Parental Alienation Becoming More Prevalent in Contentious Divorces: Three Potential Warning Signs That You Are a Victim
Parental alienation is a serious issue arising more and more in contentious divorces that can have profound effects on your child’s wellbeing. Though it is not yet officially accepted by the courts as a syndrome or listed as a diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, we here at Army & Roche deeply understand its severity and long-term impact on families.
Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to persuade a child to align with their interests and turn against the other parent. A heartbreaking hallmark is that a close, loving relationship between a parent and their child turns very distant post-separation, often due to negative influence from the other parent.
We partner with one of the nation’s leading experts, Dr. Michael J. Bone, when we recognize potential parental alienation in a divorce. He helps our clients protect themselves and their children by exposing common traps and building a strong case to expose the alienating parent’s tactics.
In his experience, there are a few behaviors to look out for if you notice your child becoming more withdrawn and are worried you may be a target. These signs alone do not confirm parental alienation is occurring, but they are some examples Dr. Bone has seen in previous cases.
While it is not uncommon to say something negative about your spouse during a difficult divorce, this should die down once the initial shock and emotional pain of the separation begins to wane. However, in cases of parental alienation, badmouthing ramps up and is taken to higher levels. In some cases, a form of brainwashing can manifest in which complete fabrications are told to the child and repeated constantly until they become a false reality.
Excessive Texting During Visits
If you notice your child receives excessive text messages during visits, this may be a tactic used by the alienating parent to contaminate and invade your time together. This is not limited to just text messages, and can include repeated and unnecessary check-ins via phone calls, FaceTime and social media.
Intense Debriefing After Visits
While you may not witness this yourself, another hallmark of parental alienation includes a tremendous amount of debriefing after a visit with the target parent. Alienating parents will ask details about every interaction that occurred during the visit, including who was there, what was said and what happened next. This makes the child feel very tense and gives rise to the potential for distortion.
According to Dr. Bone, psychological research shows if an authority figure asks a child the same question twice, the child will assume they got the answer wrong the first time. There is a high probability they will come up with a different answer in an effort to find the “right” one to get the authority figure off their back, which can further fuel parental alienation.
Unfortunately, parental alienation is becoming very common in contentious divorces, but what's encouraging is that the Massachusetts Courts have taken notice. In a 2012 Massachusetts case, the court identified issues of parental alienation and the alienated parent was granted sole legal and physical custody of the children. This decision, which didn’t specifically cite parental alienation as cause in the decision, does show that Massachusetts courts are becoming more cognizant of this issue.
In our experience, parental alienation is crucial to address promptly and appropriately. Without a team like Army & Roche behind you, these possible signs could be easily missed and the deck could become unfairly stacked against a parent as they seek to build a strong relationship with their child post-divorce.