Parental Alienation: When Children are Pawns in Custody Cases
Unfortunately, as an experienced Oakland County child custody attorney, I have seen many cases in which children are “alienated” from one of their parents. In cases of physical or emotional abuse this is indeed understandable – and it is certainly justified when a child does not want to spend time with an abusive parent.
But in many other cases a child’s rejection of one parent is the result of intentional manipulation – or so called “brain washing” – by the other parent. And, sadly, many attorneys and even some judges, do not know how to recognize, or rectify, this problem.
As a result, a parent can wrongly be denied parenting time because the other parent has “brainwashed” or manipulated the child into believing they are “better off” without the other parent. Many times the manipulating parent will even outwardly contend that “of course I am encouraging the children to spend time with you” – while taking steps to ensure the opposite result behind the scenes.
How a Parent Alienates Children in Child Custody Cases
The alienating parent may do so very subtly. They may indeed never say anything overtly bad about the other parent, but instead deviously find ways to denigrate and undermine the targeted parent in front of the children. This repetitive behavior and the repeated comments slowly “indoctrinate” children – much the way cult leaders do – until an intense dislike for the other parent becomes ingrained in the child.
An alienating parent also often flagrantly disregards the other’s parenting rules – even encouraging the children to defy them. Positive actions by one parent get “turned around” by the manipulating parent into something that is bad. (“Oh, he bought you a new bike? He’s just trying to make up for missing your ballgame.”) And even minor mistakes are inflated, emphasized and blown out of proportion. For example, a usually punctual parent who is late a single time due to traffic delays, may then constantly be characterized as “not even caring enough to pick you up on time.”
One telltale sign of an alienating parent is their constant effort to arrange something even more impressive, whenever the targeted parent does something nice or special for the child. The manipulative parent will also often keep events, medical information, school conferences, etc. a secret from the targeted parent – in order to make it appear that the parent is not involved or interested in the children’s life.
Sadly, children in these situations are often put under so much pressure by the alienating parent that they will begin to internalize the false narrative about the other parent. The child is then rewarded emotionally for criticizing the other parent. They may even intentionally go along with this “version” of the other parent in order to please and/or avoid conflict with their custodial parent. In extreme cases a child may become protective of the allegedly “wronged” manipulative parent, and push away the other parent in order to please the alienating parent.
What Can be Done About a Manipulative Parent in Child Custody Cases
The problem with the divorce, custody or parenting time cases that involve a manipulative parent is that the Judge only sees a quick snapshot of the situation. The manipulator will be on his or her best behavior in Court and usually “say all the right things.” And because the Judges doesn’t realize what is going on behind the scenes, all they see is a child rejecting a parent, amid (unsubstantiated) claims of bad parenting, lack of involvement and/or emotional abuse.
As a divorce and child custody attorney who has handled several hundred cases in Oakland County, I have learned that you and your attorney can take some proactive steps to counteract a manipulative parent. Much of this has been developed by mental health professionals and specialists in the field of psychological manipulation of children.
Once such helpful resource is the “Parental Alienation Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals”. That book recommends specific questions the alienating parent should be asked in court by your attorney – to reveal to the Judge the depth of their negative and manipulative influence on the child.
Questions should be directed toward the alienating parent and the children that reveal the guidance, boundaries, incentives, and consequences being employed by the parent. When skillfully asked by an experienced child custody attorney, these questions can reveal that they are actually lying about their efforts to encourage visitation, and/or that they are completely ineffective at parenting.
The attorney (and the Judge) will be on the lookout for:
- Contradictory or inconsistent statements;
- Inappropriate, unnecessary or exaggerated information;
- Subtle or overt character assaults on the other parent;
- Collusion or ‘spying’ by the child;
- Indirect or “backhanded” statements;
- Coached or “un-childlike” statements or information repeated by the child;
- Good parent versus bad parent characterization;
- A “martyr role” by the alienating parent;
- Unfounded fear of contact with the other parent;
- Anxiety in the child when specifically questioned;
- Evidence of “secret keeping”;
- Child acting or repeating mirror-image statements of the parent;
- Confusion about the birth parent’s importance in their life;
- Child’s manifestations of guilt or self- blame;
- Clearly “scripted” answers;
- Nonverbal messages or telling behaviors;
- . . . And much more
Hiring a Child Custody Attorney to Fight a Manipulative Parent
It is, indeed, emotionally abusive for children to be coerced, brainwashed, manipulated or forced to choose one parent – while being denied a loving relationship of the other parent. Alienated or manipulated children in a divorce or child custody battle need aware adults who can step in and take the pressure, anxiety, fear and guilt off the child – so that they can enjoy a normal, healthy and loving relationship with both parents.
Children who are not protected in these situations will have to live with guilt, anxiety, loss and abandonment for the rest of their lives.
If you are a parent whose child or children are being alienated from you by a manipulative spouse, an experienced child custody attorney can help you turn the situation around. Through skillful use of the legal system, your attorney can give the Judge in your case a “true picture” of what is really going on – so that you can obtain the custody and parenting time you and your children deserve.
Do not “give up” and let your children suffer in silence from the emotional abuse of parental alienation – even if they have refused to spend time with you, or been unkind to you. Remember they too have been victims of parental brainwashing.
Call me today for a consultation and we will discuss how together we can fight the manipulation in Court – and obtain the child custody and parenting time arrangements that are best for you and your children.