Parental Alienation in California

Parental alienation is harmful to you and your child. When one parent alienates a child from the other parent, it chips away at a very valuable relationship. If you’re in this situation, you know how bad it can feel.

What is parental alienation?

Sometimes, one parent seeks to alienate their child or children from the other parent. This is parental alienation, and it may occur through manipulation, verbal statements or abuse, and even brainwashing. Often, the goal of parental alienation is to gain an advantage in a child custody battle or to punish the targeted parent.

Many acts or behaviors may be considered parental alienation. Below are some signs of parental alienation:

  • Refusing to allow the other parent to see the child
  • Telling the child bad things about the other parent
  • Refusing to show affection or love to the child if they show any interest in the other parent
  • Thwarting the targeted parent’s attempts to communicate with the child
  • Encouraging the child to disobey the targeted parent

When a child’s behavior toward one parent is negative due to a co-parent’s campaign of denigration, the result is something called parental alienation syndrome, or PAS. To repair the damage, the child may need family therapy and individual therapy from a mental health professional.

How does parental alienation affect children?

One parent’s alienating behavior can have a serious and devastating effect on a child's relationship with the other parent. This extremely damaging behavior can wreak havoc on the child’s life and developmental health in many ways, causing them to feel confused and torn between their parents and potentially leading to problems with low self-esteem, substance abuse, and conflict with family members.

The effects of parental alienation can so negatively impact a child that they may feel like they’re responsible for the breakdown of their parents' relationship. They may start badmouthing the alienated parent or disrespecting them to their face. Parent-child estrangement may also result.

A child's relationship with the alienated parent is likely to be very damaged, and it may be difficult to repair later in life. Parental alienation may be considered emotional child abuse.

Is parental alienation a crime in California?

Parental alienation itself is not a crime in California. However, evidence of a parent’s behavior in this regard may be used to legally change child custody, parenting time, or visitation arrangements.

If a parent is found to be engaging in parental alienation, they might not face criminal charges, but they may face an angry family law judge. Courts in California are always looking out for the child's best interest, and in most cases, this includes solid parental relationships – not poisonous relationships in which one parent speaks negatively about the other.

As a result, a judge could hold the offending parent accountable by changing their child custody arrangement or reducing their visitation hours. The court might also order them to complete counseling or parenting classes. 

Reconciliation counseling is a specific type of counseling aimed at repairing damaged parent-child relationships. Read about reconciliation counseling here.

What can I do?

It's heartbreaking to be separated from your child, especially when it feels like the other parent is doing everything they can to make that happen. There may be some things you can do to regain your relationship with your child.

  • Try to stay positive and upbeat regardless of what the other parent says or does. Your child is always watching and listening, and they need to see that you're strong and fighting for them.
  • Communicate with your child however you can. Send letters, emails, text messages, or whatever it takes to stay in touch.
  • Put your child's needs first. No matter how angry or frustrated you may be, don't let those feelings show to your child. Remain a calm and stable force that your child can rely on.

If you’re struggling with possible parental alienation, Hello Divorce can offer guidance and support. Click here to view our services page, and read about our flat-rate attorney consultations, which you can book in increments as short as 30 minutes.