How parental alienation affects child custody outcomes in Texas

Child crying, head in hands, sad

We get it. During child custody disputes, it can be soooooo tempting to speak poorly of the other parent. Both parents may want the child to think they are the better parent—but guess what? Parental alienation is not only damaging to the child, but it’s also likely to backfire on the parent guilty of such behavior. Before you say or do something you shouldn’t—or if you’re the victim and need to learn how to prove parental alienation in Texas—read on.

What qualifies as parental alienation in Texas?

At our Fort Worth family law firm, we find there are typically two types of parental alienation Texas residents might experience —passive and direct. Both types of alienation involve actions that are intended to disparage and turn a child against one of his or her parents.

Active parental alienation is pretty direct, where the parent says something like:

  • Your mom is a crazy witch.
  • Your dad is an alcoholic jerk.

Passive parental alienation is more subtle. It may involve planting seeds of doubt, or more important (and this is the toughest part for many parents), NOT reinforcing seeds of love about the other parent.

A passive parental alienation conversation may go something like this:

  • Mom says, “What did you do at your father’s?” The child says, “Oh we didn’t do much. We sat on the couch.” Mom says, “Oh my. What was that like for you? Do you want me to call him? Sorry, that’s terrible.”
  • Dad says, “Hey, did your mom feed you anything good today? Did you even get to eat?” The child says, “We had McDonald’s.” Dad says, “That’s not good for you. She should be feeding you something healthier.”

Conversely, a “reinforcing seeds of love conversation” may go something like this:

  • Mom says, “Hey, honey, your dad will be picking you up to go to his house today.” The child says, “I don’t want to go to my dad’s.” Mom says, “Look, your dad loves you, and he wants to be involved with you. You’ve got to follow the rules, and those are the rules.”

Then there’s third-party parental alienation, where third parties—acting with or without the knowledge of the parents—disparage one of the parents. We find this type of alienation is often most damaging to children and also very difficult to prove. If you hear that friends or family members are trash-talking your ex, put an end to it quickly. Regarding parental alienation, Texas family members disparaging each other benefits no one and can negatively impact the mental health of children who witness the disparagement.

Signs of parental alienation in Texas?

During an investigation, a custody evaluator will look for several indicators in parental alienation Texas legal cases to determine if they are present. They will look for signs of parental alienation, including specific relationship characteristics of both the alienated and targeted parents. The signs of parental alienation may include:

  • Child shows unrelenting hatred toward the parent who is the object of the aggression.
  • Child begins to mimic the alienating parent’s speech patterns.
  • Child refuses to see the alienated parent under any circumstances.
  • Child’s values and ideals are intertwined with those of the alienating parent.
  • Child’s beliefs of abuse tend to be irrational and delusional.
  • Justifications for child’s feelings are based on what other people have told them rather than on the child’s own experiences.
  • Child can’t feel remorse for hurting the targeted parent’s feelings.
  • Child joins the alienating parent in disparaging the targeted parent.

For parents in Texas, parental alienation can be difficult to prove because the court often views claims of these signs of alienation as hearsay. The key indicators we typically are able to prove and will use to prove parental alienation in Texas family courts, include:

  • Child stops communicating with the parent.
  • Child does not want to spend time with the parent.
  • Child demonstrates increased behavioral issues.
  • Child takes the side of the other parent in disagreements.
  • Child replicates the tendencies of the alienating parent. 

How to address parental alienation during child custody disputes

When bad behavior or parental alienation does occur from the other side, it’s best to address it head-on. After all, parental alienation laws in Texas are established to help protect children caught in the middle. Keep in mind, you will need to provide evidence that attempts at parental alienation have occurred in order for the judge to give you more favorable possession orders OR alter an existing custody agreement.

One way to do this is to provide evidence of conversations that show the other party is trying to alienate the child. However, parent alienation Texas laws are nuanced, and you must present the entire conversation, something referred to as the Rule of Optimal Completeness. That’s why it’s so important to grin and bear it when your ex spews vitriol your way. If you don’t keep your mouth shut, those complete conversations could incriminate you, too.

Another way to prove efforts of parental alienation is to bring in counselors and/or parenting coordinators to evaluate the situation objectively and provide evidentiary statements. This is a common practice in Texas family courts.

If the child is age 12 or older, the judge can also interview him or her privately to ask whom the child would prefer to live with. While that is the only question the judge is technically allowed to ask the child in Texas, judges often learn a lot more about the child’s family life during such conversations.

Have questions about parental alienation and child custody in Texas?

The family law attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help with your child custody concerns. To schedule a confidential case review with our founder Justin Sisemore, call our office at (817) 336-4444 or visit our contact us page to connect with us online.

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