What To Know About Parental Alienation in Ohio

What To Know About Parental Alienation in Ohio
February 13, 2024

At the Law Offices Of Cara L. Santosuosso, LLC, our skilled group of child custody attorneys views each child as precious and deserving of all the love, care, and nurturing that is available to them. Unfortunately, even the most loving parent can sometimes be driven by their own pain and anger and not realize that they could be causing their child emotional harm. 

During divorce, dissolution and collaborative divorce proceedings, child custody decisions are always an important part of the process. However, the welfare of a child can be seriously compromised if one parent tries, purposely or not, to alienate the other parent in the child’s mind. We will discuss what parental alienation is, how to guard against it, and what the legal and real-life repercussions can be for families and children. As always, it is the best interest of the child that matters most.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Put simply, parental alienation is anything that one parent (often the parent with primary physical custody) may do to sour their child toward the other parent–the target parent. There generally are reasons for one parent to feel negatively toward the other–that is why they are getting divorced, after all. Oftentimes a child, depending on age, will be able to pick up on these feelings. However, parental alienation goes much further, and is seen by some experts as a psychological state (sometimes called a syndrome) in which a child acts completely uncharacteristically toward the target parent. A child who was once loving and kind can turn hostile and angry. 

Identifiers of parental alienation in a child can include:

  • Coldness and a lack of guilt after hurtful behavior
  • Acting negatively or mistreating a parent without a demonstrated reason
  • Bringing up hypothetical or unfounded scenarios as rationalization for their feelings
  • Insistence that their feelings are entirely their own
  • Unwavering support of the non-targeted parent’s feelings or actions
  • Trying to make others share their feelings

Divorce can naturally take a toll on children, and it is inevitable that they may lash out from time to time. Parental alienation, however, is different. On top of displaying unusual levels of animosity, a child may refuse to remember good times or memories that include the target parent, they may blame everything on them while speaking only positively about the non-targeted parent. 

Careful attention to word choice and expression may show that an alienated child is parroting the language used by the non-targeted parent. Their alienation may go so far as to extend to all members of the targeted parent’s family, including grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts with whom they once had a close and loving relationship. All the while, the child vehemently denies being influenced and asserts that their opinions and feelings are theirs alone.

How does parental alienation happen? The alienating parent says or does things that express their negative feelings toward the target parent. These actions may be done knowingly or unintentionally. When the same thoughts and feelings are expressed over and over, a child can internalize them and adopt the same emotional responses to the targeted parent. There are three types of parental alienation: 

Naïve Alienation – This is usually done unintentionally via disparaging comments or parental arguments that are heard or observed by the child.

Active Alienation – A parent will tell the child lies about the targeted parent, manipulating the child in an attempt to drive a wedge between the two.

Obsessive Alienation – A parent blinded by rage, anger, and pain tries any means to turn their child against the targeted parent, including trying to recruit family members to their cause.

Alienation VS Abandonment

Whether done intentionally or not, alienation distances a child from one of their parents who otherwise would have a positive relationship with them. In alienation cases the targeted parent is typically following visitation guidelines or trying to gain a measure of custody and wants to have a healthy relationship with their child. They are around and in the child’s life. Another key factor is that an alienation claim is typically made during or after divorce proceedings. 

Abandonment, on the other hand, happens when one parent is missing from their child’s life for an extended period of time. It can serve as the basis for a custody decision. There is also a direct connection between child abandonment and child custody in a divorce case, as a parent and partner who leaves the family home for a year or more provides their spouse with grounds for divorce in Ohio. 

If one parent has abandoned their child, it is likely that the custodial parent will have negative feelings toward the parent who has left, and they may tend to speak negatively about the missing parent. If this behavior creates a strong negative feeling in their child toward the missing parent, it can be harmful to the child and may be deemed as alienation. Even though the abandoning parent may foreight their parental rights, poisoning a child’s mind toward them may prevent a resolution later in the child’s life, which could impact their long-term mental health. Should a parent purposely cause their child to despise the targeted parent, this could eventually have negative consequences for both parent and child.

Consequences of Parental Alienation

Every child deserves a healthy and loving relationship with both parents and their extended family members–this naturally contributes to a child being more confident and assured of their relevance in the world. When a child feels loved and cared for, they are less likely to develop negative emotional trauma and the conditions that can come along with it. Of course we cannot say that parental alienation is the sole reason for a child to develop a diagnosable condition or mental illness, but it can be a major contributing factor to various forms of emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, and trouble with self-esteem. The effects of parental alienation can generally be remediated, but it will take sustained effort and will often involve the help of a medical professional.

Parents can also face negative consequences as a result of alienation. The parent who is actively alienating the other can be accused of this harmful practice, and the court does not view the matter lightly. Parental alienation is seen as a form of emotional abuse that ultimately does more harm to the child than it does to the targeted parent. For this reason, in extreme, habitual, and well-documented cases a court may change a child custody ruling if evidence of parental alienation is brought to light. Further down the line, the alienating parent may find that when their older child realizes what was happening when they were much younger, they may not react well. Out of pain and anger a child may even cut ties with the parent who tried so hard (albeit through misguided efforts) to keep them close.

Another potential way that parental alienation can cause harm is when it is used by a parent as a tool to justify increased child custody. For example, a parent who is legitimately abusing their child and being accused of such behavior by the other parent may try to claim parental alienation. This claim is hard to prove or disprove, and it could result in an abuser getting more access to the child they are abusing. The court tries to differentiate between real and fabricated claims of parental alienation, but without documentation and witnesses, it is often a case of hearsay. Unfortunately, studies have also found that court decisions can tend to be gender-biased, with a higher percentage of fathers’ claims of alienation being acted on than mothers’ claims. 

When You Are Accused of Or Suspect Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is not something to take lightly, and it is not something to claim without founding. That said, it is all-too-common of a behavior that parents need to be aware of and intentionally refuse to engage in. What can you do when you notice sudden changes in your child and suspect that their custodial parent is trying to alienate you? If you find yourself accused of alienation, what recourse do you have? 

While many cases are intentional, for those that are not, when parents begin to notice their child saying or doing something uncharacteristically negative that is aimed toward the other parent, they should immediately try to rectify the situation and involve qualified professionals as necessary. This is the time to step back and do a self-examination. It is ok to feel negatively toward the other parent, but legal matters and specific thoughts or emotions need to be kept away from a child’s ears and eyes. Work to actively reinforce the need for your child to keep both parents involved in their life and paint a realistic picture of the other parent. Be positive when you can. This is also the time to involve an experienced child custody attorney who can best help you to set the record straight while advocating for your rights.

If, on the other hand, a parent is intentionally trying to alienate the other parent from their child, they need to realize that this behavior is seen as abuse and that the welfare and long-term health of their child is at stake.

Should a parent suspect that their child is being purposely coached or indoctrinated with negative feelings and, because of this and not anything they’ve done, they no longer have a good relationship with their child, the best course is to seek out a child custody attorney. A lawyer can conduct necessary research, analyze documentation, and bring in qualified professionals who can objectively assess the situation and serve as expert witnesses. A child custody attorney or divorce lawyer can also protect parental rights and work to find a collaborative solution while doing all they can to spare the child any avoidable stress or trauma.

Work With a Child Custody Attorney Who Understands

Defining and proving parental alienation is not an easy task. More than a clear action, it is a totality of the circumstances that surround a case that will substantiate a claim. Due to the difficult and sensitive nature of parental alienation claims, it is absolutely essential to work with an experienced legal professional for the best possible outcome. Together with a knowledgeable child custody attorney you can find relevant expert witnesses and compile documentation to prove your case. All the while, you can know that your child is being protected and your rights are being preserved. 

At the Law Offices Of Cara L. Santosuosso, LLC our team of child custody attorneys truly care about any parent and child who have been alienated from one another. Our solid experience with Ohio child custody law ensures that when you work with us, you will experience the best, most comprehensive legal help. No matter the issue at hand, we always seek the best interests of our clients and their children–we want only the best for you and your family. 

Contact us today to schedule your free consultation and to discuss your situation, whether you are claiming alienation or you feel that you are being wrongfully accused. We are ready to help.