In contested divorces, it is difficult to shield children from the conflict between their parents. Most of our clients are conscientious about minimizing the impact of their divorce on their children, but we often see alienating behavior from parents who purposefully or unwittingly drag their children into the fight. Alienating behavior includes subtle or overt rewards from the alienating parent to the child for rejection of the target parent, as well as subtle or overt punishments for maintaining a loving relationship with the target parent. Alienating behavior can drive a wedge between the child and the target parent and create an unhealthy bond, based on hostility toward the target parent and hostility between the alienating parent and the child.
The question is not whether alienating behavior occurs or whether it is damaging to the child. As experienced family law attorneys, we affirm both points. The question is whether one parent’s alienating behavior creates a syndrome, which is defined as a group of symptoms that collectively indicate a psychological disorder.
Psychologists who favor recognition of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) point to a broad array of symptoms:
- Anxiety, panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Delinquent behavior
- Eating disorders
- Intense fears of being abandoned
- Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem
- Loss of impulse control
- Poor peer relations
- School problems, such as declining grades, disruptive behaviors, or aggression
- Separation anxiety or overly clinging behavior toward the alienating parent
- Sexual identity problems
- Sleep disorders or night terrors
- Substance abuse and self-destructive behavior
The American Psychiatric Association and has not yet included PAS in its Statistical and Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders. However, they have come close with some of the definitions defined in the category of child psychological abuse. You must be prepared to show a pattern of behavior that interferes with the quantity and quality of your parenting time and very likely have an expert in the field of PAS to testify to the existence of PAS in your case.
For further guidance on protecting your parental rights after divorce, contact the family law attorneys at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.