Parental Alienation Syndrome Law

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 What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental Alienation Syndrome, also known as Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS), is a form of emotional abuse that often occurs in the context of a divorce. It occurs when one parent exhibits hostile behavior and demeaning language toward the other parent, and in turn, causes their child also to become hostile toward the other parent. Even though the child may say they hate the parent, they may still have the usual feelings of a child for a parent and long for the parent’s affection and attention.

As with brainwashing, PAS may lead children subjected to it to start believing what they hear. They may then begin to act out socially and emotionally at school or around other family members.

Parental alienation laws become important in divorce cases in the child custody and visitation portion of divorce proceedings. One parent may present evidence of the fact that other engages in conduct that amounts to parental alienation including:

  • Making derogatory statements about the other parent;
  • Communicating lies to a child about the other parent;
  • Refusing to allow a child to visit or talk with the other parent;
  • Failing to obey custody guidelines;

Parental alienation syndrome is the manifestation of symptoms in the child (or children) who have been subjected to the behaviors of parental alienation.

Is Parental Alienation Syndrome Admissible In Court?

The proof requirements when suing for parental alienation will be much the same as proof requirements in any civil action, i.e. documents, testimony and possibly expert testimony. The first issue is whether a court admits evidence of parental alienation and that depends on the state and the court. The law on this topic is not uniform from state to state.

So, depending on the law in a person’s state, a court may allow evidence of PA and PAS in court. Some courts will admit the evidence of PAS, but do not base their decision regarding custody entirely on the diagnosis. However, they consider it as one factor among others.

Suing for parental alienation, again, usually takes place in the context of a divorce. It may come up if a divorce has concluded and PAS becomes an issue in the custody and visitation arrangement that resulted. If PAS is an issue in a person’s situation, their attorney may file a motion for contempt of court. This is a motion that becomes appropriate when an ex-spouse does not allow visitation or shared custody as ordered by the court in the divorce In other words, the ex-spouse has violated a court order regarding custody or visitation.

When the motion for contempt of court goes before the court, the judge will have to determine whether the ex-spouse is in contempt of the parenting order or divorce decree that includes the other parent’s visitation or custody rights. The judge may well appoint an expert, probably a psychologist or psychiatrist. The expert will then assess the situation and report to the court about whether parental alienation syndrome is occurring and if it is, then how serious it is and what effects it is having on the child.

The judge then considers the expert’s opinion and the evidence of PAS and then decides whether changes in custody or visitation are called for.

What Is an Example of Parental Alienation Syndrome Used in Court?

There are a number of cases that provide parental alienation examples. The question has come up as to whether a parent whose ex-spouse has engaged in parental alienation might bring a case against the ex-spouse on a theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Specifically, this question was raised in a case reported in New Jersey, i.e. whether a parent could seek money damages from the other parent, a mother who made numerous alienating statements to the parties’ two children. This had led to the loss of the relationship between the father and his children.

The father sued his ex-wife, claiming that she had engaged in the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court dismissed the action. On appeal, the court held that parents are not allowed to file civil suits against each other for parental alienation of their children. The Court stated that such claims would be against public policy, because they would require the children to testify as witnesses against one or both of their parents. This would not serve the best interests of the children. However, the court stated that its ruling might be different in a more extreme case.

Of course, this case applies only in New Jersey. A person who lives in a different state would want to know what the case law says in their state. This is a question that an experienced family lawyer would be able to answer.

Otherwise, parental alienation and PAS are issues in divorce proceedings or after a divorce if one parent files a motion to change visitation or custody because one parent is engaged in parental alienation.

What Are the Legal Effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Again, as mentioned above, except in the most extreme cases, the legal consequences of parental alienation would be experienced in a divorce proceeding or in a hearing on a motion to change custody and visitation arrangements.

Custody and visitation orders are made with the child’s best interests as the most important factor. In assessing a child’s best interest, the court can consider any relevant facts and circumstances. However, it must consider any effect that a particular custody and visitation arrangement would have on the child’s health, safety, and welfare.

Also, unless the court has reason to believe that a child’s health, safety, and welfare suffer from frequent and continuing contact with both parents, custody and visitation orders should give the child scheduled contact with both parents.
When a parent engages in parental alienation, their actions may have a negative effect on the child’s health, safety, and welfare. This negative impact may justify the court in making a certain order for custody and visitation. For example, the court might limit one parent to supervised visitation until any damage caused by that parent’s alienation is treated.

A court might modify an existing custody order so that the alienating parent’s visitation is limited or supervised, until the damage from that parent’s alienating behaviors has been addressed.
The courts have wide discretion in making child custody and visitation orders, and this means that the court can make orders that include such requirements as the following:

  • The parent engaging in alienating behaviors must undergo individual therapy;
  • The parents must attend co-parenting counseling,
  • The child and the other parent must attend reunification therapy to treat their relationship,

Is Parent Alienation Syndrome Different From Parent Alienation?

Parent alienation is the term applied to the behavior of the parent who is working to alienate the feelings of their child or children for their other parent. Parental Alienation Syndrome is the deleterious psychological consequences in the child or children who have been subjected to the alienating behavior of one of their parents.

What Is Parental Alienation?

There are any number of behaviors that might qualify as parental alienation. Some of them are as follows:

  • Allowing the child to decide whether to visit the other parent or making visitations impossible;
  • Making it difficult for the child to contact the other parent. An extreme variation would be moving away with the child just to interfere with the other parent’s visitation;
  • Working to make the child feel guilty for expressing any positive feelings or opinions about the other parent;
  • Criticizing the other parent in front of the child, often through exaggerated or even false attacks, e.g. accusations of domestic violence;
  • Blaming the other parent in front of the child for the divorce, for relationship problems, or for the alienating parent’s problems;
  • Failing to include the other parent in extracurricular activities, school events, and the like;
  • Failing to inform the other parent about important medical, educational, and other matter;
  • Insisting on a strict visitation schedule or sabotaging visitation.

This list is not exhaustive. Of course, there could be other behaviors and every situation is unique.

What If My Spouse Is Alienating Me? What Can I Do?

If a parent is the subject of alienation, they need to be persistent about protecting their rights. If a parent has a court order granting them custody or visitation, their ex-spouse cannot take that away. The parent should continue seeing their children, regardless of any resentment they may feel.

If the problem is severe enough, the parent should consult an experienced family law attorney. This type of situation can be damaging, and the court may change custody and visitation arrangements or order therapy for one or more of the parties involved.

Can I Sue My Spouse for Parental Alienation?

Again, a person is most likely to succeed by addressing the issue in family court. As noted above, some states may recognize a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in a truly severe situation, but this is unlikely. A person should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss the possibility of suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress in the state in which the person lives.

Otherwise, if a person believes that changes to a visitation and custody arrangement and/or counseling would help, the person wants to consult an experienced child custody attorney.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

A divorce is stressful for all involved, especially a family’s most vulnerable members, the children. Parental alienation only increases the stress and negative consequences of a divorce. If your ex-spouse is engaged in parental alienation, you need to consult a child custody lawyer to discuss your options, especially whether some adjustment to visitation or custody arrangement would help to improve the situation.


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