Timesharing and parental alienation, part 1

What are your rights in Florida when your children have been turned against you?

Conflict between separated or divorced parents is not unusual. A relationship that produced at least one child for some reason has fallen apart – and sometimes there are hard feelings or resentment. Yet, often a parent who is upset with their kids’ other parent is still able to negotiate a custody and visitation arrangement and carry it out with minimal conflict, even if the co-parenting is not warm, it is at least civil enough to share the children according to the timesharing arrangement.

What is parental alienation?

But things can take a darker turn when a parent engages in parental alienation – a psychological phenomenon in which a parent actively and deliberately – although likely not conscious of the mental health aspects of the behavior – tries to turn their child against their other parent. It can involve bad-mouthing the other parent when they are not there to defend themselves and even lies about the other parent that can create fear, disgust or anger in the child in response, turning them against the other parent.

The alienating behavior may also be related to vengeance and retribution expressed by trying to keep the children physically isolated from contact with the other parent.

An alienating parent is emotionally needy

Child psychiatrist Dr. Christine Adams recently wrote about parental alienation in Psychology Today, explaining that an alienating parent uses their child to meet that parent’s own emotional needs – when in a normal and healthy parent-child relationship the caring flows the other direction – the parent supports the child’s mental and emotional health.

Alienating behavior can cause anguish in the child

This burden to care for their parent puts the child in a terrible, confusing position of pressure to take the alienating parent’s side against the other parent when the alienating parent persistently attacks the targeted parent’s character. In response, the child may experience guilt, grief, depression and problems with self-esteem. In extreme cases, the alienator might even tell the child they would die if the child lived with or spent time with the other parent.

The targeted parent tends to be the emotionally healthier one of the pair and the alienating parent may have narcissistic or anti-social personality disorder or “borderline functioning [with excessive emotionality],” according to another Psychology Today article.

The bottom line of parental alienation is that most professionals agree that it is a form of child abuse. So, what can the targeted parent do to rescue their child from this mistreatment, get custodial and visitation rights, and rectify their relationship with the wrongly alienated child? In part 2 of this post, we will talk about Florida courts and parental alienation.

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The Law Office of Forrest & Forrest, PLLC represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.

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