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Parental Alienation In Custodial Litigation

“Parental alienation” is a common accusation used during contentious custody litigation.  Whether the allegations are true or false, the fact remains that they serve to put the children squarely in the midst of hostile litigation; intensifies what may already be divided loyalties; and likely results in emotional and psychological consequences that will be felt far after the litigation has concluded. 


Simply, parental alienation is a process whereby a parent utilizes psychological manipulation to estrange a child from the other parent.  As a result, the child may experience a wide range of emotions and behaviors including, but not limited to: anger, resentment, fear and disrespect towards the estranged parent. 


Where credible allegations of alienation exist, a Court will appoint an Attorney for the Child, and often a forensic psychologist to assist the court in determining the custodial issue.  Thus, the determination of such allegations involves a costly and prolonged process which requires significant contact with the child, the parties, child-related providers and family members.    In addition, the Court, in some cases, may choose to do an in camera with the child (a conversation with the judge, child and Attorney for the Child, usually in the judge’s chambers). 


The legal consequence of a proven allegation of alienation can lead to the alienating parent losing custody, as this type of behavior is contrary to a child’s best interests and implicates parental fitness.


The fact of the matter is that during a divorce, a child is likely to be upset with both parents at different times and may express it in a manner which upon first glance, may resemble those behaviors seen in alienation cases.  While a credible claim of alienation is certainly a factor which must be explored, it is a critical priority to reduce a child’s exposure to hostile litigation whenever possible.

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