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How to Determine if Your Ex-Spouse is Attempting to Turn Your Child Against You

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So, How Can You Circumvent It?

Divorce is scary enough for children.  Throw in Parental Alienation and children become victims of a situation that they did not ask for to begin with.  There is an ever-growing body of information that has emerged over the past few years about Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) which continues to stir controversy amongst the mental health and legal communities.  No matter how you slice it and dice it, Parental Alienation Syndrome is real.  If one has a shred of doubt about its occurrence and impact it has on children, speak with those who have been caught in the crossfire of their parent’s war and used to hurt one of their parents.  PAS is very real and there is an incredible amount of documentation to support the existence.

What are some of the signs that your ex-spouse may be attempting to turn your child against you?

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome was first defined by Dr. Richard Gardner in his 1985 article, Recent Trends in Divorce and Custody Litigation. Dr. Gardner had a long-time history in working with child custody cases.  While very basic in his early assessment, he observed children denigrating one parent while aligning themselves with another one.  His study led him to further observe eight characteristic or symptoms that appear in a consistent manner.  Since his study, clinicians have used these characteristics as benchmarks for alienation.  Your child may exhibit one or all of these eight characteristics.

I have coined terms arrow and target for the parents involved in PAS.  The arrow is the one who creates the alienation and the target is the recipient of the alienation.

  1. The child no longer wants to be with or around the target and for no apparent or realistic reasons.
  2. The child makes frivolous and/or absurd remarks and claims about the Target.
  3. The child feels no remorse in their feelings against the Target.
  4. The child insists that their rejection of the Target is of their own volition and no one has encouraged them to feel the way they do.
  5. The child is completely aligned with the Arrow and that Arrow has the complete support of the child’s decision.
  6. The child feels justified to be disrespectful to Target.
  7. The child speaks in ways completely inappropriate for their age.
  8. The alienation extends beyond the Target to include once loved extended family members of the Target.

I have added a ninth characteristic and that is that the child makes severe accusations of physical, emotional or sexual abuse against the Target.

Arrows don’t need to possess a plethora of savvy tactics in order to set the stage for PAS to occur.

All they need is access to the child and a willingness of the child to participate. Please keep in mind that the child is a victim in the scenario and is only doing what they believe they should do. Arrows are very talented in using an arsenal of weaponry in order to keep their little pawns as active participants. These can range from toys, vacations, money or privileges not customary of that given by the Target. Once the Arrow has the child brainwashed to believe that one parent is good – the Arrow and the other is bad – The Target, the alienation has taken its grip. Depending on how long the alienation has been in place and the nature of the relationship between the child and the Target has much to do with the ability to circumvent the process.

If you suspect your ex-spouse is alienating your child from you and you still have a realization with your child, there are some things you can do to buffer the alienation.

  1. Do not speak badly of the Arrow to your child.
  2. Stay true to who you are and do not use enticements to lure your child away from the Arrow.
  3. Let your child know that you love them unconditionally.
  4. Remember that your child is a victim of the Arrow’s actions and should never be blamed for PAS.
  5. Reminisce with your child about the good experiences the two of you have shared.
  6. Be vigilant with your time with your child and avoid being late for visits and don’t cancel any time with them unless under extreme necessary circumstances.
  7. Keep your attorney informed of all alienation actions that you are experiencing for guidance on how to legally intervene.

Throughout this journey, remember that your child needs and is entitled to have a relationship with you. Your former spouse is not the gatekeeper or decider whether or not you and your child should be together. The emotional issues necessary for alienation to take place lie within the individual who uses their innocent child as a tool to hurt their ex-spouse. As horrible as PAS is and how disruptive and damaging it is to a family and children, it is not the child’s fault – ever. The tentacles of PAS extend way beyond the childhood years so guidance from your attorney, the legal system and a qualified family therapist with a specialty in alienation are necessary for the successful intervention of alienation.

Parental Alienation Is Complex

There is a lot to understand and consider if you’re dealing with parental alienation. We provide private consultations for parents and attorneys about parental alienation cases.  In addition, I speak more at length about Parental Alienation in The Divorce Recovery Ladder Guide.

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Parental Alienation Guidebook: Coming Soon

Available soon will be my book The Parental Alienation Guidebook.  Follow the link to get more information and updates on the release date.  This book was written based on my personal experience navigating and successfully overcoming Parental Alienation.

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Susan Shofer

As a divorce and custody ally, she helps women and men navigate the troubled waters of a family breakup by sharing her own organized and pragmatic approach to the divorce process.

Susan successfully crossed her own highly contentious divorce and post-divorce battle and was triumphant in her fight against Parental Alienation.
Susan Shofer
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10 Comments

  1. Wondering if I can get any kind of help. My ex-husband left me, 6 years ago (redacted for privacy)…
    Thanks for listening, Jennifer

    1. Thanks for your question, Jennifer. We have reached out to you personally.

    2. My sons live with me and visit my ex wife every other weekend. I know she takes them to do alot of things that I can’t because I pay for all the care as I didn’t ask for child support. Do you have any suggestions to help the alienation that is going on.

  2. Wish I had heard about you years ago. For me nothing can be done about my relationship with my two daughters. I haven’t been able to speak or see them for years now. As they just stopped any communication with me for no reason what so ever. My hope is at least someone out there will find you and you will prevent what happened to me from happening to them. It is horrible not being able to see or be a part of your children’s life’s. I’m was a very good father to my girls at one time. I love them very much and miss them every day.

  3. […] Susan Shofer is passionate about helping those dealing with parental alienation, an issue many divorcees experience. She has set up a free webinar for those looking for guidance […]

  4. My wife is going through a high conflict modification and her kids have been turned. I don’t even recognize them on the phone, they are cold, secretive, and mean to her. My step daughter fits every description above, she is making up lies about her mother, being disrespectful(and seems to feel justified in her disrespect), speaking and saying things way above her understanding, saying she has “been realizing more lately” and “has been asking questions and getting answers from her dad”.

    Dad is a text book narcissist, and has been calling CPS with bogus claims to try to make my wife look bad. We need help, these children are being mentally abused and it doesn’t seem like we can stop it.

  5. My husband and his ex wife do not get along, she is very manipulative and immature. However, they had a daughter. My husband and his daughter were inseparable, he raised her and took parental leave. She lived with him for years while her mother was nowhere around. She took off because she started dating her student (they are married now) and left her daughter behind. Anyways, her mother came back around, they share custody now. We had to move a little further away due to a new job, so now his child visits every other weekend. Up until about a month and a half ago. She just stopped visiting, my husband would get excuses as to why his daughter doesn’t want to come and it all ended last night when he received a text from his ex wife saying “your daughter doesn’t want to visit, she will call you when she does” Which is TOTALLY out of the norm for her. She LOVES being her and her and her father have such a strong bond. The child is completely ignoring us and we have no idea why. What can be done? We need help

    1. It’s remarkable that unwittingly I ran from my NPD/Malignant type who was so jealous, threatened & incapable at a very young age I knew she was not like other mothers in the neighborhood. Meet & married my ex husband w whom I repeated the cycle for 25 years. It was only when my mother truly killed my beloved father that I knew it was do or die for me. After finally disentangling from thst marriage I came to see that my brother & one of my daughters are afflicted to boot. After becoming a psychologist I had knowledge but no power bc I had been in training from birth for the next narcissist to abuse me. At long last Ive found that when I’m rested with an established time limit around either one & that’s worked for years. No picking up every tab, mess & endless therapy or adoration. I’m done with them & the only one that’s even fully aware of that fact is me. They’ve long since found another object & devalued me enough that they’ve squared their loss. Me? I cannot allow myself to forget or be lulled into submission : bookended from birth to death with the Sz folks is enough – I’ll not let them kill me. Dramatic ? I think not.

  6. I googled “ex turning my daughter against me” and found your website. It all added up in a split second after reading and checking off every item on list. I have sacrificed everything, as every good parent does, to care for my daughter. It just sickens me. All the times I called on my off weekend, only to be told she doesn’t want to talk to me. I always made sure my daughter was primed to talk to her mum on my weekends, trying to make my girl feel whole, even though she was a child of separation. This and so many other things that have not made sense. But now they do. And now to pick up the pieces. Glad I found your website though. It has been a slow boil to being ‘mindf***’. At least I now get what’s happened. Thank you.

  7. I’ve just discovered that my ex cultivated parental alienation since our divorce in 1995. He is still manipulating our first-born daughter, and she will be 33. She fully estranged from me almost 2 years ago. His actions were exposed during lengthy and multiple conversations with our younger daughter, who is also estranged from her sister, and rarely interacts with her dad because of the script that he adheres to regarding me. I admit to being blind-sided, and never considered that he was the source of the alienation. Now, however, it makes perfect sense. My ex has always favored the eldest and never made that favoritism a secret. She was under his spell since age 7 and by age 9 had begun to exhibit symptoms of alienation. She parrots his script almost word for word, both in regard to me and to her sister. My youngest has lost a loving relationship with her sister, and I’ve lost my first daughter’s love. We’ve also been torn from my eldest daughter’s two children. No grandma, no aunt for them. It is as if we were both dead and buried. For the past two years and even earlier, I’d been blaming myself and wondering what horrific behavior of mine resulted in such a painful and agonizing fracture of our mother-daughter bond. Thank God that my youngest was willing to share her life-long observations. The more she shared, the more quickly all of the pieces of the puzzle came together. I’d been focused on the estrangement, when in fact it was parental alienation all along. The puzzle, completed, revealed the face of her father. So very sad. A tragic end for such a fragile family of four. <\3

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