What Are Typical Behaviors Or Attitudes Of An Alienated Child?

Although very experienced in all aspects of family law, Kelly Peterson also has specific expertise for and specializes in cases involving parental alienation, gatekeeping, and parent time interference.

Key Takeaways:

  • Alienated children disproportionately and unilaterally reject one parent, out of proportion the rejected parent’s action.
  • There are several behaviors that are typical of alienated children, including demonizing the rejected parent, resisting or refusing to spend time or communicate with the alienated parent, idealizing the favored parent, and attempting to get third parties to believe that the alienated party is wholly bad.
  • In extreme cases, alienated children may fabricate abuse or attempt self-harm to avoid interacting with the alienated parent.
  • The wishes of an alienated child should be weighted less heavily when it comes to custody and visitation matters, because their preferences have become “compromised.”

By definition, an alienated child is one who rejects a parent without a good reason. The child’s rejection of the parent is far out of proportion to anything the rejected parent has done.

The attitudes of an alienated child often include the following:

  • Freely and persistently expressing negative feelings about the rejected parent, such as anger, hatred, or fear, that are disproportionate to the circumstances and the actions of the rejected parent.
  • Demonizing or vilifying the rejected parent,
  • Presenting trivial reasons to justify their rejection or hatred of the rejected parent.
  • Strongly resisting parenting time or visitation with the rejected parent.
  • Refusing to see the rejected parent in any setting, even virtual parenting time, telephone calls or therapy.
  • Black and white thinking where the favored parent is entirely good and the rejected parent is entirely bad.
  • Making statements to others justifying their feelings about the rejected parent that sound very rehearsed.
  • Brittle, wooden responses to attempted engagement by the rejected parent, and the use adult words or phrases in their discussion of the rejected parent.
  • Idolizing and idealizing the favored parent by speaking so glowingly of them that it appears they have no flaws.
  • Taking the favored parent’s part in parental conflict. This could include such things as describing how the rejected parent has hurt the favored parent, or how the rejected parent caused the favored parent to suffer.
  • Maintaining constant contact with the favored parent. This is particularly troublesome in cases where the child has a cell phone or similar device and constant access to the internet.
  • Demands that the rejected parent stop harassing them, or that the rejected parent should not contact them.
  • Citing frivolous reasons for why parenting time with the rejected parent should not happen.
  • Sometimes threatening to run away, engage in cutting or other self-harm, even suicidal threats. It should be noted that in these cases, interestingly, the self-harming behavior or threats, ideation or attitudes only occur when the child is faced with parenting time or contact with the rejected parent.
  • Exaggerating or even making up false claims about the rejected parent. For example, alleging abuse falsely.
  • Characterizing normal parental discipline and structure by the rejected parent as being violent or abusive.
  • Emphasizing the need to participate in extracurricular activities over the need to spend time with the rejected parent.
  • Spending time in therapy, reiterating repeatedly a litany of the rejected parent’s alleged faults and acts of wrongdoing to persuade the therapist that the rejected parent is evil.
  • Doing that same thing with a guardian ad litem, school counselor, doctor, police officer, etc.
  • Discussing ad nauseam how they are old enough to choose or mature enough to choose whether to have contact or parenting time with the rejected parent.
  • Corrupting their younger siblings by attempting to convince their siblings to adopt their point of view.
  • Engaging in hidden communications with the rejected parent—i.e., self-erasing instant messages, secret email accounts or secret cell phones, etc.
  • Jealously guarding their electronic device as if they are lifelines and allowing the favored parent to have access to the login credentials and passwords of their devices but prohibiting the rejected parent from being able to login.
  • Defiance of household rules beyond the extent of normal developmentally expected defiance.

Oftentimes, alienated children will engage in these behaviors with no appearance of remorse. Unfortunately, it is also often the case that some part of the child realizes that what they’re doing is inappropriate. So, as with most people when they do something wrong, the child will attempt to justify their treatment of the rejected parent. This often means that they must come up with reasons to vilify the rejected parent in order to justify their behavior.

Can A Child’s Judgement and Preferences be Compromised by Parental Alienation? If so, How Seriously Should an Alienated Child’ Preference be Taken by a Court Therapist or a Court-Appointed Guardian ad Litem?

Any child, even a 17-year-old, are generally not trusted to be the decision-makers regarding their own best interests when it comes to custody, parenting time, or a variety of other things having to do with how much contact each parent has with them.

Even seemingly mature children and teenagers lack the experience and emotional or mental acuity to fully consider what is best for them in the long term. For this reason, courts generally take a child’s preference into account, but weight that preference together with a dozen or more other factors.

To use an extreme example, a child may love and desire to live with an untreated sex offender or drug user, but that does not make it in their best interest to do so. The older the child, the greater their preference is generally weighted by the court in their decision-making, even though other factors are considered. That said, if the child is alienated, that child’s judgment likely has been compromised. A great deal of research supports that assertion.

In determining whether alienation has compromised the child’s judgement to the point their preference should be given little weight, the court or therapist or guardian ad litem should diligently explore evidence regarding the following, among others:

  • The child’s maturity prior to alienation
  • The child’s intelligence
  • The child’s ability to communicate their relationship with the favored parent before the alienation
  • The degree or magnitude with which the child has rejected the rejected parent

Interviews with family members on both sides, as well as with doctors, therapists, friends, etc., may be needed.

If a judge, therapist, or guardian ad litem determines the child’s judgment has been compromised by alienation, as difficult as it must be, they must disregard or at least significantly discount the importance of the child’s preference and determine the child’s best interests based on other factors.

For more information to address Behaviors of an Alienated Child, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you seek by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

Specialist For Cases Involving Parental Alienation, Gatekeeping, and Parent Time Interference.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children