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Recognizing Both Indirect & Direct Parental Alienation Behaviors in Child Custody Cases


As attorneys who practice family law here in Florida, we see a significant amount of parental alienation between divorced spouses with children, and we frequently counsel parents on just how important it is to steer clear of these behaviors, especially because it is one of the main factors that courts will take into account in deciding on child custody.

In November, new research was released concerning how mothers and fathers often use slightly different tactics when it comes to engaging in parental alienation. This research is incredibly important when it comes to family law cases because custody evaluators are often tasked with determining if alienation or abuse is happening with a given family, and alienation can be significantly more difficult to prove when most of the behaviors occurring are indirect, which, according to the research, tends to happen more frequently with mothers. Given that an estimated 22 American adults and four million children report being targeted by parental alienating behaviors, it is important that we not only understand these behaviors, but recognize them when it comes to intervening and taking them into account in child custody requests; for the sake of the entire family.

Direct Versus Indirect Aggressions Constituting Parental Alienation Behavior

According to the study, researchers have found that mothers use what have been labeled as “indirect” alienating strategies, while fathers use similar levels of both “direct” and “indirect” strategies. Types of direct aggressions can include:

  • Physical aggression displayed against the other parent
  • Blocking parenting time with the other parent
  • Sending hostile texts and emails to the other parent
  • Changing the child’s phone number so that the other parent cannot reach them

While indirect aggressions can include:

  • Badmouthing the other parent to the child
  • Telling a child false stories about the other parent
  • Informing the child of court proceedings
  • Yelling at the other parent in front of the children
  • Listing a stepparent as a biological parent on school or other records
  • Make false claims, manipulating, and/or spreading rumors

The Importance of Recognizing Both When It Comes to Child Custody

Recognizing all of these behaviors is incredibly important, but unfortunately has not always been the case. In fact, alienation can be difficult to assess when most of the behaviors are indirect—they are both harder to document and prove. Therefore, if mothers and fathers are engaging in different forms of alienation, and one is more difficult to assess, gender biases in child custody cases result.

The Harm They Inflict

These behaviors can also inflict significant harm on both parents and children: Children can develop what psychologists call an “enmeshed identity” with the alienator, resulting in the child acting as a proxy for that parent and damaging their relationship with the targeted parent. In addition, studies have found that close to 50 percent of moderately-to-severely alienated parents had contemplated suicide at one point, and victims of alienation reported higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Contact Our Florida Child Custody Attorney If You Have Questions or Concerns

If you live in Florida and have any questions or concerns involving child custody issues, contact our experienced West Palm Beach child custody attorney at the office of William Wallshein, P.A. today to find out how we can help.




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