What is Parental Alienation?
The definition of parental alienation is “The manipulation of a child to reject one parent or the other.” Parental alienation is extremely damaging to children. However, there are not many specific laws around it. Each judge uses their best judgment to deal with parental alienation cases. This means that one judge may understand the issue and take it seriously, and another judge may not.
If you are an alienated parent, it is important that you be educated on the subject. Find a lawyer who is experienced at helping people in your situation.
How do I get educated?
Amy Baker is an expert in Developmental Psychology and has done a lot of research on parental alienation.
This is part one of a three part blog series that will draw from her work.
How can you spot alienation and what behaviors define it?
Baker compiled a list of 17 ways that parents alienate their child from the other parent in an article called Beyond the High Road.
- 1. Badmouthing (Example: Constantly criticizing the character of the other parent in front of the children.)
- 2: Limiting Contact (Example: planning activities for the children during the other’s parent time.)
- 3: Interfering with Communication (Example: placing unnecessary restrictions and rules around phone calls with the other parent.)
- 4: Interfering with Symbolic Communication (Example: Getting rid of the child’s pictures of the other parent.)
- 5: Withdrawal of Love (Example: Subtly giving the child the message that if they love the other parent, they are less valuable.)
- 6: Telling Child Targeted Parent Does Not Love Him or Her (Example: “If your dad really loved you, he would have never done what he did.”)
- 7: Forcing Child to Choose (Example: “Are you going to be loyal to me or your mother?”)
- 8: Creating the Impression that the Targeted Parent is Dangerous (Example: Packing pepper spray in the child’s bag on a visit to the other parent and teaching them to use it “in case the other parent tries anything.”)
- 9: Confiding in Child (Example: Telling the child all the details of your ex’s affair.)
- 10: Forcing Child to Reject Targeted Parent
- 11: Requesting Child to Spy on Targeted Parent
- 12: Asking Child to Keep Secrets from Targeted Parent
- 13: Calling the Targeted Parent by First Name
- 14: Referring to a Stepparent as “Mom” or “Dad” and Encouraging Child to Do the Same
- 15: Withholding Medical, Academic, and Other Important Information from Targeted Parent/ Keeping Targeted Parent’s Name off of Medical, Academic, and Other Relevant Documents
- 16: Changing Child’s Name to Remove Association with Targeted Parent
- 17: Cultivating Dependency (Example: Making the child feel like they need to be with the parent to be OK. Or making the child feel like the parent needs them to be OK.)
For more background on each of these strategies you can watch this video.
Understanding the 17 Strategies
Nobody is perfect and a parent can make a mistake and do one or two of these behaviors some of the time. But, that doesn’t necessarily make you a victim of parental alienation. For example, if your child overhears your ex call you a name in a conversation with a friend, you probably don’t have a parental alienation case. However, if the name calling is intense and ongoing then that’s a different story.
Your ex doesn’t have to use all 17 strategies for you to be a victim of parental alienation. Using just some of the strategies can be harmful to you and your kids.
Next week’s blog will focus on the four factor model, a framework that can be used for showing that parental alienation is going on.
If you are interested in Amy Baker’s work you may want to read her book, Co-parenting with a toxic ex: What to do when your ex spouse tries to turn the kids against you.