“Gaslighting” in Divorce and Custody Cases


What Is “Gaslighting”?

The definition of “gaslighting” is to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

Divorcing a Gaslighter: Watch Out for These Signs

In the context of a divorce or custody case, gaslighting often refers to a parent who manipulates others (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, police, judges, lawyers, child protective services, and the court system itself) into questioning the sanity of the targeted parent. This is usually done by making numerous false and malicious statements with an intent to create a damaging impression of the targeted parent and to gain an unfair advantage in the divorce or custody case.

Commonly, this form of gaslighting starts with the manipulative parent contacting family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers by telephone, text, and/or email and then denigrating the targeted parent with false information in order to turn others against them in the divorce or custody case.

Gaslighting & Parental Alienation

In many instances, the manipulative parent will exploit the criminal and family courts to further their agenda. This may involve filing false police reports against the targeted parent, trying to (falsely) portray the targeted parent as mentally unstable, and even baiting the targeted parent to react violently by pushing their “hot buttons” that have developed over the course of their marriage.

The manipulative parent may then go to the family court and file for an order of protection and have the targeted parent removed from the children’s home, or call the police to have the targeted parent arrested for “domestic violence”.

What makes this gaslighting scenario different from a true domestic violence case is that the manipulative parent is not utilizing the court system in good faith, or out of a concern for their safety and that of their children. Rather, they are deliberately antagonizing the targeted parent to get them to overreact as part of a malicious strategy in their divorce or custody case.

Unfortunately, the court system may focus attention on the overreactions of the targeted parent rather than the gaslighting behavior of the manipulative parent, which could lead to custody decisions favoring the manipulative parent. They may further engage in a campaign denigrating the targeted parent to the children as a form of parental alienation, telling them inappropriate details about the targeted parent, the divorce or custody case.

Gaslighting in Divorce: What to Do About It

These actions may be difficult for a court to identify as manipulative, particularly when the court is limited in exposure to the subtleties of the manipulative parent, who may be charming and able to deceive the court about their true nature, versus when the Court can visibly observe the overreactions of the targeted parent. The end result can be an unfair result in a divorce or custody case and the possible alienation of the children from the targeted parent.

When faced with this type of gaslighting, it is important for the targeted parent not to allow themselves to be baited by the manipulative parent.

If a targeted parent feels they are being gaslighted and alienated from the children and becomes angry or frustrated, they should not act upon those feelings. These overreactions can be viewed and used as “evidence” of the targeted parent’s alleged mental instability in court. Instead, they should make continual efforts to maintain a meaningful relationship with the children.

Targeted parents should also retain the services of an attorney who is familiar with gaslighting and tactics of parental alienation in a divorce or custody case. This should be done early on in their case in order to have effective guidance through the legal process.

Call (516) 773-8300 or contact us online today. Click here for a consultation!