In last week’s blog article, we discussed the phenomenon of parental alienation and its obvious effects on divorce. Though our article takes a deep dive into what it is and what it looks like, it can be defined simply as strategies one parent takes to distance a child from the other parent.

It involves what we do as family lawyers directly, because the court system is one means that parents will use to engage in parental alienation. A parent who wants to alienate his or her children from the other parent might make allegations of abuse or neglect during the divorce process, might seek decree modifications to limit the other parent’s ability to see the children, or might take actions (including refusing to turn children over to the other parent for designated parenting time) requiring the courts to step in.

In her article in Psychology Today, Dr. Christine B.L. Adams has some criticisms for the court system:

When caught up in parental alienation, parents seek help from the court system to sort out what is best for their children. Courts handle this with wide variation in all the countries of the world. Mostly they handle these situations poorly and make egregious judgment errors in their legal decisions as to custody and visitation arrangements.

Legal and judicial professionals are not trained in the complex interpersonal issues of either family life or divorce—who does what psychologically and to whom, and how it affects children. This lack of knowledge is compounded because courts rarely appoint highly trained and skilled mental health counselors who regularly work with parental alienation to assess and help make decisions for involved families.

She also goes on to point out there’s a difference between situations in which a parent and child truly are estranged, and situations where parental alienation is making it look like estrangement. Certainly, the legal system doesn’t have the training that mental health professionals do in determining parental alienation — which is part of why we work with mental health professionals in our practice, whether it’s encouraging clients to work directly with counselors or perhaps even having them testify in cases where their expertise provides some clarity for a presiding judge.

The best way to fight parental alienation in the courts, first of all, is to show that you want what’s best for the child. Part of that, of course, will be believing that your involvement with your child is essential. Judges generally also want what’s best for the child, and if you can demonstrate that your children are experiencing parental alienation rather than true estrangement, that obviously works in your favor.

If you’re experiencing parental alienation and want to involve a family lawyer, you want to be mindful of your communications with the other parent. Parental alienation is intended to, by design, hurt and anger the targeted parent. It can be hard to not want to respond angrily to hurtful words or actions, but it can help to ask yourself, “What would a judge think looking at this exchange?” before sending a text or an email.

That’s not to say that a judge would review an email exchange — that’ll be up to your lawyer to determine if it could work in your favor. (But it might!)

At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we’re experienced in these kinds of cases, and can help you with both the short-term and long-term implications of parental alienation as they affect (or potentially affect) your parenting time.

Parental alienation is a hard and challenging thing for both parent and child to experience, especially when the courts get involved. But as we’ll talk about in our next article, there are ways to combat it. It’s certainly something that can be challenged and can even be overcome.