What is Parental Alienation?

Here’s a family law term that separating parents need to know about, so they can avoid it: parental alienation.  It might sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but it instead is an all-too-real violation of the explicit and implicit rules of divorce, and in particular, time-sharing with children.  It should not be avoided solely for ethical reasons, but also for legal ones: a parent guilty of parental alienation may get hit with an undesirable judicial ruling.

Parental alienation occurs when the actions of one parent adversely affect the relationship of a shared child with the other parent. Sometimes these actions are taken on intentionally. We have seen too many instances of one parent intentionally sabotaging the relationship of a child with the other parent. Fortunately, Florida courts recognize that parental sabotage is emotional abuse and can take action to rectify circumstances where parental alienation occurs.

The most common activity that may constitute parental alienation is one parent excessively sharing divorce-related information with a shared child. While some details of the divorce may be important information for the children, such as with which parent they will be at points in the future, there is little excuse for discussing specific pleadings, who initiated the divorce, or similar irrelevant litigation issues. These details could convince children that a divorce was the other parent’s “fault,” damaging the children’s relationships with the other parent. The contents of legal pleading typically are reserved for you, your ex-spouse, your lawyers, and the court – not your children.

A related method of parental alienation is one parent persistently making negative statements about the other parent in front of the shared children. Even minor statements can have a negative impact; major statements, even if true, can greatly undermine the trust a child has for the other parent. If both sides play this game of treating children as pawns, shared children will find themselves without a trustworthy parent — the exact opposite of what any children undergoing their parents’ divorce need. For this reason, the court can and will consider this type of parental alienation a serious breach of the ex-spouses’ duty to each other and to their children.

Another version of parental alienation involves withholding contact information.  An ex-spouse who withholds shared children’s phone numbers or email addresses from the other ex-spouse is clearly interfering with the other parent’s right to communicate with the shared children.  In the absence of a court order or final judgment that restricts communication, a parent must not impede communication between their children and ex-spouse.

Sadly, there are many other ways one parent can alienate the other.  This is why it is important to listen to the counsel of an experience family law attorney to help guide you in knowing where these boundaries are. If you feel that your ex-spouse is undermining the relationship between you and your children, consulting with a skilled family lawyer, like Frank Remsen, can put you on a path to receiving a court order that prohibits this type of behavior and takes corrective action to repair your relationship with your child.