Parental Alienation in Utah
Every child deserves the love and support of both parents. But in some unfortunate cases, one parent may attempt to alienate the other parent, causing significant harm and distress in the child's life.
This phenomenon, known as parental alienation, is increasingly recognized for its detrimental impact on children and families, including those in Utah.
Psychological manipulation or influence
Parental alienation refers to the process by which a child becomes estranged from one parent due to the psychological manipulation or influence of the other parent. For example, a mother might consistently make negative remarks about the father, leading the child to develop an unjustified fear, disrespect, or hostility toward him.
How does parental alienation affect children?
The effects of parental alienation on children are far-reaching and profound. It can lead to developmental delays and long-term issues like low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, trust issues, and even self-hatred. Children may also experience guilt, confusion, and fear of abandonment or betrayal.
Signs of parental alienation
The symptoms of parental alienation displayed by a child are sometimes referred to by mental health professionals as parental alienation syndrome, or PAS. They can include:
- A sudden change in attitude or behavior toward the targeted parent
- Unfounded hatred or fear of the alienated parent
- The child echoes the alienating parent’s accusations verbatim
- The child refuses to spend time with the alienated parent
- The child feels no guilt about their behavior toward the alienated parent
Is parental alienation a crime in Utah?
In Utah, it's important to note that while parental alienation is not formally recognized as a crime, it is certainly frowned upon by the courts. Family law in Utah does not permit divorced or unmarried parents to engage in behaviors that negatively affect their child's relationship with the other parent. Violating this principle could potentially influence custody decisions.
Reconciliation counseling is geared toward mending broken relationships. It can be particularly helpful for alienated children and their parents. Read more about this type of counseling here.
Subtle and overt tactics
Alienating behavior can be subtle or overt, but it is always damaging. Here are three examples:
Badmouthing the other parent
This is perhaps the most common form of parental alienation. The alienating parent speaks poorly of the other parent in front of the child. This campaign of denigration could be as blatant as making derogatory remarks or as subtle as implying that the other parent doesn't care.
For instance, if a father constantly says things like "Your mother never spends time with you because she doesn't love you as much as I do," it could cause the child to harbor negative feelings toward the mother.
Limiting contact and communication
Another tactic is to limit a child's contact and communication with their other parent. This could involve preventing parenting time, phone calls, texts, emails, or physical visits.
For example, a mother might discourage her children from calling their father by saying that he is too busy for them, fostering a sense of rejection in the children.
Creating and exploiting divisions
In some cases, the alienating parent may create a division in the parent-child relationship and then exploit it. This could entail taking advantage of a disagreement or misunderstanding, amplifying it, and using it to drive a wedge between the child and the parent.
For instance, if a child is upset with the other parent for missing a school event, the alienating parent might exaggerate the situation by saying things like, "Your dad doesn't care about your activities. If he did, he would have been there."
What can I do?
If you suspect you're being targeted by parental alienation, it's crucial to take proactive steps. It’s not just unfair to you; it’s also emotional child abuse.
Pay close attention to your child's words and behaviors. They may provide valuable clues about what's happening when you're not around.
Keep a record of incidents that indicate alienation. This may include derogatory comments, refusal of visitation rights, or any form of manipulative behavior.
Reach out to a legal professional who specializes in family law and parental alienation.