Proving Parental Alienation in California Child Custody Cases
Divorce or parental separation is a difficult time for any family. Though many families try to work with each other, this isn’t always the case. There are unfortunate situations where one parent attempts to harm the relationship between the child and the other parent. These attempts can be considered parental alienation if the child rejects or estranges themselves from that parent.
Many parents see children pull themselves away emotionally after separation because it’s also difficult for kids. In most cases, it just takes time and understanding. For some parents, however, those bonds don’t heal because of the manipulative tactics of their co-parents. Parental alienation can be minor or severe. It’s essential to understand how that impacts your family and what you can do about it if you’re a parent who suspects your child is being intentionally distanced from you.
Understanding Parental Alienation
Parental alienation commonly coincides with divorce and separation, where one parent will create distance between their co-parent and their child. A parent may do this through behavior such as:
- Consistently criticizing the other parent and making negative statements
- Sharing personal information about the other parent with their child
- Creating lies about the other parent
- Refusing to let their child talk to or visit the other parent
- Ignoring custody court orders
- Refusing to negotiate a parenting plan
- Planning activities with their child to interfere with the other parent’s visitation or custody
- Making comparisons between a new partner and the other parent
- Controlling or preventing communication between their child and the other parent
- Keeping essential information about their child from the other parent, such as healthcare records or the child’s activities or report card
These behaviors can occur regardless of the gender of either parent. They intend to change the child’s view of the other parent and fear or hate them. These behaviors can occur even if the parents live together or are separated.
Identifying Parental Alienation in Children
The leading indicators to identify parental alienation include:
- A child refuses or resists a relationship with one parent
- The child and that parent used to have a good relationship
- The parent doesn’t seem to be neglectful, abusive, or otherwise a bad parent
- The parent that currently has a good relationship with the child shows signs of alienating them from the other parent.
- The child shows behaviors of parental alienation.
Children can exhibit signs that parental alienation is occurring. It’s important to note these signs if you suspect alienation is occurring. Be aware that these behaviors can also happen without the other parent behaving in a manipulative or alienating way. Potential signs include:
- The child directs unfair criticism to one parent, seemingly with no reason or true evidence.
- The child has only negative feelings about this parent and positive ones about the other parent.
- The child consistently supports the alienator parent.
- The child repeats language, lies, and negative thoughts said by the alienator parent when talking about the alienated parent.
- The child doesn’t feel guilty about their negative treatment or feelings toward the alienated parent.
- The child’s dislike of the alienated parent includes the direct relatives of that parent.
What Can I Do About Parental Alienation?
Evidence of parental alienation could impact decisions about child custody and visitation orders. If you and your co-parent are already separated, evidence of parental alienation could lead to modification of those orders. Proving alienation is hard. You can demonstrate your and your child’s relationship and how it may have changed. You can present evidence such as:
- Parenting time – When an alienated parent tries to manipulate your child against you, they will try to keep you apart or interfere with your custody and visitation. By noting parenting time, you can present it as evidence that you did not have sufficient or court-ordered parenting time.
- Witnesses – A character witness on your behalf can be useful to show what kind of parent you’ve been to your child. They can also help prove that you and your child were close before parental alienation.
- Documents and pictures – You can show that you and your child were close with images or proof of time you’ve spent together.
You’ll want to work with an attorney to prove alienation and get custody orders modified. Though this won’t immediately heal the relationship between you and your child, it can help remove the alienating parent’s influence.
Q: Does California Recognize Parental Alienation?
A: California does not consider parental alienation a crime. However, evidence of parental alienation can impact custody and visitation court orders. California courts do not favor parental alienation and will change court orders in favor of the alienated parent. A parent that commits a crime, such as domestic violence, while engaging in parental alienation will face criminal charges for the crime and not for alienation.
Q: How Do I Prove Parental Alienation in Court in California?
A: Useful evidence to prove parental alienation includes:
- Negative social media posts by your co-parent
- Testimony from a professional, like a therapist or counselor, about changes in your child’s behavior
- Witnesses to your co-parent’s fabrications or negative talk about you to your child
- Communication such as texts, emails, and voicemails that show your co-parent’s negative talk about you and how your child repeats similar thoughts
Q: Can a Parent Lose Custody for Parental Alienation in California?
A: Engaging in parental alienation could have that parent’s custody revoked. Depending on the severity and intention of the actions, the court may determine that the parents have limited custody and visitation or none at all. A parent who intentionally tries to harm their child’s relationship with the other parent and succeeds in eroding it is not cooperatively co-parenting.
Q: How Do You Defend Yourself Against Parental Alienation?
A: You may want to consider talking with the other parent if you believe your child is being alienated from you by your co-parent. Sometimes, it’s not parental alienation; the other parent may only need to reconsider their actions. Be sure to keep a strong and healthy relationship with your child and note behavioral changes that may result from parental alienation.
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