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What Is Parental Alienation And What Can Be Done About It?

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Parental alienation can occur when the parents of a child are divorcing, and the child begins to strongly dislike and disrespect one parent, and express no warm feelings or empathy for that person. This can interfere with visitation or custody, and make parenting impossible. This is a serious problem for several reasons, but there are things you can do to solve it.

Possible Causes

This alienation can be started and exacerbated by the negative influence of the other parent or their relatives, though it is important to note that this may not necessarily be the case. The truth is you can also unwittingly encourage alienation by your own behavior, which could include being rigid, cold, critical, or conversely: passive, beaten, anxious, and withdrawn.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a controversial term that denotes an extreme form of this problem. There have been critics who think it unfairly categorizes mothers as the perpetrators of this type of emotional abuse and have fought to keep it from gaining professional credibility.

Since mothers still often end up with primary custody of the children, they do have more opportunity to turn children against their fathers, but there is no scientific evidence that mothers are more prone to this behavior than fathers.

In fact, a famous historical case of emotionally abusive parental behavior is comes from the life story of Charles Dickens, and although he wasn't very successful in getting his children to disavow their mother, it wasn't for lack of trying.

Due to Dicken's guilt for falling in love with a younger woman while forcing his wife to leave their ten children and move out of the family home during the Victorian age, he publicly denounced Catherine Dickens as fat, useless, and a poor mother. He didn't expressly forbid the children to see their mother, but he discouraged it, and if anyone tried to take up for Mrs. Dickens, they were cut out of his life.

The latest edition of the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is not using the PAS term, but it did describe child psychological abuse and defined it as 'non-accidental verbal/symbolic acts that can cause psychological harm to children.' This means that if you have solid evidence of this type of emotional abuse, it can be used in court.

False Child Abuse Accusations

A particularly malignant form of parental alienation is when a parent brainwashes the child to believe he or she has been sexually abused by the other parent. Professionals may want to err on the side of caution, which means you will have to prove yourself not guilty rather than the other way around.

However, many psychiatric professionals are now educating themselves not only on signs of sexual abuse but also on signs of intentional parental alienation and restrictive gate-keeping.

Effects on Children

Intentional parental alienation and brainwashing has devastating effects on children. Not only does it deprive the child of a good relationship with both parents, it can be damaging to their sense of self, and cause attachment disorders, and cause future problems with relationships.

The repeated psychological evaluations and physical examinations that go along with false child abuse accusations can also cause the child stress and embarrassment.

No parent who loves their children would want to needlessly expose their offspring to these problems for financial gain, revenge, or control.

What Can Be Done

Unfortunately, if you are facing a false sexual abuse charge, you will need the services of an attorney. Your divorce lawyer may also be able to represent you, or will refer you to a criminal defense lawyer for this aspect of the situation. The child involved may need to be seen by a psychiatrist to discern the true nature of the allegations, and to help him or her.

If you want to bring up intentional parental alienation as a factor in a custody dispute, you need to have documented evidence of this. It would be helpful if you kept a detailed and dated diary of things you are aware of. A psychological professional may be needed to provide an expert opinion based on the facts.

Whatever you do, use self-control, and do not engage in battles with your ex or express anger in destructive ways. This only empowers an embittered spouse to do more damage and it puts the children in the middle of a firestorm. Have a long-range view of the situation and resolve to be a loving, supportive parent no matter what, even if you have to back away for the time being. Talk to your lawyer, such as Abom & Kutulakis LLP, for more information.