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Parental Alienation: Using Your Kids as Pawns in Your Battle Against the Other Parent

The use of children as pawns in an ugly war between parents is a common issue that family law attorneys deal with. Either their own clients engage in it or the other parent is playing emotional games with children to seek revenge for a divorce or ending a relationship. It’s a no-win situation for the parents and the children.  Heartbreaking though it may be, you could find yourself in this situation.  Even if you think your spouse is the last person who would do something like this, people can be unpredictable when tensions are high and everyone is hurting.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is using kids as pawns, seek legal help right away.  The longer the games continue, the harder they can be to sort out and the more difficult it can be to find a solution.  For an initial consultation, contact a skilled and experienced family law attorney at CLLB Law in New Albany at 812-725-8224. Our compassionate lawyers are experienced in helping families and children overcome divorce and live peaceful and productive lives.

How Courts Can Detect Whether a Parent Is Using Kids as Pawns

Parental alienation can happen to any couple, no matter where they live, how wealthy or poor they may be.  Judges look at several factors when determining what type of child custody a parent should have after a divorce. An important factor is whether the parent is ready and willing to foster healthy relationships between the children and the other parent. If trying to emotionally blackmail a child into hating the other parent is part of your strategy to get sole custody, it will probably backfire. The judge may instead award custody to the other parent because of the harm being done to the child.

Here are just a few examples of things a parent might do when they try to use kids as pawns:

  • Agreed-upon visitation rights are not being honored or are being sabotaged by one or both parents.
  • Holidays are times of chaos for children due to a tug-of-war and manipulation by one or more parents.
  • Children feel stressed because one or both parents speak harshly and negatively about the other parent and try to convince kids to resent or hate the other parent.
  • A parent withholds the other parent’s phone calls, gifts, texts or other communication from children.
  • A parent blocks children from seeing their grandparents (the parents of the former spouse).

All of these actions can have devastating effects on children, causing them anxiety, nightmares and difficulties at school.  They often feel trapped and caught in the middle by being forced to choose sides.  This can have long-lasting and damaging consequences for children.  If you and your children are experiencing difficulties like these, a family law attorney can help.  CLLB Law attorneys are compassionate listeners and can explain your legal options.  Call us at 812-725-8224 .

Example of a Couple Using Children as Pawns

A famous case of parental disputes involves movie actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The two are going through a divorce that Jolie filed for in 2016. The couple has six children. Jolie claimed she wanted an end to the relationship to protect the family’s health. Pitt was cleared of child abuse charges by the FBI and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services two years ago.

We don’t know whether Jolie’s claims of abuse have any merit; but, in general, if a parent fabricates these types of accusations, it is a classic case of parental alienation.

In Jolie’s case, the judge stated that if she doesn’t start encouraging her children to forge relationships with Pitt, she could lose custody of them, according to USA Today. The judge found the lack of relationships is harming the children (aged nine to sixteen) and that it’s critical they have healthy, strong relationships with both parents.

Jolie was ordered to,

  • Arrange a phone call with the kids and their doctors to explain to them the court decided each of them are safe with their father.
  • Make their younger children available to Pitt during set dates and hours. It was left up to the oldest child, 16, to decide how much time he wanted to spend with his father.
  • Give Pitt the numbers of the children’s cellphones, allow him to call when he wanted and not monitor texts between Pitt and his children.

The judge warned Jolie, “If the minor children remain closed down to their father and depending on the circumstances surrounding this condition, it may result in a reduction of the time they spend with (Jolie) and may result in the Court ordering primary physical custody to (Pitt)…”

Although the divorce had been heated and very public, last year the two released a joint statement claiming they agreed to handle the divorce in a private forum and would work together to reunify their family.

Steps to Take if Your Former Spouse is Using Your Kids as Pawns

  1. First, it is important to keep notes and a record of the times your former spouse uses the kids as pawns. Each time the other parent fails to honor visitation rights, withholds communication to children or otherwise prevents a healthy and flourishing relationship between you and your kids to develop, write it down.  Include times and dates.  Also, write down any changes in children’s behavior toward you as well as any statements they repeat about you that are derogatory.   These notes can be used later by your attorney when establishing a pattern of behavior.
  2. Remain calm. Though such behavior by the other parent can be frustrating, it does not help to lose your temper or fight verbally with the other parent.  This only upsets the children further.
  3. Don’t hesitate to get outside help, such as a family counselor, to assist you in dealing with a belligerent parent. A counselor can offer you coping tips.
  4. Stay in close touch with your attorney so that you always know your rights and can be advised of your legal options in combating manipulative behavior by the other parent.

It’s true that having to take these steps adds another layer of burden on an already overwhelming situation.  However, doing so could help you and the children in the long run.

Things to Know if You Are Using Kids as Pawns

Doing this is never a good idea.  Courts frown on such behavior and can be swift to take corrective action to protect the children, which often means a manipulative parent loses their privileges.  Divorce is already hard enough for kids without having to endure mind games by the adults they love.  Damage done to children in the weeks, months and years following a divorce can haunt them for the rest of their lives, interfering with their future relationships, job performance, and interactions with their own children. 

If you are trying to punish your former spouse by withholding access to children – don’t.  Such behavior is counterproductive and will not achieve the results you are looking for.  Instead, you will only put your custody in jeopardy and could lose custody altogether.  Not to mention, your children may resent you later in life because of your behavior.

When Emotions Run High, Avoid Using Your Children as Pawns

You may have been treated very poorly by the other parent during your relationship or marriage, but that should not impact your children’s relationship with him or her. Unless you have genuine, legitimate fears of child abuse by the other parent, trying to keep them apart is not a good idea. This can be a very sensitive and raw topic that needs to be discussed with your attorney.

When speaking to children, try to comment on the other parent’s positive characteristics and reassure them that they are loved by both parents.  If you cannot think of anything positive to say about the other parent, then say nothing at all about them.  Always keep the focus on the children’s wellbeing rather than on the other parent’s antics.  If the other parent’s behavior becomes intolerable, contact your attorney promptly so that legal options can be explored.  The goal is to raise healthy, well-adjusted children who can ultimately live independent and successful lives.

If you’re considering getting a divorce or initiating child custody proceedings and have questions about it, call us at 812-725-8224 or contact Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law online today so we can discuss your situation confidentially during a consultation. Our family law attorneys are compassionate, proactive and highly experienced. We are here to support you on your journey toward a fresh start for you and your children.

Attorney Steve Langdon

Attorney Steve LangdonLicensed to practice in both Indiana and Kentucky, Steve Langdon is an experienced elder law and trial attorney. In addition to his litigation and trial work, Steve’s practice includes wills, trusts, probate, Medicaid planning, guardianship, powers of attorney, and advanced directive planning, including living wills and health care surrogate designations. [ Attorney Bio ]

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