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Parental Alienation: What It Is and How to Avoid It

It’s only natural to have negative feelings toward your ex after a difficult breakup. However, if you share kids, you must be careful how those emotions express themselves. Bringing your children into your disputes can lead to parental alienation, which may be considered child abuse. 

If you are concerned about alienating your children, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself on the subject. Here’s what you need to know about parental alienation, how it is handled under Oregon law, and what you can do to protect yourself and your children from it. 

What Is Parental Alienation

Oregon courts prefer to give both parties approximately equal time with their kids when parents split up. However, some angry parents dislike this approach. Not only does it prevent them from keeping their kids with them all the time, but it also allows their ex to maintain strong parent-child relationships. People who want to get “revenge” or “punish” their exes often want to keep the kids to themselves to hurt the other parent.

This is when parental alienation occurs. The term is defined as one parent attempting to make their children fear, hate, or reject the other. It may look like:

  • Telling the child unnecessary details about the divorce to make the other parent look bad
  • Saying the other person doesn’t love them, hates them, or doesn’t want to see them
  • Insulting the other parent or letting others disparage them where the children can hear
  • Blaming the other person for everything that has “gone wrong” in the child’s life
  • Breaking ground rules set by the other coparent to make themselves the “fun” parent

Whether or not it is purposeful, this behavior alienates the child from one of their parents. This alienation can seriously damage the parent-child relationship and may even be child abuse.

The Impact of Parental Alienation on Custody

Alienating a child from their parent harms both of them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children rely on their caregivers’ support to function healthily. Losing a parental relationship can significantly impact the kid’s mental health and development. Common symptoms of alienation in kids include:

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Poor self-esteem and self-respect
  • Feelings of guilt or shame regarding the alienated parents
  • Increase in aggression due to loss of stable relationships
  • Difficulty in school

As such, behavior intended to damage a parent-child relationship may be considered abuse. 

This means that parental alienation can significantly impact child custody in Oregon. According to state law, one of the considerations for awarding custody is “The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.” In other words, if either party is unwilling to help the other maintain a strong relationship with their kids, they may not be granted custody. 

In addition, the law goes on to state, “However, the court may not consider such willingness and ability if one parent shows that the other parent has sexually assaulted or engaged in a pattern of behavior of abuse against the parent or a child and that a continuing relationship with the other parent will endanger the health or safety of either parent or the child.” If the alienation is so extreme as to meet the definition of child abuse, the court may entirely revoke the abusive person’s right to custody.

Avoiding Parental Alienation in Oregon

Many parents fear being accused of alienation and potentially losing custody of their kids because they have favorites. However, a kid expressing preferences for one guardian over the other is not alienation on its own. 

Many children have preferences, and expressing like or dislike of a guardian is natural. This is particularly true if a child has had significant negative experiences with one parent, like witnessing or experiencing abuse. However, if one party encourages preferences or tries to create them to try to hurt the other, that is alienation.

You can reduce the risk of accusations of alienation by:

  • Keeping negative opinions to yourself. Don’t speak badly about your coparent where children can hear. Even if you don’t intend to alienate your kid, it can still be argued that you allowed it to occur.
  • Ensuring family members and friends respect your coparent. Even if you agree with their negative opinions, remind people that your kid deserves to build an unbiased relationship with their other parent.
  • Respecting the other parent’s authority. Avoid undermining your coparent’s authority by letting kids do things they can’t do in the other household. Maintaining similar rules across both homes ensures the kids don’t decide one is the “fun” one and keeps both relationships equitable.

You may also be worried about your coparent alienating your kids from you. According to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the best way to avoid and counteract attempts at parental alienation is to spend time together with your children. Positive joint experiences will show your kids that the other person’s portrayal of you is incorrect, helping you maintain a strong relationship.

However, if you do not have significant custody time, you may need to take legal action. You can file a petition for modification to receive more parenting time or sole custody on the grounds of abuse. This can help you counteract your coparent’s attempts to alienate you by giving you more time together.That’s where an experienced Oregon child custody attorney can help. At Regele Law, LLC, we specialize in helping families build healthy and strong relationships. We can help you pursue custody of your kids if you believe your coparent is trying to turn them against you. Learn more about how we can help you prevent parental alienation by scheduling your consultation with our Salem, Oregon, child custody law firm today.