Most parents intuitively understand that children need to carry a positive image of each of their parents. Each parent is an integral part of the child, and a child does not divorce either parent simply because parents stop being a couple. Parents embroiled in a difficult separation or divorce, however, can lose sight of this. Some find their view of the other parent deeply tarnished, and then either inadvertently or intentionally impart this negative view to the child. The child may in turn internalize this view, incorporating it into a negative self-image.
Divorce inevitably creates stress and tension for everyone in the family. Children often face difficult adjustments in living situations. When one parent attempts to sabotage their child’s relationship with the other parent, it is the child who suffers the most. Parental alienation prevents children from receiving the reassurance they need—from both parents—to successfully adapt and adjust to their new family dynamics.
Types of Parental Alienators
Many parents occasionally slip up and disparage the other parent in front of the children, but a few go further. Some may legitimately believe that the other parent poses a danger to the child—a view that may or may not be justified. In most cases, it is not, and the disparaging parent may realize this once the high anxiety of the initial conflict begins to dissipate. In a few cases, it is justified, and the parent trying to protect the child needs to work with an attorney and child protective services to find an appropriate solution. Very few parents damage a child’s relationship with the other parent intentionally and for no perceived good reason, but unfortunately, it does occasionally happen. In general, there are three types of alienators:
- Naive Alienators—These parents recognize that children need a healthy relationship with both parents, but still do or say something from time to time which denigrates or sabotages the other parent.
- Active Alienators—These parents continually lash out in frustration against the other parent in the child’s presence. While the alienating parent generally feels remorse for his or her conduct, this on-going problem often creates additional litigation over custody and parenting time.
- Obsessed Alienators—These alienating parents intentionally attempt to destroy the child’s relationship with the other parent.
New Jersey Parental Alienation Evaluations
Parental alienation is not easy to prove, and not every judge believes in the legitimacy of the syndrome or believes that identifying the syndrome is helpful in dealing with custody issues. Disentangling a child’s reaction to a dynamic directly involving a non-favored parent from a child’s reaction to negative feedback emanating from a critical parent can be difficult. Add to this the fact that children’s attitudes often shift naturally as a part of growing older, and the situation is often far from clear. The signs listed below may signal parental alienation, but they may also have an alternative explanation. Even when many signs of alienation are present, a child custody evaluation will generally be necessary to confirm the syndrome.
Potential signs of parental alienation:
- The other parent denies you access to your child.
- Your child pulls away from a formerly close relationship with you without any explanation.
- Your child accuses you of behavior that has not occurred.
- Your child actively sides with and defends the other parent.
- Your child rebels against you aggressively.
Remedies for Parental Alienation
Proving parental alienation can be difficult and expensive, and in some cases, making accusations can worsen an already tense situation. Parents dealing with less severe situations are generally better off attempting a collaborative solution. Many naïve alienators are not even aware of the harm they may be doing. You can start by suggesting mediation. A family law attorney with a collaborative focus can help you explore additional potential solutions. Family therapy can help everyone in the newly restructured family adjust to changed circumstances. A parenting coordinator can act as a neutral facilitator or “referee” with respect to parenting issues.
For severe or persistent alienation, you may need to seek a remedy in court. While not every judge or psychologist believes in the doctrine of parental alienation, all judges are committed to protecting the best interests of the children. If the other parent is actively interfering in your rights to custody and visitation, it is not necessary to prove parental alienation to pursue a remedy. Remedies for interference with custody or visitation include temporary or permanent changes in the parenting plan, including some or all of the following:
- compensatory parenting time,
- changes in transportation arrangements,
- changes in pick-up or drop-off locations, or
- a change in the primary residential parent.
A court can also impose additional penalties, including ordering the interfering parent to:
- pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees and court costs,
- attend parenting classes or counseling,
- pay for counseling for the children or for the other parent,
- pay any costs resulting from non-compliance with court orders,
- participate in community service, or
- comply with a warrant for arrest.
(See N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.3 and New Jersey Court Rules 1:10 and 5:3-7(a)).
When one parent demonstrates, with the support of a report from a child custody evaluator, that serious alienation has occurred, a judge will often order “reunification therapy.” For more information, see: Reunification Therapy for Parental Alienation. For more information on other remedies, see: Enforcing New Jersey Child Custody and Visitation Orders.
Securing the Future
Is parental alienation affecting your relationships with your kids, and your child custody arrangement? At Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, we understand that alienation from your child can be devastating. Our New Jersey child custody attorneys will help you find the best ways to repair and strengthen your relationship with your child as quickly as possible.
Contact us for an consultation by calling (888) 888-0919. Safeguard your kids and secure your future as their parent. Take the first step today.