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What is Parental Alienation and What Are its Legal Implications?

When you file for divorce what is your main goal? With so much at stake in your case and with so much ongoing in your life there is a lot on your mind, most likely. However, if nothing else you are seeking to put a period at the end of the sentence that is you married. You want closure, in other words. To be able to say that you completed a task and ended the marriage successfully. You may not know what is upcoming in your life, but you do know that your marriage is now behind you. That is the goal of divorce across the board. You may not know what to expect in the divorce itself, but it is reasonable to expect that at the end of your case that you will no longer be married. 

If you and your spouse have children together then you are more than just spouses- you are co-parents. Creating a child together and then raising that child into an adult is the most important role that the two of you will play. That you are getting a divorce is just part of your story as parents. The job of raising that child together is still in front of you. That responsibility did not end just because you and your co-parent got divorced. There may be additional challenges that you all have created because of getting divorced. But the bottom line is that divorce can offer opportunities for you and your co-parent to persevere and raise your child separated from one another but in a cooperative manner. Hence the term co-parents. It's a term that is often overused to the point of being silly in just how often you hear about co-parenting and its benefits. There is no doubt that effective co-parenting after your divorce concludes beats ineffective co-parenting. The trouble is that achieving success in co-parenting is easier said than done in most cases. 

In a perfect situation, your child will be raised by two parents that love him or her completely and can tolerate and work well with the other parent. Nobody is expecting you and your co-parent to hold joint Christmas and holiday celebrations but being able to act civilly towards one another is completely possible if you two work at it. You can use your strengths and your co-parent can use their strengths to build that child up into a young adult and eventually an adult who can take on the world and achieve great things. Just because your child is not going to be raised by married parents does not mean that he or she cannot benefit from their relationship with you and with your co-parent. That your child will want to spend time with you and your co-parent alike is something that many families idealize. It would be nice to be able to work together, raise a child and then have that child want to spend time with both of us, some parents think optimistically during a divorce case. Maybe you are going through a divorce and are pondering those same thoughts at this very moment. 

Without much of a doubt, your child wants to be able to have a relationship with you and with your co-parent. Very few children are so dead set on one parent that he or they would want to bypass that relationship completely. Rather, the child may need a gentle nudge in one direction or the other, but overall, your child loves you and loves your co-parent. Having a relationship with both of you stands to benefit the child and benefit you and your co-parent. It truly is a symbiotic relationship that can enhance your lives and those of the people around you. While a divorced family is far from ideal your child can find success and emotional stability as a child of two divorced parents who is doing their best to make the arrangement work. 

However, there are those situations where the parents just cannot seem to get past issues in their divorce or cannot seem to be able to see the situation for what it truly is- a chance to build up your child into a successful little person and then a successful big person. Rather, these parents take a situation very similar to what you are facing and decide to make it a battlefield- a personal battlefield between themselves and their co-parents. If this sounds familiar and you are concerned that your co-parent may be attempting to act out a situation just like this in your life, then you ought to stick around until the end of today's blog post. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to share with you some information and perspective that we have earned through years of diligent family law representation. Specifically, we want to share with you our thoughts on what parental alienation is and what are the potential impacts of parental alienation. To be sure, parental alienation is a problem that many people face in their lives as divorced parents. However, it is a subject that does not get near the attention that it should, in my opinion. Families are based on relationships between their members. How your relationship is impacted with your child will be the story of your divorce. 

If you find that your child is showing signs of rejecting, you and rejecting their relationship with you then there is some basic information that you can follow up on which can steer your relationship with your child back in a positive direction. It may seem impossible to do so when your child is adamant that he or she wants nothing to do with you. When your relationship seemed fine just a few weeks ago but now seems unsalvageable it is a good sign that something bigger is happening in your lives than a simple misunderstanding or a momentary frustration with a parent. When you see that your child seems to feel no remorse about how he or she is acting, and the lack of affection and respect is just oozing out of your interactions with your child then this is what we call parental alienation here in the world of family law. 

Is parental alienation something new?

Parental alienation is something that has gone on for centuries and likely longer. It is only recently that it has become a bigger issue in our country since divorce has become much more prevalent. Parental alienation is much less effective when the other parent lives in the same house as you. At that point, you have fewer places to turn to when it comes to figuring out who is poisoning the well as far as your relationship with your child is concerned. You can see the alienation occurring in the same house where you live. Rather, it is when you and your co-parent live in separate homes that alienation can truly be said to flourish unabated. Your co-parent can take advantage of this distance to have your child alone with him or her. This is where alienation can occur.

One of the reasons that parental alienation probably does not get as much attention as it ought to is because alienation is defined by "experts" in so many different ways. When a child whose parents are having a high conflict or high acrimony divorce creates a mental condition where a child believes it necessary to become the advocate and ally for an alienating parent while rejecting the other parent without justification- this is parental alienation. 

We can first see that this is a situation where your child has a mental roadblock to furthering their relationship with you. This is not something where you have physically prevented your child from having a relationship with you in some way. Rather, your child has put up a mental roadblock and has a condition or state of being where he or she is unwilling to engage in a relationship with you. This is unfortunate but it is due to an idea being put in the head of your child most likely being an alienating parent or possibly another relative. The wounds are more difficult to heal in many ways than physical wounds due to their being ideas that cannot be bandaged and repaired with ice. 

Next, the situation is made even more difficult when we consider that your child may reject you in these circumstances without just cause. If your child were to reject, you due to a physical injury that you caused him or her that would be a completely different issue. Anyone can see why your child would pull back from the opportunity to build a relationship with you in that case. However, when parental alienation is occurring the justification simply isn’t there for not having a relationship with you. Rather, your co-parent wants to be able to push you away to draw your child closer to him or her. This is not the way to better your relationship and surely this new relationship between the child and your co-parent is built on shaky ground. However, that will not stop your co-parent from trying to engage in this behavior, anyway.

First signs of parental alienation- what to be aware of

From our experience representing parents across southeast Texas in family law cases, the first sign that you may be dealing with a situation involving parental alienation is when your child refuses to come over for their periods of visitation with you. Your child may have always been excited to come over and spend time with you but is now hesitant to do so. You can try calling your child but he or she refuses to pick up the phone and speak to you. Your co-parent is no help at all when it comes to helping convince your child to get in the car or go to the front door when you are present and ready for custody exchange. On the one hand, the child refusing to go with you is not an excuse for your co-parent to stand by when it comes to not having your child ready to go. Then again- is your co-parent supposed to physically pick your child up and place him in the backseat of your car? This is not an easy question to answer and one that you and your child will have to figure out together. Of course, that would require that he speak to you about what is troubling him. 

Visitation interference is another major sign that parental alienation is ongoing. This is a slightly less subtle sign of alienation in that your co-parent may always have your child running late for their visitation exchanges with you. In other situations, your child may never come with all of their belongings to your house. When you asked for your child to come with their weekend homework so the two of you can work on his assignments together your co-parent “forgot” to pack the supplies with your child. Now it’s Sunday morning and your co-parent is recommending that you drop your child off early so that he can make sure that he gets his homework done. This is another tricky position for you to be in since you could get upset with your child over this but doing so would alienate him further. What’s more- it may not even be his fault if his mother is hiding his textbooks or otherwise not allowing your child to spend time with you. 

Your teenager may even threaten you on occasion with classic lines such as I'm old enough to decide whether I want to see you or not. Mom says I can talk to the judge and never have to see you again. Of all the lines a child can deliver to a parent this one strikes the most fear, I think. Many parents assume that their child truly can deliver the death knell to their relationship if that is his or her desire. Do you imagine a judge's office as being a place where children and cycling in and out constantly sharing their opinions with the judge bout where he or she wants to live? Many parents, especially fathers, do have this suspicion. However, you need to know that teenagers do have the ability to go speak to a judge about where they want to live on a full-time basis. This can be done as part of a family law case. Unless you are involved in a family case do not fear your judge marching up to the judge randomly and asking to not see you anymore. 

Children make threats all the time and you do not need to read too much into them unless you have a specific reason for doing so. You can talk to your child about the threat, where it comes from, and how they're feeling. This is a great way to learn a little more about your child and to determine the origins of the threat. Are they genuine? What are the main concerns your child has? Can you hear your co-parent's voice coming out of the mouth of your child almost like he or she was a ventriloquist's dummy? Whatever is going on in the life of your child you owe one another a duty to find out what it is. Parents who are not inquisitive about their child and their motivations in a situation like this tend to fall behind the curve and lose out on time in the future Your child have a heart. If he or she can see that you are doing everything you can to keep your family together and maintain a relationship, then it is more likely than not that he or she will become more receptive to spending time with you. If nothing else, you can lay the foundation for any future problems that arise in your home. 

Alienation problems tend to become worse if left unchecked. They may start as a relatively small issue for your family but before you know it the problem has grown and spread to other areas of your child's life. Their schooling and social life may be affected. Your co-parent may be using coercive tactics to influence your child into making decisions that suit him or her but not the child. This is what you need to watch out for and be proactive against if possible. I realize that this can be a difficult assignment to take on considering that your child may be hesitant or even refusing to see you. That is why when you identify signs of parental alienation you need to do everything you can to call out the behavior, ask questions of your child and do what you can to be direct with your co-parent about how the behavior is unacceptable. 

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. 

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