What is Parental Alienation and Can it Hurt My Kids?

First, is it real? For sure it’s real. We see it every day. Here in Oakland County, in Macomb County and in Livingston County. It’s here, it’s dangerous, it’s cruel and it’s abusive to children. Let’s Understand what parental alienation is. In simple terms, it is a tactic used by one parent to form a negative picture of the other parent in the eyes of a child. Parental alienation is complicated and contains many parts, but the objective is to harm the relationship the child has with the other parent. It should not be confused with the term Parental Alienation Syndrome, which is no longer used by mental health professionals. These days, we simply refer to “alienating conduct” by a parent, rather than “parental alienation syndrome”. 

sad child

What Types of Things Can Make Up Parental Alienation?

It is important to note that parental alienation can be unintentional. Normally alienating activity follows a heated divorce or separation. Parents separate for a reason, so it makes sense that there might be some hostility. While you may have a negative view of your former spouse, you can’t impart that view to your children. In fact Michigan’s child custody law specifically intends that each parent foster a close and continuing relationship with the other parent. Take it from us, judges really, really care about this! We’ve handled thousands of Michigan cases over the decades. Alienating behavior will not be tolerated in the court system.  

Simply bad-mouthing the other parent in front of your child can lead to parental alienation. Other things such as gaslighting, blaming all issues on the other parent, or making decisions about the child’s life without the input of the other parent can contribute to alienation. While there probably isn’t a comprehensive list of bad things that parents due to create a wedge between the kids and their other parent, judges know it when they see alienation happening. 

Any action can be included that makes the child believe they must pick a side. When parental alienation occurs, children often withdraw from the other parent, which causes damage to both parents. Unfortunately, too many parents in Michigan have to deal with the fallout of engaging in parental alienation. Here in Metro Detroit we see parents spending tens of thousands of dollars on legal battles and mental health care when alienation happens. 

Can Parental Alienation Really Hurt Kids?

Yup. Parental alienation can constitute emotional child abuse. Compromising a child’s relationship with their parent can forever change that relationship. It can also lead to difficulty establishing and maintaining other relationships, a higher risk of anxiety and depression, and lowered self-esteem, among other things. Some Oakland County kids never get over the alienation and other kids never forgive the parent that caused the alienating behavior once they’ve figured it out. And they do eventually figure it out. Just like the Friend of the Court office and the family court judges figure it out, kids do too. 

When you destroy your child’s relationship with their other parent, you often hurt your own relationship with them. They need a loving relationship with both parents to properly develop. Even if the parents no longer have love for each other, it needs to be put aside for the benefit of the child. Your anger at your former partner is not worth damaging your child in the long run. Sometimes our family law attorneys ask whether a parent loves their child more than they hate the other parent.   

Can Parental Alienation Lead to Charges?

Michigan courts takes parental alienation very seriously, which is why it can be considered child abuse. In Michigan. More specifically, serious mental harm is “an injury to a child’s mental condition … that is not necessarily permanent but results in visibly demonstrable manifestations of a substantial disorder of thought or mood which significantly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality.” MCL 750.136b (1)(g). It is possible for parental alienation to fall under this definition, which can lead to being guilty of child abuse in the first degree. This is a felony that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. 

Felony charges are highly unlikely, but other serious consequences can occur when using parental alienation. It can play a big part in custody or parenting time orders as it often is a violation. It also can damage future relationships between the child and the co-parent.  

Need Help Dealing With Parental Alienation?

Dealing with a divorce or separation is already hard. Adding in a parental alienation or alienating behavior problem is a lot to bear, and it can make a difficult case. In order to successfully put an end to parental alienation, you will need an experienced attorney on your side. At The Kronzek Firm, our attorneys have decades of experience throughout the Michigan court system including right here in Oakland County. We can help -you deal with parental alienation before the damage becomes irreversible. Reach out to us at 248-479-6200 to start getting help.