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How Can Parental Alienation Affect Child Custody Cases?

 Posted on March 30, 2023 in Divorce

dupage county divorce lawyerFamily law cases involving child custody can be difficult and stressful, even in situations where there is little conflict and parents are in agreement about how various issues should be handled. However, these cases can easily become contentious. In some cases, parents' negative feelings toward each other may affect how they interact with their children, and one parent may act in ways that could cause harm to the relationship between the children and the other parent. These actions and behaviors are often referred to as parental alienation, and they can not only affect matters related to child custody, but they can cause children to suffer emotional harm.

In situations where parental alienation has occurred or where a parent suspects that their former partner is attempting to alienate their children against them, it is important to address this issue correctly. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, our divorce and family law attorneys know how harmful parental alienation can be, and we work to help our clients respond to this type of behavior and ensure that they can maintain good relationships with their children. We always work to protect the best interests of children in these matters, and we do everything we can to protect them against harm and advocate for solutions that will allow for positive parent/child relationships.

Understanding Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse that can have long-lasting effects on children. It involves actions or words that can cause a child to turn against one parent and take the other parent's side in a divorce or child custody case. In some cases, parental alienation may be unintentional, and it may arise out of high levels of conflict between parents, children being exposed to arguments, or a parent expressing anger or frustration about issues related to the end of a marriage or long-term relationship.

However, the form of parental alienation that is often more harmful involves behaviors by a parent that are specifically meant to damage a child's relationship with the other parent and influence child custody decisions. These actions are often intended to get a child to take sides in conflicts between parents, and a parent may hope that by influencing children's desires about child custody, they can convince a court to decide in their favor and grant them sole or primary custody of their children.

Examples of Parental Alienation

There are a variety of different forms of parental alienation, and these behaviors may include:

  • Speaking negatively about the other parent to the child or in the child's presence. A parent may complain about the other parent's actions, claim that the other parent is solely responsible for a divorce or the end of a relationship, or even state that the other parent does not love or care about the children. They may tell lies about the other parent's feelings or actions with the intent of causing children to have negative attitudes about that parent.

  • Forcing a child to take sides in disputes. A parent may tell children that they have the choice about which parent they want to stay with, while giving them reasons why they should not see or spend time with the other parent. They may withhold affection from a child when they express positive feelings toward their other parent, or they may encourage children to be disrespectful or hostile toward the other parent. Through these actions, an alienating parent may seek to make children feel guilty or ashamed about wanting to have a relationship with the other parent.

  • Intentionally sabotaging relationships between children and the other parent. This may consist of comments about how children will not have fun at the other parent's home, as well as other actions meant to discourage children from spending time with the other parent. For example, a parent may schedule activities that children would enjoy at times when they are supposed to be with the other parent. They may also undermine the other parent's authority, such as by claiming that children should not have been disciplined by the other parent or requiring certain rules to be followed even if the other parent does not agree to them.

  • Involving children in inappropriate situations. A parent may ask children to spy on the other parent and report back to them about their relationships with other romantic partners, the condition of their home, or the activities they engage in. Parental alienation may also consist of sharing inappropriate details with children about the parents' marriage or divorce, including details about infidelity or arguments that have occurred between the parents. If a parent relies on children for emotional support, this can put children in a difficult position and require them to take on responsibilities that are not age-appropriate. A parent may also ask children to convey messages to the other parent, forcing them to become involved in discussions about matters that should stay between parents, or they may ask children to keep secrets from the other parent.

  • Not allowing children to communicate or have contact with the other parent. A parent may refuse to follow the parenting time schedule put in place by the court, and they may claim that this is because the children do not want to spend time with the other parent. They may prohibit children from calling the other parent, and if the other parent asks to speak with children, they may claim that the children are unavailable or do not want want to see or talk to them. They may also seek to prevent the other parent from accessing information related to children, such as educational or medical records. By cutting off communication and contact, they may hope to damage parent/child relationships beyond repair and convince the court to allow them to have sole custody.

  • Accusations of abuse. A parent may attempt to get the legal system involved in disputes by claiming that the other parent has been abusive toward children. They may contact the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and report physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse, forcing an investigation to occur that could potentially affect child custody decisions. They may also attempt to obtain an order of protection based on false accusations of domestic abuse in hopes that they can prevent the other parent from seeing or communicating with the children.

Recognizing the Signs of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is not always obvious. A parent may notice that children seem distant toward them, or they may experience more disputes with children over household rules or disciplinary issues. In other cases, a parent may struggle to see or communicate with children, and they may be told that children do not want to spend time with them.

For those who suspect that parental alienation is occurring, there are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Unfair criticism - If a child is always critical toward one parent while seeming to believe that the other parent can do no wrong, this may be a sign that a parent is engaging in parental alienation and disparaging the other parent to the child.

  • Lack of independent thinking - If a child's negative beliefs about a parent do not seem to be based on valid reasons, this may be an indication that they are being influenced to take sides between parents. In some cases, a child may give reasons for their negative opinions that are taken from the other parent rather than being formed on their own.

  • Dependency on one parent - If a child seems to have separation anxiety when they are required to leave one parent, or if they rely solely on one parent to help with schoolwork or emotional and personal needs, this may be a sign that a parent has encouraged an environment of dependency rather than working to help children become self-sufficient and be well-adjusted.

The Role That Parental Alienation May Play in Child Custody Matters

Judges take the best interests of the child into consideration when determining how to allocate parental responsibilities and parenting time. While there are numerous factors that may be considered in these cases, one key issue that is addressed is the ability of parents to cooperate and put their children's best interests first.

Judges will look at whether parents are willing to put their children's needs ahead of their own desires and whether they are willing to encourage children to have a positive relationship with the other parent. In situations where parental alienation is taking place, this is likely to be a sign that a parent is refusing to cooperate, is putting their own desires ahead of what is best for their children, and is likely to continue to take actions that could cause children to suffer emotional harm. As a result, child custody decisions may favor a parent who has not committed alienation.

However, proving that parental alienation has taken place is not always easy. A parent who is behaving in this way may be careful to limit their actions to private conversations with children without leaving any written record of their words. To determine whether a parent is engaging in these types of behaviors, it may be necessary to request that a child custody evaluator be appointed to investigate the situation, evaluate the parents' abilities to provide the necessary care for children, and determine how children are being affected by disputes between parents. This can ensure that parental alienation will be uncovered and addressed when handling child custody matters in court.

If there is evidence that a parent has engaged in actions or conduct that have put children's emotional health at risk, restrictions on child custody may be appropriate. In some cases, the alienating parent's level of parental responsibility or amount of parenting time may be reduced, or if there are concerns about children's safety, a parent may be required to have supervision present during their parenting time. Parents may be required to exchange children in a public location or through third parties, or communication may be restricted between a parent and the children or the other parent. A parent may also be required to participate in treatment programs meant to prevent behavior that could cause harm to children, such as parenting classes or psychological counseling.

Restrictions may also be appropriate if a parent has consistently interfered in the other parent's relationship with children. If a parent has refused to follow the parenting time schedule, has not allowed the other parent to have access to the children or records related to important child-related issues, or taken other actions meant to harm parent/child relationships, some of the restrictions described above may be put in place to address these issues.

Contact Our Elmhurst Child Custody Lawyers for Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a serious issue that can have long-lasting negative effects on children. If you believe your child is being alienated against you, it is crucial to seek legal advice immediately to protect your parental rights and your child's well-being. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we can advise you on the best ways to approach these matters, and we will work to put solutions in place that will protect your children's best interests. Contact our DuPage County child custody attorneys at 312-605-4041 to set up a consultation and get the legal help you need.





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