How Can I Prove Parental Alienation?
In the course of a broken marriage, spouses will often take digs at each other. As the marriage ends in divorce, the criticisms may escalate. At some point, children could get caught in their parents’ crossfire.
When parents use their children to hurt each other, they can create lasting harm to the parent-child relationship. When one parent undermines the relationship between the child and the other parent, the child could suffer parental alienation.
Here are the things you should know about identifying, proving, and remedying parental alienation.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is not a legal concept. It is a mental health theory that is used to describe a situation in which one parent alienates a child from the other parent.
Some examples of actions that cause parental alienation include:
- Undermining the other parent
- Turning the child against the other parent
- Lying to the child about the other parent
- Accusing the other parent of having false motives
For example, falsely telling a child that the other parent does not have custody or that the other parent did not want the child could drive a wedge into the relationship.
Signs of Parental Alienation in Children
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) affects the mental health of a child.
A child traumatized by parental alienation may show certain signs, including:
- Hatred or fear of the alienated parent
- Unrealistic or false accusations about the alienated parent
- A lack of guilt about negative feelings toward the alienated parent
- Idealization of the alienating parent
- Unwavering support of the alienating parent
This does not mean that every child who has negative emotions about a parent has PAS. Parents sometimes impact a relationship with a child due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. But when these feelings result from a campaign of one parent against the other, a therapist might diagnose the child with PAS.
PAS creates an erosion of the relationship with the alienated parent and an unhealthy relationship with the alienating parent. The child may suffer from depression, anxiety, and relationship problems later in life. The child may also make false accusations against the alienated parent, including unfounded claims of abuse.
Is Parental Alienation Illegal?
Parental alienation is neither a crime nor a basis for a lawsuit against your ex-spouse under California law. If you believe your ex-spouse has engaged in a pattern of conduct that amounts to parental alienation, your divorce decree will provide your only path for a remedy.
Family courts can address the situation because it implicates issues of child custody and visitation. Judges determine these issues according to the “best interests of the child. Under this standard, the court has the power to stop any action that harms a child, whether the action is illegal or not.
Acting Against Parental Alienation in Family Court
To get a court order to change your parental situation, you have two primary options. First, you can file something with the court alleging that your ex-spouse has violated the parenting plan, custody, or visitation that was ordered in the divorce decree.
If your child has been alienated, you will probably have at least a few examples of times when your child was supposed to visit but refused to do so.
Second, you can file a motion to modify your divorce decree to change your custody arrangement and combat parental alienation. In most situations, you can file both.
Proving Parental Alienation in Court
You will need evidence to support your filings in family court. Some of the evidence that might help to prove parental alienation include:
Therapist or Counselor Testimony
If your child visits a therapist or counselor, a professional can provide factual testimony about what they observe. This might include a diagnosis of parental alienation syndrome in the child.
If your child refuses to see a therapist or counselor or your ex-spouse objects, you may need to request a court order.
Witnesses to the Alienation
Family, friends, neighbors, and others who have witnessed your ex-spouse denigrating you can testify on your behalf. Importantly, a judge would not exclude this testimony as hearsay. Hearsay can be introduced to prove the truth of words that are spoken or written. In this situation, you know your ex-spouse’s words are false, and you are introducing testimony to that fact.
Social Media Posts
Your ex-spouse’s words form the most effective evidence against them. You can introduce social media posts that were accessible to the child or document things that your ex-spouse said to the child.
You can also introduce your child’s social media posts. These posts would be relevant to show the way that your child views you.
Text Messages, Emails, and Voicemails
Any way that you can introduce your ex-spouse’s direct words can likely help your case. Parental alienation can happen if rage and hostility from your ex-spouse overflow into their relationship with your child.
Angry messages from your ex-spouse are particularly effective at proving parental alienation when your child repeats the same allegations that were made in your ex-spouse’s messages.
Remedies for Parental Alienation
A judge has the authority to take steps to protect a child’s best interests. In severe cases, a judge might modify a custody order and place the child with the alienated parent.
But after a long-standing campaign against you, this might further traumatize the child. Instead, the judge might order a more gradual process using reunification therapy. This type of therapy is used to integrate a parent back into a child’s life after abandonment, neglect, or abuse. In your case, it will be used to overcome the child’s intensely negative emotions toward you due to parental alienation.
The judge may also enter an order for your ex-spouse to attend counseling or co-parenting classes. The court may remind the alienating parent to abide by all the requirements in the custody and visitation order to make sure you get your time with your child.
Getting Relief from Parental Alienation
Being estranged from your child is difficult. It is even more difficult when it results from a campaign of disinformation from your ex-spouse. But California has a strong policy in favor of both parents being involved in the upbringing of their children.
You have every right to expect a court to act when your ex-spouse erodes your relationship with your child through parental alienation.