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What is parental alienation in a custody case?

Many divorced parents can't hide their negative feelings toward their exes from their children. Even though experts universally caution parents not to criticize one another in front of or directly to their children, they do it anyway. Sometimes they can't help themselves. Other times, they're hoping to be the favorite parent.

Some parents take this to a whole other level. It becomes what's known as parental alienation. Some people even want to designate it as a medical syndrome. The American Psychological Association (APA) says it has "no official position" on whether there's such a thing as "parental alienation syndrome." However, they're doing research on it.

Whether it's a "syndrome" or not, family law attorneys and psychologists say they have seen the devastating effects of parental alienation. It often involves a parent lying to their children about their other parent, telling them the parent doesn't love them and even convincing children that they never had any positive experiences with that other parent. One psychologist says that in some cases, it causes children to "rewrite history."

The effects of parental alienation can stay with a child well into adulthood. One woman says, "Sometimes I feel as though everybody has an ulterior motive. If you can't trust your own parents, it's almost like who can you trust."

Sometimes parental alienation isn't just a one-way street. Consequently, people can become estranged from both parents. That's what happened to this woman. She says, "I just want an apology….I want to hear them say 'yes, we did use you as a weapon,' just so I get validated, so I don't feel crazy."

One attorney says, "I have won custody just on that issue. It is recognized by the court as being so damaging."

If you believe that your co-parent is actively working to harm your relationship with your children, it's essential that you talk with your attorney. You need to protect your children from psychological damage. Even if your co-parent's actions don't rise to the level of parental alienation, if they're constantly badmouthing you to or in front of your kids, you can take action to address that in your parenting plan. Whatever the situation, your attorney can help you work to do what's best for your children.

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