Parental alienation is one of the most destructive forms of behavior to affect parents and children involved in custody and visitation cases. These cases not only impact parents and children here in New York, but are being heard in courts all around the world. For example, one recent case in the United Kingdom lasted for approximately five years and involved two children who turned ages 8 and 12 by the time the trial was held. The objective of the mother was clear to all, including the court – she actively sought to alienate the children from their father, and ultimately achieved her goal. The end result effectively rewarded the alienating mother and cut off all contact between the children and the alienated father.
Just how did this grave injustice happen?
The court in this case, like the courts in New York, ultimately decide issues concerning custody and parenting time based upon the overarching consideration of the “best interests” of the child. The mother had a lengthy history of deliberately violating court orders. The agencies and mental health experts involved in the case concluded that the mother was determined not to allow the father to have any contact with the children. When the mental health experts explained to the mother the potential future harm her children might suffer as a consequence of her actions, she was completely unmoved.
The evidence presented at trial concluded that the mother repeatedly renewed false allegations against the father and the parties would go back to court with each new allegation and the pattern would repeat over and over. The children came to believe the mother over time and they expressed a clear wish not to see their father again. As a result, the court ordered contact to stop between the children and their father.
A psychological assessment of the mother revealed that she was implacably opposed to the father having contact, that she had acted so as to prevent the children from having a relationship with their father, and that she had repeatedly psychologically sabotaged any such contact. The conclusion reached was that the children were suffering and would continue to suffer very significant harm as a consequence of being separated from their father and the false belief system imposed on them by the mother.
However, the court, in determining what would be in the children’s best interests, concluded that if the court imposed contact between the children and their father, the children would be embroiled in more litigation, and that the children might put themselves in harms way if they were forced to have contact with their father. Not considered by the court was the potential future impact on these children as they grow up, and the conflicting thoughts and beliefs that they would develop as adolescents and adults.
What can be done to prevent outcomes like this from happening?
The first step in preventing parental alienation is to identify it early on, and for the courts to act forcefully in accordance with legal precedent which states that parental alienation is an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the child that a parent who engages in such behavior is unfit to act as a custodial parent. The courts must take quick and decisive action in these types of cases. This includes immediately removing the child from the alienator’s home, having the alienator’s contact with the children supervised by mental health professionals, and having the children participate in therapy.
The courts hold the “best interests” of the children to be the determining factor in awarding custody. But what about the rights of the parents who are being alienated? In such cases, should the court be able to completely surrender the rights of the parent for the sake of the best interests of the child? By recognizing that parental rights are as important a consideration as the best interests of the child, and balancing the two, perhaps fewer outcomes such as these would occur in the future.