What Is Malicious Parent Syndrome?
When a couple breaks up, or a marriage ends in a toxic divorce the consequences may ripple to many other aspects of their lives. Some of the hardest-hit people are the couple’s children. A divorce can become especially contentious if one spouse or the other feels overly bitter or angry. Unfortunately, this feeling may not go away once the judge signs the divorce decree, and in some cases, it may cause the angry parent to turn the kids against the other. Learn more about what malicious parent syndrome is and how to help a child affected by it.
What Is Malicious Parent Syndrome?
Malicious parent syndrome is not recognized as a mental health disorder, as the name might imply. The term describes an escalating pattern of behavior by one parent to purposely hurt the other using the couple’s children. The perpetrator is typically the custodial parent or the one who spends more time with the children. In some cases, the perpetrator will harm the children and try to blame it on the other parent. A malicious parent often exhibits these four elements:
- Tells lies to the children about the other parent
- Tries to stop the relationship between the children and the other parent, denying visitation and involvement in activities at school and otherwise
- Has no history of a mental illness
- Seeks to distance the children from the other parent either through the court or by helping the children disengage
Identifying Children Affected by Malicious Parents
The process the perpetrator uses to poison the relationship between the kids and the other parent may be slow, but it is deliberate. Sometimes, it is hard for the victimized parent to accept that the other parent would hurt their children in this way. However, the malicious parent does not see this as harming the children. Instead, they believe they are saving them from the other parent. There are some clues that the children may start to exhibit that indicate malicious parenting syndrome is at work.
Losing Interest in Visitation
It may start with a child’s call asking to skip a planned visitation weekend to attend a friend’s birthday party. At first, the victimized parent may believe these reasons why a child may want to modify the visitation schedule. However, as time goes on, the excuses become more frequent and may evolve into wanting to reside with the other parent permanently. This pattern is especially problematic if the child enjoyed the relationship with the victimized parent but suddenly backs away. Other signs the child may be exhibiting include:
- Withdrawing from physical or verbal affection
- Rude behavior or tone
- Refusal to talk with the victimized parent when at the malicious parent’s home
- Becomes quiet when with the victimized parent
- Increasingly argumentative with the victimized parent
Taking the Malicious Parent’s Side
If there is ever an occasion where the victimized parent brings up the other, and the children get uncharacteristically defensive, it may be a red flag. Malicious parents manipulate children by lying about things the other parent is or is not doing. This helps the malicious parent align the children with him or her and paints a poor picture of the other parent. This type of manipulation may lead the children to believe the victimized parent does not care enough about their wants and needs.
Lying to the Victimized Parent
While the malicious parent may not instruct the children to lie to the other parent, over time, the kids will start to do it. Even in the face of evidence, the children may still believe the things the malicious parent tells. Children who are lied to repeatedly, even when confronted, may continue to believe the malicious parent is the honest one. This will only add to their growing evidence that the victimized parent does not want them or care about them.
Options a Victimized Parent Can Take
If you find yourself dealing with a malicious parent, there is legal action you can take to save your relationship with your children. It may be the only chance your children have of receiving psychological help with recovering from the malicious acts.
Return to Family Court
When you have a parenting plan that the other parent has violated, you can return to family court for a resolution. You can take the following actions concerning your post-decree documents:
- Ask for a change in custody
- Request that a counselor evaluate the malicious parent and your children
- Petition for a change in child support
- Modify visitation agreements
- Ask that the malicious parent have supervised visits
If you do not have a formal visitation agreement, you can petition the court to start the process. You might need a paternity test unless you were married to the other parent.
Family court judges do not like to see evidence that a parent is not acting in the best interests of the children. When the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the children falters, the judge will want to know why. Each parent has a duty to encourage and foster a meaningful relationship between the children and the other parent. When a family returns to court because of malicious parent syndrome, judges take the matter seriously.
Overcoming Malicious Parent Syndrome
Malicious parent syndrome can inflict serious damage throughout the family. Not only are you, the victimized parent, affected, but so are your children. They have been groomed to believe that you are the enemy. An attorney who understands your plight may increase your success in family court. If a judge approves a custody change or grants you increased visitation, your children may not cooperate at first. Malicious parent syndrome can have far-reaching psychological consequences for children. You may want to consider getting counseling for yourself and your children. Trying to make sense of the other parent’s ill-intent will take time and professional guidance.
Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer
A change in child custody due to malicious parent syndrome requires diligence and a knowledge of how the family court system works. When your relationship with your children suffers because of the other parent’s bitterness, consult an attorney who can act to get you and your children the help you need. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an attorney in your area!