Here’s the scenario. Your child comes home after a week at your ex’s, and is completely unmanageable. Maybe she refuses to follow your rules. Maybe he begins calling you by your first name. Perhaps she tells you that she hates you, and that they want to live with dad full-time. What can you do? How can you respond?
Parental alienation, first named “pathological alignment” in the 1970’s, is a syndrome that children can develop when exposed to the stressor(s) of divorced parents or dysfunctional co-parents. Although a child could theoretically develop this syndrome without the assistance from a third person, classic parental alienation occurs when either a parent, step-parent, or other relative not related to you begins to relate to the child negative information, comments, behavior, or suggestions about you. These can be direct comments like “Mom/ Dad is a total jerk”, or can be passive implications like “If only your father would have stuck around, I could have afforded to send you to camp”. The implication in the latter is that the child’s emotional desires would have been–or could have— been satisfied or resolved had the other parent done (or refrained from doing) some particular action.
Unfortunately, parental alienation is something that occurs over a significant period of time. It may be that step-mom starts insisting that the child refer to her as “mom” or “mommy”, and insist that the child refer to you by name when in the custody of your ex and the step-parent. It could be that your ex blames you for their financial woes in front of or within earshot of the child. These are often simple comments that might appear “harmless” when taken out of context and without taking into account a long pattern of similar statements. The underlying function is that the statements made tend to undermine the relationship between the child and the alienated parent.
If you feel that someone in your child’s life is undermining your role and authority as parent, or is somehow trying to change your child’s perspective of you in a negative way, you are not without recourse. An attorney can petition the court to issue an order compelling the other parent or individual you are concerned with from making negative statements about you to the child. Further, if you have an existing decree or custodial agreement, such statements may arise to the threshold required by the court to compel a modification of the underlying custodial terms.
The Minick Law Firm has a team of Family Law of attorneys that would be happy to talk with you if you have concerns that your child may be being alienated from you. It is vital that the statements being made about you stop as soon as possible, to prevent long term emotional and psychological issues from affecting your child. Contact the Minick Law team to set up a consultation.
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Robert Gilligan was raised in Waynesville, NC, and joined the U.S. Air Force right out of high school. After being honorably discharged after 6 years, Robert attended Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, MI. Robert was highly involved in the University’s law student groups, being the Dean of the Delta Theta Phi chapter, Treasurer of the Environmental Law Society, President of the Law Student Veteran’s Organization, as well as a member of dozens of other agencies. Robert interned with the 3rd Circuit Court, Family Division, and later worked as an associate for a number of solo practitioners in the Metro-Detroit area practicing in areas of law ranging from Bankruptcy to criminal defense. In 2013, Robert relocated back to Waynesville, NC where he lives with his wife, Marissa, and daughter, Claire. Robert’s practice areas include family law, criminal defense, and estate planning.