Is parental alienation a legitimate shared custody concern?

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Child Custody

People generally anticipate that sharing custody after the end of a relationship will be a challenge. They know that a strained relationship with the other parent of their children will inevitably influence how they handle parenting together. Yet, most adults will eventually work through their emotional responses to the end of a relationship and find a way to cooperate with each other to do what is best for their children. And still, for better and for worse, there are times when parents cannot find a way to cooperate.

One of the most common horror stories about divorce is the tale of a devoted parent suddenly denied custody by a vindictive ex-spouse. Parental alienation is the psychological term for an adult intentionally turning the children against their other parent. Is parental alienation a legitimate reason for concern during a divorce case?

There’s a lot of skepticism about alienation claims

For several decades, psychologists and social workers who provide expert support during divorce proceedings have been helping parents accuse each other of misconduct that harms their children. The term parental alienation refers to the attempt by one parent to turn the children against the other adult in the family, possibly by lying to them, manipulating them or limiting their time with the other parent.

Many of the highest-profile cases involving allegations of parental alienation also involved claims of abuse. Some of the exact same behaviors that professionals associate with children experiencing or witnessing domestic violence are among the behaviors affiliated with parental alienation.

There is therefore some reason for concern that allegations of parental alienation might lead to children getting placed with someone who has a demonstrable history of instability and abuse. One parent seeking to avoid accountability for their prior conduct or to gloss over the real reasons for the distance in their relationship with their children might try to blame the other for those challenges and ask the courts to give them more parenting time and authority.

If it appears that one parent intends to raise claims of parental alienation during custody proceedings, the other parent may need to adjust their strategy accordingly to protect themselves and the children in the household from the worst possible outcomes. Seeking legal guidance, bringing in expert witnesses and learning more about modern psychological research can help those worried that claims of parental alienation efforts could limit their parenting time and other rights.




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