Parental alienation occurs when one parent, the alienating parent, attempts to create a relationship with the children that excludes the other parent from their lives. Often this exclusion arises from that parent’s personal feelings about the other parent and their desire to punish them, and it is not related to any real deficiencies in their parenting. In alienation cases, one parent makes negative comments about the other capable and loving parent and strives to destroy any relationship the children may have with him or her. These alienating parents not only fail to encourage and support a positive relationship between their children and the other parent, but they essentially brainwash the children into disproportionately and unjustifiably rejecting the other parent.

The problem with parental alienation is it can work. Often, children will get to the point in which they refuse visitation or any contact at all with the target parent and express only negative feelings about that parent. Sometimes this is because the children believe the negative things they hear about the other parent, they’re unable to act against the alienating parent, or they enjoy the attention they receive for complying with the alienating parent. Parental alienation is a very separate issue from not wanting contact with a parent who is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive.

If you believe you are being alienated from your children or your relationship with your children is being negatively impacted by the other parent, there are resources available to help identify alienation and repair the parent-child relationship. Our attorneys are experienced in parental-alienation cases and have the tools necessary to reunite you with your children.

Parental alienation is one of the most traumatizing subjects we deal with in Family Law, both for the children involved as well as the parents. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help give answers to the most common questions we receive when trying parental alienation cases in Texas. With decades of experience between us, the attorneys at Walters Gilbreath, PLLC have prepared this guide to help you through this difficult and emotional issue.

What are the signs of parental alienation? How do you prove parental alienation in court? How do you help repair your relationship with your child after they’ve been subjected to parental alienation?

All these questions and more are answered in our guide. If you believe that you or someone that you know is currently a victim of parental alienation, we encourage you to please download our guide to inform yourself on how parental alienation works and what your options are.

Measuring & Identifying Parental Alienation

When we feel unwell, we go to the doctor so that a professional can tell us what’s wrong with us and what we need to do to feel better. Similarly, an essential step in recovering from parental alienation (and preventing it) is getting professional help. Parental alienation is very difficult to prove, so if you suspect that your child is a victim of parental alienation, you should obtain and organize as many facts the support your situation as you can. Inexperienced lawyers can easily let a vital piece of evidence fall through the cracks. With our top-rated attorneys, you can rest assured you’ll be in good hands. Call our office today to get started.

Physical Abuse

The Texas Family Code defines domestic violence as either a threat or act by a family member or a person within a household against another member of that household, that either results in, intends to result in, or gives someone reason to believe they are in danger of physical harm. Living together is not a requirement for the abuse to be considered domestic violence.

Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family, leaving the victim alone to advocate for themselves. People in these situations often worry that no one will believe them, the abuser is “charming” and will present as such, or their story is not enough and they will need proof.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can get support, get out, and be a survivor. Abusers often make their victims feel incapable and undeserving of a better life, but options exist, and with help comes empowerment. If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, there are resources and aid available.

Emotional Abuse

Many times, emotional and verbal abuse go unacknowledged because no physical scars have been inflicted, but abusive behavior isn’t always physical. Gaslighting, threatening, manipulating, controlling, damaging property, monitoring behavior, and withholding affection as a punishment are all examples of this often overlooked—but extremely damaging—form of abuse. In Texas, verbal/emotional abuse is:

  • The willful infliction of an act or repeated acts of verbal or other communication, including gestures, to harass, intimidate, humiliate, or degrade an individual; or
  • A threat of physical or emotional harm against an individual.

Courts recognize the impact of emotional abuse on families, and if you are experiencing any of these forms of abuse in your marriage, don’t dismiss the effects it has on you, your children, and your family. Emotional abuse can be just as dangerous and damaging as physical abuse, so seek help today. Our experienced legal team can help you to obtain the safety and stability you and your family deserve.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can take several different forms. For example, the spouse who controls the finances may have access to more resources, or the primary income earner may cut off the other spouse, severely restrict access to funds, commit fraud, or even siphon away and hide funds. In some other cases, a cheating spouse may spend community funds on a paramour or divert funds to this person. Financial abuse forces one spouse to be dependent on and at the mercy of the other. Although it may not seem like “traditional” abuse, denying finances or using money to control someone denies that person the freedom to make their own choices, and it creates fear regarding that spouse’s ability to support themselves and their kids. Take the first steps to independence and seek legal counsel that will advocate for you, your finances, and your future.

Counseling & Therapeutic Intervention

In some cases, the court may order the alienating parent into mandatory therapeutic interventions designed explicitly for parental alienation, or it may make similar orders as a condition of continued possession. The court may also order the rejected parent and children to participate in reunification therapy.

Intensive, court-directed, therapeutic intervention starts by removing the causes of the parental alienation and layering in therapists for the alienating parent, the children, and the rejected parent. This approach usually requires regular, follow-up, status hearings, and in severe cases, a court-appointed caseworker, an amicus attorney, or a guardian ad litem to monitor progress (or lack thereof) and report back to the court.

Therapeutic Intervention

Effective advocacy for the rejected parent requires that the advocating lawyer has experience in the nuanced and subtle ways that parental alienation is exhibited in the parent-child relationship. The lawyer must also appreciate that parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse toward the child, and it requires immediate, judicial and mental health intervention.

Goals of parental reunification include:

  • The ability for the child to relate freely with both parents;
  • Eliminated parent-child alliances;
  • Restored parent-child relationships;
  • Reduced use of avoidance as a way to resolve problems;
  • Improved coping skills;
  • Corrected cognitive understanding and an understanding of the “shades of gray” as opposed to “black and white” thinking;
  • The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives;
  • Improved moderating behaviors;
  • Enhanced parenting skills; and
  • Established co-parenting skills.

Individual Counseling

In Texas, a court may require an individual who engages in parental alienation to attend individualized counseling designed to increase awareness and reduce destructive behaviors.

If parental alienation is mild and a removal or change of custody is not appropriate, the court may compel a parent to attend mandatory individual therapy. The goal of these therapeutic sessions is for the alienating parent to identify and replace behaviors that contribute to the negative impact on the parent-child relationship.

Custodial Removal

A request for a change in custody of an alienated child is a dramatic option for the court, but it can be appropriate when the risk of suffering long-term damage is too great to act less aggressively.

According to the Texas Family Code, the public policy of the state is to “provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child.” In the face of abuse, a court may limit parent-child contact ass well as the parent’s right to make decisions on behalf of the children.

When is Custodial Removal Appropriate?

If prior therapeutic interventions have failed, temporary or permanent removal and transfer of the alienated child to the disfavored parent is often an effective option to reunify the child and rejected parent. Moving the child and introducing caregivers and mental health experts into the child’s life may allow the alienated child to reestablish a relationship with the rejected parent.

Alternatively, the court may also place the child with a neutral third party, such as a family member or a therapeutic boarding school. This placement is an interim step used in anticipation of the child transitioning to the primary care of the rejected parent.

Guardian Ad Litem

In Texas, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the best interest of the child. A guardian ad litem may be appropriate for a case involving parental alienation as the guardian (as specified in the Texas Family Code) may “perform any task directed by the court.” These tasks may include interfacing with court-ordered custody or forensic evaluators, acting as a spokesperson for the treatment team, aiding the child, or managing other narrow tasks.

Temporary Restraining Orders

Temporary Restraining Orders can be issued to prohibit the alienating parent from contacting or exercising possession of the child. The benefit of a Temporary Restraining Order is that it can be obtained rather quickly and provide a brief measure of safety to the alienated child and rejected parent while more information about the severity of the situation is obtained. The court may later implement additional orders and restrictions at a temporary orders hearing or final trial.

Violations of Court Orders

In Texas, a court may find someone in contempt if it discovers that a parent violated orders (e.g., orders to submit an evaluation, refrain from engaging in certain negative behaviors, or turn a child over to the other parent). The range of punishments available to the court include fines, orders for attorney fees, the posting of a bond to secure compliance with the order of the court.

Clear, specific, and enforceable custody orders that prevent parental alienation from continuing are required because the alienating parent is often manipulative, fails to follow court orders, or is simply unwilling or unable to refrain from their alienating behaviors. Vigilant and consistent enforcement of custody orders is a critical element of legal representation for a parent who is the victim of parental alienation.