In a "'best case" divorce scenario, both parents are friendly and amicable with one another, sharing parenting responsibilities and acting in their child's best interest. Unfortunately, many divorces are not amicable, and parental alienation can result.
What is alienation?
Parental alienation is a blanket term that describes one parent's words or actions to actively destroy the child's relationship with the other parent. Although no parent wants to harm their children, alienation can cause long-lasting emotional damage for children caught up in it.
What do Washington courts say about alienation?
The relevant law is RCW 26.09.002, which says that Washington courts need to use the child's best interests as the determining factor when allocating parental responsibilities in a custody proceeding. Recognizing that the parent-child relationship is a critical part of a child's well-being, the law says those relationships should be encouraged and fostered unless doing so is inconsistent with the child's best interest.
The law specifically addresses a child's emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care, saying that parenting time and custody determinations should only change the parent-child relationship to the extent necessary because of the parents' separation or divorce, and in a way that would protect the child from harm (physical, mental or emotional.)
What does this mean for divorcing parents?
Washington courts have been clear that parents who badmouth each other or otherwise interfere with the other parent's right to see or talk to their child are undermining the parent-child relationship. Because studies have shown a higher incidence of emotional and social problems in children from one-parent families, courts are adamant about preventing parental alienation if possible.
Both parents should make concerted efforts to spend quality time with their children. It is natural for there to be bad feelings between spouses who are divorcing, but it is important for parents not to speak negatively about their child's other parent.
If your child's other parent is badmouthing you or is otherwise alienating your child, try not to react with anger, as that will only fuel the fire. Be persistent and rational in your words and actions, demonstrating your commitment to acting in your child's best interests.
In any divorce situation, it is important to work with a knowledgeable, experienced family law attorney; doing so is particularly important in a situation where one parent has concerns about parental alienation. A lawyer can help advocate for your rights so you can continue to have a healthy, happy relationship with your child throughout and after the divorce.