Written by Monica Borschel, Ph.D. and Charles Kronzek, Family law litigator
Parental alienation is the deliberate or accidental turning of your children against the other parent. Deliberate alienation is badmouthing the other parent, family, ethnicity, culture, or religion. Part of the alienation includes spoiling the child, confiding in the child, or parentifying the child. The goal is to align the child with the alienating parent so that the parent is the preferred parent. The other parent becomes the rejected parent. The child will feel a loyalty conflict and need to turn on the rejected parent. The preferred parent might even punish the child if they do not reject the other parent. The child might feel they must reject the parent if they want to be loved by the alienating parent. This can result in the child feeling a deep sense of guilt and shame. The alienation and rejection of the other parent become entrenched by this shame. Because of this, it can be difficult for the child to face the rejected parent. Alienating parents will even go so far as to block access, file false accusations of abuse, and manipulate the child into believing the other parent is unsafe. Deliberate alienation damages your children’s sense of identity. It can cause acting-out behaviours, poor school performance, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to mental health professionals, accidental parental alienation can make your children feel more anxious around the other parent. When this happens, the anxiety can generalize to other people and situations. Accidental alienation is when a parent reacts out of fear, anger, or sadness around the other parent. Children are attuned to their parents and often feel what their parent is feeling. This is especially relevant at parenting time exchanges. Accidental alienation might come because of trauma from the marriage or the divorce. It is not alienation if the abuse is actual. If you know your children are unsafe, consult an experienced family lawyer immediately. Our team of family law attorneys has helped our clients for decades. Our family law lawyers can do their best to work towards temporarily supervised parenting time or whatever else the judge thinks is appropriate to protect a minor child. If you are reacting because of your trauma of being cheated on, or abandoned, consult a mental health professional. Processing your loss and trauma can help you respond and not react to the other parent.
Here are some ways that parental alienation backfires
- Making false accusations in court. You will lose credibility if the judge recognizes that the allegations are false. Keep in mind that our judges are used to seeing these wild, false allegations. They often backfire on the parent making them.
- Blocking access. Blocking access to the children can lead to you losing custody of your children. It can also lead to a fine and jail time in Michigan when a court order is disobeyed.
- Reversing alienation. When it comes time for you to reverse alienation or face consequences, your child will still refuse the rejected parent. This is because they are ashamed and guilty about their behaviour towards the rejected parent. They will worry that the rejected parent won’t like them anymore, criticize them, or be angry with them.
- You are harming your child’s self-worth. Remember, your child is half you and half the other parent. Telling them that you don’t like the other parent is like telling your child that you don’t like them.
- You are damaging their ability to have healthy relationships. Your children are watching how you handle your relationships. If you struggle to trust others, so will your children. If you speak badly of others, so will your children. Kids learn lifelong lessons from their parents. Remember, they are very impressionable.
- School performance will decline. Instead of spending time learning in school, children will be too stressed to focus. In addition, they will have deep grief for the rejected parent. Grief can slow down our thinking. Yet, repeatedly, our attorneys see these damaged kids struggling with their own mental health.
- Abandonment issues. The child might feel like the rejected parent abandoned them. Especially if you tell them, the other parent left them for another person or family. Abandonment issues can lead to depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Your child might also feel forced to reject the other parent. This will lead them to deep guilt that they abandoned their parent.
- Alienation is emotional abuse. Alienating your child against the other parent often includes alienating them against their identity, religion, and family. This manipulation and emotional abuse type leads to complex trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, your child will feel unsafe with either parent. As a result, they might find themselves with the wrong friend group.
- Alienation backfires. When your children are old enough to understand that they were emotionally abused, they will turn on you. Alienation causes harm to everyone involved.
Dr Monica Borschel, Ph.D. Divorce and Trauma Recovery Coach
Monica is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah. She later moved to New York City, earning her master’s in clinical psychology from Columbia University. She then pursued her Doctorate in Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong. Her training and qualifications include certifications in Brainspotting and High Conflict Coaching.
Charles Kronzek, Michigan Family Law Trial Attorney
Charles Kronzek is a Michigan trial attorney with decades of experience handling hundreds of divorce, custody, child welfare, and other family law-related cases. He earned his Juris Doctor Degree from Western Michigan University in 1995, and soon thereafter, he founded The Kronzek Firm with offices in Lansing, MI, and Detroit, MI. Charles is admitted to practice in all courts in Michigan, all federal courts, and the United States Supreme Court.