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Is Gift-Giving a Form of Parental Alienation?


“If you choose to live with me, I’ll buy you a brand new Mercedes.” Or “If you choose me, I won’t give you a curfew and I’ll give you a fat allowance every week.” Sound familiar? If you’re involved in a high-net-worth divorce and your ex is making questionable if not unreasonable offers to your child in an effort to entice your son or daughter to choose them to be the custodial parent, your ex may be engaging in a form of parental alienation.

What is parental alienation exactly? Susan Heitler Ph.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today and in it, she talked about how in her clinical practice, she’s seen a “huge uptick” in parental alienation cases. She explained how instead of parents cooperating with each other, these ex-spouses were interacting as adversaries. Worse, she continued, “they’ve developed an exaggeratedly negative view, more fiction than reality, of the other partner.”

“Parental alienation syndrome, a term coined in the 1980s by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner, occurs when one parent attempts to turn the couple's children against the other parent. A parent who is angry at the spouse or ex-spouse accomplishes this estrangement by painting a negative picture of the other parent via deprecating comments, blame, and false accusations shared with the children. They may also "hoard" the kids, doing all they can to thwart the other parent from spending time with them,” wrote Heitler.

What Do Gifts Have to Do With It?

When it comes to child custody, parents are supposed to reach an agreement that is in their children’s best interests, not on what’s in the parents’ best interests. When a parent is purposefully competing with another parent and using gifts to try and buy their child’s vote per se, it can be a form of parental alienation. How so?

The courts are interested in hearing about a child’s preferences and their reasons behind it, especially if the child is mature for their age or older. When a parent tries to bribe their child with gifts, they’re advertently trying to undermine the child custody process.

For example, a millionaire father tells his daughter that he’ll buy her a trip to Europe for summer vacation, but only if she chooses to live with him. Since he’s trying to sway her decision through a lavish European vacation that her mom can’t afford, it can be construed as a form of parental alienation.

If your ex is trying to manipulate child custody through gifts or other manipulative tactics, contact our office for help. We can be reached at (845) 605-4330.