Let’s say you have a hankering for some Whitner’s Barbeque, and you suggest it for lunch to your Virginia Beach office mates. Everybody’s eager until that one coworker pipes up with, “I’m a vegetarian. I don’t know how you can eat that stuff. Don’t you know it’s bad for your heart? I hear the cat population all along Lynnhaven Parkway is way down because of that place.” Are you all still hungry for pulled pork and spare ribs? Parental alienation is similar, but has far more serious consequences than one missed lunch.
What is Parental Alienation?
When one parent in a separation or divorce consciously manipulates a child into believing bad things about the other parent, that is parental alienation. It takes many forms, from subtle to overt. Your ex-wife may talk down your home so your child no longer feels comfortable coming to visit. She may disparage toys and gifts you buy your child, claiming she spends more and loves your child more than you.
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse. It is psychological torment in which one parent brainwashes the child into harboring unfounded resentment or anger toward the other parent.
It is also in direct opposition to Virginia law.
By the Book: Virginia Code
A Virginia judge, in determining child custody, is guided by a set of directives found in the Code of Virginia, under § 20-124.3. While Whitner’s has a lovely menu, Virginia laws are not menu items. The judge adheres to all 10 enumerated factors, including this one:
- The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
This goes to the meat of the issue with parental alienation. If your ex-wife is attempting to fill your child’s head with spurious and slanderous tales against you, the judge can take her behavior into account when determining custody.
The judge, confronted with incontrovertible evidence of parental alienation, can opt to give you, the victim of the mother’s tactics, sole physical custody. She can be relegated to supervised visitation, limited visitation, or no visitation at all.
What about Moral Law?
Beyond Virginia’s desire to find in the best interest of the child, judges and attorneys recognize the morality of a parent so hellbent on harming her ex that she turns her own children against him.
You and your attorney can concentrate on illuminating the darker instincts displayed by your ex, so that she has little legal or moral ground to stand on. The most heinous form of parental alienation is when one parent creates artificial memories in a child that point toward physical, emotional, sexual or mental abuse that never occurred.
Psychology Today describes it as “intimate terrorism.” The publication is championing recognition of parental alienation as a form of emotional aggression, a type of family violence. Though not yet specifically cited in Code of Virginia, further study of parental alienation could result in new laws.
Let the Evidence Speak
As your child custody case wends its way through Virginia’s legal system, you will have plenty of opportunities to informally interview your own children about their attitudes toward you and their mother. If you suspect their mother is attempting to drive a wedge between you and them, take concrete steps to document and counter the tactic.
First, engage with your family law attorney to make certain of your legal footing. Find out what your legal options are, and how best to collect evidence of the mother’s actions.
- Preserve visual records, such as your children’s drawings, their notes (positive and negative), text messages, emails from your ex, and school records
- Gather witness statements from neighbors, friends, extended family members and anyone who may have seen the children’s mother deliberately pitting them against you
- Be prepared to engage the services of mental health care professionals to interview your children, including forensic psychologists, behavior therapists, psychiatrists and others
- Avoid any direct confrontation with the mother of your children, since this may only confirm their warped suspicions. Maintain a detached, business-like air in response to her abuses and taunts, but immediately record anecdotal notes about each encounter. These can serve to help with “refreshed memory” during testimony in court.
Dealing With Your Children
How you react to the children’s mother is one thing; how you behave around your children is another. Be calm; do not take their emotional bait, says Jayne Major at Breakthrough Parenting. Do not beg, cajole, bribe or threaten them into cooperating with your directives. Avoid providing any “fuel for their fires” that their mother has set against you.
Display a rational, reasonable, approachable demeanor at all times around your kids. Yes, inside, you may want to give up, rage, or threaten them and their mother. Avoid it. Play the long game, because in the end, a judge can be shown the failed tactics of alienation and preserve the mental health of your children by awarding sole physical custody to you.
You will not win every argument or battle. You may have parenting time with your children that is painful, difficult, or depressing. Keep your eye focused on the ultimate goal: protecting your children’s mental hygiene and positive family relationships. Do not attempt to smother them with love, suffocate them with discipline, or shower them with gifts in an effort to counter the harm their mother is doing.
By contacting The Firm For Men online, or by calling 757-383-9184, you can speak to experienced Virginia custody attorneys who know how to approach parental alienation. Our firm works exclusively with Virginia’s men to preserve and defend their rights, including rights to have healthy, normal relationships with their own children.