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Parental alienation: A risk to your relationship with your kids

As you and your spouse head for divorce, you know that the only thing that matters to is to keep your relationship with your children as strong as possible. You understand that the marriage has to end, but you love those kids. You do not want to see them drift away, even as you share custody with your ex.

Unfortunately, it is not an amicable divorce. Your spouse is angry. You worry that he or she is going to try to get back at you by breaking up your relationship with the children. In particular, you worry about parental alienation.

What is it?

In general, psychologists note that parental alienation occurs when a parent tries to undermine the children's relationships with the other parent by actively turning the children against that parent. This often forces the children to "pick sides."

For instance, your spouse may lie about what you did to end the marriage, blame you for problems in the children's lives that are not your fault, insult you in front of the children and generally try to paint you in a negative light at every turn. Over time, the children begin to believe everything your ex tells them about you, and they take on this negative attitude. They see you not as a parent, but as the "bad guy," the reason for the problems in their lives. You become someone they would rather avoid.

Violating your rights

In some cases, parents take things a step further and actually violate the rights of the other parent. They try not to allow visitation or parenting time with shared custody.

For instance, your spouse may always show up a few hours late to drop the kids off or a few hours early to pick them up. Your spouse may "forget" that it is your weekend with the kids and take them on a trip.

He or she may do this just to make you look bad. For example, starting a fun activity right before you arrive for pick-up makes the children feel like you ruined their fun.

In other cases, your ex may do this to directly reduce the time you spend with the kids, chipping away at your relationship by skewing a balanced parenting plan in his or her favor.

Taking action

If parental alienation does violate your rights, make sure you know all of the legal options you have. Courts want parents to work together toward the best interests of the children. Court orders establishing schedules and parenting time must be followed. No matter how your spouse feels about you, he or she cannot legally block your parenting time and ruin those relationships. You do have options, and you do have rights.

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