With divorce seemingly always on the rise and the number of unwed couples having children, the number of contested child custody cases is definitely growing. And with that, there has also been a rise in concerns over parental alienation issues.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (or ‘PAS') is defined as: “A childhood disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent's indoctrinations and the child's own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”
The effects of PAS can be devastating and can last a lifetime, so it is important to understand what some common signs and symptoms are in order to know when to get a professional counselor and/or an attorney involved in your situation:
- If your children are being told the details of the litigation or the intimate details of the marriage which caused the marriage to fall apart, they are likely being alienated. The parent divulging the information will sometimes use the excuse of “being honest” with the children about what is happening, but children should never have those burdens placed on them, regardless of the faults in the marriage. To do so, forces the child to feel as if he or she must “take sides” or “defend” one parent from the other's alleged behaviors or bad acts.
- If the custodial parent asks the child's opinion on whether he or she wants to exercise the visitation schedule with the non-custodial parent, alienation is probably occurring. This is especially true with very young children who do not have a true concept of time and are usually making decisions in the moment, rather than able to see the big picture about how much time they need with each parent in order to maintain the natural parent-child bonds.
- When one parent makes the child feel guilty or tells the child how lonely they are when they are at the other parents' home is alienating behavior. The child should be allowed to enjoy his or her time in both homes without fear that their enjoyment or happiness makes one of their parents sad, anxious, or lonely.
- When a child becomes angry at one parent for no specific reasons, or is unable to articulate his or her reasons for anger towards the parent, it may be because of alienating behaviors in the other home. A trained counselor is likely needed to help the child verbalize what the situation is and pinpoint whether the anger is legitimate or part of an alienation campaign.
While this list is far from inclusive, you can read much more about PAS and how to prevent it in great books like “Divorce Casualties, Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation” by Douglas Darnall, PhD, Taylor Trade Publishing (1998) and in “Children Held Hostage” by Stanley Clawar & Brynne V. Rivlin, ABA Section of Family Law (2013)