Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Parental Alienation

One of the most difficult cases I work on are those dealing with parental alienation.  Parental alienation often occurs during or following divorce, and is characterized by a child expressing unreasonable, unjustified and strong dislike or even hatred for a parent. Most often, alienation occurs against the non-custodial parent, though it often takes place in situations where parents share physical custody of their child.

There are several things that can trigger alienation, though the most common appears to be the result of repeated negative remarks and ideas expressed by one parent against or about the alienated parent. As children are very intuitive and hear much more than we think, they are easily influenced by negative conversations or remarks they may hear about one parent. In additon, as divorce is a very difficult event in a child's life, he may turn to scapegoating as a coping mechanism, thus unreasonably blaming one parent for the breakdown of the family unit.

It is important to take action as soon as possible if it appears that alienation is taking place or being attempted. The longer a child is exposed to negative comments about one parent, and the longer she is allowed to act on these unreasonable feelings by refusing to attend visitation or by not following that parent's rules, the harder it will be to undo the damage and re-establish a healthy parent/child relationship. 

On June 8, 2012, a judgment was issued in the matter of Hendren v. Lee out of the Middlesex Probate and Family Court. This Judgment of Modification transferred sole legal and physical custody of the parties' son to the mother, the alienated parent. The judgment included a provision that the mother and child attend weekly reunification therapy and that the Father, his family, his friends and the son's siblings cease all contact with son for 90 days in order to effectuate said reunification. Unfortunately, the parties' older children were by this time beyond the jurisdiction of the court and could not be made to attend therapy with their Mother.  As such, it is very possible that, due to the one parent's repeated alienation, this mother will never have a relationship with her older children. The children will likely never be able to attend holiday meals together at their mother's home, or take family vacations with their mother.  As the court noted, this sort of alienation is not a child's best interest.  Further, studies show that children succeed more in life if they have healthy, loving relationships with both parents.

In sum, parental alienation is a tragic yet common occurence that can be prevented by seeking assistance from the court at the earliest sign that parental alienation being attempted.

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