights but puts the children’s best interests first. One that shuts out one parent based on lies can leave emotional and psychological scars on the children. Responsible parents work hard to prevent this unnecessary tragedy.