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What is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation

Going through a divorce can be a heart wrenching experience for all involved, especially if there are children in the family. A divorce is not just the splitting up of two people as a couple, but the de-construction of a family. It is hoped that what comes after can sprout into a new family dynamic with happy parents and happy children. But sometimes one parent, or sometimes both parents, engage in what is called parental alienation syndrome (PAS). This situation is when one parent says and does things that alienate the children from the other parent. Sometimes these actions are intentional, and sometimes they are unintentional. It is important to understand the nature of PAS, what are the symptoms, and how to combat PAS if it does happen.

Definition of Parental Alienation

It might be easier to first define what PAS is not. It does not occur when one parent periodically makes snide or mean or even untrue comments about the other parent to the child or children. That certainly happens in many divorced families, but a mean or vindictive comment occasionally does not rise to the level of PAS. Instead, PAS involves a systematic plan of one parent to negatively affect the relationship their child has with the other parent. This can be done by making negative comments to the child, or it can be accomplished by physically keeping the child from seeing the other parent. When parents actively keep the child from spending time with the other parent who is willing and able to spend time with the child, that is an example of parental alienation. If this happens on a consistent basis and is combined with other negative comments and actions, it can be considered PAS.

Is Parental Alienation Considered Child Abuse?

Some experts believe that true PAS should be considered a form of child abuse. When one parent intentionally and actively restricts access to the child from the other parent for no legitimate reason, some parenting experts conclude that the courts should consider this a form of mental abuse by the alienating parent. Although this is not a position that is held by all experts in the field, there have been an increasing number of courts making this finding when PAS occurs. On the other side of the issue, some organizations argue that the claim of PAS occurring is being used as a weapon against the other parent when there is actually abuse happening. The National Organization for Women, for example, takes the position that sometimes abusive parents claim PAS is happening because their child does not want to spend time with them, but in reality the reason is that the parent is abusive.

Signs of Parental Alienation

There are many indications that are present when PAS is happening to a child and a parent. Also, PAS does not just happen to parents. Grandparents and other family members could be victims of PAS and are prevented from spending time with the children. Here are some signs and symptoms of which to be aware:

  • Telling children who are too young to understand grown-up issues the reasons for the divorce or involving them in adult conversations. The argument is that the alienating parent just wants the child to hear the full story. But in reality, the purpose of telling the child adult things is to paint the other parent in a poor light.
  • Demanding the child’s belongings be moved between homes rather than keeping things at individual houses.
  • Keeping information about the child from the other parent, including school information, medical issues, schedules, and activities.
  • Calling the other parent names in front of the child and blaming the other parent for financial issues or the breakup of the marriage.
  • Limiting the visitation schedule.
  • Purposely scheduling things for the child to do during the other parent’s visitation time in order to prevent the other parent from seeing the child.
  • Encouraging the child to want to live full time with the alienating parent.
  • Encouraging the child to dislike the other parent.
  • Attempting to change the child’s last name to make it different from the other parent.
  • Telling the child to spy on the other parent.
  • Filing false allegations of abuse or placing the child in harm’s way merely in order to make the other parent look bad.
  • Using allegations of abuse as a negotiation tactic in child custody agreements, child support, and alimony negotiations.
  • Consistently violating court visitation orders, but then blaming the other parent.
  • Making the child feel guilty by wanting to spend time with the other parent.
  • Secretly eavesdropping into the private phone calls between the child and the other parent.

Causes of Parental Alienation

There are many causes of parental alienation. Every case is different, given that the motivation of each alienating parent is different. The reason for it lies with the intention of the parent and what they are trying to accomplish. Here are some general reasons for PAS:

  • The alienating parent has unresolved anger and built-up frustration toward the other parent and/or blames the other parent for their problems in life.
  • The alienating parent has a psychological need to create drama, conflict, and stress in their lives and everyone around them.
  • The alienating parent is projecting their own feelings because, as a young child, that parent may have been alienated from their own parent.
  • Some parents have a narcissistic personality disorder and cannot understand the harm that they are causing.
  • The child’s relationship with the other parent is viewed as a threat to the identity of the alienating parent. An example is when a mother tells everyone that she is a single mom raising her children on her own, but in reality, the father also raises the children 50 percent of the time. The parent’s identity as a so-called single mom is threatened by the fact that the father has just as much responsibility as she does.

How to Deal with Parental Alienation

The best way to cope with PAS is to keep calm and do not exacerbate the situation. Just because one parent is attempting to alienate, does not mean that the other parent should start alienating. It is important to control any anger and not add to the problem by involving young children into the issue. Here are some other ways to combat PAS:

  • Keep a log or journal about what happens with the child so that there is some kind of record and proof if needed later for court.
  • Always stick to the visitation schedule even if the child is not available or will not come.
  • Do not discuss adult issues with the child or anything about legal battles going on between the parents.
  • Talk to the child about what they are feeling but at their developmental level.
  • Have the child attend counseling with a therapist who is familiar with PAS and can spot the symptoms.
  • Do not violate court orders, pay child support on time, and do not ever give the alienating spouse a reason to call the police.
  • Do not talk poorly about the alienating parent in front of the child.
  • Hire an experienced family law lawyer who is knowledgeable about PAS and can help combat it.

Towson Family Law Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Help Clients Who Are Experiencing Parental Alienation

Being subject to parental alienation can be a horrible experience. Feeling your child being pulled away from you emotionally and physically can cause severe depression and anxiety in a parent. The Towson family law lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC will offer you compassionate and experienced legal guidance and support. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.

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