A common issue during divorce – and after divorce – involves one parent speaking poorly of the other. Many times the parent who is engaged in this unfortunate behavior does not even realize what he or she is doing.
Sometimes parents going through the mental anguish of divorce lose perspective. They can begin to involve their children, making negative statements about the other parent such as “if your mother loved you more she would spend more time with you,” “I can’t believe your father wants to spend time with that homewrecker,” etc.
Parental alienation, or alienation of affection, can take place in many different ways. Some parents do it unthinkingly. Others are much more calculated about it.
There are two major problems with parental alienation. First, it is terrible for the involved child or children. It is instrumental for a child to have a loving and nurturing relationship with both of their parents, no matter what type of relationship the parents end up having with one another. Study after study shows that a negative perception of a parent by a child can have a deep and long-standing negative effect on that child. And yet some parents persist in involving the child in adult issues they have with the other parent.
A second issue about alienation of affection is that it is not permitted and it may be grounds to change custody arrangements, including who will be the primary residential parent with the parties’ children. In Tennessee, one of the factors the trial courts are required to consider in determining which parent will have custody of the children includes each parent’s willingness and ability to encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. In addition, Tennessee law specifically instructs the court to consider a parent’s conduct which “may have an adverse effect on the child’s best interest…”
In making custody decisions, the court will place primary emphasis and focus on what is in the child’s best interest. It is never in the child’s best interest for that child to have a negative image of one of their parents thrust upon them, particularly not by another parent. Doing so forces the child into the middle of a parental dispute which he or she is not emotionally able to truly understand and which is frightening and psychologically destructive to the child’s own self-worth and identity both overtly and subconsciously in a way the child cannot even understand while undergoing the abuse.
Yes, we did use the word abuse. Many courts consider it abusive to alienate a child against another parent by making negative comments about that parent. That’s right, saying something overtly or even impliedly negative about the other parent to the child is hurtful to the child and improper behavior in the eyes of the court.
Going through a divorce or dealing with post-divorce issues can be very difficult and emotionally draining. There can be a temptation to “prove” your side of things to your children. But doing so is never a good idea. The only thing the parent who does this will be proving is that they are a bad parent to the court who makes the ultimate decision about parenting time. It is a child’s job to love both of their parents. It is the parent’s job to help the child do their job.