One of the most disheartening things about a child custody or divorce case can be the ways that it may negatively impact your relationship with your children. If you have children who are going through a child custody case or divorce case then you may have specific concerns about how the case is going to 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, what you need to understand is 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 they are case ended up going sideways or changing course for any various reason.
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 grace the same. Instead, you can focus on what matters the most and then handle any changes to your lives after the case to a close.
If I were a parent who was going through a child custody or divorce case then 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 then 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 potential 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 that 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, by either action or inaction uses circumstances to harm the relationship between their child and the other parent. Specifically, parental alienation takes place when your Co-parent word use 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 being able to do something about it when you come to find out about it. The reality is that most alienating behavior takes place 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 that is happening 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 in general unhappiness that many families experience due to the stresses of upper family law case that oftentimes 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 him or her at all times and it is unlikely that your child will be able to say anything to prevent their adult parent from using language that they are not supposed to. However, there are ways and steps you can take 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 him or her aware that you will not tolerate or engage in this type of behavior is a great place to start. From what I have experienced in 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 he or she doesn'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 as to be unkind. Let your Co-parent know that you will not tolerate this type of behavior. By the same token, make sure he or she understands that you will also not be engaging in this type of behavior. By doing so, you prevent him or her from feeling like they have to be on the defensive and defend themselves against accusations of this type of behavior. It also helps him or her to understand that you acknowledge that you could be the source of alienating behavior yourself but are going to choose not to engage in that way.
Doing so will help your family in multiple ways. The first is that he will 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 would need to have evidence that the behavior is occurring to bring an enforcement lawsuit. However, assuming you have some sort of evidence to produce and are willing to file the lawsuit and enforcement action would be your Ave to have a judge address the behavior that you wish to see stopped.
Going to court under an enforcement suit takes time and money. I would imagine that after going through an initial child custody or divorce case both of those resources are in short supply. The other thing to keep in mind 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 kind of consistency in the life of your child by filing a modification lawsuit 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. What it does mean is 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 that is 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 than mine and vice versa there are some common threads too alienating behavior but you can look for in 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 going on at another parent's home is if your child is acting more reserved or distant compared to normal. Most children are not good at hiding the way that they feel but you or any other subject in their lives. As a result, it should be somewhat easy for you to tell how your child is behaving compared to normal. If your child is not engaged at your home in his acting strangely or out of character indication that he or she feels uncomfortable with you.
If you have not given him or her a reason to feel uncomfortable with you then I would begin looking to outside sources to understand why this behavior is occurring. You can talk to your child about the way that they feel but do not be surprised if your child doesn't immediately begin discussing the problems that 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 being able to talk to a neutral party about things will allow you to learn how your child is feeling when he or she does 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 the language that he or she uses. 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 language that is more adult-like or complex then you can rest assure that your Co-parent is starting to use words like that with him or her. 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 that are 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 to do so at an age-appropriate level.
If your child is displaying signs of becoming emotionally distant and is utilizing age-inappropriate language to do so and 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 him or her 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 as well as about how your family is how your circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.