Divorce is hard enough without one parent trying to alienate their children against the other.
Parental alienation describes a campaign of behavior by one parent that’s designed to break down the relationship their children have with the other parent. It’s a deliberate strategy to negatively affect another parent’s relationship with their child when there is no justification for the alienation – i.e., no actual abuse, abandonment, substance abuse, or other serious issues.
Unfortunately, parental alienation can come up during a divorce when one parent believes they can get an advantage over the other in child custody or spousal support proceedings. This type of behavior can be extremely harmful not just for the targeted parent but for the child as well.
In fact, a pattern of parental alienation could rise to the level of emotional child abuse . Fortunately, California law recognizes the damage that parental alienation can do. If you can prove that your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is using alienation tactics against you, California family courts can help put a stop to their behavior and protect your parental rights. A family lawyer can help you gather the evidence you need to make your case.
Signs of Parental Alienation in Divorce Proceedings
Parental alienation happens when one parent exposes their child to unjustified negativity about the other parent with the goal of harming the relationship and turning the child against them.
When determining child custody and child support , California courts always prioritize the best interests of the child. By default, family courts believe that children benefit from having a relationship with both parents as long as there is no evidence of abuse or neglect by either.
To determine the best interests of your child in a divorce proceeding, you and your spouse will work with a custody evaluator assigned by the court. Family court judges and custody evaluators know to look out for common signs of parental alienation, such as:
- Your child expresses intense hatred against you with no justifiable reason.
- Your child parrots the language used by your co-parent against you.
- Many of your child’s beliefs mirror those of your co-parent.
- Your child absolutely refuses to visit you for no justifiable reason.
- Your child’s beliefs are often irrational, inaccurate, and not based on facts.
- Your child’s reasons for hating you are based on what they’ve been told by others (such as your co-parent or their family) and not on their actual experiences with you.
- Your child’s feelings towards you are fierce and without nuance; their rejection is total, they feel no guilt, and they’re unable to see any of the good in your relationship.
- Your co-parent and your child put you down in similar ways.
- Your child may act normally until the topic of conversation turns to you.
Not only is this type of emotional manipulation not fair to you, but it can also be devastating to your child’s personal and emotional development. Parental alienation could impact your child’s ability to nurture other relationships and could lead to impulse control, educational problems, or disruptions in school. Your child may struggle with feelings of guilt, anxiety, or depression because of the role they played pushing away a loving parent.
The California Welfare and Institutions Code recognizes the emotional harm that parental alienation could have on children. Section 300(c) of the law gives California family courts the power to protect children who are “at substantial risk of suffering serious emotional damage, evidenced by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or untoward aggressive behavior toward self or others, as a result of the conduct of the parent or guardian.”
If your family is suffering from alienation by one parent against the other, you have legal options. An experienced divorce attorney can help you fight back against this type of abuse.
Legal Remedies to Fight Parental Alienation
California law offers multiple legal remedies to stop and punish parental alienation. Your family attorney can help you find the best approach for your situation.
- In California, it’s a criminal offense to interfere with a parent’s right to custody or to maliciously deprive a lawful custodian’s access to their children. Parental alienation falls under the definition of interfering with custody as “enticing away” your children from you. If you can prove that your co-parent tried to alienate your child from you, they could be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to 3 years. This might be the appropriate option if you’re facing an extreme case of parental alienation.
- California family courts have the power to impose civil remedies and sanctions such as contempt-of-court orders, fines, or even incarceration for short periods of time.
- If your co-parent is found guilty of parental alienation, the California family court hearing your case can actually modify custody orders in response. Your original custody order could be reversed or permanently modified. This could lead to the alienating parent losing custody or only having access to supervised visitation.
- The family court hearing your case could take a more therapeutic approach. Instead of emphasizing punishment, the court attempts to address the root of the problem. In order to keep custody, your co-parent may have to agree to undergo psychiatric evaluation and attend court-imposed therapy sessions with family specialists.
If you suspect your co-parent is engaging in a campaign of parental alienation against you, you should keep a record of every hostile interaction you have with your co-parent and your child. Write down details like the specific words and phrases they use – this can help prove that your child is parroting the negative attitudes of your co-parent. Keep copies of any emails, text messages, or letters you receive that shed more light on your co-parent’s behavior.
Unfortunately, parental alienation can lead to acrimonious divorce proceedings, where communication breaks down and you have little hope of getting a resolution through collaboration, mediation, or negotiation. You may have no choice but to take your case to court. Having the right advocate by your side can help you get through the process by minimizing the damage done by your co-parent and protecting your relationship with your children.