Written by attorney Henry S. Gornbein

Is Parental Alienation a Myth?

My recent blog, Are More Fathers Obtaining Custody?, was based upon my own personal experience and observations. I would now like to discuss the issue of parental alienation. There has been a lot of controversy over this topic. Some psychologists say it is a syndrome; others have said it is not. Rather than get into a battle of labels, I would like to discuss examples that I have seen in my many years of specializing in family law as well as observations of my colleagues including other attorneys specializing in family law and psychologists. I have many cases going on now and in the past where one party will do everything possible to alienate his or her spouse from the children. Examples include denigrating the other parent in front of the children. This can be by words, by gestures, as well as using technology such as email or texting. A second example is trying to prevent the other parent from seeing or talking to the children. Cutting off phone contact. Making parenting time/visitation as difficult as possible. Making the child unavailable to the other parent and coming up with excuses. Doing everything possible to marginalize and make the other parent as insignificant as possible in the child's life. I've had cases where there have been false allegations of domestic violence or of sexual abuse. These are among the most serious of all because the authorities will react by keeping the child away from the alleged perpetrator. These are situations that are extremely difficult to disprove. The resulting prolonged court battles, numerous encounters with the law, and with psychologists creates havoc and great damage not only to the parent who is wrongly accused, but also to the child or children involved. How do you remedy some of these serious problems. I have found that the poorer the communication there is between the parents, whether during or after a divorce, the more important it is to have everything spelled out in writing. This will be specific times and days for parenting time. This will include specific pick-up and drop-off places. Often, sadly, this will be at a neutral point and in extreme cases, at a local police station. Phone contact. This must be spelled out. If there are to be cell phones or other land lines, these are to be made available. I have many cases where land lines are cut off and cell phones unavailable. The problem is that these are the cases that are in and out of Court week after week, month after month, and year after year. Have specific days and times for phone contact. What are some other possible solutions? In addition to spelling things out in detail, these are cases where it may be important to have a Guardian ad Litem appointed who is a psychologist or attorney representing the best interests of the child or children. Other situations may require a parenting coordinator who can be a psychologist or attorney working with the parties as a go-between to keep matters out of court, but also as a neutral party to assist with the many problems. What can judges do? Judges have to listen. Judges have to act. If someone is being deprived of his or her rights of parenting time, custody or even phone time with his or her children, judges must step in. They should issue sanctions including court costs, attorney fees and even jail time. In extreme cases, there should be a change of custody. What is the fallout? The fallout is devastating. The worse the problem, the more that the children are sucked into this vicious war and become the innocent victims-forced to align with one parent or the other and constantly meeting with therapists and ultimately being scarred for life. Whether it is called parental alienation or some other term, the key is that these situations exist all too frequently. Sadly they won't go away often due to anger, bitterness or the mental instability of one or both parents. What are your thoughts?

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo child custody email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer