The effort of one parent to turn a child against the other parent has become known as “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)”, a disorder first identified by psychiatrist Dr. Richard A Gardner in the 1980s in association with the growth in child custody litigation.
Dr. Gardner, who was a clinical professor in Columbia University’s Division of Child Psychiatry, was a consistent advocate for fathers in custody battles. Later research done into PAS has shown that a child’s alienation from one parent is usually the result of systemic dysfunction within a family that begins well before divorce.
In a nutshell, parental alienation is when a parent engages in conduct that attempts to negatively influence their children regarding the other parent. As far as your custody case is concerned, it’s a big mistake to engage in this type of conduct. Often, clients do not even realize they are engaging in this conduct.
In addition to the obvious acts of badmouthing the other parent to the children, do not forget that parental alienation can often be subtle. Children are very intuitive and can pick up easily if it angers or frustrates you to have to deal with the other parent. Children will often try to placate their parent and because they do not want to let their parent down, can easily mirror the behavior they see. Therefore, when you react negatively to the other parent in front of your child, he or she may react the same way.
Whether PAS is a true medical disorder is still being debated, but any divorce lawyer will tell you that parental alienation does exist, and it is an unfortunate circumstance for both children and the target parent. So how can you tell if your child is at risk for parental alienation? Here are some widely recognized risk factors:
- One parent threatens to abduct the children.
- A parent withholds or interferes with visitation.
- A parent falsely accuses the other parent of child abuse.
- One parent is routinely late in dropping off or returning the children.
- One parent has a diagnosed mental disorder.
- A child’s relationship with one parent suddenly changes dramatically – child refuses to visit, says they “hate” the parent, etc.
If a child comes to you and says, “Mom/Dad said _______ about you”, it is hard not to engage in a discussion about what was said with your child. However, it is important that you take the high road, reassure your child that both parents love them very much and do your best to steer the discussion elsewhere. Document what your child told you, as it is obvious the other party has been discussing the case or disparaging you to your child. Do not retaliate by disparaging the other parent to the child.
It is important that you do not wait too long to retain an attorney when you are facing a family law issue. Delays can cost you valuable legal rights, and you want to make sure that you have the advice and support you need to make the best decisions for you and your family long after the divorce settlement is reached. Contact us today for your free consultation.