Recently a father petitioned the Nassau County Family Court to terminate his child support obligation, arguing that he was a victim of “parental alienation”. Although the court granted the father a hearing, he failed to prove his case at trial.
The court held that “Where the custodial parent has unjustifiably frustrated the non-custodial parent’s right to reasonable access, child support payments may be suspended”. However, “It is well settled that where a child’s justified refusal to continue a relationship is due to a parent’s malfeasance, misconduct, neglect or abuse, this will not be considered self-emancipation”.
It was undisputed that the child, who was a teenager, refused to see or speak with her father. So why did the father’s petition to terminate child support due to “parental alienation” fail? At the trial, the court looked at the evidence in order to determine whether or not the child’s refusal to have a relationship with her father was “justified”.
At the trial, the child testified on her own behalf, telling the court that her father repeatedly called her names such as “bitch, dumb, and stupid”, had engaged in a physical altercation with her that left her frightened of him, and that her father had anger issues. The mother hired an expert witness, a licensed clinical psychologist, who testified that the child was traumatized by her father and that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by her father’s conduct. The mother also testified that the father demeaned and belittled her in the presence of the child and called her a whore and a bitch, but that she still actively sought to help him rebuild his relationship with the child.
In its decision, the court felt that the child’s refusal to see her father was understandable. The court determined that the father had alienated himself from the child, that the father’s own words and actions caused the relationship to fall apart, and that he failed to accept responsibility for his actions. The court determined that the child’s desire not to have a relationship with her father was therefore justified in light of his actions.
In filing a parental alienation case, it is important to prove that a child’s refusal to have a relationship with a parent is “unjustified”. Thus, even if a parent who feels he is being alienated becomes angry or frustrated with a child who is refusing to see or speak with him, he should not act upon those feelings, and should instead continue his efforts to reach out to the child and to try and establish a relationship with her.
On the other hand, in defending a charge of parental alienation, a parent should present evidence at trial demonstrating that the child’s refusal to have a relationship with a parent was justified due to that parent’s outrageous conduct. This may include the child testifying about physical or verbal abuse, or having an expert witness explain to the court the trauma suffered by the child at the hands of the abusing parent.
Either way, the best way of preventing these types of cases from ever reaching the courts in the first place may be by reaching out to the other parent early on, through an experienced attorney, who can help start the process of rebuilding the parent-child relationship.