Help! My Ex is Badmouthing Me to the Kids!
December 22, 2023 Custody
As child custody attorneys, we get frequent requests from clients who want help when their ex is badmouthing them to the kids. In this blog, we will explore when these discussions are within the range of appropriate parenting and when badmouthing hurts the children, and lastly, what can a parent do to stop badmouthing.
Let’s start by defining badmouthing. Badmouthing refers to the act of making negative or disparaging comments about a person, in this case, about one parent, to the children. It involves undermining the other parent’s authority, credibility, or character with the intention of creating a negative impression or damaging the parent-child relationship. Badmouthing can manifest in various forms, such as making derogatory remarks, spreading false information, or painting the other parent in a negative light. It can occur through overt statements or subtle insinuations, both of which can have a detrimental impact on the children’s emotional well-being.
Realistically some comments that may seem negative happen very easily. Children are prone to compare household rules and perceive comments about stricter rules as negative. However, badmouthing has an element of intent. When parents are separated, the parents tend to have negative feelings towards each other, and sometimes they let those negative feelings overshadow their conversations with their children. For example, it may be tempting for your child to discuss their frustrations with the other parent. “Dad did not let me watch TV when I was at his house”; “Mom took away my phone”. And as a separated parent, it is tempting to win your child’s love by agreeing with these negative statements.
But a parent should weigh the damage of badmouthing the other parent. Even if it is ridiculous that your ex took away the child’s phone, consider what creates more long-term damage: a short time without a phone or a disintegrating relationship between a parent and a child.
Consider that when a parent starts badmouthing, it creates a habit. When a child learns that you will listen and give them attention when they say something bad about the other parent, your child will be quick to report their next set of grievances pretty quickly, and a parent creates a pattern that is difficult to break.
What can you do when your ex is badmouthing you?
For example, when your child tells you: “Mom says that you have to give me my phone back because she paid for it because you do not pay enough child support”, you should avoid engaging in that conversation. Stop the conversation by telling your child that there may be different rules at each parent’s home, and you will touch base with mom to reach an agreement between the parents.
Your next step is to follow up with the other parent. There are several reasons why you should follow up. First, you should verify if mom truly took that position. The other parent may deny the badmouthing, they may apologize that they said it in a fit of frustration, or they may continue their stance that they are being truthful. Secondly, it is best to document these instances in case badmouthing becomes a systemic problem requiring a judge’s involvement.
Thirdly, if there is a pattern of consistent badmouthing, schedule mediation with the Friend of the Court. Mediation is free, and it allows you to learn your ex’s position should you have to proceed with legal action. Lastly, some badmouthing will escalate into alienating behavior. When a parent consistently refuses to support a bond between the child and the other parent, alienation will become so widespread that it will affect the bond between parent and child. The damage to this bond tends to be long term, if not permanent. This parental alienation may destroy the relationship between the targeted parent and the child. When badmouthing reaches this level, it is imperative for a parent to take legal action. The court has the option of ordering a parenting coordinator, counseling, sanctions or even a change in parenting time or custody.
If you are in a situation when you have reached the point that you need to take legal action, call our firm at 616-285-0808 to schedule a no obligation initial consultation to determine if you should seek court intervention.