Nothing could be worse than a very public divorce – except for a very public custody battle. Every detail of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s courtship, marriage, childrearing and divorce have been chronicled in the newspapers, so sadly it is no surprise that their child custody dispute is now making headlines.
While the court documents are rightly closed to the public, the latest custody ruling appears to provide Pitt with increased time with his children and limits the amount of involvement Jolie can have with his interactions. According to published reports, “a judge in the couple’s ongoing divorce case said the six children not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them… it is critical that each of them have a healthy and strong relationship with their father and mother.”
The issue appears to be parental alienation, a common side-effect of an adversarial divorce. As I stated in a previous post, parental alienation may not always be intentional, but it always causes harm.
During a divorce, it is normal and expected that children will be frightened, apprehensive or even guilty about the impending divorce. Some degree of parental estrangement is expected, as children – like everyone else – are likely to ‘take sides’ with one parent over the other. Neither is good. But there is a significant difference between parental estrangement and parental alienation, according to child psychologists.
“Parental alienation involves the “programming” of a child by one parent to denigrate the other, “targeted” parent, in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent, and is often a sign of a parent’s inability to separate from the couple conflict and focus on the needs of the child.”
– Psychology Today
The difference is clearly intent: parental alienation is deliberate negative interference with your child’s relationship with their other parent, while parental estrangement is often a consequence of the divorce proceedings and can be remedied with a child custody plan that is in the child’s best interest – not the parent’s. Multiple studies have shown that intentional parental alienation has long-lasting consequences, and can be considered a form of emotional child abuse and a reason to lose custody of a child.
In our next post, we will discuss how to avoid parental alienation during a divorce.
Contact us if you’d like to discuss the decisions you need to make around your divorce.