Parental Alienation is a stalker. Learn how to gain awareness and stop the abuse.

Parents who have become victims of parental alienation often don’t see it coming.  Parental alienation, unlike other forms of abuse, isn’t always clear. You don’t pick up your child and see a parental alienation scar or bruise.

Your child rarely outwardly tells you what the other parent has said or done. Even more mature children, including teenagers, are hit hard by alienation without understanding what the other parent is doing. This sometimes affects a child’s custody preference and is used in Court. That is what awareness of parental alienation so difficult.

Parental alienation is a stalker.

It does not immediately physically strike you. It does not scream, “Help! I am being alienated.” It is a penetrating form of psychological abuse that permeates through a child’s heart and mind. And that is where you must pick up the subtle clues the alienating parent and the children leave for you. That is where your vigilance and diligence becomes essential.

Recognizing the alienation before it takes complete control may be the single most important factor in stopping it. It stops alienation from becoming a “syndrome.” All of the court orders in the world may not save your child if your child has been completely alienated from you and wants nothing to do with you. The amount of therapy involved as well as time and effort that you must undertake in the most extreme cases can be too much to bear for some parents.

We’ve had those extreme cases. We’ve had success. But we write this article because we want you to know what to look for so you do not have to be one of those cases. We want you to take action early and often to combat the parental alienation. Let’s look at this topic closer.

If you have any questions, contact our experienced Orange County child custody attorneys. We offer an affordable strategy session.

You want to neutralize parental alienation? Spend quality time with your children.

Children do not like hearing bad things about their parents. It causes them anxiety. It causes them to act out. Over time, it can cause alienation. No mind, however young, wants to be coerced or influenced and your children are no exception. While some children will actually rebel against attempted alienation, others will not. The better relationship you have, the less likely alienation may have the negative impact the other parent desires.

If you see your children on a frequent and regular basis, spend quality time with them and they are able to see how much you care for them, even an adolescent mind may be able to recognize that what the other parent is saying about you just doesn’t add up. It doesn’t mean you ignore the alienation. Your actions should be the same. However, your love and care may create a buffer against the other parent’s misconduct and may afford you greater opportunity to protect the children.

Parental alienation is a form of abuse. Take it seriously.

Parents who actively alienate the other parent do so with an end-goal in mind. It is not to foster the child’s relationship with you. It is not to do anything consistent with the child’s best interest, as twisted as the alienating parent may think it is. It separates and ultimately severs your relationship with your child.  Would you look the other way if the other parent was neglecting the health or safety of your child, placed your child in danger or physically abused your child?  Of course you wouldn’t. For the same reasons, you wouldn’t look the other way when parental alienation occurs.

Identify the different types of parental alienation.

This list is not exhaustive. These are the most common we have seen:

  1. Disparaging comments about you or about your significant other or close members of your family;
  2. Trying to replace your role as a parent by infusing another into that role;
  3. Undermining your parental discipline and authority;
  4. Playing the role of the victim to the children, with you as the perpetrator; or
  5. Making false allegations of abuse against you.

To get in-depth knowledge on the different types of parental alienation, read our article titled What is Parental Alienation?

How do you document parental alienation?

The first sign of parental alienation sometimes comes from your own children. The moment one of your children states, “mommy said that you” or “daddy says that you” and then you hear the disparaging remark, even if a subtle one, it is time to take action. To what action do we refer?

While it does depend on the disparagement’s severity, you should at least document the child’s statements to the other parent and calmly explain to the other parent that such a comment was inappropriate when he or she made it to the child. You are not just stating what the child said but you are asking for an explanation and details from the other parent. You want to tell the parent what the child told you, you want the parent to explain exactly what he or she said to the child (or did, if it was conduct) and you want a specific explanation why he or she said or did that.  Why?  In order to avoid a scenario later on of “he said or she said.”  Do you think a parent who alienates the children will admit to it? They don’t.

The alienating parent has only three choices when confronted in writing with his or her misconduct.

  1. Ignore the request for information;
  2. Reply to it and admit his or her conduct; or
  3. Reply to it and deny his or her conduct. Most of the time, there is some form of denial with arrogant alienators whose perspective was so distorted that they did not understand their misconduct.

No matter which path the other parent takes, documenting it and the demand for explanation may, at least, bring to the parent’s attention that you will not tolerate such misconduct. That, by itself, may dissuade further alienation or, if he or she persists and with further documentation, you will have enough information to take court action. Lawyers can use such responses (admissions, false denials or refusal to answer) in family court with success.

How to take action against parental alienation?

The age of the children and their maturity will make a big difference in how you approach the alienation. Some may tell you it is best to tackle it head on – to speak with the children directly and tell them what the other parent said or did was inappropriate.  Some may state that it is best to face the other parent and perhaps have a family meeting to discuss the things being said and done.  Others suggest getting a therapist involved.  Many may tell you to get a lawyer.

The approach you take will depend on your family’s dynamics. There isn’t a perfect answer here because you are unique as an individual as is the other parent and ultimately your children are not like every other child.  Each one of the above approaches has its advantages and some disadvantages.

In our experience, anything that increases the hostility level between you and the other parent during these attempts to curb the alienation or prevent it can actually worsen the situation. At the same time, if it is serious and not an isolated incident, increasing hostility may not be a concern because immediately protecting the children from further harm becomes the highest priority.

It is important that you first educate yourself on exactly what is “Parental Alienation.”   Just as you would not diagnose your child with a serious illness without first knowing exactly what the symptoms are, you should not label the “alienation” without knowing the symptoms.

There are books and parenting programs that can accurately describe and give the symptoms of alienation.  You may want to develop a strategy to show that you have your children’s best interest at heart and not just wanting to throw blame at the other parent.

You may wish to speak with a parenting consultant who is experienced in parental alienation and who will be able to guide you through the steps you can take to protect the children from alienation by helping you devise a strategy on how to deal with this prior to taking any action that may exacerbate the situation.

In addition, that you seek a parenting program for yourself, and especially if you ask the other parent join in the sessions, will further document your attempts to show your concern for the best interest of the child and sincerely stop the parental alienation.  This will weaken the other parent’s attempt to later claim no alienation occurred.  In most parental alienation cases, the alienation festers and ends up in an adversarial court process.

By taking action, you make a statement – “What you are doing is not in the best interest of our child. I have brought it to your attention, if you do not take this matter seriously and stop this destructive behavior, I will take further legal action to protect our child from the emotional upheaval caused by this conflict.”

Getting a lawyer involved.

Must you have a lawyer?  If the alienation has just started or in cases that involve disparagement which is new and not ongoing, a lawyer may not be immediately necessary if you are taking proper action such as documenting the alienation.

If the alienation is ongoing, getting an experienced family law attorney involved may be necessitated to cite the other parent the law about parental alienation and can send a letter to the other parent to demand an explanation of the misconduct and tell them of the consequences of the continued alienation, including court action.

However, in the more serious alienation cases such as false allegations of neglect or abuse, it may need an attorney to take immediate court action.

Nothing in this article is intended as legal or any other type of advice. What we have listed here is common sense and is based on our experience as California family law attorneys.

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5 Behaviors of Alienating Parents

Here are 5 Common Behaviors of Alienating Parents:

1. Bad mouthing the other parent to the child and in front of the child

Frequently alienating parents will say extremely negative things about the other parent not only in front of the child but to the child as well. The negativity can reach a level of an unending campaign or a rapid fire list of negativity about that parent. The allegations can include that the soon to be rejected parent has poor parenting skills, never really cared for the child and in fact was at times so angry he or she was very abusive. When such allegations are repeated frequently, loudly and intensely enough they become a reality to the child.

Actually, sometimes these behaviors become “facts” for the adult as well.

2. Limiting contact between the child and the other parent

An alienating parent will frequently sign a child up for numerous activities in order for the child to be so preoccupied that there will very little time left for the soon to be rejected parent. There have been incidences where children were hospitalized and have gone through surgery without the other parent knowing. When the child is released from medical care, the child will confront the parent as to why they didn’t come to see them. If a court leaves the time sharing up to the alienating parent the soon to be rejected parent will have very little if any access to the child. Limiting contact between a parent and a child provides the opportunity for the alienating parent to tell the child all kinds of lies about that parent. Without opportunities to counter the falsehoods, the rejected parent’s absence is capitalized on by the alienating parent.

3.  Erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child

It is common for alienating parents to remove any evidence that the soon to be rejected parent ever lived there or is even alive. Photographs, belongings and even activities that that parent engaged in with the child are discarded.

In the example of activities, the child is discouraged from continuing in those activities that they participated in with the other parent.  If the child and parent were involved in soccer, the child will be discouraged from continuing in soccer suggesting that they never really liked that sport anyway. Their prior including in the sport will be used as proof that the other parent forced them to do things they did really want to do.

4. Creating the idea/impression that the other parent is dangerous

The alienating parent will “preach” that they have to be ever vigilant to watch out for the other parent because of their angry episodes and outbursts.  One parent actually would tell the children to “run” when they would see the other parent instilling fear in the children at the very sight of the rejected parent.

This behavior would occur even when there was no possibility that the rejected parent could hurt because they were across the street during a parade that was passing by. Frequently children would be “reminded” of incidents when the other parent was abusive to the parent and child even though that never really happened. Also, children would be allowed to read court motions and pleadings that described allegations of abuse by the other parent. The legal documentation would be presented as proof that the abusive behaviors actually occurred.

5. Forcing the child to choose parents

The forcing can be giving children obvious choices such as “do you want to go with the soon to be rejected parent or go to your friend’s house for a sleepover?”  Such choices become common place with the child making choice that is presented as the most fun. In addition alienating parents will have long, overly dramatic “good byes” that communicate that the parent is suffering tremendously by the child’s absence. Also, this suffering is being caused by the rejected parent’s selfishness in wanting to take the child from the alienating parent.

In some extreme cases the alienating parent will actually tell the child to choose, “if you love me, then stay here, if you don’t go with them”. This will be followed with “I don’t know what I did to deserve this rejection, after all I’m not the one that left us”. There will be very strong emphasis on “us”, not to leave the child out.  He or she divorced “us”.

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Co-Parenting with an Abusive or Narcissist Parent: Court Ordered Abuse?

Unfortunately, co-parenting gives an abusive or narcissist parent a clear path of unintended court-sanctioned abuse, power and control of the ex-partner and the children, instead of protecting the well-being of the child. Co-parenting can give rise to all sorts of emotional terrorism when involving an abuser.

Abusers find out quickly ways to control you as your life unfolds beyond divorce. Suddenly, you might realize that the joy and happiness you felt about getting free of an abusive partner is gone as you see that you now have to content with an abusive co-parent. There is no divorce from that.


Seven Tips for Healthy Co-Parenting When a Toxic Ex is Involved

Seven Tips for Successful Parenting When a Toxic Ex Is Involved

Do not speak negatively of the other parent to the child or speak in an unflattering way about the other parent when the child is around. Although some divorces can be contentious with understandably hurt feelings and anger, children should be protected at all times from emotional pain. Both parents are required to provide a safe, secure, and healthy emotional support network.

Creating a healthy partnership with the other parent reduces the likelihood of making a child feel he or she needs to pick a side between the parents. Children should be reassured that although parents no longer love each other romantically they still have some degree of love and respect for the other parent because they share children.

Recognize that your child needs to have ongoing access and communication with both parents. Don’t avoid communicating with the other parent about any issues pertaining to the children. Each parent should have an honest and loving relationship with their children, so be sure what you saying to your children about respecting the other parent matches how you speak and behave toward the other parent.

Parents are encouraged to consider the other parent’s point of view whenever parental decisions need to be made. Remember both parents love the children equally, so it is only fair that you listen without judgement to any of their parenting suggestions and concerns. After all, if you’re initiating the concern, consider what the other co-parent might be thinking or reacting to what you are saying.

By identifying what triggers negative behaviors, former spouses can begin the process of healing from the divorce and becoming more effective parents. By knowing what upset you about a former spouse, you can develop options to manage your responses to the triggers.

It is only natural for children to question their parents about the reasons leading to their divorce; however, the explanation should not include blaming the other parent, cheating, the other parent no longer wanting to be a family, etc. Simple explanations such as “we decided we did not want to remain married, but we are still a family”, answers the child’s question without assigning blame.

Be encouraging and avoid interfering. Divorce is not only confusing for spouses but for children as well. Children need to know that even if their parents are no longer together, the parents love towards the children remains and has not been changed or affected by the divorce.

By: Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford