What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is a term used to describe a child who has been influenced, or “brainwashed” to reject or turn against one of his/her parents by the other. The typical situation seen in family law is where an embittered or malicious parent seeks to negatively influence or poison a child’s relationship with the other parent in an attempt to gain, what they perceive to be, an advantage in a pending custody case.
Why is Parental Alienation such a serious issue?
For a child, a change to their family’s structure, through a divorce action or a separation of their parents, has the ability to cause stress, confusion, and psychological unrest within them. These emotions and issues, when left unaddressed, can have a drastic impact on a child’s performance in school, on their relationships with friends and family, on their physical and psychological health, and on their overall maturation and well-being.
When one parent engages in alienation behaviors, the child’s confusion, stress and psychological unrest is exponentially increased. Their relationship with one parent, a relationship that has provided them with comfort in times of turmoil, and a relationship that is one of only constants in a now quickly changing family environment, is now questioned and trampled on by someone that the child knows and trusts, their other parent. The child is placed between their parents and is thrust into the middle of adult problems. In severe cases, the child begins to freely express unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs, including, but not limited to, anger, hatred and fear, towards a parent that are disproportionate to the child’s actual experiences with that parent.
As no child is identical, the impact and the damage to each child (physical, psychological or otherwise) will vary in severity. Sadly, however, the parent subjecting the child to alienating behaviors is frequently blind to the damage and harm that they are subjecting their own child to.
How is Parental Alienation addressed in California?
Custody and visitation determinations are made from the standpoint of determining what is in the child’s best interest. In evaluating this, the court can consider any relevant circumstances to child custody or visitation, but they must consider any impact that a particular custodial schedule would have on the child’s health, safety, and welfare. Additionally, unless a child’s health, safety, and welfare would be undermined, custody and visitation orders must assure the child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
When a parent engages in parental alienation behaviors, those actions may negatively impact the child’s health, safety and welfare; this negative impact may justify the court in limiting that parent’s visitation, in placing that parent on supervised visitation, or, in the most extreme cases, in eliminating that parent’s visitation entirely until the damage from that parent’s alienating behaviors can be repaired.
Additionally, an alienating parent who attempts to prevent frequent and continuing contact between a child and the other parent, without legitimate concerns for the health, safety and welfare of that child, is acting against the child’s best interest; this behavior may also result in the court addressing what type of contact, if any, the alienating parent should have with the child.
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