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Gift-Giving and Avoiding Parental Alienation

By Sheryl Rentz on September 30, 2020

pink and purple presents

For many of us, gift-giving is our love language. It is how we show appreciation for coworkers, how we show affection to our partners, and how we reward our children. However, gift-giving is not always innocent. We have all known someone who lords a gift over someone else or expects something in exchange. This behavior can be especially troubling after a divorce as a seemingly affectionate gift to a child may come under scrutiny.

How Gift-Giving Can Be Manipulative

Throughout a divorce and custody battles, parents may become keenly aware of how the legal procedures are affecting their children. Children often think the divorce is their fault or may not know how to deal with the sudden changes in their lives. To help assuage their fears and worries, some parents choose to lavish them with gifts. This can be as simple as a new dress, a video game, a piece of jewelry, or even a costly trip to summer camp.

In many cases, gift-giving can be purely innocent, as most parents are only trying to keep their child’s mind off the looming divorce. However, there are situations where parents will use gifts as a form of manipulation. It is not uncommon for one parent to start giving their children expensive gifts in order to win their affections away from the other parent. Or both parents can turn gift-giving into a competition, especially around the holidays. It can start out with buying your child a new pair of roller skates, then a laptop, then an extremely expensive puppy.

In some cases, parents have used gifts as a form of parental alienation. They will give their child a seemingly innocent gift like a new toy and then turn around and say the child can only play with it around that parent’s home. The goal here is to make the child want to spend more time with one parent than the other. Or they may disparage the other parent by saying, “Isn’t my gift better than mommy’s?”

Neither situation is healthy. Competitive gift-giving can make your child think that gifts, particularly expensive ones, are the only way to show affection. This can lead to developmental issues down the line. And using gifts to manipulate a child is just as bad. Both parents’ relationship with their child can be severely impacted, and courts can become involved if there is an accusation of parental alienation.

That being said, there are ways to avoid this behavior and ensure your child has a healthy relationship with gift-giving, and you as a result of it.

How to Keep Gift-Giving Innocent

One of the best ways to avoid competitive gift-giving is to set up some ground rules with the other parent. Discuss what you both think your child would want, what fits both of your budgets, and if you can coordinate on gifts. Do you want most of the gifts to be from Santa this year, or do you want to do a joint gift? If your teenage child is getting into makeup, maybe one of you can buy the brushes while the other buys an eyeshadow palette.

Working with the other parent on gifts can also prevent awkward exchanges. You don’t want to both buy your child the same doll or for one of you buy them a video game they already have. But if you collaborate, then you can avoid these issues altogether and keep the other in check with the budget.

At the end of the day, gift-giving should be about bringing joy into your child’s life, and that is one thing you and the other parent should always agree on.

When You Need Legal Advice

Hopefully, you and your child’s other parent can come to a cordial agreement about gift-giving procedures. But, if the issue cannot be resolved and does lead to a case of parental alienation, then you may need to get the court involved. Parental alienation is still under debate by psychologists and the courts, but they do recognize that manipulating a child against one parent can constitute abuse and lead to a change in custody.

If you have been a victim of parental alienation, then you will want to have Montgomery County family law attorney at Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. review your case and determine how to proceed. Parental alienation cases are complex and require detailed evidence to support a custody change. To discuss your case in a no-cost consultation, contact us at (610) 645-0100.

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