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What Does Parental Alienation Look Like?

Parental alienation occurs when a parent poisons the relationship between the other parent and his or her children. Its effects are highly destructive on the children and the parents. Experts warn that parental alienation if left unchecked, may have a lifelong impact on a child. Also, the child’s relationship with both parents is negatively affected.  This especially includes the parent perpetrating the alienation.

Parental alienation has many faces. Sometimes, alienation happens when a parent ignores the court ordered parenting schedule and schedules activities on top of the other parent’s time. The alienating parent may also try to make the other parent the bad guy if they have to cancel events.

For example, a father may have parenting time scheduled over the summer with his son. He plans to take his son to the beach. Mother, in order to make sure father and son don’t have the opportunity to spend time together on the beach, enrolls the child in a computer game programming class instead. The class is something the child wants to do and otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend.

If this sort of forced appropriation of the other parent’s time becomes a pattern, it can be classified as alienation.

Being the Bad Guy

In the above scenario, the child’s feelings about the father aren’t directly attacked, just the time they spend together. But alienation can be much darker, and more insidious than scheduling over a parent’s time.

In another example, an alienating parent may bad-mouth the other parent.  Or, they may force the child into situations where, in order to receive the parent’s love, the child must agree with the bad-mouthing parent. The child’s relationship is being poisoned directly by the alienating parent.

Eating into My Time

In high conflict cases, where communication is confrontational, coordination of activities is a problem. Parents recognize the benefits of extracurricular activities.  But coordinating these activities can be used as a weapon.

In those situations, we often see one parent enrolling the children in activities which overlap with the other parent’s parenting time. Sometimes, this is just unavoidable. Sometimes, they maliciously block out the time with an event.

When this occurs, coupled with bad-mouthing the other parent, it’s a strong indication the objective is to exclude the parent permanently. Sadly, experts tell us this strategy almost always backfires in the end, and children eventually realize, even if just subconsciously, what was done and resent the parent who engaged in alienation.

There is a full degree of the seriousness of parental alienation. It can range from off-the-cuff, emotional one-time outbursts, to a persistent strategy of filling the other parent’s parenting time, making parenting time difficult or intolerable, and bad-mouthing the other parent.

When courts determine parental alienation has been occurring, the repercussions can be severe. Parenting time of the offender can be cut off, or severely limited even including supervision. Judges take interference into a parent’s relationship with their child very seriously.

Is Bad-Mouthing “Alienation”?

Experts say one parent bad-mouthing the other parent works emotional harm on the children every bit as much as a physical assault. Viewed from the child’s perspective, one person they love verbally assaults another person they love.  This can put the child in an impossible position.

Continually bad-mouthing a parent can rise to the level of interfering with the parent-child relationship and constitute parental alienation. Here, the parent’s objective is to remove the other parent from the child’s life.

Colorado courts will quickly become involved if they determine one parent is consistently bad-mouthing the other, especially if that bad-mouthing rises to the level of parental alienation. When a court determines parental alienation exists the consequences can be severe.

Courts can terminate or severely limit an offending parent’s parenting time.  They may require supervised parenting time. Courts take parental alienation so severely because of the lasting damage it can do to all the relationships involved.

The severity of bad-mouthing is broad. It can range anywhere from a one-time emotional outburst, up to where a parent never has anything good to say about the other parent.  They only criticize, demean and insult the other parent.

It’s a wise move only to say good things about the other parent.  This is not just because it’s best for your children, but also because bad-mouthing can backfire enormously in front of a judge. Try following the rule, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Suspect Alienation?

If a parent suspects the other is engaging in parental alienation, they can seek assistance from a court.  These cases can be severe since they usually involve hiring experts to conduct investigations.

Experts are necessary in these cases.  They provide a court with an objective third-party’s assessment of a family and the dynamics between the parents and the children. There are two types of experts a court can appoint.  One is a Child and Family Investigator (CFI), and the other is a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE).

Occasionally, a court will direct an expert to conduct specific tests or evaluations.  Otherwise, the expert investigates as they want. Parents may provide expert information and evidence.  But, trying to direct the expert investigation often backfires.

The expert gives their opinion to court in the form of a report. This report contains a description of the investigation; any statutory factors reviewed, conclusions and recommendations. A court does not need to follow the expert’s recommendations; however, most courts rely heavily on the judgment and experience of qualified experts.

Experts will likely make recommendations if they determine there is parental alienation.  The recommendations vary from minor modifications of parenting time, all the way up to a complete suspension of all parenting time.

Since these cases are never easy, a parent should consider retaining counsel to assist them.

Posted January 14, 2019
by: MFL Team

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