I think my ex is turning my kids against me: What are my options?
After divorce, parents and children have to go through the difficult transition from sharing a home to being in separate spaces and lives. While each parent is building his or her post-divorce relationship with their children, it can be hard for the kids to adjust. Ideally, parents will cooperate and maintain boundaries and refrain from making inappropriate or negative comments around their kids. However, sometimes divorce can bring out the worst in parents causing them to make poor choices such as bad-mouthing each other or even asking the children to pick sides. When one parent tries to turn children against the other the effects can be extremely harmful, but there are steps you can take to protect your kids and relationship.
When a parent is deliberately trying to interfere with their child’s relationship this behavior is often referred to as parental alienation. The parent may make false accusations against the other parent, say disparaging things to the child about them, blame the parent for any problems, or even interfere with parenting time and access. When a parent tries to manipulate their child into rejecting the other parent, it can be extremely damaging to the child and his or her relationship with both parents.
Wisconsin statutes allow the court to examine multiple aspects of the parents’ and children's lives when deciding custody and placement. The law presumes that joint decision-making and child placement are in the child’s best interest. However, when one parent is alienating the child from the other, the court may find that the child should have less contact with that parent. Additionally, under Wisconsin law when a parent deliberately interferes with the other parent’s custodial rights and access, it can be considered a criminal offense.
When to Act
In many cases, parental alienation is something which gradually builds up over time. It could begin with a parent’s occasional negative or passive aggressive comment. Over time, the parent may go so far as to condition his or her love on the child’s willingness to refuse to see the other parent. The secretive nature of the behavior makes it hard for the other parent to know before the situation and parental behavior has become destructive. By the time it gets to this point, your child could be in psychological crisis.
If you believe it is possible that your children are being manipulated, consider your reasons. Have they made unusual comments? Have you noticed a change in behavior or are they refusing to see you? When you talk to your kids, listen for any mention of the other parent making improper comments. If you hear something disturbing, try not to react, but continue to provide a safe space for them to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Depending on what you hear, you may need to get them in to see a therapist. You may also need to contact a family law attorney. You and your counsel can go over your observations and evaluate the situation.
Parental alienation is serious and can be detrimental to your children and your relationship with them.