Parental alienation occurs any time that a parent, relative or friend speaks badly about another parent so that a child can hear what is being said. Alienating behavior may be mild, moderate or severe. All parents are likely to “lose it” and be inappropriate with their words around children from time-to-time. However, when there is a predominance of negative messages being communicated to a child, these messages can seriously erode the child’s psychological well-being. In severe cases of parental alienation, children are manipulated and brainwashed (programmed) into such states of confusion that their perception of events and people around them are severely distorted.
Parental alienation in its most severe form is a heinous form of child abuse and neglect. It is a dangerous manipulation of children’s minds to alter their perception of reality about another parent. The purpose of marginalizing this parent is that he or she has no means to be an effective parent or to cut that parent out of a child’s life entirely, called a “parentectomy”.
We see parental alienation happening after a bitter divorce (especially when one spouse leaves the other for a lover) and often after one of the divorced spouses remarries and wants to have the “new daddy” become the “only daddy” so that they are a “family”, to the exclusion of the other birth parent.
The Tragic Result
Severe cases of parental alienation have the characteristics of being complicated in two ways. Combative parents duel with conflicting stories of “he said / she said,” and make it very difficult to determine who is telling the truth. Brainwashed children often support the side of the offending parent with dramatic stories of how they have been abused by the target parent, which often have no basis in fact. They have heard the “bad parent” stories so often, they begin to believe that they have a MEMORY of the events, rather than understanding that they are just made-up stories told over and over again by the offending parent. As target parents argue their position, they often seem defensive, even when they are telling the truth. Programmed children lose their own sense of reason and their ability to express their own choice in the matter. If the alienator is not contained, these manipulations of the child’s mind become the incubator of their own future psychological problems. These children have an altered perception of reality that is not in their best interest or in the best interest of society.
Unfortunately, in many cases, fully capable parents and their extended family and friends who love the child and would provide a nurturing and healthy family life are eliminated. Once the cutting out of a parent has occurred the child is left under the full care of the most disturbed and dysfunctional parent. These tragedies are played out in our family law courts daily.
Target parents find that normal methods of handling parental conflict such as mediation and therapy do not work. They are forced to appeal to a judge to make a decision that will enable them to continue to see their children. This is often an expensive and perilous path that rarely results in a satisfying outcome as few people, including judges, attorneys and therapists understand the nature of the problem.
We work with therapists who counsel children who are being subjected to parental alienation, to try to help them have a “safe harbor” and to understand that they are being manipulated. We also have expert therapists who will testify in court, to have a jury better understand what a serious and tragic thing it is for a parent to alienate one from another. It is a costly process, but it may be the only way to save the children from irreparable harm.
If the child does not become so alienated that they choose to forever shut the target parent out of their lives, they often seek out the target parent when they become young adults. Once they learn that their dad or mom is not a demon, they often connect the dots & realize that the manipulator parent is really the evil parent. They then sign that parent out of their lives forever. So, if you are a victim of parental alienation, keep the faith! Even if you cannot overcome it in the short-term, you may end up with your child in your life for a much longer period than your former spouse had him or her!
This article is not intended to be legal advice and is not a substitute for legal representation by an attorney. You are encouraged to seek the advice of your own attorney to answer any specific legal questions you may have. Janis Alexander Cross of Buckner & Cross, L.L.P. would be happy to talk with you to discuss your legal options!