One of the most disheartening things about a child custody or divorce case can be how it may negatively impact your relationship with your children. If you have children who are going through a child custody case or divorce case, you may have specific concerns about how the case will impact your ability to spend time with and build a relationship with your kids. This would not be out of the ordinary and would show that you have a basic level of empathy and sympathy for your children as you begin to involve yourself in the legal process.
Every family is different. What your family goes through in terms of its adjustment during a Texas family law case is different than what another similarly situated family might experience. However, you need to understand that you do not have to necessarily dread or worry about every aspect of your child's life when it comes to their well-being after a family law case. To be sure, many people will concern themselves with issues in their case that have little to do with their children. These are the same folks who will then wonder how their case ended up going sideways or changing course for various reasons.
My point is that you can only control so many aspects of your case before you end up trying to approach the case from an angle that will not improve things for you or your family. My advice is to consider areas of your case that directly impact your relationship with your children as being most important. Ultimately, everything else is just detailed, and you cannot be expected to manage every area gracefully the same. Instead, you can focus on what matters the most and then handle any changes to your lives after the case closes.
If I were a parent going through a child custody or divorce case, I would consider myself primarily with the strength of my relationship with my children, given the potential for regression thanks to the stresses and uncertainty of a family law case. For example, we may not be able to plan for every single event in a family law case, but you can plan to take advantage of whatever time you are provided by a court to be able to spend time with your children. A lot can go wrong in a family law case, but if you maximize the time with your children, you can minimize any disruption to your relationship.
All of this is to say that you can do everything right as far as your relationship with your child is concerned, only to find that some aspects of your parenting life are beyond your control period; in that case, you should want to learn about those areas and try to figure out ways to identify if any of those issues are becoming a reality for you and your family. Once you identify those potentially harmful aspects of your life with your children, you can better prepare and work to mitigate the impacts of those issues on your life.
Parental alienation is almost assuredly an issue you are concerned with, even though you may have never heard the term alienation before. Parental alienation is a concept that gets to the heart of your relationship with your children and your ability to nurture that budding relationship. In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I would like to discuss this topic with you in hopes of helping he was apparent identify potential cases of alienation and develop ways to lessen or eliminate the potential negative impacts on yourself and your family.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is when one parent uses circumstances to harm the relationship between their child and the other parent by either action or inaction. Specifically, parental alienation occurs when your Co-parent word uses language that harms your children's view of you. By talking about you behind your back, saying negative things about you or your family, or generally causing your child to question their relationship with you, your Co-parent would be engaging in parental alienation.
On the face of it, it is not difficult to identify alienating behavior when you see it. However, the real difficulty is doing something about it when you come to find out about it. The reality is that most alienating behavior occurs behind closed doors and in a setting where you have very little proof that it is ongoing. For instance, your child may come home asking questions or acting strangely after a visit with your Co-parent. Even if you can talk to your child and learn about the alienating conversation or behavior at their parent's house, it is difficult for you to do something about it using the mechanisms provided to you under the law.
Parental alienation is not something unknown to family courts in Texas.
Parental alienation is well known to occur in families both during custody cases and after. Give me court judges are exposed to issues regarding parental alienation daily in their courtrooms. They are exposed to the bickering, fighting, and general unhappiness that many families experience due to the stresses of upper family law cases that often bring about alienating behavior. For that reason, state legislatures have made it, so final orders in child custody cases always feature warnings against and prohibitions against alienating language from families. For instance, a typical final decree of divorce or child custody order will state that negative language about the other parent is not to be used in front of your children.
These are basic courtesies that are mandated in records from the court. However, the real question is what can be done through the courts to enforce court orders and prohibit language like this from alienating your child from you. To be sure, being able to prevent alienating language in the home of your Co-parent is difficult. There is no one watching them at all times, and it is unlikely that your child will be able to say anything to prevent their adult parent from using language they are not supposed to. However, you can take ways and steps to prevent alienating behavior from occurring or at least minimize the risk of that kind of behavior.
What can you do to limit the impact of parental alienation in your family?
Simply put, I would recommend having honest discussions with your Co-parent immediately after your divorce or child custody case. Making them aware that you will not tolerate or engage in this type of behavior is a great place to start. From what I have experienced working in the law, people will attempt to get away with what they think will not be noticed. If you never discussed this topic with your Co-parent, then it is possible that they don't think you care or won't think that you know what is going on. In that case, it could be open season on alienating behavior the second your child leaves your home and enters theirs.
This doesn't mean that you have to be angry or manipulative. All it means is that you have to be direct, as I am a fan of telling people: to be unclear and unkind. Let your Co-parent know that you will not tolerate this type of behavior. By the same token, make sure they understand that you will also not be engaging in this type of behavior. By doing so, you prevent them from feeling like they have to be on the defensive and defend themselves against accusations of this type of behavior. It also helps them understand that you acknowledge that you could be the source of alienating behavior yourself but will choose not to engage in that way.
Doing so will help your family in multiple ways. The first is to minimize any need to enforce or modify the child custody orders from your original case. For instance, it may be the case that an enforcement lawsuit becomes necessary if your Co-parent habitually violates the provisions against engaging in alienating behavior. As I mentioned earlier in this blog post, you need to have evidence that the behavior is occurring to bring an enforcement lawsuit. However, assuming you have some evidence to produce and are willing to file the lawsuit and enforcement action would be your Ave to have a judge address the behavior you wish to see stopped.
Going to court under an enforcement suit takes time and money. After going through an initial child custody or divorce case, I would imagine that both of those resources are in short supply. The other thing to remember is that an enforcement lawsuit will not do anything to Curry favor between you and your Co-parent. The reality is that if you bold can let sleeping dogs lie and provide some distance between yourselves moving forward, then the odds of having a more functional Co-parenting relationship increase dramatically. The more you force yourselves on one another through the courts, the less likely you all will be able to tolerate and engage in functional Co-parenting efforts.
Additionally, you may even choose to go a step further and file for a modification of your child custody orders if your Co-parent habitually engages in relating behavior. You may know from prior blog posts that amnesty real and substantial change must occur in the lives of a parent-child to modify a child custody order. Additionally, that material and substantial change must have been one that could not have been anticipated at the time of your initial child custody case. If your Co-parent has begun to engage in over-the-top alienating behavior since the time of your divorce or child custody case, I believe that this could qualify as a material and substantial change.
In which case, a modification lawsuit would likely be justified. Not only do you risk upsetting any consistency in the life of your child by filing a modification lawsuit, but you also risk permanently damaging your co-parenting relationship. This does not mean that you should be primarily concerned with your relationship with your Co-parent when determining whether or not you have to file a lawsuit in the future. It does mean that even if you are justified in filing a modification lawsuit, that still has the potential to harm your co-parenting relationship. This should only be done when necessary, and only you will know whether or not the ends justify the means.
Overall, it is important to note that your family can never undo the harm done through alienating behavior, even if you were to win an enforcement or modification lawsuit. There is no un-ring that Bell. As a result, I recommend taking whatever steps you can to eliminate the risk of the behavior occurring in the 1st place rather than assuming a lawsuit will fix any wrongs suffered by your family. You can talk to an experienced family law attorney to learn what impact a family lawsuit can have on your family after your initial case has been completed in only a few years.
What are some telltale signs of alienation that you can look out for in your own life to determine the risk posed to your child? This is the question that I am asked with some frequency and would like to spend the last section of today's blog post answering. Although your family is different from mine and vice versa, there are some common threads to alienating behavior, but you can look for your child's behavior and that of your Co-parent.
Signs of alienating behavior in a child
One of the first things I would look for in terms of signs of alienating behavior at another parent's home is if your child is acting more reserved or distant than normal. Most children are not good at hiding how they feel but you or any other subject in their lives. As a result, it should be easy for you to tell how your child is behaving compared to normal. If your child is not engaged at your home, acting strangely or out of char, acts that they feel uncomfortable indicates you have not given them a reason to feel uncomfortable with you; I will begin looking to outside sources to understand why this behavior is occurring. You can talk to your child about how they feel, but do not be surprised if your child doesn't immediately begin discussing the problems they are experiencing. Your child would likely benefit from some degree of counseling or therapy with a person who is not you or your Co-parent. Sometimes, talking to a neutral party about things will allow you to learn how your child feels when they do not feel pressured to give a certain answer about their life or their opinions about things in your home after a difficult child custody or divorce case.
Next, I would look for how your child talks about you or your Co-parent as far as their language. Again, children typically use language that is pretty simple or primitive when it comes to their relationships. Words like: happy, sad, nice, mean, and things of that nature are most typically used from my experience. When your child begins to use more adult-like or complex language, you can rest assured that your Co-parent is starting to use words like that with them. Most of the time, I find that having adult conversations with children about issues at home can be counterproductive. This is especially true when your children are very young. There is nothing wrong with having age-appropriate discussions with your child. But having discussions with your children beyond their maturity levels almost surely will not be helpful in a period after a family law case. Rather, I think you as a parent must communicate directly with your children but do so at an age-appropriate level.
If your child is displaying signs of becoming emotionally distant and is utilizing age-inappropriate language, you almost surely have an instance where alienating behavior is occurring. Do not chalk this up to coincidence or overthinking it on your part. Rather, I recommend directly addressing this subject with your Co-parent in hopes of identifying the problem and helping them to understand that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family's how your circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.