Custody Modification: Alienation
At Hobson and Hobson we advise our clients on how to avoid accidentally impairing a child's relationship with the other parent and how to protect the child if they are being programmed by a former partner to reject a relationship with our client.
Alienation and allegations of alienation frequently come up in custody disputes. Here at Hobson & Hobson, our mission is to ensure that children are permitting to have loving and meaningful relationships with healthy parents. Our goal is to do all that is legally possible to keep the child in a home where they are wanted, loved and respected. And that their natural desire to have a relationship with both healthy parents is respected. The transition from partners to co-parents can be a delicate dance and we are here to teach you all the steps along the way.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is when one parent disparages the other parent to a child or children. For example, perhaps mom tells her child that their dad doesn't love them anymore or want to see them. Or a dad tells his child that their mom prefers her new family (and kids with her new husband) to them.
Accusations can be mild, or they can become incredibly severe. This distorts the child's perception of the alienated parent, regardless of how great their relationship was with that parent before. Equally or even worse, this distorts the child's perception of themselves as they are subconsciously aware that they are made up of parts of each of their parents. Children can begin to think, "If daddy is a bad person, I must be a bad person too because I love him and I come from him."
The more the child is told or "brainwashed" to believe that one of their parents is a bad person, it could eventually lead to the child not wanting to spend time with that parent or it could severely harm the parent-child relationship based on these false pretenses. The child can be programmed to fully reject a meaningful relationship with the other parent based on the alienator's talking bad about the parent to the child or children.
What are the signs of parental alienation?
The child constantly and unfairly criticizes the alienated parent (sometimes this can be called a "campaign of denigration").
- The child doesn't have any strong evidence, or real clear reason as to why they have these criticisms toward the other parent, just false reasoning.
- The child's feelings about the alienated parent aren't mixed — they're all negative, with no redeeming qualities to be found. This is sometimes called a "lack of ambivalence."
The child claims the criticisms are all their own conclusions and based on their own independent thinking. (but in reality, in PA, the alienating parent is said to "program" the child with these ideas.
- The child has unwavering support for the alienator.
- The child doesn't feel guilty about mistreating or hating the alienated parent.
- The child uses terms and phrases that seem borrowed from adult language when referring to situations that never happened or happened before the child's memory.
- The child's feelings of hatred toward the alienated parent expand to include other family members related to that parent (for example, grandparents or cousins on that side of the family).
Experience on Your Side
The legal team at Hobson & Hobson is ready to work towards the best possible outcome for you and your family.
We look forward to helping you work through the child custody modification process. However, we encourage parents to attempt to work with the other parent towards a plan that is agreeable to you both. If your ex-spouse is not going to work with you, the process to get a modification, while possible, will likely be both difficult and expensive. We are happy to provide an initial consultation so that we can help you understand what to expect both in terms of a timeline and an estimate of the cost.
Don't Alienate Your Child From Your Ex
At Hobson and Hobson we advise our clients on how to avoid accidentally impairing a child's relationship with the other parent.
- Don't divulge unnecessary relational details — for example, instances of affairs — to a child. This can certainly make the child feel alienated themselves, as well as angry at (and feeling personally hurt by) something that was really between mom and dad.
- Don't prevent a child from seeing or talking to the other parent, while saying that the other parent is busy/occupied/uninterested in the child.
- Don't insist the child's personal items all be kept at your house, regardless of how much time the kid spends with the other parent.
- Don't plan tempting activities during the other parent's custody time. For example, "You're supposed to be at your dad's this weekend, but I was thinking it's the perfect weekend to invite your friends to a sleepover here for your birthday this month. What would you like to do?"
- Don't frequently bend or break custody guidelines, arranged inside or outside of court. On the flip side, an alienator may also refuse to compromise on a custody agreement. For example, if mom's birthday falls on a day when dad has custody and dad is an alienator, he may rigidly refuse to let the kid go to mom's birthday dinner when mom asks.
Don't allow secrecy to become rampant. There are several ways this can happen: The alienator may keep medical records, report cards, information about the child's friends, and more all under wraps. This can alienate the child from the other parent because let's face it — if one parent knows all your friends, likes, and activities, that's the parent you'll want to talk to.
Don't gossip about your ex to your child. An alienating parent might ask the child about the other parent's personal life and more. This can then become a subject of gossip. "Oh, your dad has a new girlfriend? What's she like? Wonder how long it will last. He had four girlfriends the year you were in kindergarten and we were still married, you know."
Don't become controlling when it comes to your child's relationship with the other parent. For example, the alienator could try to monitor all phone calls, text messages, or interactions.
Don't actively compare the other parent to a new partner. Don't tell your child that their stepmom loves them more than their own mom. Don't tell your child that their dad loves his new family more than your child.