While it would be ideal for every divorce case that involves minor children for the issue of child custody to be resolved in the best interests of the children without acrimony between the divorcing spouses, the sad reality is this isn’t always the case. Some custody battles during and after divorces or paternity actions can get messy, including those where one parent actively seeks to use the children to try to gain leverage, or to extract revenge, against the other parent by means of behaviors known in family law circles as parental alienation, which is where one parent does things, usually but not always by saying things to the minor children, that have the effect of damaging the minor children’s relationship with the other parent. This commonly involves trying to get the minor children to blame the other parent for the breakup of the family or for the alienating parent’s lack of money, etc.
At the law offices of JD Milliner & Associates, our divorce attorneys will walk you through every aspect of your potential, or actual, child custody battle, and will advise you on how to avoid, spot and dampen the effect of parental alienation. This two-part blog series will go over what parental alienation is, give some examples of it, and discuss how to prove it in court in a way that can have a substantial impact on the judge’s custody decision.
Basics on Parental Alienation
Most custody cases involve determinations of both physical custody (with whom the children will live, and with whom and when the children will spend “parent time” (aka “visitation”)), and legal custody (who gets to make significant decisions regarding the children), and the court will determine both types of custody based on the best interests of the minor children involved. Unfortunately, some parents don’t seem to understand (or perhaps care) that the best interests of their children never include being used as pawns in a war between their parents.
Frequently, one or both parents may use one or more methods to try to physically and/or emotionally isolate the other parent from the children, whether through specific actions, words or some other conduct. While this may have some negative consequences to the other parent, it can cause major psychological damage to the children and may even be classified as child abuse in some cases. Needless to say, a parent who is seen as having engaged in trying to alienate the minor children from the other parent will have a strike against her/him when the judge is determining and awarding custody and parent time.
Our subsequent sections will go over some examples of parental alienation during divorce cases.
The simplest form of parental alienation is basic disparagement, which involves making negative comments about the other parent or some area of their life. The most common form of disparagement involves one parent telling or insinuating to the child that the other parent is a bad parent in some way. A particularly scathing form of disparagement might be one parent telling the child that the other no longer loves them.
It should be noted that encouraging, or even allowing, other people close to you to make these kinds of comments to the child can also be considered disparagement.
Another common form of parental alienation is undermining the other parent’s authority, which can take place in numerous ways. Parents should discuss important areas of the child’s life and how they’re handled, from basic discipline up to education, welfare and other long-term care needs.
When one parent contradicts, undermines or otherwise ridicules to the child a position taken by the other parent, such as canceling a bedtime put in place by the other parent, this is a form of alienation. These kinds of mixed messages are often pervasive and will impact how the child interacts with the world – they may decide that rules as mere suggestions and could get into trouble because they think this is the norm.
For more on parental alienation, or to learn about any of our family law, divorce attorney or probate services, call to talk to one of the attorneys at JD Milliner & Associates today.