Many of you have heard the term “parental alienation.”  The term is a lightening rod and the accusation made all too often for conduct, while terrible, that is not parental alienation.  In fact, I have heard a few judges say that they get allegations of parental alienation in a large majority of their cases – creating a “boy that cried wolf” effect whereby judges don’t take seriously real alienation.

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That said, in many cases, what is being labled as “alienation” is the improper involvement of the children in one way or another.  Some times, the improper conduct is direct, and sometimes it is more insidious and indirect.  Here are some examples of improperly involving the children in the case.

  • Badmouthing the other parent to the children
  • Badmouthing the other parent in the children’s presence
  • Badmouthing the other parent in the community in a way where it could either get back to the children or stigmatize the other parent making their attendance at public events that the children are involved in uncomfortable.
  • Attempting to buy the children’s affections.
  • Telling the children that you give mommy all the money so you can’t buy them anything.
  • Telling the children that daddy doesn’t give you enough money so you can’t buy them anything.
  • Telling your children to go ask the other parent to buy them what they want because you can’t afford it.
  • Making the children messengers
  • Portraying your self as a victim, all of the time and in front of the children such that you are asking explicitly or making the children feel that they have to protect you, if not protect you from the other parent.
  •  Exhibiting so much anger for the other parent, in the presence of the children, such that the children feel that they have no choice but to be hurt or angry at the other parent too – not because they feel that way, but to not disappoint you (and/or because they feel that you will be angry at them if they don’t act the same way that you do to your spouse.)
  • Sharing adult information with the children.
  • Telling the children (or doing it in their presence) about your spouse’s indiscretions
  • Bad mouthing your spouse’s new significant other to and/or in front of the children
  • Empowering the children to make decisions that they have no business making and then saying you are abiding by the decisions that they children should not have been put in the position to make in the first place.
  • Telling your children that you would love to see them but the other parent isn’t letting you (when you are really down the shore with your new girlfriend)
  • Acting like the children’s friend instead of a parent
  • Appearing hurt if the children show affection to the other parent
  • Going overboard in telling the children that you will miss them and be sad without them before they go with the other parent on parenting time

I am sure that I can go on and on and I welcome readers and other family law attorneys to add to the list in the comments.

Some of the time, the parent is doing these things because they want to hurt the other parent.  Much of the time, they don’t realize or understand the potential damaging impact that such behavior, especially if repeated, can have.  You are a parent for a lifetime but childhood is fleeting and it is over before you know it.  Time wasted or worse yet time lost having to deal with the impact of this conduct can never be recovered.  Moreover, do not understimate the harm to the child and to the parent-child relationship.  In fact, I have heard that it is not uncommon for a child who has been affected by this in childhood, to turn on the guilty parent in adulthood when they gain perspective and see for themselves what that parent did to them.

As such, think twice before involving your children in your divorce.

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Eric SolotoffEric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland and Morristown, New Jersey offices though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.

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