18 Feb How to handle parental alienation and high conflict during divorce
Divorce is tough no matter what your situation or circumstances, but it’s even harder when children are involved. Having to make important decisions about childcare and finances after divorce can lead to heightened emotions and a certain level of conflict.
Arguments may escalate and tension between ex partners can negatively impact on children. A high level of conflict can also increase your anxiety levels about representing yourself in court. It’s really important therefore for both parties to work together to try and resolve any conflict, before the court intervenes.
In addition, parents who have separated can find that their child doesn’t want to spend time with them. This can be for a variety of reasons, but will most likely cause the alienated parent and the child a lot of upset. Again, this is something parents should try to get to the bottom of and resolve before the case goes to court.
But what can you do when you’re in the thick of it and finding it difficult to see the wood for the trees? Here’s some advice on how to recognise and respond to parental alienation and high conflict during divorce where children are involved.
What is parental alienation?
CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) defines parental alienation as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. There are other reasons why a child might reject a parent, but parental alienation refers to a situation where one parent coerces the child into refusing to see the other parent. Usually it is the parent who doesn’t live in the family home who experiences the alienation. The residential parent might be telling the child lies about the other parent or belittling them, limiting contact or refusing to talk about them at all, in an attempt to strengthen their own position. This can lead to the child thinking that the isolated parent doesn’t love them or even that they’re dangerous.
CAFCASS will be involved in identifying cases of parental alienation and highlighting any child protection issues to the court. They will make a recommendation to the court which will inform the judge’s decision on child contact.
Warning signs of parental alienation include a child:
- being reluctant to spend time with one parent for no obvious reason.
- always choosing one parent over another, even when it isn’t warranted to do so.
- complaining about one parent a lot to people such as teachers or their friends’ parents, or mentioning certain negative incidents with the parent a lot.
- Speaking to the isolated parent in a disrespectful and disdainful way.
Overcoming parental alienation during divorce
It’s important to remember that, no matter what your feelings towards your ex partner are, it isn’t acceptable to manipulate a child to get back at your ex or bolster your own position. If you’re the parent being isolated, make sure you remind your partner of this.
Whether you’re the one being alienated or you’re finding yourself manipulating your child to get one over on your ex, there are some things you can do to try and resolve the situation:
- Comments you make about your ex partner can have an impact on how your child views and responds to them. Try to speak positively about your child’s other parent as much as possible and correct any negative comments which have slipped out as quickly as possible.
- Encourage your child to also speak positively about their other parent and challenge any negativity towards the parent which seems unjustified.
- Try not to compare the other parent negatively to yourself and make sure to acknowledge your differences in a positive way.
- Stick to the facts surrounding your separation as much as possible, and try not to get too emotional if your child tells you something the other parent has said which isn’t true. Just reinforce the facts in a calm manner.
Parental alienation can be very distressing for everyone involved, but it’s important for you and your ex partner to fulfill your parental obligations by remaining as neutral as possible and always putting your child and their feelings first. You need to focus on keeping your case moving forward despite the situation.
What is high conflict?
CAFCASS defines different levels of parental conflict which can detrimentally affect a child:
Low-level conflict: generally issue-focused. Parents may have their own preferences and differences but they focus on finding potential solutions for particular problems.
Medium-level conflict: greater levels of blaming involved. Often parents will relate to each other in a manner consistent with their own experiences in their family growing up which is not beneficial to either party.
High-level conflict: involves a high degree of emotion, blaming and criticism. Often parents will refuse to work together to resolve differences and find solutions to problems.
High conflict can significantly impact on children’s emotional wellbeing and mental health, and it’s something the courts will take into account when making decisions about child contact.
Dealing with high conflict during divorce
Your overriding strategy should be calming the conflict where possible for your child’s sake. You can do this by deflecting conflict however you can, such as not engaging with your ex partner if they’re in a particular mood and sticking to the facts of a situation rather than giving in to emotions.
Ask your ex partner to respect your boundaries and treat you with respect in general. Don’t give in to unreasonable demands, and equally don’t make unreasonable demands of your ex yourself. You need to remember what you want to teach your child about relationships and how people interact with each other. Focus on potential solutions rather than problems.
If your ex is sending you constant messages or phoning you repeatedly, try to resist the urge to respond immediately (unless it’s an emergency involving your child of course) and consider telling them that you’ll only respond at a set time or once in a particular time frame. This can help establish boundaries and prevent the conflict taking over your whole life.
In general, focus on the things you can control, such as your own reactions and responses to your ex partner, as well as not letting your ex partner control you. This is a key factor in coping well with divorce where there’s a level of parental alienation and high conflict affecting a child.
I’ve got some more tips on managing parental alienation and high conflict in my upcoming course running this Saturday 20 February 2021. I’ll cover:
- What parental alienation is and how it can affect children
- How to approach the subject
- Keeping your case moving forward despite the obstructions
- Maneuvering your way through the process
- Handling various scenarios
- Dealing with a high level of conflict
- Calming the conflict where possible
- Managing breaks in contact
- Presenting your situation to the court despite the turmoil happening around you
- Tips and tricks for dealing with different situations
If you can’t be there live, you’ll be able to access the recording afterwards – look out for it on Teachable.
I hope you found this blog post useful. Let me know if you have any questions about the course or about managing parental alienation and high conflict during divorce in general. You can comment here or drop me a message on Facebook. Feel free to share this blog post with anyone you know who might be going through a high conflict divorce right now.
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