Parental Alienation: The Laws Against Bad Mouthing the Other Parent
Some parents try to gain an edge in a custody dispute by trashing or bad mouthing the other parent. The goal may be to alienate the child from the other parent so that their relationship breaks down. Or it could be legitimate concerns that shouldn’t be shared with the child for their well being.
South Carolina has several laws on the books which prohibit parental alienation. Any parent who tries to impair their child’s relationship with the other parent might face consequences, up to and including a loss of custody. If you feel the other parent is alienating your child from you, contact Surasky Law today. Our Aiken, SC family law attorney can step in to protect your parental rights.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is the attempt by one parent to turn a child against the other parent. If successful, the child will avoid or fear the parent, and the normal parent-child relationship will wither. Some medical professionals consider parental alienation to be a type of child abuse.
Parental alienation often arises during and after divorce. One parent, either intentionally or subconsciously, disparages the other parent in front of the children. The stories could be entirely fabricated, and put the other parent in a bad light.
In other situations, parental alienation can consist of constant, brutal criticism. Because the other parent isn’t present to respond, many children begin to adopt the viewpoint that their parent is dangerous.
The Laws Against Bad Mouthing the Other Parent
South Carolina has tried to limit parental alienation, and various statutes could come into play. Let’s look at the most significant.
South Carolina Code § 63-15-240
This statute identifies the “best interests of a child” when it comes to custody and lists certain factors a judge must consider. Two of the most significant are:
Any parental coercion to involve children in disputes between the parents
Whether a parent has disparaged the other parent in front of the children
Either of these behaviors could constitute parental alienation. And if a parent engages in either one (or both), a judge is less likely to award that parent custody.
Judges also consider whether a parent has encouraged the children to have a continuing relationship with the other and whether the parent has complied with court orders, such as visitation schedules. If you have, then a judge will look favorably on you. If not, then your behavior could be signs of parental alienation.
This statute also allows judges to impose conditions to fight against alienation. For example, your ex mother in law might be the one badmouthing you to the children and trying to alienate them from you. A judge could prohibit her from being present when your ex has visitation with the children.
South Carolina Code § 63-15-364
This statute discusses how to enforce a custody order. If a parent refuses to follow the order, a judge has power to bring them into compliance.
Your ex might try to keep your children from you. If so, then you should raise the issue with the judge. The judge might modify custody to give you more time with the children, or the police might need to show up and get your children so you can see them.
In extreme situations, a judge can find the other parent in contempt of court and either fine them or jail them. Serious, willful violations of orders also support changing custody.
Is Your Ex Alienating Your Children from You?
What should you do if you suspect your ex is badmouthing you or interfering with custody? At Surasky Law, we recommend taking the following steps:
Document what your ex is saying about you. This can be complicated, because you might only be hearing things second-hand from your children. Still, summarize what your ex said and the date.
Identify any witnesses who heard your ex badmouth you. They might need to testify to the judge that your ex is attempting to alienate your children.
Speak with an attorney. You need to take appropriate action, and we can provide expert advice. You don’t want to make any rash decision, like trying to get custody modified if you don’t have enough evidence.
Document any canceled custody or visitation. Your ex might not meet you to drop off the children. You can show you were ready and willing to accept them by purchasing a coffee near the drop-off spot and keeping the receipt.
You might also keep a journal to document changes in your relationship with your children. Of course, what you experience is subjective. But an attorney might find this information helpful at pinpointing when the alienation started.
Should You Badmouth Your Ex in Return?
Absolutely not. Although it might be tempting to “fight fire with fire,” this is one of the worst things you could do. If you try to alienate your kids from your ex, you have a much weaker hand to play in court.
Instead of disparaging your ex in front of the kids, bite your tongue. You don’t have to praise your ex to the heavens. And you can listen sympathetically whenever your children complain about the other parent, which is perfectly normal for children. But never badmouth the other parent to your children.
And if you slip up and say something negative? Quickly follow up with some context. For example, apologize and say, “I didn’t really mean that. Your father is a good person even if our marriage didn’t work out” or “I know your Mom really loves you.” Actions are ultimately most important, so continue to encourage your children to spend time with the other parent.
How an Attorney Can Help
An experienced family law attorney can step in and stop attempted alienation in its tracks. It is best to respond appropriately and promptly. Often, our clients need a court’s help to stop alienation, and we can represent you before the judge. Contact Surasky Law as soon as possible.