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FAQs: Parental Alienation Syndrome

It is an understatement to say that divorces and child custody cases can be messy. And some parents go too far to get the outcome that they want. It is one thing to be hurt and angry at an ex-spouse, but it goes too far when parents manipulate the children to get back at the other party. The manipulation may even rise to level of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Below are some frequently asked questions about Parental Alienation Syndrome in New Jersey.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental Alienation Syndrome can be thought of as a child’s estrangement from a parent, caused by the actions and manipulations of the other parent. It is usually marked by the child’s disrespect, hostility, and irrational fear of the targeted parent. The offending parent engages in a type of “brainwashing” of the child in an effort to create distance between the child and the other parent. Parental Alienation Syndrome can be very damaging in that the parent-child relationship that has been affected may never recover from this type of abuse.

What are the Signs or Symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome?

When a child suffers from Parental Alienation Syndrome, he or she will begin to pull away emotionally, if not physically, from the non-abusive parent for no justifiable reason. This may come in the form of requests that the parent not participate in the child’s life, such as requests by the child that the parent stop attending extracurricular activities. The child may also ask that the custody arrangement be changed so that he or she doesn’t have to be with the targeted parent. The child may be defiant or disrespectful towards that parent or lash out for no apparent reason.

One parent may put down the other parent in front of the child. The offending parent may also violate the custody order by keeping the child away from the other parent. Often the perpetrators of this syndrome suffer from mental illness, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic disorder.

What can I do if I Suspect That my Child has Parental Alienation Syndrome? Do I Have Legal Recourse for Parental Alienation Syndrome in New Jersey?

Presently, there is no direct cause of action for Parental Alienation Syndrome in New Jersey. In other words, you just can’t sue your ex-spouse in court for Parental Alienation per se. However, targeted parents have some options in the court system. For example, it is illegal for a parent to keep a child from another parent with the intent to prevent the other parent from having custody time or visitation time with the child. Also, an offending parent could be held in contempt for violating a custody order. Custody could be temporarily or permanently changed as a result of the offending parent’s actions. While helpful to the targeted parent, these sanctions do not necessarily help to repair the emotional damage that the offending parent causes through his or her manipulation. Therefore, it can be very frustrating to the parent who becomes a target of such behavior.

Is There any Treatment Available for Parental Alienation Syndrome?

There are treatments for Parental Alienation Syndrome in New Jersey, although in extreme cases, the bond between the child and the targeted parent may never be repaired. Treatment options generally involve intensive therapy, where the parent and child spend meaningful time together in an attempt to restore the relationship.

How can I Maintain a Relationship With my Child if my Ex-Spouse has Been Manipulating him or her and I Suspect Parental Alienation Syndrome?

It is extremely frustrating to parent a child who is pushing you away due to the manipulative behavior of the other parent. It is difficult to protect a child who is often with the other parent alone and who can’t or won’t allow themselves to be protected. However, there are some things that may help ease the problem.

  1. Talk to your child. This sounds simple enough, but keeping lines of communication open between you and your child demonstrates that you are always there to listen. Stay calm and continue to listen to your child, even if he or she is trying to push you away. It is important for your child to see that you are not going anywhere, even when things are difficult and even when they are angry at you.
  2. Actions speak louder than words. It may be that your child has stopped listening to you due to the other parent’s manipulative behavior. But your child may still be receptive to your attempts to be a part of his or her life. Show up at important events, plan activities that will create special memories, and be excited about the things that he or she is excited about. Any positive experiences that you have together have the potential to rebut the damage caused by the other parent.
  3. Do not sink to your ex-spouse’s level. It may be tempting to get back at the other parent by creating distance between the child and the other parent. But that is just further manipulation and abuse of your child. A child is not a tool that either parent should use against the other parent under any circumstances. Similarly, you should avoid angry interactions with the other parent. You are legitimately angry about what is happening to you and your child. But you have to take the high road to protect your child.
  4. Talk to a therapist. Even if your child does not want to speak to you, a therapist may be able to get through to him or her. You may also find that you feel a little less frustrated after unloading on a professional.
  5. Talk to your attorney. Your attorney will be able to help you bring the situation to the court’s attention and will help you prepare for your day in court.

If you suspect that your child is experiencing Parental Alienation Syndrome in New Jersey, you can contact the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at 201-845-7400 for a free initial consultation.

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