Parental alienation and vicious custody battles have always been an issue in family law proceedings, but they have reached new heights in the divisive political climate we live in. Parents may have strong opposing views on issues such as Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and gun control – and they can use these disagreements as a weapon to question or completely discredit the parenting ability of their ex.
“I’ve seen an uptick in family law cases involving politics in the last few years, where the parents’ political views – and the corresponding arguing and disparagement – affect custody and the child’s wellbeing,” explains Patrick Baghdaserians, a Certified Family Law Specialist in Pasadena, California. “When parents impose their opposing political beliefs on their kids, it can cause confusion that leads to emotional and psychological damage.”
Patrick notes that co-parents on opposite ends of the political spectrum can start to bad-mouth each other in front of their children, which is one of the quickest ways to emotionally harm a child. “Kids need their family to be unified. When parents are unable to reach a solution on their own, it’s the family law system’s role to try and protect the children,” he adds.
7 Ways to Help Your Children When Political Differences Lead to Divorce & Custody Disputes
1. What can a parent do if their ex’s political views are affecting their child negatively?
Patrick Baghdaserians: First, broach the subject with the parent and talk to them about the matter. A line of communication before seeking any sort of judicial or third-party intervention is probably best. Parents should try to work things out informally between them. It helps build trust and it helps develop their co-parenting skills. Second, if there is animosity between the parents or difficulty communicating (obviously if they were great at communicating, they probably wouldn’t be getting a divorce or be divorced or separated) so if the communication is difficult and one parent feels overwhelmed by the other or is not being heard it’s always good to get a conjoined therapist involved to help broach the communication and effectiveness between the parties. It should be someone that the parties pick together and there are both mediators and family law lawyers who could help with this or most common are mental health professionals and co-parenting therapists.
2. How can a parent help children navigate distressing news cycles?
Patrick: This is really dependent upon the child’s age; your response is going to be different if the child is a five-year-old, ten-year-old, 15-year-old, or a 17-year-old. A dependent child can be anywhere from ages zero to 18, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It really depends on the age of the child; what you say will depend on whether you’re dealing with a preteen, a teen, or somebody who is essentially an adult if they’re 17 years old. The child’s age, maturity level, and emotional state are important factors determining the type of response you should provide. If your child is a mature teenager without past psychological and emotional issues, then you can have a frank conversation with them. If your child has current or past issues related to mental health and emotional well-being, then involving the other parent and a third-party therapist might be beneficial.
3. What about guns and gun safety? What should a divorced parent do if they believe their co-parent is not handling or storing their guns safely?
Patrick: Gun safety is not only a family law issue it’s a legal issue. It’s beyond the scope of the family law court. There are specific laws about how you store guns and ammunition. This goes beyond the realm of family law and should be taken very seriously, and if there is any indication that a parent is not storing guns safely and appropriately, then the other parent can seek judicial intervention.
If there is some evidence or reason to believe that a gun is being left outside the safe with ammunition readily available, first broach the subject with your co-parent. If the gun-owning parent doesn’t respond to you or take the appropriate legal steps to secure the guns & ammunition, then the next step should be judicial intervention. Go to family court for ex-parte orders that your ex must comply with all local rules and regulations regarding the gun(s) – and if they don’t, then their time with the children could be drastically curtailed. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the possibility of getting a restraining order. At the end of the day, this restraining order is meant to protect the child. If there is constant unsupervised access to guns and live ammunition, then that puts the child in danger, so a restraining order or loss of custodial rights (physical time share and decision-making powers) would be appropriate.
4. What should a parent do if they think their ex-spouse is trying to indoctrinate their child into their political, religious, gender-related, racial, or other ways of thinking while disparaging the other parent’s beliefs?
Patrick: This is a very serious issue that comes up quite often. I think the first source should be the other parent and if that doesn’t work then getting a third-party mental health professional involved, and if that doesn’t work the last resort should be getting the court involved and judicial intervention. If the parent is still engaging in behavior designed to indoctrinate the child into a particular set of political, religious, gender-related, racial, and other views while disparaging the other parent’s beliefs, then the court can take appropriate steps to modify custody appropriately.
5. Could this be a form of Parental Alienation? What are the signs a parent should watch for?
Patrick: This could absolutely be a form of Parental Alienation. As a parent, the signs to watch out for are things like your child starting to make demeaning, emotionally-charged remarks about your political, religious, or other convictions. They could start disparaging your beliefs: telling you that you’re stupid for believing that vaccines and facemasks solve anything, or for believing in God, for example. Statements like that will suggest that the other parent is engaging in radicalization by discrediting your political or religious beliefs.
6. How should a parent address Parental Alienation with their child?
Patrick: This is best addressed with the child with the input of a mental health professional or therapist who specializes in these types of cases. Your family lawyer may be able to provide a referral to a local Parental Alienation (PA) expert; you may also find the following articles helpful in your search:
How to Find a Parental Alienation Expert, Part 1
Not all specialists are bona fide specialists.
How to Find a Parental Alienation Expert, Part 2
Common mistakes non-PA experts make.
How to Find a Parental Alienation Expert, Part 3
What are the credentials of a bona fide PA expert?
7. What are an alienated parent’s legal options?
Patrick: Modification of child custody – and if that doesn’t work, then potential elimination of non-monitored visitation with the alienating parent could be an option.
Patrick Baghdaserians is a managing partner of Baghdaserians Law Group in Pasadena, California. Since becoming one of the state’s youngest Family Law Specialists, Patrick has made hundreds of court appearances and represented individuals from all walks of life. He has been working exclusively in the area of family law since 2007. www.baglawgroup.com