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What It Is, Why to Avoid It, and What to Do If It Happens to You
After splitting or a divorce with the other parent of your children, it can be tempting to vent about that parent to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, some parents choose to release these frustrations on the children they share with that parent. This creates unnecessary tension for any children involved, and is known as “parental alienation.”
Examples of Parental Alienation
Any action meant to manipulate your child into hating or disrespecting their other parent can be considered parental alienation.
Common examples of Parental Alienation include:
– Purposely dropping the child off late for visitation or picking the child up early
– Giving your child the choice of whether or not they want to attend visitation
– Acting sad, hurt, jealous, etc. after the child has a good time with the other parent
– Telling the child details about the divorce or custody battle, true or not
– Removing the other parent from contact forms for school and extracurricular activities
– Throwing away gifts and other items from the other parent
– Pressuring the child to lie to teachers, police, etc. about how the other parent treats them
– Asking the child to snoop and spy on the other parent during visitation
– Blaming financial problems and other stressors on the other parent, the divorce, their new partner, etc.
– Encouraging the child to break rules and be disrespectful at the other parent’s home
How to Recognize Parental Alienation in Arizona
Your child may not be affected by your ex’s attempts at parental alienation, or your child may simply tell you what is going on. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy to detect and confront parental alienation. Child psychiatrist Richard Gardner first introduced the idea of parental alienation syndrome, or PAS, in the 1980s. Parents with narcissistic personality disorder and similar disorders are the most likely to engage in parental alienation. Parents who are concerned about potential alienation should look for signs like the child excluding them from school and extracurricular events. When the child starts asking the parent not to attend parent teacher conferences, the local spelling bee, or their next soccer game, that parent should have pause for concern.
Another sign of successful parental alienation is increased opposition and hostility in the child. If a child was previously well-mannered but suddenly has a bad attitude and refuses to obey the parent, parental alienation may be at play. The child may suddenly seem to feel entitled to gifts, favor, and money from the noncustodial parent. The child may deny ever having a positive relationship with the parent, even going so far as to deny previous positive experiences ever occurred. The child will likely always have something critical to say about the alienated parent, and may have convinced themselves that this was all their own thinking without input by the other parent.
Parental Alienation and Child Custody in Arizona
In Arizona, family courts presume that the best situation for a child is 50/50 custody between the parents. The judge will order the child to spend as close to equal amounts of time with each parent to the extent possible, unless one parent has proven to be a bad influence on the child. All custody decisions in Arizona are always made with the main priority being the child’s best interests. Spending less time with a parent who says toxic things about the child’s other parent is often in the child’s best interests.
If your child is old enough and hasn’t been brainwashed by the other parent, you may be able to prove parental alienation to the court through sworn statements. If not, proving parental alienation to the court will be a harder battle. You may want to consider getting your child treatment from a mental health professional who specializes in parental alienation syndrome. If your child is diagnosed with PAS, the mental health specialist can write a report which can be submitted to the court as evidence of parental alienation. If the PAS is severe enough, it may be grounds for the court to order a modification hearing.
Arizona family courts don’t like to waste time and resources, and want children being raised in two households to have as much continuity as possible. That’s why custody modifications aren’t granted without good cause, and the courts will only review a custody petition at most once per year (except in cases of emergency).
Steps to a Successful Modification
There are a few steps you can take to have your best chance of success at a modification hearing based on parental alienation. The first would be by submitting the mental health expert’s report and possibly having expert testimony demonstrating how the other parent is manipulating the child and the negative effects it is having. The argument could be strong enough that the alienation is so stressful for the child that it would be best for the child to primarily live with the other parent.
The next step a parent facing parental alienation should take is researching parenting plans and a proposal for the best one to minimize the effects of the other parent’s alienation. Your parenting plan should show why spending more time with you would be best for the child, and you should be able to show that you are prepared.
As with any legal matter, you have the best shot at achieving your ideal outcomes if you hire an attorney to represent you. An experienced custody attorney may have referrals to PAS specialists and will know how to present their reports to the court. An attorney will also be familiar with Arizona’s model parenting plans and which proposals have the best chance of success in family court. You should be prepared to spend a fair amount of time and resources on your parental alienation claim.
Final Tips as to Parental Alienation
– Don’t stoop to the other parent’s level. Avoid making negative comments about the other parent, unless necessary to refute a blatant lie the other parent has told your child.
– Always be someone your child can talk to. Your ex has probably been doing a lot more talking than listening to your child lately. Being a good listener will also help you stay vigilant for signs of parental alienation and lessen any effects it may have on your child.
– Keep track of any times the other parent refuses to cooperate with your visitation. You can keep a log of every visit where the other parent was late or missed entirely.
– Hold on to proof that the other parent has been speaking negatively about you. This can be text message screenshots, social media updates, and more.
– Get promises from the other parent in writing. You may agree to be flexible on a visitation date only for the other parent to tell everyone you flaked out at the last second. Make sure you get at least text message confirmation for verbal modifications of your parenting plan.
If you are concerned that you and your child have been the victim of parental alienation, you don’t have to take it lying down. You and your child deserve expert representation from a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney. That doesn’t mean you should have to sacrifice all of your disposable income towards hiring an attorney. Our Arizona family attorneys offer competitive rates and monthly payment plan options. Best of all, the initial consultation is free! If you want to learn more about the steps you can take to prevent parental alienation, contact us to schedule your free consultation today.