Parent Child Alienation
What is parent child alienation?
Parent alienation happens when one parent negatively affects the child’s relationship with the other parent. A common situation in parent child alienation is when a child refuses to follow a court ordered parenting time. That refusal results in one parent being denied time with their child that the court has told them they should get. It is also very common to hear that one parent, usually the primary caregiver, is causing the child to pick up on negative feelings towards the other parent. The child then projects those negative feelings and behaviors onto the parent who is be being negatively affected.
Sometimes children, especially older children, have a strong preference for one parent or the other. This can occur even though neither parent is really at fault. There can be other problems, like mental illness or social anxiety that can affect the child and actually make it detrimental for the child to spend time with a parent. Figuring out whether there is actually parental alienation going on and how to fix it is very important to protecting your relationship with your children.
How does the court determine what is in the child’s best interest?
If the child is seeing a therapist or counselor that person could come forward to explain how one parent is negatively affecting the child. A lot of times a court will appoint an attorney to represent a child to help the child convey their concerns to the court. That attorney can also help the child by preparing them for testimony or by just communication directly with the other attorneys and the judge on their behalf.
The child’s age is really important in this context. Children who are teenagers or becoming teenagers are given a lot more deference in terms of choosing when to spend time with one parent or another, as apposed to children who are younger. The assumption is that a young child might not be capable of determining whether time with one parent is in their best interests. In that case, the court is going to take a hard look at why the child only wants to spend time with one parent and try to remedy the situation with counseling, therapy and, in some cases, simply ordering the custodial parent to force the child to spend the time with the other parent. That is much easier for the court to do with an 8 year old than it is with an 18 year old. An 18 year old that doesn’t want to spend time with one parent is pretty much able to determine that and there’s not much the court or the other parent can do about it.
What can be done about parent child alienation?
Depending on the reason for this alienation of one parent, the court has remedies for either fixing it or otherwise dealing with it.
In cases where one spouse is negatively impacting the child’s relationship with the other parent, the Court could modify custody from one parent to the other. While this can be an extreme remedy, the courts will do that and we’ve won cases where we’ve proved that the inability of one parent to facilitate parenting time with the other parent was significant enough to warrant making the other parent the custodial parent. Less severe remedies are also available.
Motions To Enforce Parenting Time
Motions to enforce parenting time usually come up in the context of one parent being deprived of part of their parenting time, perhaps by parent alienation. That parent can bring a motion to the court claiming they were denied their court ordered parenting time. The court can then order make up time, modify the parenting plan, or order the other parent to engage in parenting classes to understand the significance of denial of parenting time. In more extreme cases the court can order that the other parent to post a bond or security, terminate or modify child support or spousal support.
By statute parenting time enforcement cases get expedited treatment by the court. If there’s a parenting time violation in December, you won’t have to wait until March for that motion to be heard. You will get a hearing within 45 days and hopefully get makeup parenting time pretty quickly.
Filing a motion for contempt is another way to enforce the terms of a judgment, but is unusual because parenting time enforcement motions are so effective and there are actually more rememdies available for a parenting enforcement motion than a contempt motion. Contempt is usually reserved for other parts of the judgement such as not paying child support, spousal support, or other things where the remedy is related to money or property.
People who are being denied their parenting time should not let it go! They should hire a lawyer to file a motion to enforce their parenting time. The longer they let it go, the worse child parent alienation can get, and the harder it can be to enforce their parenting time rights. You don’t want to set a new precedent that would allow the other parent to reduce your parenting time down to less than what you are entitled to in your current parenting plan.