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Parental Alienation & Child Custody Orders

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Under any circumstance, divorce can be difficult. When children are involved, however, it can quickly become very contentious, leading to long, drawn-out legal battles over who gets which kind of custody, how much, and more.

Ultimately, the courts will call these hotly contested disputes in the best interests of the child. This can generate or refresh spouses’ resentment for each other, and one or the other may begin to seek ways to “get back” at each other. In particularly unfortunate circumstances, that can include undermining the relationship a child has with the other parent, a process known as parental alienation.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Child custody is a difficult topic on its face, but it can become severely complicated when parental alienation is alleged. This is a situation in which one parent is claiming that the other is actively causing the child to reject them.

Parental alienation is most commonly caused when one parent says things that denigrate the other parent in front of the child. If it sounds manipulative, that’s because it often is. The primary motivation for most people who do it is to hurt their spouse by undercutting their relationship with the child.

Some examples of parental alienation may include the following:

  • Parent A repeatedly tells a child that Parent B doesn’t love them.
  • Parent B says that Parent A didn’t want to pick them up from school when Parent A was really stuck in traffic

After hearing enough statements such as these, a child may be successfully manipulated into falsely believing the other parent doesn’t love them, is a bad person, or get another such impression. While these beliefs are harmful to a child to hold when they’re untrue, some in the psychiatric community have termed seemingly unwarranted fear or hostility toward a parent as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS).

It’s important to note, however, that PAS was rejected for inclusion in the DSM-5, an American Psychiatric Association manual that lists recognized mental illnesses and disorders. This doesn’t negate that PAS has been cited in child custody legal disputes, but the psychiatric community isn’t convinced of its scientific validity.

How Do the Courts Handle Parental Alienation?

Despite PAS potentially being junk science, the courts acknowledge that parental alienation itself is a valid enough concern and have devised several ways to deal with it. When a parent alleges alienation, the court must determine how the child became alienated and how to mend the relationship of the affected parent with their child.

Courts may order therapy to address mild and moderate cases of parental alienation. Therapy may involve the alienated parent and the child, or the alienating parent alone to intervene with their behavior. A child custody evaluation is also likely to occur, with possible timeshare adjustments to help a child and the alienated parent improve their relationship.

The courts may remove the child from custody of the alienating parent if the alienation is particularly severe or egregious. Before this happens, however, a judge is inclined to order a psychological evaluation of the alienating parent, which can take up to a year to complete.

When Should I Hire an Attorney?

Whether you believe your spouse is alienating your children from you or alleging you of doing so, you need to consult with an attorney immediately. By hesitating to take legal action, you may not only be risking custody over your children, but preserving your peaceful relationship with them as well.

Should you find yourself questioning your ex-spouse’s behavior with regard to what they’re telling your children about you, reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP for help. Contact us online or call (310) 817-6904 today!
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