A divorce, despite your best efforts and most optimistic thoughts to the contrary, is rarely amicable. True enough, you can find blog posts on this website where we talk about amicable divorces. An amicable divorce is a great goal to strive for. However, the reality of the situation is that it is likely that there will be some degree of acrimony and fighting in your divorce. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which a divorce will touch on almost every area of your life from finances to your children. Dividing up your money and your children all in one case? That means the most intimate areas of your life are going to be on display and up for grabs. No wonder an amicable divorce may be tough to come by.
You or your spouse may not even want the divorce that the other is filing. Many people come to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to learn more about how to stop a pending divorce from occurring. The reality is that in Texas it does not take your consent for your spouse to file for and obtain a divorce. This is because Texas is a no-fault state where you or your spouse can file for and obtain your divorce with little to no reason. Whether your spouse chews their food the “wrong” way or just generally does not interest you anymore, you can get a divorce without much resistance from a court.
There is a wide range of emotions that come along with a divorce- most of those emotions are negative. It is normal to be angry that you must go through the process of a divorce what with the emotional and financial toll that it takes on you. It is a bitter pill to swallow that you have devoted so much time, energy, and love to a relationship only to see it fail. Even looking at your spouse in the face can be too much to ask right now. Going through an attorney for the divorce may be worth it for no other reason than to put a layer of protection between yourself and having to interact with your spouse. When your spouse has a lawyer that's almost like having a double layer of protection between yourself and the person who is causing you so much emotional and physical discomfort at the moment.
Do you and your spouse have children? If so, then that makes sense that you are reading a parental alienation blog post. With that said, consider that when children become part of a divorce then the magnitude of the decisions made within the case and the stress associated with the case are amplified a great deal. Money is important but your children are everything to you as a parent. Expect that issues related to your children- visitation, possession, child support, etc.- will be the most critical aspect of your divorce and can illuminate issues elsewhere in your case, as well. You are going to want to do whatever it takes to make sure that your children are provided for and that your rights and time with your children are protected.
The worst part of the issues and acrimony in a divorce can sometimes be seen through the prism of how you interact with your children. Every parent has a unique way of how or interacting with their kids. Each of us as parents are equipped differently to talk with our kids, discipline our kids, and generally coexist with our kids. What you do with your children in this regard is likely different than what I would do, and vice versa. This doesn't make anyone a necessarily good or bad parent. What it does do is put us in a position where we are focused on competition between ourselves and our co-parents. How we interact with our children is sure to change when those kids are on the playing field on which the competition is ongoing. Do not expect that you and your co-parent will be completely fair to one another especially now that you are always interacting with your children behind closed doors and not in front of your co-parent.
When a parent purposefully tries to distance their children from a co-parent by their words and actions, that parent is engaging in parental alienation. Parental alienation is a particularly pernicious activity as far as parenting is concerned just because it is underhanded, sneaky, and tough to detect. You are not telling your children that their mother is a bad person. However, when you air your wife’s dirty laundry from the divorce in front of your children those children are left wondering if their mother is a good person or not.
A divorce is a tricky time for the parent-child relationship. Many parents who go through divorce are nervous not only about the future of their relationship with their child but whether a relationship will be there at all. Has your spouse told you that you aren't going to get any custody or time with your child after the divorce? Hopefully not, but that is not an uncommon threat to hearing parents make to one another in a divorce. It can be difficult to think about not having a relationship with your child. More reason, a cynic would say, is to try and ruin the child's relationship with your co-parent by engaging in alienating behavior.
Whatever emotions that you are feeling towards your co-parent at that moment can be returned to your children by the things that you say about him or her. Your children are going through a tough time themselves and this behavior can often end up backfiring. The way that you want your children to think of your co-parent is sometimes how they end up thinking about you. This is truer for older children who can see through your words and are more resentful at being put in the middle of your marital fights.
All in all, it is your children who will suffer the most as a result of your alienation. Their relationship with both you and your co-parent is integral to their learning who they are as a person. With so many of their faculties developing all at the same time it can be a disaster if you remove one parent from their lives at such an important time. Can you imagine what would happen if you tried baking a cake but turned the oven off 10 minutes too early? The cake would not turn out the way that it should. Or, instead of following the instructions, you used only half as much sugar as the recipe called for? This is a bit like how it works with parenting a child. That child is best served by consistent and stable parenting in an environment where he or she can draw upon the experiences that he or she has with both parents.
Instead, when you or your co-parent engage in alienating behavior you give the child an untrue and slanted view of the other parent. This is not fair to the other parent. He or she has their faults but not so much that your child needs to be aware of every single one of them- and then some which may not even exist. This is especially not fair to your child who, as we just talked about, does best in a situation where he or she can be exposed to both of their parents. By filling their mind with exaggerations and untruths the parent will never get a fair shake in the mind of the child. Even if you can talk to your child about the truth the damage done by the alienation may never be healed.
Holding a parent responsible for alienating behavior
There are consequences to parental alienation that go beyond the impact on your children and your family. If the alienation is ongoing during the divorce or child custody case, then you can potentially reduce the amount of time that your child can spend with the alienating parent. Certainly, if that co-parent is attempting to win primary custody of your child, then showing that alienating behavior is going on will harm that parent's efforts to do so. Overall, your best chance to hold your co-parent accountable for their actions is to do so during an initial family law case. This is because you have a judge ready to review the situation and issue rulings. Also, holding them responsible early in the process may encourage them to not engage in that behavior once the case is over.
Once your family law case ends it becomes difficult to sometimes identify alienating behavior even. You are relying upon your child to expose the alienating behavior since you will not be present with your co-parent when this behavior is ongoing. Remember- the difficult part of alienation is that your child may not even know that it is happening. Depending on the age and maturity of your child it is not a given that he or she can identify and then report the alienation. The consequences of this can be significant. Alienation can go on for months before you can notice small changes in the behavior, speech, and attitudes of your child.
Proving parental alienation
It is not easy to prove parental alienation even if you get the impression that it is ongoing. A parent who is acting unacceptably to their child does need to be held responsible for their actions. However, in answering the question posed by the title of today's blog post parental alienation is not a crime in Texas. To hold your co-parent responsible for their actions it would be best to address the issue directly with your co-parent. Sometimes if the other parent sees just how harmful their actions have been towards the behavior and outlook of your child he or she will stop engaging in that kind of behavior. This may not be likely, but it is possible. I think it is worth your while since the other options almost all include involving the courts.
However, you may end up having to file a modification case to address the alienation that is ongoing after a divorce or child custody case has come to an end. A modification case is where you are asking a court to modify or change previously issued court orders due to there having been a material or substantial change in circumstances that has occurred since the last time you were in court. These material and substantial changes are usually brought to the court's attention in the modification filing through a sworn statement made in writing and under oath, known as an affidavit. You would type out what occurred over the past months or years so a judge can see the alienation that has occurred and the impact that it has had on you and/or your child.
A hearing could then be held to see if you can win some provisions to discourage your co-parent from engaging in alienating behavior. The tricky part of alienation is that it is so difficult to enforce an order where alienation is ongoing. It can certainly be a he-said, she-said situation. To win on a case involving parental alienation you will need to prove that it is ongoing. Here are some behaviors that may help you identify whether parental alienation is impacting your child.
Is your co-parent getting in between you and your scheduled visitation periods with your child? This is probably the most obvious form of parental alienation since it involves actions rather than words. For example, if your co-parent is the primary conservator of your child, he or she contacts you regularly before your weekend periods of possession to tell you that your child is either sick, does not want to go to your home, or has some other excuse. Is your child always running late or constantly forgetting important items to bring to your home for periods of possession? These are more subtle forms of interference with your visitation periods.
Ideally, you and your co-parent should be encouraging your child in being able to build a relationship with their parents. You may not be a huge fan of your co-parent now, but you should encourage your child to take advantage of the time that he or she has with both of their parents. However, when alienating behavior comes into the picture that means that you are likely undermining your co-parent's efforts to build a relationship with your child. This can harm the future of your co-parent's relationship with your child. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to identify this sort of interference since words are not something that can be tracked as easily as possession interference.
As we said before, if you don’t allow your child to take their favorite stuffed animal, toy, or other belonging to your co-parent's home if only to punish the child, then you are engaging in alienating behavior. It is one thing to ask your co-parent to buy a jacket or something like that for their home so that the jacket isn't constantly left behind. It is reasonable to expect that your co-parent can buy some clothes, underwear, a jacket, etc. that will be kept at their home for your child. It is another to provide nothing or to constantly "forget" to supply your child with these items before visits to their other parent's home.
For one, it is probably against the terms of your court order to do this. Look through the terms of your final orders to see if there is a provision that requires both you and your co-parent to return items that were with the child during the possession exchange. There probably is. Other than that, it is disrespectful to not return items or to insist that your co-parent have all the items necessary for your child. Providing basics like clothes is not unreasonable. It puts your child in a position where he or she may not have all the items that he or she needs to have a good visit with their co-parent. At its core, this is alienating behavior.
Finally, consider that your co-parent has a right to attend sporting events, activities, and parent-teacher conferences for your child unless otherwise stated in the court orders. This means that if you know the school only contacts you regarding a parent-teacher conference then it is up to you to contact your co-parent to let them know. Purposefully not alerting your co-parent about this meeting is petty and alienating. Doing this continuously serves to sever the relationship between your co-parent and the activities that are central to the life of your child.
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 contained 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 consultations 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 as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.