Divorce is always a challenge, but when kids are involved, everything is exponentially more difficult. Kids raise the stakes, and while they often bring out the best of us, in a divorce, the opposite can certainly be true. When parents have to fight over their children, it is all too easy for things to turn extremely ugly.
Even after a court rules on custody and the terms of the divorce, many exes continue to battle each other over every aspect of parenting the kids. Bitterness can lead one party to disparage the other, and in the worst circumstances, one parent might outright lie to the kids about the other. This can be a devastating situation to face, but as unfair as it feels, you are not powerless. There are steps you can take to protect your relationship with your children, and it is vital that you understand them.
Your first step in resolving a problem like this is to pay close attention to what your kids say about you or repeat from your ex. In fact, it’s a good idea to document these interactions. A well-kept notebook can go a long way.
Sometimes, people say things out of frustration. We’re all human, and it’s easy to forgive a passing moment of weakness. Other times, an ex will nefariously malign their co-parent in a situation where the ex is actively hurting the other parent’s relationship with their kids. Documenting what is said is a good way to distinguish between the two scenarios. If it’s a passing comment of frustration, you can probably work it out. If it’s systematic alienation, you might need to take more drastic steps.
In either situation, it is usually best to avoid escalating tension and disagreements when reasonably possible. Every action you take to stop the lying will risk blowback. It might be necessary to take that risk, but it is important you understand from the start that this is rarely an easily resolved situation.
The Soft Approach
Depending on the severity of the situation, you can start by gently correcting misinformation. This requires patience and diligence, but you can correct your kids when they misunderstand something about you or your relationship with them or your ex. You can point out that even adults say things they don’t mean in a bad moment. You can try to have an amicable conversation with your ex about disparaging comments.
Most importantly, you can demonstrate through your actions that the lies are in fact lies.
Dealing With Allegations
As tensions escalate, it’s frustratingly common for a spurned ex to make false allegations. If those allegations involve the kids, things can devolve quickly.
If you have been accused or fear being accused of inappropriate behavior (anything from missing pick-up or drop-off times to bad parenting or worse), you want to lean into your documentation. Record your interactions with the kids and what you do together. Involve witnesses to head off false allegations.
The idea is to establish credible resources to demonstrate that you are not creating problems and that the allegations are false. You shouldn’t jump straight to blaming the other person for falsely accusing you (as that will usually escalate the situation). Instead, you want to meticulously document or record your innocence.
Involve the Law
When a soft approach cannot rectify the situation, it becomes important to understand your legal rights. When a co-parent systematically maligns the other parent, it can be construed as parental alienation. This is a violation of your rights as a parent, and you can make a legal case to try and remedy the problem.
Before you go to the courts, understand that pursuing parental alienation is a serious case. You might even think of it as a nuclear option. But, if it seems necessary to protect your relationship with your children, you can bring your case to your attorney. The notebook or other documentation you keep is excellent evidence and can be used to demonstrate consistent behavior. It may even form the backbone of your case.
Assuming you win the legal battle, alienation comes with a range of consequences. In some cases, there may be legal admonition (basically a warning to stop the bad behavior). It could go so far as to justify the courts adjusting the custody agreement.
If you want a deeper understanding of your rights and what it would take to pursue legal recourse in a case like this, contact Setzer Law Firm. We can arrange a consultation that maps the legal process. From there, you can make an informed decision about the best way forward and ensure that you are doing everything you can to protect your kids and your relationship with them.