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What Happens When a Divorcing Parent Bad-Mouths the Other in Front of Their Children?

Marriage is a contract between two people and just like with other contracts, sometimes it may end. However, this ending is not so simple when children are involved and emotions can run high.

The courts recognize the impact divorce has on children, and are highly concerned with protecting their well-being and best interests. So when one parent bad-mouths the other in front of the children, the legal system takes it seriously and may take steps to prevent this from happening again in the future.

Dirty Tactics in Child Custody Battles

Parents, previously concerned about their children's well-being, can suddenly lose all regard for the effect of their actions upon them during divorce. Out of the many dirty tactics used in custody disputes, one of the most frequently used is a parent saying disparaging remarks about the other parent to the children.

Badmouthing in Divorce Proceedings

Bad-mouthing is often used by a parent during a divorce to hurt the other parent or to get their own way. Family law attorneys sometimes refer to this as parental alienation syndrome, used to damage or undermine the child's relationship with the other person with no justification.

It occurs in the privacy of the parent's home but it also may happen in public. A parent may bad-mouth the other directly to the kids or indirectly, like through social media posts or other family members. This negative behavior may present in a number of ways, such as:

  • Demeaning or disparaging the other parent
  • Criticizing or questioning the judgment of the other parent
  • Blaming the other parent
  • Telling the child lies or negative information
  • Calling the other parent bad names

A parent may feel like they have no control of the situation with their children and the only thing they can control is what they say to them. Sometimes, a parent may use bad-mouthing as a tactic to influence their children's opinion on which parent to live with or other custody decisions.

Effects of Badmouthing on Children

Hearing these remarks can put the children in an uncomfortable position and have negative effects on their well-being. Children may believe the false information or not fully understand what is happening. A child may feel anger or hurt towards one parent or both. Often, this leads a child to not wanting to spend time with a parent or not feeling comfortable with them anymore.

Bad-mouthing can also have effects on children outside of a divorce proceeding. The harmful information or language can be psychologically damaging for a child. Sometimes children mimic this behavior or use the language they heard being used and leads to the child lashing out emotionally. In more serious cases, this problematic conduct can lead to emotional trauma and may even constitute psychological or emotional abuse.

Preventing Bad-Mouthing

Divorces can make even the most rational and sane adult suddenly become irrational and insane. With emotions running even higher when child custody is in dispute, most courts take preemptive actions to protect the well-being and interests of the children. To combat this, oftentimes judges will require the parents to develop a parenting plan together.

Parenting Plans

When a divorce action is begun, parents are generally not permitted to speak disparagingly about the other to the children but as tensions rise it may occur. Creating a parenting plan is a way to preemptively prevent bad-mouthing, search for middle ground, and diffuse an existing negative situation.

Establishing a parenting plan early in the divorce process has a number of benefits including:

  • Ensuring both parents are involved in the development of the child
  • Bringing the parents together to determine what is most important for the child
  • Establishing a rational system to work out disputes that will avoid involvement of the legal system
  • Putting the child first and foremost
  • Showing a united front of love for the child even if they are separating

A parenting plan can include anything relevant in dealing with the children such as living arrangements, visitation, and most importantly dispute resolution should an issue arise. That way in the event of a disagreement, the parents can turn to the parenting plan first to determine how to resolve the dispute.

Legal Response to Bad-Mouthing

While parenting plans are the first line of defense to deal with bad-mouthing, sometimes further legal steps must be taken. If a soon-to-be ex spouse won't stop this behavior around the children, a court may order a psychological evaluation or mandatory therapy.

Sometimes a judge may opt to modify the child custody order in place to give the bad-mouthing parent less time if it is hurting the well-being of the child. If the child is old enough, a judge may ask them to come before the court to share the bad-mouthing during the court proceeding. If the bad-mouthing continues despite any court orders, the parent suffering from the bad-mouthing may ask the court to hold the other in contempt of court.

Keeping track and recording any incidents of bad-mouthing may be helpful information for your family law attorney when building your custody case. Although there may be a child custody place in order already, that very well may change if necessary in order to protect the child's best interests. Your attorney can help use this negative behavior to help build your case for custody and protect the emotional health of your child.

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