Parental Alienation in Florida
Florida encourages parents to share the rights and responsibilities of childrearing equally. State law can support a child custody shift if you can prove parental alienation occurred.
What is parental alienation?
Divorces are hard on families, and it’s not unusual for children to take sides. Parental alienation is different.
In a parental alienation situation, one parent intentionally aims negativity at the other parent in front of the child. The goal is to damage that relationship and make the child choose the abuser exclusively.
A parental alienation scenario doesn’t apply when the child has a justified reason to dislike the other parent. If a child has been physically or mentally abused by one parent, angry feelings are reasonable and not due to manipulation.
However, a child’s shift from a loving relationship to a distant or angry one with no defined cause could be prompted by parental alienation.
What does parental alienation look like?
Typical parental alienation approaches are extreme and can’t be considered part of a healthy divorce.
Someone engaging in parental alienation might use the following tactics:
- Telling the child the other parent doesn’t want to see them
- Repeatedly telling the child the other parent is responsible for the divorce
- Punishing the child for spending time with the other parent
- Making false accusations of abuse and convincing the child they are true
It’s normal and natural for parents to talk about their divorce. Almost every parent has said something in front of a child that was ill-advised or harmful. Mistakes happen, and they’re understandable.
Parental alienation is a systematic approach designed to change a child’s mind. It’s different from the occasional parental slip-up. Someone engaging in these tactics is attacking the other parent deliberately. It’s part of an intentional campaign of denigration against the other parent.
Is parental alienation a crime in Florida?
Parental alienation is not a crime in Florida. In most cases, parents are simply lying to their children.
While lying to anyone, including children, is unkind and unpleasant, it’s rarely illegal.
How else could parental alienation be prosecuted?
While it’s not illegal to lie to your children, breaking court orders is a different matter. And parents who persist in this bad behavior could face consequences that impair their child custody arrangements.
Some parents engaging in parental alienation break the agreements outlined in their court-ordered parenting plan. They might take one or more of the following steps:
- Moving away without telling the other parent
- Refusing to honor the other parent’s time with the children
- Blocking communication with the other party
If a parent explicitly violates child custody arrangements, the courts can step in and force the behavior to stop.
Continued parental alienation could also force a change to child custody arrangements. Florida courts consider the demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate and adopt a unified front when dealing with a child. Ongoing lies could make the courts revise the parenting plan in favor of the parent being victimized.
How does parental alienation impact children?
Few children enjoy moving through divorce with their parents. Emotions run high, and parents say things they shouldn’t. However, parental alienation makes this difficult process even more traumatic for children.
Experts consider parental alienation a form of child abuse. Children exposed to ongoing parental alienation can struggle with the following life-long problems:
- An impaired ability to form and maintain relationships
- Low self-esteem
- Loss of self-respect
- Poor impulse control
A child may never repair the relationship with the other parent. The rift can be harder to deal with as the years pass.
What options do you have in Florida?
No parent wants to lose their child in divorce. If your spouse is engaged in parental alienation, several options exist, including these:
1. Negotiate with your partner
Schedule a mediation session with your partner to discuss the behavior. Come prepared with evidence of parental alienation, and ask what might make your partner stop behaving badly in front of your child.
This option may seem counterintuitive, especially if you’ve fought with your partner many times. But mediation shows you’re willing to talk openly and honestly with your partner in a neutral space. You could repair your relationship and make the behavior stop.
While the session may be upsetting and emotionally taxing, if you reach some kind of agreement that they honor, the end result could be worth it.
2. Talk openly (and often) with your child
You’re not required to bad-mouth the other parent and contribute to the child’s trauma. But you could counter any lies the child repeats.
For example, if the child asks for repeated reassurance of your love and willingness to stick with the parenting plan, offer those statements. And if the child tries to verify any details given by the other parent, do your part to respond honestly. Help the child see the difference between the truth and an exaggeration.
3. Ask for family therapy
Your spouse is a permanent part of your life. You share a child and must find a way to work together throughout that person’s life. Therapy may help you to get back on track.
Some people use family therapy sessions involving both parents and children. They work through painful issues, develop new communication methods, and emerge as a stronger unit.
Some people also have therapy sessions with their ex-spouses without the children present. In these meetings, you can work through the trauma left behind by the divorce. When your spouse can work through issues constructively, your child may no longer be forced to work as a go-between.
4. Ask for a parenting plan modification
Experts say parental alienation eases when the child spends more time with the bullied parent. It’s hard to lie about how much a parent loves a child when they’re often together. Courts can make this happen, but you must file a modification case.
Bring detailed evidence of parental alienation to the court. Gather text messages, social media posts, email messages, and witness statements. If you can prove the other party is blocking your access, your case could be successful.
Know that these cases aren’t easy to prove. A Florida parental alienation case made it all the way to the state’s supreme court, where the allegations were disproved. The more hard evidence you have, the better.
References61.13: Support of Children, Parenting and Time Sharing, Powers of Court. The Florida Legislature.
Parental Alienation Can Be Emotional Child Abuse. National Center for State Courts.
Parental Alienation. Psychology Today.
Case SC04-1012. Supreme Court of Florida.