Parental alienation has been defined as the process and the end result of psychological manipulation of a child into showing, unwarranted fear, disrespect, hostility and even hatred towards a parent, relative or others… many times, but not always in an effort to change custody. It is a form of psychological abuse…and it is undoubtedly a form of child abuse. It is also a devious and cowardly type of family violence, directed towards both the child and the offended family members. It occurs most often in connection with family separation or divorce, particularly where legal action is involved or in the process of being pursued. The most common cause is one parent wishing to exclude and alienate the other parent from the life of their child. If not used as a means to actually change custody it is many times initiated against the other parent out of spite, meanness or for revenge. A parent may even threaten the other parent by declaring that they will “see to it that the children will hate them forever and never want to see them again”. Threats such as these are usually made out of anger to punish the other parent for an extramarital affair or other grounds or reasons for the divorce or separation. The sad truth is that family members or friends, as well as professionals involved with the alienating parent (including psychologists, lawyers and even judges), may knowingly or unknowingly contribute to and approve this alienation. Fortunately, some courts do recognize parental alienation as a form of child abuse and recognize the long-term effects and serious consequences for the child if the alienation is allowed to continue. Some countries have recognized parental alienation as being a criminal offense and have enacted laws making such wrongdoing a crime. However, to my knowledge that is not the case in this country or at least not in Tennessee. In jurisdictions where it is not considered a crime those jurisdictions may simply suspend child support in cases where parental alienation occurs or when it is recognized, require the offending parent to exercise only supervised visitation or eliminate visitation all together until the problem can be corrected. Some courts may order some sort of family counseling in an attempt to rectify the problem. But many times …too many times…it is not seen…it is not recognized or it is simply overlooked or not taken seriously when it does occur. This needs to change. When presented with such a case, lawyers should make every effort to expose it. Lawyers need to recognize it. Lawyers need to understand it. More importantly, our courts need to recognize parental alienation as a form of child abuse. It should be seen as another form of family violence and not simply a case of poor judgement on the part of a parent with the remedy being simply a slap on the wrist and a verbal admonishment of “don’t do that anymore”.
Hopefully, if you are divorced with minor children, you and your former spouse will both continue to share in the love and best interest of your child. As parents, no one better than you know how to accomplish that. Do your best to do right by your child, encourage a good relationship with the other parent. …and remember that your child did not have the opportunity to pick either of you as his or her parents.