In the previous post, I distinguished PA from “parental alienation syndrome,” and also outlined some of the observable behaviors in children that have been the subject of parental alienation efforts.
In this post, we will identify potentially alienating behaviors that parents may innocently engage in which could exacerbate the problem, and then pinpoint some strategies divorce lawyers and their clients can use to counteract PA.
Alienating Behaviors That Parents Should Avoid
It must be stressed at the outset that it is in the best interests of both the child (or children) and both parents that the children at the heart of a custody struggle be encouraged to build wholly positive relationships with the other parent.
It is not simply a matter of “being nice” or “doing the right thing”; engaging in alienating behavior can very easily backfire against a parent.
Parents must take care to avoid the following behaviors. Even when not triggered by a conscious, overt desire to alienate the child from the other parent, such behaviors can have just that effect:
- Setting the child up for conflict when there is no choice – for instance, giving the child a choice about visitation, when the court order is mandatory on visitation
- Confiding in the child about marital details as if the child were a same-age confidant
- Not respecting the child’s sense of property ownership over her belongings, particularly when joint custody has been ordered
- Explicit blaming of the other parent for all manner of troubles (e.g., financial, marital, etc.)
- Refusing to cooperate with the other parent on school records, medical information, or extracurricular activities
- Encouraging and repeatedly bringing up/dwelling on the child’s normal anger towards the other parent – not giving the child an opportunity to heal from normal disappointments and anger
- Involving the child in parental disputes as a messenger
- Eavesdropping on the child’s phone conversations with the other parent
- Placing demands on the other parent that conflict with the current court order
- Dramatic “rescuing” of the child when there is no real danger to the child
When your client reports a number of these types of behaviors on more than a sporadic or individual basis, it’s time to retain an appropriate expert and prepare to address the issue in court.
Strategies For Coping With Alienating Behaviors
The most important thing your client can do to help you address parental alienation is to keep a current, up-to-date “custody notebook.”
The custody notebook should become a habit, with regular, prompt entries detailing the child’s behavior and troubling communications from the other parent.
Stress to your client the need to retain copies of all emails and to update the notebook on a regular basis, as contemporaneously as possible with the events described therein.
Secondly, retain the best available expert as soon as possible. Look for a psychologist or psychiatrist with extensive academic and practical experience dealing with alienating behaviors in custody litigation, especially one with a history of having been certified as an expert in the local courts.
Third, emphasize to your client the absolute necessity to scrupulously avoid engaging in any retaliatory behavior or returning “blow for blow” by doing the same things she complains about in the other parent. Dealing with parental alienation is not like fighting fires: you cannot win an alienation contest by being more alienating.
Finally, encourage your client to make consistent, continuous efforts to connect with the child, even when the children resist her efforts. “Giving up” only reinforces the child’s false sense that the alienated parent is “no good.”