When a child is seemingly alienated from a parent without cause, it can be challenging to prove. Building that case in a litigation context requires skill and patience. A recent issue of The Pennsylvania Lawyer discussed the challenges in a divorce or custody matter if parental alienation appears to be a factor.
Parental alienation is, as one might assume, more likely to occur in high-conflict divorces than in amicable ones. In divorces with parental alienation, a child expresses a preference for one parent over the other without a justifiable reason, such as abuse or neglect. Often, when one parent discusses the court case directly with the child, the child then becomes the emotional caretaker of that parent and, as a result, indicates a preference for him or her over the other. Other common characteristics of parent alienation include the child refusing to visit the nonpreferred parent and complaining about that parent’s discipline methods. Communication between parents is often then conducted through the child, rather than directly between the parents.
It is worth noting that there is no official mental health diagnosis of parental alienation. Therefore, in Pennsylvania, the legislature has steered clear of using the term. Instead, it is referred to as “the attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent (23 Pa.C.S. 5328(a)(8).” An official “Parental Alienation Syndrome” is not recognized.
In parental alienation cases, the lawyer – not the client – should drive the gathering of information, doing a deep dive into a family’s life and objectively gathering data. This can be a time-intensive process that will take months, or sometimes the better part of a year. It may include interviews and gathering of counseling records, review of prior psychological or custody evaluations, and the study of other communications.
In all, due diligence can come at significant cost and place families in waiting mode before custody can be determined. Additionally, knowing whether a judge will be receptive to the concept of parental alienation is helpful, as some will discount or dismiss it altogether. Therefore, very experienced legal counsel is essential.
The attorneys of Williams Family Law have understood the issues surrounding parental alienation syndrome since it surfaced some 20 years ago. We have addressed it previously in our blog, and continue to counsel clients on the issue today.
If this is affecting your divorce, it is important to have an experienced Bucks County custody attorney working on your behalf. Contact us at 215-340-2207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.