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Parental alienation: How does it affect custody?

Shelly had had enough. Her husband was always late on mortgage payments, was bouncing checks, and creditors were calling constantly.

She felt isolated and alone in her marriage and was withdrawing more and more from her husband and turning to friends and family as her source of support. When this pattern continued for over a year with no change, Shelly gave up hope and filed for divorce.

Shelly and her kids moved in with her mom. Grandma had never really liked her son-in-law and encouraged Shelly to avoid him during the divorce proceedings.

She openly denigrated him in front of her grandchildren and Shelly was joining in. Verbal insults turned into active hostility. Before long, Shelly was scheduling activities during visitation time and within a year, the kids were not seeing their dad at all.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Divorce is difficult. No one is going to argue with that. Frustrations over money and conflicted values usually drive the end of a marriage, and anger and hurt often drive both parties’ actions. But the kids are not, and should not, be part of these dynamics.

Regardless of dad’s actions in the marriage, he is still important to the children. Actively undermining the relationship between dad and kids is called parental alienation, and the courts do take kindly to it.

What are the signs?

Parental alienation is an active attempt to sever emotional ties between one parent and the children. Some signs of parental alienation include:

  • Including children in conversations about the divorce, i.e. who should get custody, how much child support should be paid, etc.
  • Denying visitation or giving the child a choice in whether they visit the other parent, rather than actively encouraging time together
  • Calling the other parent names or generally undermining them in front of the children
  • Not including the other parent in healthcare and school decisions and refusing to give them information on where the child attends school, or include them in conferences, etc.
  • Blaming the other parent for financial issues, for example, telling a child items cannot be purchased because, “Daddy has all our money.”
  • Accusing the other parent of abuse when no pattern of abuse is exists

What will the courts do?

There are many other ways a parent can actively undermine a relationship with the other parent. What is important to remember is that the courts determine custody and visitation based on what is best for the child.

Overwhelmingly, courts expect parents to cooperate for the good of their children. When a parent shows through their behavior and actions that this is not possible, that parent may lose custody of the children.

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