What is Considered Parental Alienation and How Do the Texas Courts Handle it?

No child wants to be a part of their parents’ divorce conflict, but unfortunately, children are almost always the center of the most heated debates and arguments. While custodial battles are normal, some parents hold onto such intense feelings of hatred and disdain for the other parent, and feel so wronged, that they make hurtful remarks about the other parent to the child, or try to manipulate the child’s feelings for the other parent by making up non-truths regarding the other parent’s feelings towards the child. This kind of behavior is called parental alienation, and depending on the severity of the situation, can prompt an immediate re-visitation of the custody agreement.

What is Parental Alienation?

According to a 2010 study by Fidler and Bala, parental alienation occurs in approximately 11-15% of all divorce cases involving children. Typically, the divorces in which parental alienation occur are highly conflicted and long-lasting. Though parental alienation can occur at any point throughout a child’s life, it usually happens during the custody battle, as the alienating parent wishes to sabotage the other parent’s chances of gaining any custody. Despite what the alienating parent says, their sabotage efforts are not done because they think the other parent is unfit, but squarely because the other parent cannot separate the divorce conflict from the needs of the child.

The goal of parental alienation is to program the child to believe that the alienated parent is unloving and uncaring, and to cause increased hostility towards said parent. The ultimate goal of parental alienation is to make the child think that they are better off without the other parent in their life.

Parental alienation does not just affect the parent being alienated, but can also cause the child to experience extreme anxiety, behavioral issues, separation anxiety, and mental problems.

Signs of Parental Alienation

You will know that a parent is committing parental alienation when the following occurs:

  • The alienating parent tries to interfere with scheduled visitation, or when they give the child a choice when there is no choice about the visit;
  • Not allowing scheduled visits to happen;
  • Not sharing important information with the other parent, such as information about schooling, medical care, and the social activities of the child;
  • Blaming the other parent for the break-up of the marriage, and/or sharing too much information about the marriage with the child;
  • Interfering with or not supporting contact with the alienated parent;
  • Making major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing without consulting the other parent;
  • Not allowing the child to bring his or her possessions to the target parent’s house;
  • Making the child fear the target parent by warning them of prior abuse; or
  • Telling the child to defy the target parent’s authority, or deliberately going against the target parent’s wishes regarding the child’s upbringing.

While the alienating parent only intends to harm the other parent, the real harm occurs to the child, who may become emotionally scarred and distrustful.

How Texas Handles Parental Alienation

In Texas, parental alienation is not formally recognized as a syndrome or disorder, and so the courts do not have legal standards against which to evaluate whether or not parental alienation is present in a parent-child relationship. However, the Texas courts have started to take action if they suspect parental alienation is happening and will appoint a guardian ad litem, parenting facilitator, and/or forensic psychologist to evaluate the child and the child’s relationship with each parent.

Consult a Dallas, Texas Custody Attorney

At the Clark Law Group, we are skilled at facilitating contentious custody disputes. If you are the victim of parental alienation, our Dallas, Texas child custody lawyers can help to shine light on the issue and act swiftly to end the emotional abuse. To schedule a private consultation with our team, contact our family law firm at (214) 438-1152 or online today.

(image courtesy of Eric Ward)

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