People divorce for any number of good reasons. One that is particularly applicable is when the spouse seems to go out of their way to diminish their partner in a hurtful and emotional manner. It can become worse during or after the divorce. One of the worst examples would be a mother or father who uses their children as a tool for inflicting pain upon a former spouse by causing parental alienation syndrome.

What is parental alienation?

In short, parental alienation syndrome is a parent’s effort to turn a child or children against the other parent. The goal is to take actions that foster a child’s unwarranted rejection of the other parent. The child or children can become consumed with hatred of the parent and deny any past positive experiences. This will lead to rejecting a person they once valued and loved.

Examples from family psychology experts include:

  • Making the child a confidante by sharing inappropriate or unflattering details about the marriage and divorce: “Your mother cheated on all of us when she had that affair.”
  • Blaming the other parent for every negative effect (financial, social, etc.) due to the divorce: “We had to move into this small house because your father refuses to pay more support.”
  • Disregarding parenting schedules by planning fun and exciting activities during the other parent’s time: “I’d bring you skiing with me this weekend, but you will be with your mother.”
  • Not communicating important information to the other parent: “I don’t know why your father isn’t here for this baseball game or ballet recital.”
  • Justifying the punishing behavior: “They need to know the truth of why you ended the marriage.”
  • Letting the children make their own decisions: “I’m not going to make them go to your house for the night/weekend if they don’t want to.”

Parents can protect their rights

It is important to remember that children are innocent victims in these situations. The alienated parent should try and discover why the children do not want to see or spend time with them. It may be necessary to seek family counseling to resolve specific issues and rebuild a bond of trust. It may also be a matter of gathering evidence of texts or messages from an ex-spouse, talking to potential eyewitnesses, and discussing the issue with a family law attorney.

All critical family decisions should consider the best interests of the children. Parents who do not follow that golden rule and cause permanent damage to a parent-child relationship can find themselves facing legal action. It can be hard to prove, and there are limitations on what the court can do, but it may be necessary to protect one’s parental rights.