Are You the Victim of Parental Alienation?

Unfortunately, an acrimonious divorce is hardly unusual. When a marriage ends, the parties are often full of strong negative emotions toward each other which can make the subsequent divorce process more difficult.  When children are involved in a contentious divorce, they too feel the emotional upheaval. Sometimes, however, one parent encourages the alienation of the children from the other parent. A Murfreesboro contested divorce lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby discusses parental alienation and how it may impact you during and after a divorce.

What Is Parental Alienation?

The term “parental alienation syndrome,” or “PAS,” was first used by psychologist Robert Gardner back in 1985. At that time, the term was coined to describe a set of behaviors observed in children exposed to family separation or divorce whereby children rejected or showed what he interpreted as unwarranted negative feelings towards one of their parents. Today the term is used when an alienating parent influences a child’s view about the other parent through deceptive and/or manipulative tactics. When PAS occurs, one parent intentionally tries to destroy a child’s relationship with the other parent. Although many psychologists acknowledge the existence of PAS, it can be difficult to prove and many states do not officially recognize it as a form of child abuse.

How Does Parental Alienation Occur?

While divorced parents often have a strained relationship with each other, PAS takes that discord to another level. It is a conscious or unconscious effort on the part of one parent to alienate a child using a variety of tactics and strategies, including:

  • Bad-mouthing
  • Limiting interactions among children and targeted parents.  
  • Telling the child to keep secrets from the other parent.
  • Asking the child to spy on the targeted parent.
  • Calling the other parent by their first name.
  • Undermining the target parent’s authority.
  • Withholding important information from the targeted parent.
  • Persuading the child to refuse visitation.

Signs of Parental Alienation

Children often act out when parents go through a divorce. You may initially interpret anger or indifference on the part of your child as normal behavior given your recent divorce. At some point, however, you may begin to realize that your child’s behavior/emotions are wildly disproportionate and unwarranted. Signs that parental alienation may be occurring include:

  • Your child expresses guilt about spending time with you. 
  • Your child expresses anger with you for unknown reasons. 
  • Your child believes false things about you.
  • The alienating parent speaks badly about you to your child.
  • The alienating parent asks your child to choose them over you.
  • The alienating parent punishes your child for spending time with you.
  • The alienating parent wrongfully keeps your child away from you.

How Can I Prove Parental Alienation?

Even when you are certain you are the victim of PAS, it can be difficult to prove because so many of the behaviors and tactics used to alienate your child occur outside of your presence. For a court to act on your beliefs, however, you will need to try and provide as much documentation as possible.  

In today’s electronic age, cell phones often provide a wealth of evidence. The alienating parent often sends text messages to the child that make his/her intentions/feelings clear. Those messages may also say ugly things about you – things that the alienating parent should not be saying to your child. Screenshot the messages and send them to your email or print them out as documentary evidence.  The other parent may even make derogatory comments on his/her social media. If so, print those out and keep them in a safe place.

If your child is too young to have a cell phone, documenting PAS can be even more difficult. Your child, however, might repeat things that the alienating parent has said, such as “You don’t really love me” or “You are crazy.” If this happens, write it down in a journal. If you try and ask the other parent about the comments, write down or print out his/her response as well. Keeping a journal can help you to remember precise dates and times, showing a pattern of conduct, and may show a judge how serious you take the situation if you end up in court.

Contact a Murfreesboro Contested Divorce Lawyer

If you have additional questions about Parental Alienation Syndrome, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro contested divorce lawyer to discuss your options. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Stan Bennett
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