parental alienation

Parental alienation involves sustained efforts by one parent (the alienating parent) to turn a child against the other parent (the targeted parent). In effect, the alienating parent engineers the child’s rejection of the other parent. This is generally a drawn-out process, not the result of a few unkind comments about the other parent in the child’s presence. Although parental alienation syndrome is not recognized as a psychological diagnosis, the alienating behaviors are real and can be harmful to a child. Parental alienation can also affect child custody if it can be proven in court.

Proving parental alienation usually isn’t easy. Alienation generally results in the child saying, and genuinely believing, that they do not want to spend time with the targeted parent. The alienating parent may then refuse to “force” the child to spend time with the targeted parent. When the targeted parent has less and less time with the child, they have less and less opportunity to counter the narrative being created by the alienating parent.

At the same time, the child becomes increasingly dependent on the alienating parent and may struggle to contradict that narrative. If this goes on long enough, the relationship between the child and the targeted parent can be irreparably damaged. That’s why it is so important to take action immediately if you suspect your child’s other parent is trying to alienate them from you.

What is Parental Alienation? Recognizing the Signs

Unfortunately, many divorced parents say something negative about the other parent in the child’s hearing from time to time. These one-off statements aren’t good for children to hear and often upset them, but on their own, they do not constitute parental alienation.

Children who are being alienated from a parent often exhibit several of the following behaviors:

  • Changes from having a good relationship with the targeted parent to expressing negative feelings about them and/or refusing to see them, sometimes almost overnight
  • Shows an almost obsessive hatred of the targeted parent, but when asked reasons for this hatred typically cannot provide a substantial or plausible explanation to justify it.
  • Denies ever having loved or having positive experiences of the targeted parent.
  • Shows no ambivalence about feelings for parents: the alienating parent is all good, while the targeted parent is all bad.
  • Always takes the side of the alienating parent.
  • Is hostile, ungrateful, cold, or rude to the targeted parent but exhibits no remorse for their unkind behavior.
  • Insists that the alienating parent had nothing to do with their hatred of the targeted parent; they reached the decision to reject the targeted parent all by themselves.
  • Accuses the targeted parent of abuse or other negative behavior using words that seem scripted or “borrowed.”
  • Rejects not only the targeted parent but his or her extended family, including formerly-beloved grandparents.

If you observe some or several of these behaviors in your child, especially if you used to have a close relationship and they are refusing parenting time with you, you should consult with an experienced Minnesota family law attorney.

How to Prove Alienating Behavior

Proving parental alienation is usually difficult because alienating behavior typically takes place behind closed doors when the alienating parent is alone with the child. A family law attorney can help to identify and gather the evidence necessary to show a court that parental alienation is taking place.

One parent waging a campaign to alienate their child from the other parent can be emotionally and psychologically harmful to the child, in both the short and the long term. Minnesota Statutes §518.18(d)(iv) states that a court may modify a child custody agreement if “the child's present environment endangers the child's physical or emotional health or impairs the child's emotional development and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child…”

In other words, if your child’s other parent is alienating your child from you, and you can prove it, you may be able to get a change in custody from the alienating parent. In fact, that may be the only way to rescue your relationship with your child: to remove them from the influence of the parent who has convinced them over time that they do not want a relationship with you.

However, you should be aware that while it may be best for your child to be in your custody, regaining custody will probably not be the end of your struggle. Your relationship with your child will not be magically rekindled by a change in custody. In fact, your child may become even more hostile and act out more than before because they perceive that they have been taken away from their place of safety (the alienating parent) and put in danger.

Therefore, if you are seeking custody of your child who has been alienated from you, you should be prepared to work hard for it, and prepared to keep working after you get it. That means going up against a co-parent who has shown that they have no interest in doing what is best for your child and helping them have a relationship with you. Continuing to work at it means being steadfast and loving even in the face of your child’s hostility at the custody change. Family therapy is highly recommended to help you both adjust to the change and learn how to rebuild your relationship with one another.

If you have more questions about parental alienation and how it affects child custody in Minnesota, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.