The rather short time period between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sadly highlights that in many child custody disputes, children are caught between their parents — at least to some extent.
Most psychologists recognize Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and acknowledge that it “affects thousands of families and causes enormous pain and hardship.” At the beginning stages, one parent attempts to emotionally separate the children from the other parent. Eventually, PAS often results in a complete “parentectomy” and the children internalize the negative feelings they have for the other parent.
Look for the Signs
Direct PAS encompasses rancorous behavior, including phrases like “Mom/Dad doesn’t love you anymore,” and “Mom/Dad abandoned you.” These statements are typically prohibited in the temporary orders if they are made within the hearing or presence of the children.
Indirect PAS may be a bit more difficult to identify and prove. For example, Mom may overlook a curfew violation or Dad might give the children more TV time. These actions may seem innocent, but they are designed to drive a wedge between the child and the other parent, at least to some extent.
Psychologists have identified some other potential PAS indicators:
- Reflexive Parental Support: The alienating parent automatically takes the child’s side in a conflict against the targeted parent, regardless of the facts and circumstances.
- Pattern of Behavior: When something keeps occurring over and over again, it is safe to say that it is not random and that a pattern has developed.
- Frivolous Rationalizations: To defend the alienating parent, the children may resort to ridiculous arguments. For example, “Mom let me stay home from school because the cat had a toothache.”
- Spread of Dislike: Instead of only being angry at the targeted parents, the children are angry at their siblings and parents, generally for no reason.
What to Do
PAS should be closely monitored because once damage occurs, it is very difficult to undo. Early intervention may be the key to salvaging your relationship with your children. Start by tactfully confronting the other parent about the issue, such as a child having a separate bedroom, and the impact that may follow. The alienating parents will either change their behavior, which effectively solves the problem, or ignore the issue, which can be ammunition in court.
If legal action is necessary — and it often is — a social study may be a good idea. Social workers can often recognize the signs of PAS and more readily appreciate its consequences. Most courts either let parents pick a social worker or at least give them veto power over an initial selection, helping to ensure that the evaluator is in touch with the issues involved.
Contact a Child Custody Attorney
If you are having child custody issues or any other family law problems, contact an experienced child custody attorney. Whether you are facing a first-time custody battle or have a modification or other issues that need to be addressed, a legal team will be happy to help.