The majority of all divorce cases have minimal conflict and argument. This requires both parents to make an effort to protect and shelter the children throughout the divorce, and to create a new co-parenting relationship that focuses on the emotional, physical, and mental health interests of the child or children.
Unfortunately, some parents are more focused on hurting the other parent than protecting the children from emotional distress during this time. These parents may be engaging in damaging behavior that is known as parental alienation.
The Signs of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is a strategic process where one parent manipulates how a child thinks about the other parent. Through this ongoing process, the alienating parent encourages the estrangement of the child through developing feelings of fear, hostility, anger, and resentment towards the other parent.
This can include “retelling” history between the estranged parent and the child in a very systematic method of gaslighting the child. It also includes providing the child with inappropriate or incorrect information about the adult relationship, refusing to allow the child to spend time with the parent that is targeted, or encouraging the child to “spy” on the other parent.
Common signs of parental alienation include:
• Sudden negative changes in the child’s relationship with the targeted parent
• Child has information and details about the relationship
• The child sees one parent as all good and one parent as all bad
• Child is given the choice of visitation and rewarded for choosing not to go
• Lack of communication about the child from the alienating parent
• Excessive control over the child by the alienating parent
• Child is allied with one parent over the other parent
Child Custody Evaluation in Illinois
When parent alienation is suspected, a child custody evaluation can be ordered. In Illinois, this is also known as a 604(B) evaluation. The evaluation is completed by a child custody evaluator, typically a mental health professional, and it includes interviews of the children, the parents, a home study, and a review of documents and records.
Through a child custody evaluation, issues of parental alienation can be identified and presented to the court. Recommendations can also be made by the child custody evaluator with regards to the division of parental responsibilities, with the family court judge having the final decision.
As parental alienation can be damaging to the child, talking to a family and divorce attorney is vital if you suspect the other parent. This should be done as soon as estrangement is noticed or when the behavior of the child signals a change in the parental relationship for unfounded or undetermined reasons.