Friday, February 20, 2015

What is Parental Alienation and What Can I Do About It?

What is Parental Alienation and What Can I Do About It?

In far too many cases, children become pawns in divorce cases.  In fact, in far too many cases, it is the divorce attorneys who, consciously or unconsciously, encourage their clients to withhold the children from the other parent.  Unfortunately, the state mandated method for calculating child support is, in large part, responsible for this behavior.

As a divorce and family law attorney with many years of experience in child custody cases, as well as through my own divorce (though my ex and I are now good friends), it is my opinion that there are three primary factors that encourage parental alienation in divorce and child custody cases:

1. The Method of Calculating Child Support.  Child support paid from the non-custodial parent to the primary custodial parent is, all other things being equal, based upon the amount of time that the children spend with the custodial parent.  Stated another way, the more time the custodial parent can keep the children away from the non-custodial parent, the more support the custodial parent receives from the non-custodial parent.  Economists will tell you that, all other things being equal, when you pay a person for a behavior, you can be assured that you will get more of that behavior.

2. The Custodial Parent's Desire to Continue Punish or to Exercise Control Over the Non-Custodial Parent.  No one is sane when going through a divorce.  Often, one party does not want the divorce.  A vindictive custodial parent can cause immense emotional and financial harm to the non-custodial parent by withholding the children from the non-custodial parent.  Unfortunately, the insanity of divorce and desire to harm the non-custodial parent both emotionally and financially blinds the offending parent to the fact that such behavior causes severe, long-term harm to the children.  Countless studies establish without doubt that children fare much better when, even through and after divorce, they have TWO parents who love them and that children who have had one parent "amputated" by the custodial parent are at dramatically higher risk for emotional problems, delinquency including drug abuse and criminal activity.  Moreover, the alienating parent often finds that, in the long-run, the children ultimately rebel against the alienating parent and align tightly with the other parent as soon as they reach an age at which they can express their own opinions.

3. Societal Pressure. Although "the times they are a changing," the traditional historical custody arrangement was that the children spent alternate weekends with one parent, usually the father, and the balance of the time with the custodial parent, usually the mother.  That stereotype is still ingrained in many people's minds.  Because, in many cases, one parent is attempting, consciously or unconsciously, to justify the fact that they are divorcing, such parent will attempt to establish that the other parent is unfit, incapable or for other reasons not worthy of having substantial custody time with the children.  In so doing, the alienating parent is attempting to convey to the world that the reasons for the divorce were legitimate: that there was something "wrong" with the other parent.

4. Differing Parenting Styles Combined With a Belief that the Other Parent's Parenting Style is Deficient. People vary in parenting styles.  Some are very strict, some or very liberal, some are more involved, some are less involved.  Particularly in South Orange County, the term "helicopter parent" has become slang for the parent who must exercise control over and direct every moment of their children's lives.  There are other parents who have no problem with their children hopping on their bicycle and disappearing to engage in self-directed activities until a reasonable hour.  And, there are parents who fall into the infinite spectrum between the helicopter parent and the more hands off parent.  Typically, when these parents end up in divorce and custody battles, the conflict between their parenting styles manifests itself in acute conflict.  The fact is, that within reason, both parenting styles are valid, but it can be very difficult for parents to accept the idea that their particular parenting style is superior to the style of their ex.

5. Turning the Children Into Parents. In many cases, one parent will portray themselves as the victim of the divorce and custody dispute and will seek validation from the child.  When this occurs, the child is forced into the unfamiliar, uncomfortable and unnatural role of parent to the "victim" parent. 

Sometimes alienation descends to the level of one parent (or both) making false allegations of various forms of abuse, this is by far the most heinous example of alienation and, unfortunately, often works, at least temporarily. Not only are such actions deplorable, they have dramatic negative impacts on the children resulting in often irreparable harm to the relationship between the child and either parent.  Sometimes the alienating parent ends up despised by the child and sometimes the other parent is successfully amputated from the child's life leaving a lasting void and lasting resentment.

California law provides that preference in custody disputes is to be given to the parent most likely to promote a continuous and healthy relationship with the other parent.  If alienation is proven, it will often reduce the custody time share of the alienating parent.

Whether you are the alienating parent or the parent from whom your children are being alienated, you need an experienced divorce attorney to help understand what is happening and why, the give you some perspective on the legal consequences of the situation and to help you discover, assemble and present your evidence so that the best interest of your children is put ahead of your own hurt, betrayal or other conflict that resulted in the divorce in the first place.

That said, the single, simplest, most powerful method to ameliorate parental alienation is to insist that every custody order require that the parent who’s custody period is ending be required to deliver the child to the other parent to commence that parent’s custody time.  This simple requirement dramatically reduces the alienator’s ability to use “home base” in the alienator’s attempts to interfere with the non alienator’s custody time.  It also forces the alienator to actually deliver the children to the alienated parent which serves to practical purposes:  (i) it conveys non-verbally that regardless of the negative comments made by the alienator, the alienator is still delivering the child to the alienated parent; and (ii) It forces the alienator to either exercise parental authority to require the child to obey the court’s order or face contempt for refusing to obey the court’s custody order.

Here are resources discussing the problem of parental alienation and suggestions for dealing with it:


By: Robert R. Beauchamp
Robert Beauchamp
Law Office of Robert R Beauchamp
23120 Alicia Pkwy
Second Floor
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Tel:  949-370-8000
Fax: 855-370-8100

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