Understanding Parental Alienation and How it Impacts Child Custody

mother and child

For families involved in a child custody or divorce case, one of the most desired outcomes is to have happy children who maintain strong relationships with both parents. This of course also depends on the parents maintaining an amicable relationship. All too often, child custody and divorce matters will devolve into a power struggle resulting in the increasingly prevalent issue of parental alienation.

What is Parental Alienation?

At its core, parental alienation is an act of manipulation. Parents who engage in this behavior make every effort to pit their children against the other parent. Alienating parents may speak negatively of their ex on a regular basis - or even make false accusations. The ultimate goal is to destroy the relationship between their ex and their children in order to maintain greater control. Psychologists have described it as behavior, whether intended or unconscious, by one parent that poisons the child or children against the other parent. When such poisoning occurs, the children take on mischaracterizations or embellish misrepresentations that one parent teaches them about the other parent.

Increasingly common and yet largely overlooked, parental alienation impacts far more families than originally suspected.

Common Allegations of Parental Alienation

The following are some of the more common scenarios that I have seen alleged in my custody and visitation cases. There are countless other examples. Some of these claims were found to have merit while others were not. Notably, allegations alone are not enough to have a court make a finding of parental alienation. Here are the examples:

  • Cutting off all contact between the child and the other parent.
  • Hiding the child from the other parent.
  • Cutting off telephone contact with the other parent.
  • Not bringing or allowing the child to visit with the other parent whether court ordered or voluntary.
  • Negative comments about a parent to the child(ren) or in front of the children.
  • The failure to encourage a relationship and meaningful parenting time with the other parent.

The Impact of Parental Alienation on Families

New York courts believe it is in a child's best interest to maintain strong relationships with both parents whenever possible. When one parent purposefully turns his or her children against the other it can inflict lasting trauma on children, who may suffer from the loss of a valuable family bond. The impact is also felt by the parent and his or her extended family targeted by alienation. In more extreme situations, parental alienation may be a contributing factor in child depression.

How New York Courts Determine Parental Alienation

What constitutes and does not constitute parental alienation is a judicial determination that is made after the presentation of facts through testimony and legal argument. It is important to keep in mind that baseless allegations of abuse can be a reason for a court to find that the accuser puts their interests above the children. In divorce and family law cases, the determinations by the court should be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the allegations are more probable than not. The ultimate standard, however, in fashioning an order in a child custody and parenting time case remains the best interests of the children.

Cases Involving Parental Alienation are Complex

Custody cases are challenging enough on their own and there are many factors to consider in determining the best interests of a child. Allegations of parental alienation are very serious and usually create additional complications and considerations for everyone involved. Usually addressing these cases is best addressed with a thorough understanding of the law and effective advocacy. Whether one finds themselves defending against such an allegation, or believes they are a victim of alienation, it is important to understand your rights.

Stephen J. Riebling, Jr. and Marcia Payton are family law and divorce attorneys at Riebling & Payton, PLLC, located in Westchester County, NY. They have handled countless child custody and parental alienation cases over the years. To learn more about them, the firm and their approach please visit Riebling & Payton, PLLC at www.RieblingPaytonLaw.com.

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