Parental alienation syndrome occurs when a child turns completely against one parent and fully aligns with the other parent for no legitimate reason. This phenomenon almost always happens because one parent has deliberately pressured or programmed the child to reject the other parent, and most often occurs in the context of a high-conflict divorce.
First recognized in 1985 by child psychologist Robert Gardner, the syndrome is getting increased attention today. Parents, psychologists, and family lawyers take parental alienation very seriously because once a child has fully rejected a parent, it can be extremely difficult to re-establish a healthy relationship.
Could parental alienation be occurring in your family? Dr. Gardner offers eight signs to look for.
- A campaign of denigration. Your ex repeatedly denigrates you in your child's presence, and you've subsequently noticed your child becoming increasingly hostile towards you.
- Preposterous reasons for hostility. Your child gives nonsensical, false, or feeble reasons for their hostility, such as “You're dumb” or “Your house smells,” or “I just don't like you.”
- No ambivalence. Your child cannot seem to find any redeeming qualities in you, even when you're objectively treating them with kindness, patience, or thoughtfulness.
- Assertion of “independent thinking.” Your child insists that they have assessed your flaws on their own, and that their other parent's behavior has no influence on their opinion.
- No guilt. Your child appears to feel no guilt or regret about their hostile attitude toward you.
- Automatic support for the alienating parent. Your child always takes your ex's side, no matter how unreasonable their position is.
- Parroting their parent. Your child uses derogatory language or describes untrue or inaccurate scenarios about you that clearly come from the alienating parent.
- Rejection of extended family. Your child has also rejected family members from your side, despite previously having a good relationship with them.
What to do if your child is becoming alienating?
If your child is showing some or all of these signs, and your child refuses to spend time with you, or your ex repeatedly violates your custody or visitation rights, speak to a family lawyer as soon as possible. Many courts view the intentional alienation of a child from a parent as emotional abuse and may issue a court order to bring the alienating ex back in line. In extreme cases, your ex may even temporarily lose custody of the child.
You should also speak with an experienced child psychologist as soon as possible. Children can express hostility toward a parent for numerous reasons that do not include parental alienation syndrome. Only a mental health professional can diagnosis it. If it is parental alienation, it's crucial to get professional help as early as possible to reverse it.
If you are in the middle of a bitter custody battle and sense parental alienation is occurring, please give me a call at 919-719-2785 or contact me online. I'm an experienced family law attorney, and I'm happy to help you find a solution.