Children, says doctor of psychology Sue Cornbluth1, want three things from their parents in divorce: to not be caught in the middle, to know the divorce is not their fault, and for the parents to act like adults. Sadly, one parent often pits the children against the other, violating all three of those wishes. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse. It is one parent manipulating children into disliking or opposing the other parent.
A Snapshot of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation syndrome, clarifies Psychology Today, is one parent pitting the children against the other by:
- “Hoarding” the children, interfering with court-ordered visitations or minimizing available time by being late to meet-ups or requesting the children’s early return
- Painting a negative word picture of the other parent in front of the children
- Making rude and disparaging comments to the other parent in the children’s presence
Not only is parental alienation a real issue, it has deep psychological and legal implications.
The Legal Ramifications of Parental Alienation
While parental alienation is damaging enough to children’s psyches without adding legal consequences, Virginia law also shows the risks to the custodial parent in trying to alienate the noncustodial parent. Under Code of Virginia § 20-124.3, the judge ruling on custody and visitation must take into account,
- 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;
- The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child; …
Engaging your family law attorney to deal with parental alienation is a sensible way to fight the custodial parent’s attempts to separate you from your own kids. Your attorney can return to court to demonstrate to a Virginia judge that the children’s mother is violating § 20-124.3. That could lead to her losing custody of the children altogether.
Your Children’s Deafening Silence
One sure sign that your kids may be suffering from the effects of parental alienation by their mother is their deafening silence toward you.
Most parents instinctively try to force their children to talk to them about everything. Pimples? Lunch table drama? Bad test grades? Talk to me! Tummy troubles, smelly sneakers, or odd objects lodged in ears? Talk to me!
Kids who are already under the unhealthy influence of parental alienation are unlikely to talk openly to the parent being alienated. Almost always, that parent is the noncustodial parent. Why? The custodial parent has the children much of the time, resents the time the children are not home, and wants to make the noncustodial parent suffer.
You cannot win against parental alienation alone. To get the kind of helpful talk into your kids’ ears that will counter the corrosive effects of parental alienation, you need professional help.
- A family law attorney
- A psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist
- A confidant
The family law attorney can attack the situation from a legal angle. The therapist can talk to you and your children. The confidant can allow you to vent your rage, hopelessness, frustration and anger without harm to your loved ones.
Dr. Cornbluth recommends three actions you can take:
- Get help for your negative feelings now; you need to release the sadness and anger within yourself before you can build a better relationship with your child
- Consciously decide to act like an adult at all times, no matter what the other parent throws at your or the children you share
- Realize your feelings toward your ex-spouse do not matter; our children’s feelings matter
Once you are centered, calm, and in control of yourself, you can talk to your children. Not before.
Please Listen, My Child
Five strategies for talking to your child damaged by parental alienation toward you are:
- Practice infinite patience (see Dr. Cornbluth’s Item #3 above)
- Never stop reaching out to your children via every channel you can (email, text, snail mail, video conferencing, social media, postcards, CARE packages). Even if 999 out of 1,000 you are disappointed, that 1,000th time could lead to a breakthrough, a freeing of the logjam of emotions pent up inside your little ones.
- Confront lies and bad-mouthing from the custodial parent consistently and neutrally. For example, “Mommy and I divorced because of each other, not because of anything you did. I’m sorry Mommy is telling you something else because it isn’t true.”
- Keep off the roller coaster. Avoid emotional reactions. Let your children vent and simmer and rage and boil (so long as it is not dangerous) but never join in their behaviors.
- Encourage your kids to talk to you. No other parent, therapist, or court officer is a substitute for direct talk.
Call The Family Law Attorneys for Dads
At The Firm For Men we defend Virginia’s men’s rights. That protection extends to Virginia men’s children, who often are the most defenseless in family law matters. Let us help you help your kids. Contact us today or telephone our office at 757-383-9184. We cannot prevent every case of parental alienation, but we can do our damnedest to keep you close to your kids.