In my last blog, What is Reunification Counseling?, I explained how reunification counseling can be utilized in divorce and family law cases. In this blog, I will talk about some of the ways this type of counseling becomes necessary in the first place. As we learned, one parent can intentionally, or unintentionally, behave in ways that alienate the other parent from the child. Parental alienation is a very serious concern for many divorcing and separating parents, so this blog aims to give you a better understanding of what parental alienation is and how to recognize it.
Parental alienation generally occurs when one parent sways a child into disengaging with the other parent, usually by speaking negatively about the other parent and/or refusing to permit or coordinate contact and timesharing between the child and the other parent. When it comes to spending time with the child, many times, the alienating parent will justify their behavior by telling the other parent that the child does not want to see them, something that will inevitably become a self-fulfilling prophecy if it is not addressed in a timely manner. Parents must try to always remember that they are the parent, alienated or not, and they must remain in control of making timesharing decisions. In reality, up until the time a child enters high school, and ideally after they become teenagers, parents should still be able to determine timesharing issues on behalf of the child, while not permitting the child to dictate timesharing terms and conditions.
Parental alienation behavior can also be seen when one parent does not fully engage in co-parenting or when a child is regularly questioned about the personal life of the other parent. This type of behavior burdens the child with making difficult decisions, resulting in moral dilemmas within the child. In this state, the child will try to remain as loyal as he/she can to each parent, particularly the younger the child may be. For example, if a parent reacts with sadness or even disappointment when the child reports they had fun spending time with the other parent, the child’s observation of sadness or disappointment in the parent can likely lead to negative feelings within the child, including guilt and overall confusion about their relationship with both parents.
Perhaps even more concerning is when a parent decides to discuss the details related to the divorce or separation and/or the ensuing legal battle directly with the child. This type of behavior is employed as a defense mechanism by the alienating parent as a way to curry favor with the child in an effort to further justify the alienation of the other parent, but the truth is, prompting this type of discussion with and providing this type of information to a child can be very destructive emotionally and psychologically.
Other notable behaviors that lead to parental alienation include listening in on phone calls or monitoring text messages from the other parent; excluding, withholding, or even purposely providing wrong information to the other parent related to the child’s activities and appointments; casting blame on the other parent for their own financial woes; refusing to be reasonable with requested changes in visitation schedules; using the child to spy or report back on the other parent; as well as more obvious behaviors such as denying access, influencing contact and timesharing, or even permitting the child to determine when such timesharing should occur. The latter example can be extremely detrimental to the child because it forces the child to choose between parents, something that no child should have to do.
Typically, as a result of these alienating behaviors, a physical, emotional, and many times psychological divide is created between the alienated parent and the child, and this is where reunification counseling may come in as an effective tool in helping to restore lost or damaged bonds. In these situations, a child psychologist or counselor would be required to assist the child and parent in redeveloping their relationship. Such a counselor may believe that reunification counseling could be beneficial to help restore the relationship between the parent and child.
If you have additional questions or concerns about parental alienation and its effects on your child, it’s important to seek professional advice with a licensed therapist and perhaps even speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your specific case and circumstances. Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.