Most parents want what’s best for their kids. However, the highly stressful, emotional roller coaster of divorce causes some parents to say awful things about their child’s other parent, damaging the child emotionally.
Taken too far, manipulative badmouthing and attempts to alienate the child from the other parent could also lead to allegations of parental alienation and a trip to court.
Don’t want to be THAT parent? The Sisemore Law Firm team and Tarrant County licensed family therapist Gina Galloway, Ph.D. weigh in on the hot topic of parental alienation below.
‘Your dad is ruining our lives!’
One of the common parental behaviors Dr. Galloway sees in her practice is where one parent tries to align the child more with himself or herself than the other parent. They say disparaging things about the other parent or accuse them of doing something improper.
Often, children will believe these stories—even without witnessing the behavior. Whether the accusations are true or not, the child ultimately pays the price.
“This dynamic definitely breeds anxiety in children, even those who aren’t prone to be anxious. I’ve seen children get panic attacks or even have suicidal thoughts because they’re anxious about going to the other parent’s house. Even though nothing has happened in their relationship with the other parent, this all comes from their alignment with the one parent,” Dr. Galloway says.
Is it casual badmouthing or parental alienation?
From a legal perspective this disparagement and manipulative “alignment” could be construed as parental alienation. If you’re the parent responsible for the alienation, and the other parent provides evidence and accuses you of such in court, you could put custody of your child in jeopardy.
If your ex’s evidence and plea are compelling enough, the judge will likely order that a family counselor like Dr. Galloway or the parent coordinator objectively evaluates the situation and provide evidentiary statements to the court.
When meeting with children under these circumstances, Dr. Galloway often sees classic red flags that point to a parent’s attempts to alienate or align the child with his or her side.
As she explains, “Some of these kids will say, ‘Daddy’s been really mean to mommy, daddy did this to mommy,’ etc. Then I’ll probe and ask, ‘Oh did you see that?’ and the child says, ‘Well no, but mommy told me about it.’ That sways children and affects them. It also influences their view of the other parent.
“We get it. A lot of times these parents are so distraught, they’re not rationally thinking about how damaging their behavior can be to their child but it is. From their perspective, they’re thinking more about how damaging that other parent has been to them, and then by extension, to the child.”
Depending on the circumstances, a parent found “guilty” of parental alienation could end up losing custody and visitation rights to their child.
Reside in Texas? Learn how parental alienation affects child custody outcomes in Texas, here.
Damaging your child’s relationship with the other parent, damages your child
Disparaging your child’s other parent can emotionally harm the child in other ways. As Dr. Galloway explains, “Saying negative things about your ex can be damaging to the child’s relationship with the other parent, which can have a negative impact on the child’s wellbeing. We know that kids need to have healthy relationships with both parents when possible. Holistically, that is the healthiest situation.
“When you cut one of the parents out of the picture, you’re cutting off part of that child’s emotional health. It’s a kind of emotional damage that’s harder for parents to see, and some parents rationalize it. ‘Well yeah, my kid’s anxious. Look how awful her dad is.’ The truth is that kid’s anxious because the parent is anxious and all the negativity that parent has shared with the child.”
Parents also need to keep in mind that many children, especially the younger ones, view themselves as half mommy and half daddy. When one parent says bad things about the other parent—whether those things are true or not—the child feels like that half of him or her is bad or flawed, too. Those feelings can very difficult for a child to process and leave the child feeling scared and insecure.
Learn more about the damaging effects of parental alienation in this past post.
Stick to the facts
As the old adage goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Dr. Galloway advises parents to keep conversations pertaining to the other parent fact based. “Dad will pick you up at school at 3:30.” OR “Your mom will help you with back-to-school shopping this weekend.” Says Dr. Galloway, “Keep any negativity to yourself because if you don’t, your child could suffer.”
Need insight on how to raise a happy, healthy child during a divorce or child custody dispute?
Parents who live near Dr. Galloway’s Keller, Texas practice—Galloway Counseling Center—can reach her office directly at 817-932-3105. Dr. Galloway has been helping families as a licensed professional counselor for well over a decade and is frequently called upon by the family courts in Tarrant County to testify in divorce and child custody matters.
If you have legal questions about divorce and child custody in Texas, the Sisemore Law Firm is here to help. To schedule a confidential case review with our founder Justin Sisemore, contact our Fort Worth law office at 817.336.4444 or connect with us online.
The information above is general in nature and shouldn’t be construed as legal or medical advice. Consult an attorney or mental health professional to find out what steps your family should take next.
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