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The Do's and Don'ts of Parental Alienation


Working through a divorce can be a tremendously difficult process, especially when children are involved. The experience can bring feelings of anger and frustration to the surface, and sometimes these emotions can influence the attitudes of children. While these acts are sometimes done intentionally, many times parents do not realize that they are perpetuating dangerous ideas about their partners and that children are learning from their example.

Parent alienation syndrome (PAS) can occur when a spouse exhibits continued actions that degrade their partner in a way which influences a child’s behavior. This can cause a child to side with one parent while alienating the other. Harmful actions can be relatively small, such as an off-hand comment, or more substantial as with continued verbal and emotional abuse of a spouse. If you are fighting for custody of your child or have an existing agreement, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of parental alienation. Below are the dos and don’ts of child custody cases with the potential for parental alienation.

Actions to take:

  • Understand the custody process: It is important to understand how California courts look to determine custody and what to do if a spouse is attempting to shut you out of your child’s life. In California, custody is awarded based on what is in the best interest of the child. This means that the situations and environments which see that a child is best cared for will be the deciding factors. To win custody, it is important to demonstrate how your behavior is in line with what is best for your child
  • Look for signs of PAS: The emotional tone of parental alienation can be will be evident in your child’s behavior. The process may not be immediate, which is why it is important to consistently watch the behavior of your child. Signs of PAS can include your child becoming increasingly removed, disrespectful, or engaging in excessively destructive behavior towards only one parent,
  • Be aware of your behavior: Just as you want to be watching other parties for signs of PAS, it is also vitally important to monitor your own behavior. Small acts of a derogatory nature can be easy to overlook. The stress involved in matters of family law such as divorce can create situations where emotions can run out of hand.
  • Fight for time with your child: This is not the time to be timid. It is vital that you fight for every minute you can get with your child. Remaining a positive force in their life is one of the best things you can do for your child in an ongoing custody battle.

Actions to avoid:

  • Do not purposely engage in manipulative behavior: Remember, a court will decide custody based on the best interest of the child. Engaging in malicious acts or disseminating slanderous information about your spouse in an effort to manipulate the attitude of a child will not reflect well in the eyes of the court. More importantly, it can permanently damage the relationships a child has with their parents.
  • Do not fight in front of your child. While spouses who are going through a divorce will rarely agree on all subjects, it is important to keep arguments and feelings of anger from spilling over to children. Often, heated arguments or fights can leave a lasting impression in a child’s mind about the character of a parent.
  • Do not share every piece of information: A parent can sometimes choose to openly share information about their spouse without malicious intent. Unfortunately, this too can be harmful. With the addition of parental bias, this can lead to the child developing a lesser opinion of a parent.

In the event that a spouse’s actions are furthering the parental alienation of their partner, there are legal actions which can be taken. A court can order a custody evaluation where parents and children will be interviewed to determine if a spouse is attempting to undermine a parent-child relationship. The court can then order that one or both parents attend counseling. Parents who continue to exhibit this sort of behavior can incur serious penalties including the loss of custody.

Questions Regarding Child Custody? Call (888) 392-1941

Parents who knowingly and willfully engage in malicious acts in an attempt to manipulate the attitudes of a child do not represent an environment that is in the best interest of the child. If you are experiencing a custody dispute and fear parental alienation may be occurring, contact the Orange County divorce attorneys at Gill Law Group, PC. Our firm is client-oriented, highly knowledgeable of divorce law, and can tirelessly work to protect the interests of your family.

Get started today with a complimentary consultation and talk to an attorney about your case.