There is no denying that a divorce or breakup often causes anger, betrayal, and sadness. In most cases, parents who are divorcing can put aside these feelings and work with their exes to meet their children’s needs. In some cases, however, one parent might develop malicious parent syndrome. This is a behavioral disturbance that can lead to parental alienation, custody issues, and, in severe cases, even child neglect or child abuse. Read on to learn about malicious parent syndrome and what to do if you believe that you are a victim.
What Is Malicious Parent Syndrome?
Malicious parent syndrome occurs when one parent tries to hurt the other parent by acting in a vengeful way. It includes the children; they are often lied to and manipulated. In some cases, the children might be neglected or abused to get back at the other parent. For example, a parent might refuse to tell the other parent where their shared child is and, at the same time, tell the child that their other parent is no longer interested in having a relationship with them.
Or they may withhold food, medical care, or other necessities from the child, telling him or her that their other parent is refusing to pay child support and, therefore, those necessities are not affordable. In other cases, the offending parent might wrongly accuse the victim parent of child abuse and attempt to get the court to terminate their parental rights. Four criteria must be met for this behavior to qualify as malicious parent syndrome:
- First, the offending parent must be seeking to hurt or punish the victim parent by alienating them from their child.
- Second, the offending parent must stop the victim parent from communicating with the child.
- Third, the offending parent lies to and manipulates the child (and often others as well).
- And finally, there is no other mental health issue that would explain these behaviors (such as a mood disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on).
What Are the Signs of Malicious Parent Syndrome in Children?
Children react to malicious parent syndrome in unique ways, but overall, a child whose parent is poisoning their mind against their other parent will tend not to want to spend time with the victim parent. They might describe them as bad parents, neglectful, or abusive. They might refuse to attend the visitation or even to answer phone calls from their parent. In some cases, children will repeat the lies told to them by their offending parent to others or in a court of law.
One hallmark of a child being affected by malicious parent syndrome is that they will often not have specific complaints against their other parent. For example, they might say that they do not like their father or that their mother is mean to them, but they will not draw on specific circumstances leading to those conclusions. That could be a sign that they are simply repeating information that they have gotten from their offending parent.
They also might use language that a child would not come up with on their own to describe a situation. For example, a young child saying that “daddy doesn’t stick to his end of the bargain with child support” has been fed those words by someone else (possibly the offending parent).
Are These Behaviors Against the Law?
Malicious parent syndrome is not a diagnosable mental illness; it is, instead, a behavioral situation, and parents engaging in it are held responsible for their actions. There are several parts of this syndrome that could lead to legal consequences. For example, if a parent is not adequately meeting their child’s physical needs for food or shelter under the guise of not being able to afford it due to their other parent’s neglect, then they are neglectful themselves.
If they then go to court and lie about this, then they could be committing perjury. Not complying with court-ordered custody or visitation could leave them in contempt of court. Depending on the specific behaviors involved, these actions could lead to consequences ranging from fines to jail time or the loss of custody of their child. In addition to the legal consequences, children will often need therapy to overcome the strong feelings caused by the lies and manipulation.
In severe cases, the child might need medical care for malnutrition, anxiety disorders, or other conditions caused or exacerbated by the malicious parent. A child might be put into foster or kinship care in some cases where the victim parent cannot care for them full-time.
What Can You Do as the Victim of Malicious Parent Syndrome?
If you believe that your ex has malicious parenting syndrome and is manipulating your child to think that you are an absent, abusive, or negligent parent, there are some steps you can take. First, contact a lawyer or legal resource group like National Family Solutions. They will help you develop a legal response strategy and file the proper documents and paperwork to request a court date.
Once you go to court, you can request a modification to the custody agreement. It might be that you will get custody of your child while the offending parent has supervised visitation with your shared child. They also might be ordered to attend counseling or therapy to help them get past the strong feelings that have led to these behaviors. You and your child should also get counseling.
Family counseling will help you regain your child’s trust and begin to rebuild your relationship. Your child might also need individual counseling to help them overcome their experience. And it would help if you did not hesitate to get individual therapy for yourself; it is traumatic and troubling to be the victim of a malicious parent, no matter the circumstances.