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Parental Alienation in California Divorces

Parenting & Divorce

Picture this scene: A mother or father tucks their child into bed for the night, and informs them that they will not be visiting their other parent this weekend. “Why?” the child wonders aloud; the disappointment evident in their voice. “They are too busy to see you, ” is the response. But this isn’t true, in fact, the other parent has had to reschedule their visitation due to a serious illness.

This scene is an example of parental alienation. Parental alienation is when one parent attempts to sabotage or undermine their child’s relationship with the child’s other parent. This can happen through a variety of tactics, including psychological manipulation and gaslighting.

It’s normal for divorce to cause feelings of anger, strife, and grief. However, in their bitterness towards each other, some parents choose to purposely undermine the relationship of their child with their former spouse.

Parental alienation is a form of child abuse, and may harm the child for life.

What are some signs that a child has been alienated from one parent?

According to Dr. Warshak,  signs a child may be moderately alienated include a child who “reject(s) one parent, resist(s) contact, or show(s) extreme reluctance to be with the parent.” Children may also become severely alienated from one parent. According to Dr. Warshak:

Severe cases of a child’s irrational alienation from a parent differ from mild and moderate cases by the extent of the child’s rejection of a parent and the degree of negativity in the attitudes and behavior toward the rejected parent. Severely alienated children express extremely polarized views of their parents; they have little if anything positive to say about the rejected parent and often rewrite the history of their relationship to obscure positive elements. They seem content to avoid all contact with the parent, may reject an entire branch of their extended family, and often threaten to defy court orders for contacts with the rejected parent. Severe alienation includes behavioral, emotional, and cognitive dimensions. (Source)

Is alienation always to blame when a child shows the signs of being alienated? What if there is a disagreement over whether parental alienation is occurring?
No. A child may decide without undue influence or parental alienation that they esteem one parent less for a variety of reasons, including actual neglect. It can be tougher in some cases to determine if alienation has actually occurred. In some cases, the court may decide that an independent psychologist may need to evaluate the child as well as both parents to determine the source of the alienation.

What should I do if I believe my ex-spouse may be trying to alienate our children from me?

It is imperative that you seek legal counsel. You can also call our firm, which is very experienced in handling divorce cases where parental alienation (or accusations thereof) have occurred.. John A. Bledsoe is Orange County’s premier divorce attorney and a certified family law specialist. Our firm offers a confidential initial case evaluation. Call 949-889-1227 to learn more.

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