PARENTAL ALIENATION IN FAMILY LAW CASES
April 16th, 2018
PARENTAL ALIENATION IN FAMILY LAW CASES
By: AUSTIN E. WILLIAMSON and HEATHER ROONEY MCBRIDE
Going through a divorce can be very difficult; often, separated couples experience a high level of emotion, including anger, confusion, disappointment, and betrayal. These negative or hurt feelings can cut even more sharply when children are involved, especially when custody is hotly contested. Unfortunately, during these times, it is not uncommon for parties to cross lines of appropriate behavior with respect to the involvement of children in the court process. A common way this manifests is through parental alienation, also known as “gatekeeping.”
Protecting a child from actual harm is good—as an example, a Court is, typically, not going to object to a parent who disallows a child to get into a car or be cared for by a parent who is visibly intoxicated. However, in contrast with protecting the minor child from actual harm or even perceived harm, the most dangerous type of parental alienation stems from manufacturing harm in order to inhibit the other party’s relationship with his or her child; such restrictive behavior is not born from a genuine concern for the child’s safety but, rather, hostility toward the other parent.
Some warning symptoms of parental alienation include:
- Telling the child details about the marital relationship or reasons for the divorce;
- Denying that the child has property, and demanding that the child’s possessions be moved between homes;
- Denying the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of activities;
- Blaming the other parent for money problems, splitting up the family, or having a new romantic partner;
- Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule, or over-scheduling the child with activities so the other parent is not given time to visit;
- Asking the child to ‘choose’ one parent over the other;
- Encouraging the child’s anger toward the other parent;
- Having a step-parent adopt the child and suggesting a name change;
- Using a child to spy or secretly gather information for the parent’s own use;
- Arranging temptations that interfere with the other parent’s visitation;
- Reacting with hurt or sadness to a child having a good time with the other parent;
- Asking the child about the other parent’s personal life;
- Making demands on the other parent that are contrary to court orders; and
- Listening in on the child’s phone calls with the other parent.
Parental Alienation Syndrome; Lina Guillen, https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/family-law/visitation-rights/parental-alienation-syndrome.html
The effects of parental alienation can have deep impacts on a child’s relationship with his parents; therefore, Courts take alienation very seriously. In order to discourage engagement in this destructive behavior, some counties in Missouri order the parties to attend a mandatory co-parenting class where the parties learn the importance of working together and not against one another in raising a child. A Guardian ad Litem (who is an attorney appointed for the child) may also be appointed by the Court to assist in curtailing controlling or “gatekeeping” behavior by one or both parties. Additionally, Missouri statutes include a factor to be considered in the award of custody that specifically examines the ability of a parent to cooperate with the other parent in raising their child. See RSMo § 452.375.1(4). Generally, the parent who is most likely to allow the other parent a meaningful relationship with the child is favored in an award of custody; conversely, if a party can demonstrate a pattern or practice of alienating behavior, the offending party may be sanctioned by the Court, and the Court may consider a party’s refusal to cooperate in making an ultimate custody determination.
Unfortunately, “gatekeeping” and parental alienation are not always obvious. Documenting the misconduct and discussing your concerns with an experienced attorney are excellent ways to protect yourself and your relationship with your child. If you would like to know more about parental alienation, or if you are interested in speaking with an experienced family law attorney, please contact Rooney McBride & Smith, LLC today to schedule a free consultation.