Child custody cases are among the most emotional and combative in all of family law, with parents fighting over which one gets to spend the most time and have the most influence over their children. While litigation naturally causes bitterness between parents, judges do not like to see children caught in the middle. Unfortunately, this is often the case. Parental alienation is one of the worst examples of involving children in a parent’s custody battle.
If the other parent is actively trying to turn your child against you or is accusing you of the same, you will need zealous legal advocacy to protect your rights and reverse any damage to the parent-child relationship that might exist. You can depend on Cohen Family Law to stand up for you.
What Is Parental Alienation?
It’s common for parents involved in custody disputes to have verbal altercations with one another, perhaps even in front of the child. As a custody case progresses, sometimes over the course of months and even years, children may naturally come to resent one (or both parents). Parental alienation, however, goes much further than either of these scenarios. It is a deliberate effort to turn a child against the other parent, thereby damaging the parent-child relationship. Parental alienation is a form of abuse and manipulation that can have long-lasting, harmful effects on the child.
Parental alienation is not something that happens by accident. Although each instance of it is different, these are some examples of common behaviors that can cause alienation:
- Insulting, criticizing, or berating the other parent in the child’s presence, often by making exaggerated or false allegations
- Blaming the other parent for the breakup of the marriage and other problems
- Sharing details about the custody proceedings or divorce with the child
- Excluding the other parent from activities involving the child
- Withholding information about the child from the other parent
- Refusing to share medical, educational, and other child records with the other parent
- Attempting to make the child feel guilty for wanting to spend time with the other parent
- Letting the child decide whether to spend time with the other parent, especially when a custody order guarantees parenting time
- Blocking or otherwise interfering with communications between the child and the other parent
- Threatening to take legal action against the other parent over minor disagreements
- Rigidly enforcing visitation (e.g., threatening to call one’s lawyer if the other parent is a few minutes late returning the child from a visit)
The Effects of Parental Alienation on Children
Judges in general want to see custody lawsuits have as minimal an impact as possible on children. They understand that children may naturally experience stress during litigation, but deliberately harming a child’s relationship with a parent is another thing entirely.
Children, especially young ones, are impressionable. Those who are subjected to parental alienation may therefore start to exhibit negative emotional and behavioral effects over time. Be on the lookout for these signs if you are the target of parental alienation:
- The child becomes resentful toward you
- The child doesn’t want to spend time or have anything to do with you
- It becomes more difficult to discipline the child
- The child is distrustful or fearful of you
- The child starts to mimic or repeat some of the same behaviors or arguments made by the other parent
How Do Arizona Courts View Parental Alienation?
Child custody judges are required to prioritize the child’s best interests in every case. That means, regardless of the wishes or actions of the parents, what is best for the child (which varies from one custody matter to another) must be put first. Judges take an especially dim view of parental alienation. So if you are the target of alienation, or you are accused of it, the allegations will be taken seriously and could have serious consequences for your parental rights.
You should immediately retain a child custody lawyer to take action or defend your interests in court. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the parental alienation claim, the judges may take a number of actions, including:
- Ordering counseling to repair the parent-child relationship
- Modifying a prior child custody order
- Holding the offending parent in contempt
It is also likely that, in future proceedings, the judge will take instances of alienation into consideration. The judge’s ultimate goal is to determine which parent will have the most positive impact on the child and whether restrictions should be placed on the other parent to avoid such issues down the road.
How Can I Prove Parental Alienation?
Alienation can be difficult to prove, but it is not impossible. Working with an experienced attorney is essential to making your best case in court (or defending against claims that you are alienating the child). These are some possible ways to show that parental alienation is happening:
Written evidence such as emails and texts. Parents who alienate children also tend to argue with the other parent, many times in written form. These extensive arguments over email, text, or other written formats are fairly easy to document. Still, evidence of alienation tends to be circumstantial since a parent will rarely admit to trying to damage the parent-child relationship. But the more one parent communicates with the other, the easier it becomes to prove alienation.
Witnesses. Parents, friends, and other witnesses may be able to testify as to the alienating behaviors they’ve observed. Of course, these individuals can be biased, and the other parent may call his or her own witnesses to refute the claim. Your goal should therefore be to find, if possible, more neutral but reliable witnesses such as teachers, coaches, and other parents.
Expert witness testimony. You may require the assistance of an expert witness to testify about the nature and effects of parental alienation. An expert witness can explain the signs of parental alienation as well as the psychological impact it has on the child. This is different from lay witness testimony (such as that offered by a parent) in that expert witnesses are trained specialists with knowledge in disciplines such as mental health. Talk to your attorney about whether an expert witness can contribute to your case.
Contact Our Parental Alienation Attorney
Every parent deserves a healthy relationship with his or her child, regardless of divorce or custody proceedings. Is the other parent in your family law case attempting to jeopardize that relationship? Have you been accused of engaging in parental alienation? Let the skilled family law team at Cohen Family Law go to work for you. Call us today.