Speaking with a client earlier this week, he described new behaviors he was seeing with his estranged wife. His co-parenting relationship had become “different” once he moved out of the family home a few weeks earlier. To start with, he had difficulty reaching his children each time he phoned. There were excuses such as “they’re busy doing homework,” “they’re playing with their friends, “or “You’re interrupting a movie they are watching.” Over the weekend while spending time with his children, his daughter had mentioned going to the doctor the prior week because she was sick and stayed home from school. He was never informed and when he requested his wife give him more information, she refused.
When he informed me of the details, my red flag went up immediately in my mind. My gut feeling was that this was not going to be good, and we may have the beginning of parental alienation coming into play.
Parental alienation is the process in which one parent starts to alienate the children from the target parent. They may do this through bribery, manipulating their feelings, or capitalizing on their children’s incorrect beliefs. They may try to cut off communication or minimize contact to maintain control, too. Because of the severity of parental alienation, it’s important to recognize the signs and to put a stop to it as soon as possible.
What are the warning signs to look for?
Giving a child a choice as to whether to visit the targeted parent. This is often a violation of court-ordered parenting plans, check yours to see if there is a clause that mentions this. It’s very easy for children to choose to rather stay home where their friends are, etc. when given a choice about seeing their other parent, especially with teenagers.
Your ex prevents you from seeing or talking to your child on the phone or online. Your ex tells your child that you are too busy, preoccupied, or uninterested in them. The lies are being told to both you and your children. This is a very common behavior in brainwashing the child against the targeted parent. Your ex may also start to control how your child communicates with you. For example, they may try to monitor all phone calls, text messages, and any communication you have.
Scheduling activities that conflict with visitation. Your ex plans special activities timed to clash with you seeing the child. For example, when you’re supposed to be having your child for the weekend your ex invites your child’s best friend to a sleepover and then asks your child what they want to do. They are creating temptations designed to make your time with the children less appealing.
Being inflexible to reasonable changes in the visitation schedule. Your ex-wife bends or breaks the shared parenting or contact plan which has been agreed or ordered or refuses to compromise on reasonable flexibility. For example, your birthday falls on a day when contact is not agreed upon and your ex refuses to let the child come to your birthday celebration.
Your ex is secretive with information about your child. For example, not sharing medical information, school reports, or information about your child’s likes, successes, or failures so you gradually lose knowledge of your child and become less involved in their life.
If you are experiencing these warning signs, become prepared and document everything! These are difficult cases to prove and the best way to protect yourself is to keep a daily record of everything that happens involving your child, even good things because you never know when you will be accused of doing something bad when no such thing even happened. Record conversations or incidents with your ex. Your records will be crucial in proving that parental alienation is taking place if you can prove that your ex is lying or just exaggerating. The better the evidence the more ammunition you will have to defend yourself and you’ll improve your chances of success.