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Are There Laws Against Bad Mouthing the Other Parent to a Child?

by | Feb 14, 2024 | 0 comments

bad mouthing other parent to child - man holds card with symbols in front of face

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

bad mouthing other parent to child - pinterest imageIs your ex smack-talking you to your child?

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap my head around what narcissists do to their kids, especially when it comes to bad mouthing their other parent.

But like most of the shitty things they do, it’s all about manipulation and control.

The sad thing is that it has such a profound impact on the child – it’s a form of emotional abuse.

And I know how hard it can be to advocate for your child when they are being emotionally abused.

I’ve been through, and I’ve seen friends go through it.

No bruises, no issue, right?

Wrong.

While bad mouthing itself isn’t likely to catch the attention of family court, it can lead to bigger issues like parental alienation and malicious parent syndrome.

And these are definitely illegal.

So if your ex is bad mouthing you, there are things you can do.

Keep reading to learn more about what bad mouthing is, how to deal with it, and how to handle it in court:

What is Bad Mouthing?

Bad mouthing, also known as disparagement or denigration (if you’re looking for fancy terms), involves one parent speaking negatively about the other parent in front of the child.

This can range from subtle criticisms to outright character attacks.

I know we’ve all let slip something negative about our exes in front of our kiddos. When we talk about actively bad mouthing, we’re talking about saying things to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent.

So muttering “asshole” under your breath after receiving a text from your ex isn’t going to destroy your child’s relationship with them (although it’s still not good for your kiddo to hear these things…but it happens accidentally).

Telling your child that their other parent is a complete and total asshole who doesn’t love them and is out to ruin your lives, even if true, is not okay.

But is it against the law?

Is Bad Mouthing the Other Parent Illegal?

bad mouthing other parent to child - judge's gavel and handcuffs

So laws about bad mouthing can vary from area to area. Generally speaking, the actual act of bad mouthing is not illegal. However, it can count as emotional abuse or psychological manipulation.

Where it leads can be very illegal. Things like parental alienation and malicious parenting syndrome are issues that can be taken up in court (we’ll get to these in a bit).

Overall, family courts frown upon any actions that harm the child’s relationship with either parent. Even if it’s not “illegal,” it is definitely something you can take to court – especially if you have a court order.

Can You Lose Custody for Bad Mouthing the Other Parent?

In very extreme cases, consistent and severe bad mouthing can influence custody decisions, especially if it’s found to be harmful to the child.

If you find yourself in a custody dispute with your ex, proof of bad mouthing is likely going to swing things in your favor.

However, don’t expect the court to take drastic measures and take away established custody. Family court prioritizes the children’s best interests and will usually explore less drastic measures to fix the issue.

This may include court-ordered parenting classes or supervised visitation before making any changes to the court order.

So if you don’t have a custody order with your ex, an ongoing issue of bad mouthing can potentially influence sole custody over joint custody (but your ex will still have parenting time).

If you have an existing joint custody agreement, it’s likely not going to change that – unless it crosses the threshold into parental alienation and malicious parent syndrome territory.

Parental Alienation and Malicious Parent Syndrome

bad mouthing other parent to child - small child looks sad and alone

When bad mouthing gets to the point where the other parent is trying to change the way the child feels about the targeted parent, that’s when things get serious.

There are two things that can happen: Parental Alienation and Malicious Parent Syndrome.

Both can happen in high-conflict co-parenting situations and the first step in dealing with them is knowing what they are:

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse where one parent manipulates the child into rejecting the other parent.

This may sound extreme, but it really happens. Here’s a story shared by a reader:

bad mouthing other parent to child - a blog comment about a woman's experience with parental alienation

This manipulation can involve bad mouthing along with lying about the other parent and limiting contact between the child and the other parent.

Parental alienation is taken VERY seriously in court, but it takes some evidence to put that accusation on the table.  A family law attorney can help compile that evidence and build a case.

If parental alienation is confirmed, the court may intervene to protect the child, which could include modifying custody arrangements, ordering therapy, or imposing sanctions on the alienating parent.

Malicious Parent Syndrome

Malicious Parent Syndrome (MPS) is a term used to describe a parent’s behavior characterized by an irrational and relentless desire to destroy the child’s relationship with the other parent.

This behavior goes way beyond typical disagreements or conflicts between co-parents and often involves actions aimed at discrediting, sabotaging, or alienating the other parent.

In court, proving MPS can also be challenging. You have to demonstrate a pattern of deliberate and harmful behavior.

However, if MPS is successfully established, the court may take action to protect the child which could include supervised visitation, communication restrictions, or even a modified custody arrangement.

Again, working with a family law professional is your best bet if your ex is trying to sabotage your parent-child relationship.

Can You Sue for Parental Alienation in Canada?

In Canada, suing for parental alienation can be complicated and challenging.

Most provinces see parental alienation as a form of family violence, but proving it in court takes evidence and expert testimony.

However, you can always seek legal advice and try other dispute resolution methods to address the issue. 

What To Do When the Other Parent is Bad-Mouthing You

If you’re faced with this stressful situation, you need to address and mitigate the harmful effects on your child.

While you can’t change your ex’s behavior, there are still things you can do:

Document EVERYTHING!

Start by keeping detailed records of EVERYTHING. Write down instances where the other parent bad mouths you in front of the child, even if these are things your child is telling you.

Include dates, times, and specific comments made. This documentation can be invaluable if you go to court – it not only shows what is said but establishes a pattern of this behavior.

Talk to Your Child

Encourage your child to speak openly about their feelings and experiences. Give them a safe space where they can express any concerns or confusion they may have about the situation.

Reassure them that it’s okay for them to love both parents and that they don’t have to take sides. Emphasize that they should trust what they feel, not what they are told.

Set Boundaries

I’ve no doubt that if your ex is bad mouthing you to your kid, you’re in a high-conflict co-parenting situation.

This type of inappropriate co-parenting can be stressful, and I know confronting your ex is probably the last thing you want to do.

But you need to clearly communicate to your ex that bad mouthing you in front of your child is unacceptable and harmful. 

There are three reasons why you need to do this:

  1. The courts want to see you try and fix the situation. If you can show that you have made efforts to address their behavior in a way that is civil, you’ll come off as the sane and reasonable parent.
  2. You need to show that you can take control of the situation. This isn’t to prove anything to your ex – this is to show yourself and your child that you deserve better.
  3. Talking to your ex about it may be enough to curb the behavior. Maybe they’re just genuinely an asshole and not intending to manipulate the situation. Or maybe they’ll stop to avoid consequences.

Establishing firm boundaries may not work but it’s worth a shot to deter future incidents and protect your child from emotional distress.

Get a Court Order

If you don’t have one, get one.

If you have one, take your ex to court and get it modified.

A court order can outline rules around what can be said to your child. If those rules are broken, you take your ex to court.

Just don’t expect them to cuff your ex and take them away.

If your ex repeatedly bad mouths you and you repeatedly take him to court, this shows a pattern of bad parent behavior. It’s these patterns that prompt family court to take action, like modifying custody or appointing supervised visitations.

How Does Bad Mouthing Affect the Child?

Bad mouthing can have negative effects on a child’s emotional well-being and development. And it can end up damaging their relationship with both parents.

Here are some ways that bad mouthing can affect a child:

Guilt

Bad mouthing the other parent to a child can create feelings of guilt, making them feel responsible for the conflict between their parents.

This unfair burden can affect their emotional well-being and cause unnecessary stress.

Loyalty Conflicts

When one parent bad mouths the other, it puts the child in the middle of conflict – exactly where they don’t need to be.

They may feel torn between their loyalty to each parent. The child may end up struggling to reconcile their love for both parents.

Low Self-Esteem

Constant exposure to negative comments about one parent can chip away at a child’s self-esteem.

They may internalize these comments and believe that are flawed or unworthy.

This can have long-lasting effects on their confidence and self-worth.

Difficulty Forming Relationships in the Future

Children who grow up in environments where one parent is consistently bad mouthing the other may struggle to form healthy relationships in the future.

They may have a hard time trusting other people, fearing abandonment, or replicating the dysfunctional dynamics they witnessed growing up.

Bad Mouthing and Inappropriate Co-Parenting

Bad mouthing is just another shitty behavior you may have to deal with when your co-parent is narcissistic.

But you can minimize its effects by putting your child first and knowing what you can do in court.

Just remember that you are not alone and there are resources available to help you advocate for your child!

Have you had any experience with bad mouthing? How did you handle it? Share your experiences in the comments below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️

bad mouthing other parent to child - pinterest image bad mouthing other parent to child - pinterest image

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