Divorce can be a difficult time, and you may be feeling a lot of emotions. Disappointment, bitterness, and anger all are common. There are many people you can turn to for support. Friends, family members, and counselors all are good options. However, the options do not include your children. No matter how upset you may be, it usually is not wise to speak critically about your spouse to the kids. For one, it can impact your relationship with your children. It also might end up hurting you in court. So here are a few things to know about parental alienation in Texas.
What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to “turn” the children. The alienating parent says or does things that are intended to make the kids believe the other parent is selfish, bad, dangerous, or does not love them.
At the same time, the alienating parent also is trying to “win over” the kids. The parent may be looking ahead to the custody battle. He or she may be hoping that the children will “choose” him or her. In extreme cases, the alienating parent may be hoping the children decide they don’t want anything to do with the other parent.
Is Parental Alienation a Sickness?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines parental alienation as a child “being manipulated” by one parent to turn against the other. The APA does not formally recognize parental alienation syndrome. They note that there is a lack of scientific evidence. The American Psychiatric Association also does not recognize it. However, mental health professionals are well aware of the dangers of parental alienation in Texas. Some psychologists have called for it to receive greater attention.
Is Parental Alienation A Crime in Texas?
The Texas Penal Code does not have a specific law against parental alienation. So you can’t be arrested for it, and you can’t go to jail. But as we will see, there still can be significant consequences for doing it. However, do not think this means that Texas courts do not take parental alienation seriously—in fact, the exact opposite is true.
What are the Warning Signs of Parental Alienation in Texas?
As noted, there is no specific law against parental alienation. Even so, there may be warning signs of alienation, and many judges are able to spot them. These include:
- Openly criticizing your spouse to your children. For example, “Your dad has never been good for anything,” or “This is all your Mom’s fault.”
- Preventing the kids from communicating with the parent, or interfering with the communication. For example, listening in on their phone conversations or checking text messages.
- Preventing the kids from spending time with the parent, or interfering with the visit.
- Intentionally excluding your spouse from important events, such as sports or birthday parties.
- Withholding important information about the children from your spouse.
- Making important decisions about the well-being of the children without involving the other parent.
- Creating situations where your children have to “choose” between the two parents.
- Withholding affection from your children because they still care about the other parent.
This is not a complete list. In short, anything you do that may cause the children to dislike, fear, or hate the other parent may be considered parental alienation. And while your goal may be to get closer to your children, the result may be the opposite.
What if My Spouse is Committing Parental Alienation in Texas?
Because there is no specific law, this can be difficult to prove. Judges are cautious in dealing with suspected parental alienation in Texas.
Start by documenting situations where your spouse has done this. You can also speak with anyone who regularly interacts with the child. This would include relatives, adult teachers, or coaches. Ask if they have observed any incidents and if they would be willing to appear in court. Direct testimony can be very helpful. The court may rely on input from a third party, such as a counselor, mental health expert, or legal guardian.
If your spouse will go along with it, you may have your child speak with a therapist. And if you think the impact on the child’s life is serious enough, you may consider filing a motion to restrict his or her’s parenting time.
What If I am Accused of Parental Alienation in Texas?
Just as it can be hard to prove alienation, it also can be hard to disprove it. If your spouse has accused you of this, start by doing some self-reflection. Is it possible you really have been committing parental alienation? If so, you can consider openly acknowledging it. Then commit yourself to do better in the future. A counselor or mental health expert may be able to help you.
If you are not sure, start by asking for details. Have your spouse describe the specific situations where he or she thinks you committed parental alienation in Texas. Family members and friends may be able to affirm that you are a good parent.
Whatever the outcome, there is one positive thing you and your spouse can do. Make an agreement that you will not use the children as “weapons” in the divorce. Commit yourselves to speaking highly of each other. If nothing else, you should at least staying neutral.
Can My Child Testify in a Parental Alienation or Child Custody Case?
This depends on a number of circumstances. In Texas, a child must be at least 12 years old before he or she can state a preference as to who they will live with. (The court does not have to honor this request.)
The court is unlikely to put a child on the witness stand. However, the judge may request to meet with the child. A court reporter may be present to prepare an official transcript. If your child provides clear examples of how you have attempted parental alienation, it could impact your divorce.
False Allegations of Child Abuse Are A Felony
Some parents may be tempted to go beyond these tactics. In an effort to win over the children, they may accuse the other parent of child neglect or child abuse.
This also can be a form of parental alienation. But it is much more serious. The Texas Family Code states that knowingly making a false accusation of child abuse is a felony. If you are convicted, the punishment can be a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to two years in prison.
Of course, these charges won’t help your relationship with your children. Thus, the possible advantages of a false abuse allegation rarely are worth the enormous potential consequences.
What are the Legal Consequences?
A parent acts this way because he or she wants more control. But the consequences for parental alienation in Texas can be serious. For one, the court is likely to be distrustful of you. The judge may restrict your visitation rights, or give primary child custody to the other parent
The reality is that when you commit parental alienation, you are jeopardizing the very control you are trying to gain.
Making Your Child the Victim of Parental Alienation Also Can Affect You After the Divorce
Some parents may wait until after the divorce before they try to “turn” the children. For example, a parent may ignore court orders about child custody and visitation rights. This also has legal ramifications.
If your ex can prove that you are guilty of parental alienation in Texas, he or she may seek to get the custody or visitation arrangements modified. The Texas Family Code calls this a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship, or SAPR. The law states that judges must make custody decisions based on the best interest of the child. This includes modifying a court order when necessary.
Parental Alienation Can Permanently Damage Your Relationship With Your Children
Of course, it is possible to be an alienating parent without getting “caught.” But in the larger sense, that shouldn’t matter. The question is not whether making your child the victim of parental alienation in Texas will affect your custody case. The question is how it will impact your child.
When you attempt to “turn” children against the other parent, you are damaging your own relationship with them. One psychologist has called parental alienation “a significant form of harm to children.” He believes that courts should approach it the same as they do child abuse.
Regardless, your children eventually will figure out what you did. And they may forgive you for being an alienating parent. But they also may resent you for acting against their best interest. The frustrated children may end up concluding that neither parent can be counted on. Or they may end up just turning on you.
In sum, parental alienation is a terrible thing to do. Your primary concern should always be the same one the court has: Doing what is in the best interest of your children. Period.
An Experienced Attorney Who Can Help You With Your Divorce or Child Custody Case
Whether you have children or not, divorce can be stressful. And if you are concerned your spouse is committing parental alienation, the challenge can be even greater. The law firm of Sean Lynch and Associates has been providing expert legal help for more than 10 years. They are ready to serve clients in Fort Worth, Arlington, and Greater Tarrant County. To schedule a no-cost case consultation, contact our family law practice today, 817-668-5879.