Enduring the riptide of parental alienation!

You most likely knew divorce was going to be a difficult adjustment for the entire family. You anticipated possibly losing your home, assets, and a major adjustment to your finances. However, you never dreamed divorce would include watching your children be taken away and being cast as the “villain,” the antagonist in your divorce story.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve most likely had thought “What happened? What the hell is going on? How did I get here?” The answer: You are caught up in one of the most dangerous currents in high-conflict divorce, and to make matters worse, it is difficult to see and prove.

Just as a riptide lurks under the surface with no apparent waves to signal its presence, parental alienation can be difficult to spot for anyone not experiencing its destructive power. Parents involved in difficult divorces can find themselves struggling against this powerful force pulling them further and further from the shores of where they used to play, love, and hug their children. They search for a judge, the children’s counselor, even their attorney—someone—to throw them a lifeline but it seems as if no one appreciates how difficult it is to remain buoyant in these deceptively normal waters. This is where you now find yourself.


Yep, I said it. The professionals don’t always have your back, nor do they always “see” what exactly is going on. Parental alienation is often difficult to “see,” which is why many times the professionals are of no help. My client “Daniel,” thought counseling for the children would help, however, the therapist began to believe the children’s exaggerations (rehearsed it turns out with their mother). He then found himself in the middle of a CPS (child protective services) investigation.  It took him nearly 10 months of endless hearings to finally be exonerated from the false allegations and be reunited with his children.

Although Daniel was reunited with his children, his first few weeks were horrible. His parenting time was “introduced” gradually, meaning his time with his children was shorter and in public places. Not only does this subconsciously validate the irrational fears his children may have had, but it also created a narrative in their mind that maybe the allegations were “true” and to continue to reject and hate their father.

From the therapist, CPS services to the Guardian Ad Litem, each one of the “professionals” were not convinced parental alienation was occurring and without any real evidence, they had detrimental effects on my client’s relationship with his children.

Tip #1: Don’t approach the professionals involved in your case as the enemy. They may be causing more harm than good, however, as much as they may want to help and protect children from harm, sadly they are not trained in parental alienation. Not only is it possible they don’t see it, but they also may have been sucked into the lies your ex is saying to them.  My advice would be to work to help them better understand your family dynamics and parental alienation. I would ask if they could recommend a specialist familiar with this behavior and if all else fails, have your attorney see if they may be removed from your case provided it is in the best interest of your children.

Tip #2: Over time, you grow angry at your ex-partner, angry at the counselors, and maybe even angry with your children. In a surge of anger, you might begin to confront your children, the professionals, even speak out of turn in court. And what happens? You unwittingly begin to follow the script of the antagonist—the villain you were cast as. No one is helping, so you turn into a warrior, fighting to win each battle so you can restore order, civility, and sanity back into your life and your children’s lives. My advice is DON’T!

You need specialized legal counsel, coaching, and therapists on how to respond to the riptide of parental alienation safely, smartly, and strategically. You may not be responsible for the circumstances you find yourself in, however, you are responsible for what you say and the actions you take while enduring this painful process.

Tip #3: The longer your children marinate in the toxicity of false beliefs, irrational fears, and polarized ideations, the prognosis worsens for their recovery into wellness and restoring relationships.

You need professionals on your team who can help you respond smartly and swiftly. They can:

  1. Help you find an attorney who knows how to effectively fight alienation dynamics (You may want to share this article with them and another that more fully defines parental alienation),
  2. Help you understand the alienation process so you can have more compassion for your children and respond appropriately.
  3. Help you work and engage more effectively with the professionals involved in your case—or strategically work to have them removed—so you don’t present and react in ways that perpetuate the unfit villain narrative.
  4. Help you cope and deal with the alienation tactics your co-parent utilizes so you can better avoid traps and manipulations.

Being mentally and emotionally prepared is just as important as having excellent legal representation. if you are not emotionally prepared to endure parental alienation, mistakes will be made, and they will have life-long consequences. Little mistakes or losing your cool, can cost you everything! 

Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men