Ideally, during the divorce process, both parents are committed to making decisions that are in the best interests of their children. By acknowledging that a healthy and secure relationship with both parents is best, parents can make an effort to shield the children from contentious or negative interactions or feelings that may arise among the parents during the divorce process. At times, however, resentment and other issues may motivate one parent to drive a wedge between their child and his or her other parent, thus creating a situation in which children become weapons in the combat of divorce, and ultimately, collateral damage. When this behavior is taken to the extreme, it is manifested in a psychological phenomenon known as parental alienation syndrome. In this article, we will deconstruct this set of strategies, employed by one parent to the emotional and psychological detriment of their child, in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the signs and potential repercussions of parental alienation in your New Jersey divorce.
The vast majority of parents would agree that a child benefits from maintaining strong connections with both of their parents and further, that children should not be exposed parental conflicts if avoidable. In a small number of cases, however, one parent conceptualizes the divorce as a win-lose battle during which their children must choose a side. Under this presumption, the parent may attempt to manipulate their child, interfering with the relationship between the child and the other parent in an effort to foster the emotional rejection of the child toward the other parent. This strategic emotional assault was first given the moniker “parental alienation syndrome” by Psychiatrist Richard Gardner approximately 20 years ago. He defined parental alienation syndrome as follows:
“A disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrination and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent.”
Potential Signs of Parental Alienation
Some of the most common signs of parental alienation include:
- The child behaves differently around one parent
- The child is overly protective of one parent
- The alienating parent attempts to keep the child from scheduled visitation with the targeted parent or refuses to comply with court-ordered visitation schedule
- The alienating parent attempts to make the child feel guilty for expressing positive feelings toward the targeted parent
- The alienating parent attempts to make the child feel guilty for spending time with the targeted parent
- The alienating parent denies the targeted parent phone contact or other communication with the child
- The alienating parent attempts to deny the targeted parent access to school or medical records
- The alienating parent demonizes the targeted parent, makes them seem dangerous, or not to be trusted
Although the validity of parental alienation syndrome has been hotly debated, recent research indicates that it is a very real and increasingly prevalent problem. For example, a study by Fidler and Bala (2010) estimates that parental alienation occurs in between 11 and 15 percent of divorces involving children. It is also widely acknowledged in the medical community that severe parental alienation constitutes child abuse, resulting in a vast array of detrimental effects on the child’s psychological well-being and behavior.
If you suspect that you may be the targeted parent and that your child may be a victim of parental alienation, it is highly advisable to consult with a knowledgeable New Jersey parental alienation attorney. The divorce and family lawyers at Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark are well-versed in scholarly and legal research regarding parental alienation and have assisted countless clients in New Jersey who are faced with this devastating issue. For additional information and the answers to your questions about parental alienation, contact our Bergen County law offices at 201-397-1750.
To learn more about parental alienation, access the following article: The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children
Fidler, B. and Bala, N. (2010). “Children resisting post-separation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies, and conundrums.” Family Court Review, 48 (1), 10-47.