Many of Florida’s parents are keenly, painfully aware of how divorce can shrink the time they get to spend with their kids. Even in the best situations, you might miss your children on the days and nights they’re with your former spouse. In some nastier cases, your former spouse might convince the kids you’re a bad parent and that they shouldn’t spend time with you.
Such behavior is called parental alienation. It’s a form of emotional abuse that’s common to high-conflict divorces. And if left unchecked, it can destroy your bonds with your children. Fortunately, there are ways you can push back.
Recognizing the signs of parental alienation
The first step to fighting back against parental alienation is recognizing it. Given time and perspective, you can see how one parent destroys the children’s relationships with the other parent. But that’s the result. At the ground level, you’re more likely to see certain patterns of behavior, including:
- Blaming: Your former spouse may blame you for the divorce and bad-mouth you in front of the children. If you hear your children blaming you for the divorce or echoing adult complaints, you may have reason to believe your ex is encouraging them
- Spying: Parental alienation is largely about controlling children’s emotions to win their loyalty. Parents may spy on their children or use their children to look for dirt on their former spouses. Anything that can further the narrative of guilt and blame.
- Denying visitation: Your ex may invent reasons why the children can’t see you during your scheduled time. One may be sick or excited to attend a classmate’s birthday party. Your ex may schedule vacations that roll over your time. A single instance may not be cause for concern, but a pattern of such behavior is a strong sign of parental alienation.
- Testing loyalty: Your ex may act hurt when the children express their desire to see you, or your ex may simply ask the children where they would rather spend their time. Parents sometimes refuse to let children bring their belongings to the other parent’s house, reinforcing the divide and test of loyalty.
Divorce is hard on children even when the parents get along. Parental alienation makes it even worse. It brings the children directly into the middle of adult conflicts they’re not ready to process. Since s laws favor outcomes that are in the children’s best interests, the courts pay attention to reports of parental alienation, and the Florida Supreme Court has already ruled that parental alienation could lead to a change in circumstances worthy of a custody modification.
Always act in your children’s best interests
Divorce isn’t just hard on children. It’s hard on parents, too. It’s easy to feel bitter and angry. You may want to lash out at your former spouse and say nasty or disparaging things in front of your children. But your children want to feel loved by and love for both parents. They want two stable and supportive parents in their lives, even if those parents don’t live together, and in the end, Florida law favors the children.