Parental Alienation: What is it and how are Custody Disputes Affected?

Child custody battles can be stressful on all individuals involved, but the stress can be even more damaging to the minor children in the case. Many times, these young children are the ones who take the brunt of the stress when parents cannot get along and fight over the children.

When one parent tries to actively cut the other parent out of the child’s life, the issue of parental alienation comes into play. This problem can play a major factor when it comes to determining who gets the children in heated custody battles between parents.

Best Interests of the Child

Courts use the “best interests of the child” standard when deciding where a child will live, whether it be split custody or sole custody. Best interests also govern how much time the child will spend with each parent.

One major misconception has been that courts side with mothers when it comes to custody. Today, courts actually strive to make sure children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Courts take it very seriously when one parent does anything or says anything that makes it difficult for the children to maintain a close relationship with both parents, and this type of behavior will affect custody and parenting time determinations.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent actively works to undermine the relationship the other parent has with the parties’ child or children. This undermining behavior is normally done by continuously putting the other parent down in front of the child so that the child ends up emulating the parent’s behavior and not wanting a relationship with the parent being alienated.

For example, if the father who does not have custody is sick one weekend and needs to reschedule parenting time, but the custodial parent tells the child the weekend was canceled due to the other parent “not wanting to see you,” this is alienating behavior.

Additionally, if one parent continually tells the child “your father/mother does not love us” in front of the child, eventually that child will start believing it himself or herself.

Children are susceptible to these types of statements, and when they are made repeatedly in front of a young child, many times, that child will then adopt that parent’s beliefs as true and will begin to reject the other parent. This is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) occurs when one parent repeatedly gives a negative view of the other parent, so that the child no longer wants a relationship with the other parent. These statements made in passing every now and then in front of the child about the other parent may seem harmless, but over time, they can have some serious effects on the child’s emotional well-being, as well as his or her relationship with that parent.

Court View on Parental Alienation

Courts take parental alienation extremely seriously when these allegations are made. When presented with parental alienation allegations, the court must determine why the child is being alienated, whether the allegations are true, and how to repair the relationship or prevent it from being broken so that both parents have an active role in raising their children.  

Many experts believe there are three different levels of parental alienation: mild, moderate and severe. If the behavior is caught early and the cases are mild or even moderate, many times therapy and increasing the amount of time the child spends with the alienated parent can rebuild that relationship.

Courts will be cautious when re-introducing the child to the alienated parent if the alienation has been going on for quite some time. After all, the best interests are what the court is focused on for that child, and courts will usually use some type of custody evaluation to determine just how bad the problem has become and what can be done to remedy it.

However, if the alienation is very severe, sometimes the only way to fix the problem is to remove the child from the custody of the parent doing the alienating behavior and put the child in the custody of the alienated parent.

Courts do not make these decisions lightly, however, as they normally prefer to slowly introduce the child and parent back into each other’s lives. In situations where the parent who is doing the alienating lacks no empathy for his or her behavior and will continue to damage the relationship, the courts have no choice. This change in custody will normally require some type of psychological evaluation before the modification will be made, and courts will also defer to recommendations of child therapists as to whether the change in custody would be the best decision for the child after all.

Any type of custody battle is bound to get ugly and emotional, but one where the parental relationship is so toxic and broken that one parent is alienating the other from the child is even worse.

It is for these reasons that an attorney is almost always required to successfully pursue a case involving parental alienation. Attorneys will be able to help get the court to act quickly in serious situations and can make sure enough evidence is secured and the proper legal foundation built to successfully litigate the case.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are in the middle of a custody battle, and you believe parental alienation is playing a factor, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.