As a general rule, it is in the best interests of children to have strong and healthy relationships with both of their parents, even when the parents are no longer together. However, all too often the divorce process breeds an adversarial relationship between parents. In some cases, the parents might overlook the best interests of the children in order to focus on litigation strategy and positioning. Parental alienation is a situation in which a parent facilitates the rejection of other the parent by the minor children.
While sometimes referred to as Parental Alienation Syndrome, parental alienation is not a disorder recognized within the medical community nor is it included in the DSM-V. However, many experts and the courts recognize parental alienation as a serious issue and consider it when making custody and visitation determinations.
Parental alienation can occur in a variety of fashions. It can occur in very blatant ways. For example, it may occur when one parent openly denies the other parent access to a child or speaks negatively about the other parent to the child. It can also occur in a more subtle, discrete manner. For example, it may occur when a parent manipulates a child by undermining the other parent’s authority or places blame upon the other parent for the divorce or present circumstances. In some circumstances, parental alienation can be severe and the alienating parent may make false accusations of abuse or neglect.
To some extent, a certain level of parental alienation occurs in most contested divorce cases as a natural byproduct of the adversarial process. However, if alienation is worsening or is severe, it is important for the sake of the children and the parents that it ceases immediately. Identifying when alienation is occurring is the first step in getting to the bottom of the problem. In this key area, the attorneys at Kollias & Giese, P.C. can provide crucial insight.
In cases where the court determines alienation has occurred, the court must then decide how to rectify the situation. The willingness and ability of the parents to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent is one of the factors the court must consider under Section 602 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act in determining the best interests of the child. If alienation has occurred, the alienating parent must necessarily lack the willingness or ability to facilitate that relationship. Taking that as a given, the court will then consider the other factors and determine whether a modification or award of custody is necessary as a result of the alienation.
Often times, unfortunately, a crafty parent may have some level of success in alienating a child from the other parent. If alienation occurs, the court must not only consider the interests of the alienated parent in determining how to proceed. It must also consider the child’s mental health and well-being. The process of reconnecting the alienated parent can be difficult. However, there are a number of options for the court to consider, including family or individual therapy, participation by the child or alienating parent in programs designed to minimize alienation, or through an increase in the amount or duration of the parenting time of the alienated parent with the child.
If you suspect alienation is occurring within your family or have concerns about how to address a situation where alienation has occurred, you should contact the attorneys of Kollias & Giese, P.C. for practical legal advice on how to achieve the results that are best for your children.