What is Parental Alienation? 10 Things to Watch For

parental alienation
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In a divorce or separation, turning your child against your ex could have negative outcomes for you. Parental Alienation — turning your children against your ex — though maybe understandable, is never acceptable.

Divorce can be traumatizing. Nearly every aspect of your life can change in a short amount of time—financial, emotional, social, and, of course, your relationship with your former partner. Then there are elements that can make divorce or separation even harder, such as infidelity, abuse or domestic violence, marital debt, adverse effects on your finances or lifestyle (especially if caused by a partner’s waste), or just the need to support two households with the same income that supported one.

To complicate matters further, if your ex has a new partner, a whole new set of issues can arise, including concerns (justified or not) for the mental and physical well-being of your children.

What is Parental Alienation?

An all-too-common byproduct of divorce is the denigration of one parent by the other. It’s an understandable, human fault. You may be angry. You may want to get back at your ex. You may feel like you’re left with no choice, you’re acting in self-defense, or you’re protecting your children or preparing them for inevitable disappointment.

Attempting to turn your children against their other parent is called Parental Alienation. As a practicing matrimonial attorney, I continually come across it, even as inattentive or unconscious behavior. It usually manifests as:

  1. Reacting negatively if a child recounts positive feelings or activities with the other parent
  2. Unnecessarily sharing of intimate and financial details of the marriage and blaming problems on the other parent
  3. Encouraging ill feelings toward the other parent
  4. Advising the children against listening to or obeying the other parent
  5. Unreasonably contradicting the other parent
  6. Frequent verbal altercations during pickups and drop-offs
  7. Badmouthing the other parent’s significant other
  8. Scheduling events, parties, and other activities during the other parent’s time
  9. Prohibiting a child from contacting the other parent at any time
  10. Withholding information about the children from the other parent

If any of this describes your behavior, or if you’re in any way considering behaving this way, I strongly advise that you don’t. It’s harmful to your children and, legally, harmful to you.

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Negative Outcomes of Alienating Your Ex

Family courts are guided by one principle in resolving issues of custody: What is in the best interest of the children? Parental Alienation is considered so antithetical to your children’s best interest that an offending parent may likely be deemed unfit to be their custodian.

The courts are keenly aware that when one parent manipulates their children against the other parent, it can have long-term, catastrophic psychological effects on the children. In severe cases, it can be regarded as child abuse.

A court can impose remedies and deterrents such as financial punishment and charges of contempt. It can also award custody to the other spouse, including changing custody from a previously ordered arrangement.

Your children always come first. Leave your issues with your ex between the two of you. Involving your children can backfire and cause you to lose them legally and, ultimately, emotionally.

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Joseph Trotti, Esq., is the head of Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP’s Matrimonial and Family Law Practice and a leader of its LGBTQ Representation Practice. With 35 years of trial experience in custody, divorce, and support matters, including several landmark cases, Trotti has carved a reputation as an innovative litigator and compassionate counsel.

Trotti is the founding partner of the VMM Family Institute℠, where he’s pioneered the application of Collaborative Law, an approach used in corporate dispute resolution, to domestic cases. For his groundbreaking work, the New York Law Journal named him a 2019 Trailblazer and the LI Herald named him the 2019 Family Law Top Lawyer of Long Island.

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