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Parental alienation: What it is and how it could affect your Texas family law case

Are you going through a difficult circumstance with your family right now? Does it look like you are going to get a divorce or will need to go back to court for a child custody related matter? If so, then you likely have some questions about what has been happening in your life and how it can affect a potential family law case. 

One of the issues that many parents do not consider as they begin a family law case is what the relationship with your children is like before, during and after the case has concluded. Many parents that I speak to believe that it is natural for that relationship to suffer. The theory most of these folks have is that they will have to work on rebuilding the relationship after the family law case has ended. 

I can see where this idea comes from. A family law case is stressful, it often causes children to feel like they are having to choose between parents to a certain extent. However, what if I told you that some of the problems that you may be experiencing in your relationship with your children are due to outside forces acting in ways that will purposefully harm the bond between you and your child?

That is what happens in many family law cases. Parental alienation refers to actions by one parent that intend to manipulate and eventually turn a child against the other parent. This can be done in a variety of ways- ways that are not easily detected in many cases. Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan seeks to discuss those issues in greater detail. 

What can go wrong between you and your child in a family law case?

If your family is going through tough times it is almost inevitable that there are going to be issued between members of the family. Stress brings about strained relationships and testing of everyone's patience levels. For children, they may see the divorce or child custody case as being an issue between parents. Even older children may not understand that you are going to court to improve their lives in a meaningful way.

Your relationship with your child can be a victim of these difficult times. It is possible to maintain a strong relationship with your child during a family law case, but it can prove to be very difficult. You would have had to start with a very strong relationship and then worked to maintain it. A parent and child rarely grow closer during a family law case, despite how attractive an idea this may sound.

One of the major differences between your life before the filing of a family law case and your life after the family law case is that you will have designated periods in which you can spend time with your child. This is a huge change especially if you are the parent who has to move out of the family house and find a new place to live. Having your kids over to an apartment or another temporary abode can be a stark contrast between happy memories in the family home that you all grew together in.

You may find in extreme situations that your child refuses to come to see you in your new home. At the very least your child may express a reticence to visit you and may voice displeasure at having to leave their home. In the alternative, your child may want to visit your spouse more than he or she wants to spend time at home with you. Whatever position you end up in during your particular case, if you find yourself feeling alienated by your child then there may be a very good reason why it is you feel this way. 

Mothers and fathers alike are at risk of facing alienation as a result of a family law case

Alienation does not affect one parent over the other. From my experience, mothers and fathers alike can experience alienation. The loss of a relationship with your child is especially difficult during a family law case you are going through all the trouble, stress and heartache because you want to do something that will ultimately help your child in the long run. Feeling that your bond is breaking with your child during the case can be heartbreaking. 

What can we assess as the different stages of alienation in a typical family law case? How may your child react to the changes in your lives and what can you do to counter any negative effects on your relationship with your kids? Let’s focus on those questions in the next few sections of today’s blog post. 

Resisting going to visit you 

Pick up and drop off times can be extremely emotional for families that are just beginning the process of doing visitation. The act of having to get your kids ready to go see their other parent can be very difficult. You’re likely to be stressed out and your kids will pick up on that stress and become stressed out themselves. This is in addition to the emotions that your kids already are experiencing at doing something new. On top of all this, most kids (depending on their age) are generally terrible at managing their emotions. They’re kids, after all. 

If you are the parent who doesn't have primary custody of the kids the drop-off/pick up day can be among the best and worst times of your week. It is the best time because you can see your kids for the first time in days. You have limited opportunities to visit with them and rebuild your relationship. You want to take advantage of every opportunity you have.

On the other hand, if their other parent has been working behind the scenes to alienate your kids from you then this is a scene that can be heartbreaking for a parent. All week you have been looking forward to this moment, but all week your children have been told that they do not want to see you and you are a bad person. Although your kids may ordinarily be nervous or apprehensive about coming to see you, a few moments with you would put them at ease most likely. 

If the other parent is badmouthing you all week there is little you can do to overcome the tide of negative emotions that surround you in the pickup and drop off situations. Your children are being trained to alienate you and make you feel like you do not matter to them. When your children are in a mindset like this, the best thing you can do is be patient. You do not know how they will react or what it will take to calm them down. You should, however, take possession of them to comply with your court orders. They are your kids and you will want to see them, no matter how difficult that transition may be at first.

Visitation gets better when you remove your kids from the other parent’s possession

A sure sign that alienation is occurring is when you finally get your kids in the vehicle with you and the mood and temperature of the situation begins to improve. Cooler heads prevail and you can start to talk to your kids as normal. They start to get comfortable with you and the visit can start. Remember: even in the best of situations, your kids may not have seen you for a few weeks. It is going to take some time for them to get acclimated to their new surroundings, especially if they are younger.

You will do your best during this stage of happiness and general goodwill to build a strong post-family law case with your child. Parent your child as you believe is best for them. I would normally recommend trying to co-parent, but if he or she is attempting to alienate your kids from you then it is not worth the effort right now. Do your best to lay down rules, discipline your kids when necessary but generally enjoy your time with them. 

What happens when your child goes back to their other parent?

When it is time to drop your child off at the other parent's house, he or she may be surprised to see your children smiling and speaking favorably about their time spent with you. What that parent is figuring out is that despite all their efforts to control their emotions and engage in alienating behavior during the week about you, that it was at least initially ineffective. This can be frustrating and the parent may act angrily towards your kids. 

Parents in this spot will frequently try to pull back on fun activities, threaten to take away privileges at home and generally discipline your children more harshly. Your kids will learn that by showing any degree of favorability towards you, it means making their lives worse at home. The natural by-product is likely to be that they will stop showing any enthusiasm over spending time with you, to make their home lives more tolerable.

You can see this stage of the alienation taking life in the final hours before you are set to take your child home, as well. Your child may anticipate seeing their other parent and may be worried about the mood of that parent depending upon the “report” made about how the weekend with you went. The child may begin to become emotionally withdrawn, quiet and outwardly worried. 

The bottom line is that your child feels conflicted about enjoying their time with you and what it can mean to them over the next couple weeks. Remember that your child can have fun with you, but if he or she displays any amount of loyalty to you, the other parent will react negatively. 

Your child is being programmed to dislike spending time with you for no good reason

The other parent will invent reasons why your child should not enjoy spending time with you. Sometimes it is good old-fashioned guilt that is laid at the feet of your kids. The alienating parent may tell your children that he or she will be all alone without your kids at home and that she will be very upset the entire time they are gone. Even if your name is never mentioned, it trains your kids to think about spending time with you as being the reason why their other parent is crying at home. 

Extreme examples of the effects that parental alienation can have on a child

In extreme situations, your child may begin to display emotional trauma, crying, and a generalized inability to function outside of their home environment. Also, your child may begin to lash out in anger at you or their siblings. Their performance in school may also suffer. Keep in mind that your child's other parent may have final say-so over medications that your child may take so be aware of any new prescriptions that you are made aware of.

When and if you begin to see these sorts of behaviors being played out in your own life, you need to take action. First, approach your child's other parent directly about the problems. If he or she is not willing to acknowledge them, you will need to address them via a lawsuit. Your ex-spouse violates the final decree of divorce in your case. As such, an enforcement lawsuit will attempt to show a judge the examples of those violations and will ask for him or her to be punished accordingly.

Going back to court may be the last thing in the world that you want to do, but it is the only way that you can give yourself a good chance of putting this issue behind you. Even then it is no guarantee, but the other parent will not stop out of the goodness of their heart. You will need to approach the problem with vigor to maintain a healthy relationship with your children.

Questions about parental alienation in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan 

If you have any questions about the material contained in this 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 where we can meet with you to answer questions and directly address your concerns. 

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