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What’s Parental Alienation and How Can I Legally Stop It?
When parents separate or divorce, it’s a difficult process for everyone involved, especially the children. It can be chaotic and complicated to navigate this when emotions are high. It’s important to stay aware of any tactics that could cause tension, specifically one referred to as “parental alienation.”
If left unchecked, it can have damaging repercussions on both your and your children’s mental health and well-being—and it can have legal ramifications as well. Fortunately, there are legal ways to identify this behavior early on and take action against it, if necessary. We’ll share with you information about what parental alienation actually is and how you can protect yourself legally from its effects.
What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is defined as “a strategy whereby one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent and to turn the child’s emotions against that other parent.”
If you feel that your ex is engaging in this activity and is trying to turn your child against you, then you should be on the lookout for the following behaviors:
- If your child repeats negative statements that your ex makes about you.
- If your child doesn’t want to take part in visitation by throwing tantrums or scheduling other events like trips or sleepovers when they’re supposed to be with you.
- If you discipline your child realistically and your child accuses you of abuse.
- If your child will only listen to the other parent and doesn’t obey you at all.
- If your child has no “good memories” they associate with you, but instead view everything they do with you as “bad” or “negative.”
- If your child dislikes anyone close to you, be it friends or family, because they see these individuals as an extension of you.
How Does Parental Alienation Harm Children?
Every year, thousands of people are victims of parental alienation. In many cases, this isn’t just a short-term situation that can be easily or quickly fixed. It’s a long-lasting deterioration of the relationship between the parent and child that can lead to depression, PTSD, and, in extreme situations, even cause thoughts of suicide. The parent who alienates the child from the other parent actively harms the other parent, and, in the end, impacts the children as well.
Is Parental Alienation Illegal in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, the family court system believes it is vitally important for children’s well-being that they have contact and loving support from both parents. Because of this, parental alienation is outlined in the New Jersey family laws (NJ Rev. Stat. § 9:2-4). To that end, if someone is engaging in parental alienation, you can take them to court in New Jersey.
An issue with parental alienation is proving it in court. This process is difficult and can make the parenting situation deteriorate as the accusation can add tension between the parties. If the alienation isn’t that severe, such as an offhand remark here or there, that may not even be intentional, consider working together through mediation to handle the problem. An experienced family law attorney can suggest a parenting coordinator or other mediator who can bring the two parties together to work out issues.
However, if the situation is severe, or if it persists over an extended time, then you may need to go to court. If the other parent is trying to interfere in your parenting time with your child, then you absolutely should do everything in your power to remedy this by contacting an experienced attorney at Smedley Law Group.
If the court finds in favor of you, then you may need to change the parenting, custody, and visitation plans to include a shift in parenting time, changes to the transportation arrangements (including a different pick-up or drop-off), and, in extreme cases, a change in the child’s primary residence. If the situation is especially severe, then the judge can often require “reunification therapy” to help ease the conflict between the parent who has been alienated and the child.
The judge may also require the offending parent to do one or more of the following:
- Attend counseling sessions or classes on parenting;
- Provide for (and pay for) counseling sessions for the child;
- Pay attorney’s fees and court costs; and
- Complete court-mandated community service.
How Can I Prove Parental Alienation?
You will need an experienced family law attorney who has successfully worked cases like these in the past. Once you have retained an attorney, they can help you develop a strategy for proving your case. To aid with this, you’ll need to have documentation including:
- Copies of text messages, emails, social media posts, and other conversations with your children and the other parent.
- Logs of verbal conversations that you have had with your ex.
- Log of any negative remarks made about you by your ex in the presence of the children (along with who provided you with this information).
- Pictures of yourself spending time with your children.
- Any time that you tried to contact your child and were not able to do so.
- Any time that you weren’t able to visit your child or attend a child’s events because of interference from the other parent.
- A list of potential witnesses who could testify about any acts of parental alienation.
How Is Parental Alienation Determined in New Jersey?
Parental alienation can be very difficult to document for a court. Keep a detailed list of every instance of negative behavior that is contributing to the alienation. You’ll need to provide very specific examples of behavior from both your child and your ex. If you’re concerned about your child’s changing behaviors, you may want to speak with their teachers or coaches that might have insight. (Realize that you may need to call them as witnesses later.)
If you’re accused of parental alienation yourself, the important thing to remember is not to become hostile. There may be something else causing your child to be alienated from your ex and if you respond with anger, you may only make the situation worse.
New Jersey family courts won’t take the claims of parental alienation lightly. If you feel that your former spouse is trying to alienate your child from you, then it’s important to document everything and speak to an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.
Contact the Experienced Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Woodbury, NJ Today
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like parental alienation, child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.