If your co-parent makes damaging, false statements about you and you suffer some legally recognized harm under Pennsylvania law, you may have a defamation case. If these statements are made to or around your child and alienate them from you, a faster resolution may be through family court.
If your co-parent is making defamatory statements about you to your child, or they hear them when they are made to others, this may be part of an effort to seek vengeance against you or to punish you by poisoning your relationship with your child. They may try to toy with the child’s feelings for you. They want to manipulate them to the point it negatively affects or breaks up their relationship with you.
These parental alienation efforts need not be intentional or directed at the child. Their criticism of you may be so constant and open that your child cannot help but hear and think about it. They may conclude you are such a bad person that they do not want to be around you.
If this happens, your child may need counseling to separate the fact that you love and care about them from the fiction that you are a terrible person. This can also be a basis to ask a court to end or limit the other parent’s visitation or custody rights.
Pennsylvania law makes putting both parents in a child’s life a priority, but there are limits. Two factors a judge should consider when making a custody decision are whether:
- One parent is trying to turn the child against the other
- A parent encourages and enables the child’s frequent and continuing contact with the other
If you discuss this problem with your co-parent and they deny it happens (but your child says it does) or tell you they will say whatever they want, you should contact our office. If we cannot convince them (directly or through their attorney) to stop, taking this to court and forcing them to understand that their slander is endangering their visitation or custody rights may make them change their ways.
Making Defamatory Statements to Others
If these remarks are not made to or around your child but are made to others, depending on the facts of the case, under Pennsylvania statute, you may have grounds for a defamation case against the co-parent. Defamation that is spoken (to neighbors, coaches, and teachers, for example) is considered slander, and when it is written (like in social media posts), it is libel.
The statements must tend to harm your reputation and lower your position in your community. They may also discourage others from associating or dealing with you. Libel would blacken your reputation and expose you to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule. A court would view these statements in the context of your relationship.
It is not enough if these statements embarrass, annoy, or anger you. You would have to show the court real and tangible injuries, such as distress, depression, or anxiety. Losing a job or customers if you own a business can also show the statements harmed you.
Your co-parent may have defenses to your defamation claims, including a denial that the statements were made, or that they were made but are truthful or they are the opinion of the co-parent. If you file a claim for libel, you will need to prove the statements were made negligently or maliciously to be awarded damages.
What Should I Do If My Child Starts Turning Against Me?
If you think you may be dealing with parental alienation or believe your co-parent’s statements have gone too far, please call Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., at (215) 752-6200.