What is your legal recourse when you recognize that your ex is is attempting to alienate you from your kids? Here are concrete steps you can take to protect your relationship with your children, starting right now!
Recognizing the Signs of Parental Alienation
It’s been three months since you’ve seen your child, who is 11 years old. You have been divorced for over a year, now, and you are convinced that your ex is poisoning your son against you. When you call the house and he answers the phone, as soon as you say “hello” he hangs up the phone. When you speak with your ex, she tells you that your son doesn’t want to see or speak to you. Last month, he sent you a text asking why you don’t love him anymore and why you left his mother. You are desperate to see and be with your child and you simply do not know where to turn. You are not alone.
What you are experiencing may very well be a case of “parental alienation.” Parental alienation is defined as a form of emotional child abuse where a custodial parent belittles or vilifies the other parent to the child. Today, New Jersey judges are taking cases of parental alienation more seriously and are putting remedies and safeguards in court orders. And, judges do not look kindly on parents who attempt to disparage or denigrate their child’s other parent in front of the child. In recent years, psychologists have identified PAS or Parental Alienation Syndrome, which leaves lasting scars and damages relationships for years, sometimes irreparably. While this still sadly exists in family cases, courts are not taking this behavior or pattern of behaviors lightly.
Safeguarding Your Parental Rights
So, what can you do? If you do not already have a formal court order for custody or parenting time with your child and, instead, you and your ex have attempted to handle these arrangements on your own, get to the courthouse in your county and file a complaint immediately. It is critical that you have, in writing, and signed by a judge, an order that clearly lays out which parent has custody (legal and physical) and what your parenting time will be. Your order should also address vacations with your child and holidays. If you feel that having shared physical custody, where you child spends equal time at both of your homes, is in his best interests, go ahead and file for joint physical and joint legal custody. Legal custody is important, because it allows you the ability to have input in major decision in your child’s life, such as major medical or educational decisions.
If you are not able to share physical custody at this time, because of, perhaps job demands, then be sure that you have a lot of parenting time spelled out in your court order. Do not feel pressured into an alternate weekend arrangement if you can and are willing to spend more time with your child. New Jersey courts strongly favor the substantial involvement of both parents in a child’s life. The more you spend time with your child, the more you will be able to combat the misinformation planted by your ex in their attempt to alienate you from your child.
Be sure that you tell the judge that you believe that your ex is manipulating your child. If the effects are severe, your child may need to be evaluated and treated by a trained child psychologist. In fact, if the judge suspects PAS is happening, he or she may order that a psychologist be hired to evaluate you, your ex and your child. That doctor will write a report for the judge and may have to testify at your custody/parenting time hearing.
If you already have an order for custody or parenting time that your ex is refusing to follow, you would file a motion to enforce that order with the court.
Your family court judge may order that you and your ex attend mediation. This may seem like a fruitless idea, given your ex’s behaviors up to this point. But, you should go, anyway. If the judge orders it, you cannot ignore the order, or you will be in contempt of court. And, mediation may just work. A trained mediator will recognize a parent attempting to turn a child against the other parent. You can finally have your side heard. Mediation is much less expensive that court, so it is at least worth the time and effort.
Document everything. Keep a journal or diary of every time your child refuses to speak with you or does not show up for your parenting time. Keep relevant text messages and emails. Save voicemails. If your ex calls you screaming, record it. All of this is possible evidence for the judge
Above all, do not give up. The road may seem endless with no light at the end, but giving up on seeing your child or having a meaningful relationship will haunt you as you and your child become older. At least you will know that you gave it your all. And, hopefully, so will your child.
Are you concerned about your ex’s behavior and how it is affecting your relationship with your kids? Do you need to put a custody or parenting time in place, or have questions about your current arrangements? We can help. Please contact us today to schedule your initial consultation with one of our trusted family law attorneys.