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Child Abuse: Parental Alienation

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs where one parent consciously or unconsciously does or says things that poisons the mind the child (fairly or unfairly) against the other parent.

Parental alienation typically occurs after a divorce or separation.

Whilst not an all-inclusive list, evidence that parental alienation is occurring includes when a parent:

  • Regularly interferes with communication between the children and the other parent;
  • Makes false allegations of abuse against the other parent and involves the children in these allegations;
  • Regularly engineers situations so that the children are ‘unavailable’ to spend time with the other parent;
  • Creates an intense fear by the children of spending time with the other parent when no previous fear existed;
  • blocks or misses access visits to the child;
  • makes negative remarks about the other parent;
  • coerces, entices or manipulates the child into rejecting the other parent;
  • destroy mail, presents or messages intended for the child before they reach the child.

What is the effect of parental alienation?

Parental alienation causes feelings for the child of:

  • fear
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • insecurity
  • confusion
  • internal conflict
  • identity disturbance
  • guilt

Parental alienation can be extremely destructive to the mental health of a child particularly when continued over an extended period of time (as can occur in some family law situations). If left unchecked, the relationship between the child and alienated parent can be irreparably damaged.

How do you combat against Parental Alienation?

No parent should ever alienate another parent from their child. If you are the parent who is being alienated (i.e. you are being prevented from seeing your children) then you might bear in mind these tips:

Don’t get defensive

You should avoid trying to defend yourself to your child without ensuring that you have a good counsellor or psychologist present. If you do not take such care, you may further damage the health and wellbeing of your child.

Do not talk about what bad things your ex spouse has done in the presence of your child. This can be damaging to your child and may cause you to be the alienator.

Affirm your love

Tell your children that you love them. Say it repeatedly and on each occasion that you see them. Let them know that you value them and that they are special.

Keep up the contact

Even if you know that your cards, letters, gifts, emails, voice-mails, etc. are being intercepted or are otherwise never delivered – don’t give up trying. Keep a diary or journal of your efforts to contact your children as well as writing to your children as if they were going to read it – someday. This will prove helpful both for you and, hopefully your children, if they have the opportunity to find out the truth at some time in the future.

Use positive language

It is very important to avoid using negative language. It’s simple and it’s subtle; sometimes we’ll call it “think like the child.” Examples of using positive language include:

  • Instead of, “I miss you…”, which can put the child in a position to feel guilt or upset use, “I look forward to the next time I see you!” this is more upbeat and positive.
  • Instead of, “I wish I could have seen that…”, which conveys a lost opportunity or a regret use, “Wow, that’s great to hear and must have been very exciting!” as this conveys excitement, support, and positive reinforcement regarding whatever experience is the topic of conversation

Be rational and reasonable

Manage your emotions. It is vital that you follow your court orders and agreements and avoid giving your high-conflict ex-partner any reason to paint you in a negative light to the children more than they already have.

Don’t play the blame game

Try to remember that the children are also victims in this mess. Although difficult, it is often that when parental alienation is occurring, your children may spy on you, talk about every move you make, every purchase you do, report on who you talk to or spend time with, and if you don’t remember that this is a part of the alienator’s strategy, you could become frustrated at the children and blame them for fuelling the ex partner’s behavior. Don’t let this happen – it will only drive your children further from you.

Don’t break promises

If you have made special plans or arrangements with your children do not change your plans just because you fear that your ex-partner will not permit the children to spend time you as previously arranged or ordered. If you are late or fail to show one time, it may be twisted by your ex-partner into “proof” of your lack of caring for the children and give them the power to further alienate the children from you.

Be yourself

Act as you always have and do, in the children’s best interests. This will ensure that as much as possible, the children will not see you as you are being portrayed by your ex-partner. Don’t overdo this though – there is no need to be “extra special” to counter your ex’s false allegations. Just be your usual loving, caring, nurturing self. Always remember that your actions will forever speak louder than your ex-partner’s words, particularly as your children mature.

Build the relationship

A nice holiday, having a catch with the ball, sharing a sporting event, or for younger children reading a book together, movie watching etc can be special moments you can share with your children and help build a strong relationship and bond between you and your children.

Have a great team

Legal professionals, mental health professionals, and therapists are all invaluable tools to assist you with decreasing parental alienation. Be sure that whatever professional you use is knowledgeable and experienced. This advice may not come cheap but will be worth it.

Further Resources

Head back to our family law publications page for more family law materials.

Final Comments

The law around custody matters can be quite complex and challenging.  For clear legal advice based on your own personal circumstances, please don’t hesitate to contact Swanwick Murray Roche and organise an appointment with one of our Family Law Specialists.

Swanwick Murray Roche
PO Box 111 Rockhampton 4700
74 Victoria Pde Rockhampton 4700
P:     +61 7 4931 1888
F:     +61 7 4931 1899
E:     enquiries@smrlaw.com.au

This is general guidance only and is not legal advice. Contact us if you wish to seek legal advice.