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What Constitutes Parental Alienation in Illinois?

February 28, 2024
Parental alienation may occur when one parent purposely tries to turn a child away from the other parent, typically during a heated separation or divorce. The alienating parent may tell the child lies about the other parent, interfere with the other parent's time with the child, and manipulate the child into disliking the other parent. That said, what constitutes parental alienation in Northbrook, Illinois, is not always clear. A family law attorney can offer insight into whether alienation could apply in your situation.
A woman lies on a table and does not want to sign a divorce document. What constitutes parental alienation.

What Is Parental Alienation in Illinois?

The term, “parental alienation,” arose in 1985. It is a form of emotional child abuse that turns a child against one of their parents. Some experts say this type of alienation can lead to a disorder called Parental Alienation Syndrome. However, the American Psychological Association and Diagnostic Statistical Manual do not list this syndrome. Illinois does not recognize it, either, but does acknowledge parental alienation and the tremendous harm it can cause children, parents, and families.

Common Signs of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation could be at play if a child who previously had a normal, healthy relationship with a parent is now trying to alienate or reject the parent without apparent good reason.

Common indicators of this type of alienation include the child refusing to talk to the parent and saying to various people (and maybe even the parent) that the parent is worthless. In extreme cases, children might run and hide from their parent. Signs that one parent is alienating the child can include the following:

  • Making the child feel guilty or forced to choose between parents (“I won’t go to your basketball game if you invite your other parent.”)
  • Setting the other parent up for failure, such as refusing to give the parent details about medical care or activities
  • Making the other parent appear that he or she cannot be trusted, such as encouraging the child to spy on the parent
  • Undermining the parent-child relationship, perhaps by telling the child to call the other parent by his or her first name
  • Badmouthing the other parent or being excessively critical (“Your parent is dangerous!” or “Your parent is an awful person and does not deserve your love.”)

Parental substitution can occur, too. One parent may praise his or her new dating partner and say things such as, “I bet you’re glad Alex loves you, since your parent does not care about you anymore. Alex is your new parent.”

Impact of Parental Alienation on Children and Families

Parental alienation can be damaging. Children often experience confusion, guilt, and loyalty conflicts. They may deal with long-term emotional trauma due to being torn between their parents and feeling forced to choose sides. Their self-esteem may suffer, and they can struggle to form healthy relationships. Children can become fully estranged from one parent.

Families also suffer. The parent targeted for alienation often feels profound grief and powerlessness. Meanwhile, the alienating parent may face legal consequences for the behavior and cause long-term damage to the relationship with the child.

Factors Contributing to Parental Alienation in Illinois

Factors such as contentious splits or divorces in Northbrook, Illinois, can lead to parental alienation. Often, both parents would prefer to have sole custody of their children, but recognize that significant time with both parents is in the children’s best interests. Thus, they don’t fight for sole custody and agree to joint custody. They communicate cooperatively from the start.

However, there are situations in which one parent sees only himself or herself as capable of being the child’s caregiver. The other parent can do nothing right or is just not good enough, and the ends seemingly justify the means of parental alienation.

Factors contributing to alienation include battles over child custody and visitation rights. The same goes for one parent’s anger at the other over perceived or actual wrongdoings, such as wanting a divorce, dating someone new, or making choices with which the parent does not agree.

Extended family members and friends who take sides and reinforce negative perceptions of one parent can intensify alienation. So can a breakdown in communication between the parents, and the higher likelihood of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Parental personality traits or disorders may contribute, too.

High-Conflict Divorces and Custody Battles

High-conflict divorces and custody battles are full of tension and hostility between the parents. Divorce by itself is emotional. The possibility of seeing their children less can cause parents to deal with emotions they never had to before. One parent’s anger, resentment, or vindictiveness can spill over into their interactions with the child.

Some parents actively try to turn the child against the other parent since, in their view, it hurts that parent’s chances of succeeding in court. Alienating parents may lie that the other parent never showed up for visitation or did not attend a doctor’s appointment (while not mentioning that the wrong time was given).

Lack of Co-parenting Communication and Cooperation

Misunderstandings and feelings of frustration are inevitable when parents don’t or can’t communicate cooperatively or respect the other’s authority to make decisions.

For example, one parent may think the other parent’s 10 p.m. bedtime for the child is wrong, along with allowing chocolates and baths twice a week instead of every night. This parent may get frustrated when the other parent refuses to give in to the parent’s demands of an earlier bedtime, no chocolate, and baths every night. The frustrated parent may then turn to alienation.

In some cases, one parent may deny the other access to the child. The alienating parent may refuse to share information about the child’s activities or intentionally schedule events during the other parent’s visitation time. Example: “We weren’t home because the child had a soccer game. I told you. You just forgot, as always.”

Steps to Handle Parental Alienation in Northbrook, Illinois

Handling parental alienation involves recognizing the signs, getting legal representation, and, often, long-term approaches, such as therapy.

Recognizing and Addressing the Signs of Parental Alienation

Parents may realize the other parent is trying to hurt them when the child suddenly refuses to see them, seems scared of them, or says false things about them. The other parent interfering with visitation is also another sign. Even if one parent “lets” the other take the child, interference can happen through behaviors such as constant phone calls to check in on the child. In the end, the child does not get quality time with the visitation parent.

Unfortunately, methods such as the alienated parent trying to communicate openly with the child about what is happening may not succeed. The parent may encourage the children to talk about their feelings without judgment or pressure, but the alienation may have changed the children’s reality so much that they truly believe all the falsehoods about the alienated parent. Likewise, parent-to-parent communication is unlikely to do much.

Enforcing a parenting order may help in mild or somewhat moderate cases, and a lawyer can assist. Always document everything. Keep detailed records of interactions, violations of court orders, or incidents. If third parties can attest to the alienation, get their statements as well.

A parent can lose custody for parental alienation, especially in severe cases, but it may take time. Therapy, counseling, and parenting education might be necessary, too.

Seeking Legal Representation

Look for a divorce attorney or a child custody attorney who has experience in parental alienation cases. These situations are so nuanced and complex that legal experience is necessary. Ask attorneys about their experience and how they would handle your situation.

Give your attorney your documentation of the parental alienation, including specific incidents, dates, and any evidence such as text messages, emails, or witness statements. Your attorney will help you understand the various options, which may include a modification of custody and visitation orders or other types of court intervention.

Legal Options and Resources Available for Victims of Parental Alienation

Alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, may help victims avoid a legal battle. Otherwise, you might have to attend court hearings. An advocate may assess the child’s situation and provide independent recommendations to the judge. In extreme alienation situations, a court may reconsider custody arrangements and transfer custody to the alienated parent to protect the child’s best interests.

In general, your attorney may request a court order that enforces existing custody and visitation arrangements or modifies them with parental alienation issues in mind. The new orders must clearly define the roles and responsibilities of both parents.

Child therapists or counselors can meet with your child regularly to address the emotional and psychological distress resulting from parental alienation. When the alienation is severe enough, such as when a child hides from you rather than interacting with you, reunification therapy may occur. The aim is to reintroduce and rebuild the relationship between the alienated parent and the child.

Family law attorney David Silberman is the founding attorney of Silberman Law Group, Family Law and Divorce Attorneys in Northbrook, Illinois. Mr. Silberman has a long track record of success providing his clients with reliable legal advice, protecting their best interests, and helping them obtain successful, sustainable outcomes.

Years of Experience: More than 15 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association
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Family law attorney David Silberman is the founding attorney of Silberman Law Group, Family Law and Divorce Attorneys in Northbrook, Illinois. Mr. Silberman has a long track record of success providing his clients with reliable legal advice, protecting their best interests, and helping them obtain successful, sustainable outcomes.

Years of Experience: More than 15 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association