By James S. Margulis, Esq.
In my thirteen years of practicing Family Law, nothing has disturbed me more than the instances of parental alienation I have experienced in my caseload. Unfortunately, it occurs far more often than one would think. I would even venture to say that reasonably good people can succumb to this poisonous modus operandi under the pressures of a divorce or break-up.
Dr. Douglas Darnell, one of the country's leading experts in Parental Alienation, defines parental alienation as "any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that could evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent." The critical element that establishes parental alienation is that the child does, in fact, ultimately hold a negative perception of the victim parent.
Ironically, in my experience, the number one factor that Judges examine in a custody dispute is one parent's ability to foster the relationship with the other parent. Thus, when a parent "turns" a child against the other parent thinking they will "win" custody, they are often in for a rude awakening in Court as the Judge sees through the charade. However, in reality, it takes time to heal the damage already created.
I have witnessed this pattern of alienation manifest in a variety of forms. The most obvious form I have observed occurs when one parent makes negative statements directly to the child about the other parent. These statements can include a parent blaming the other parent for financial problems, for breaking up the family, for changes in lifestyle, or having a girlfriend/boyfriend, etc. If these negative statements occur on a consistent basis, they obviously harm the child more than the victim parent.
Another form of parental alienation I have observed is when one parent dictates when the other parent sees the child prior to any court orders being entered. This puts the victim parent in a no-win situation. If the victim parent does not comply with the dictated timesharing arrangement, the alienating parent threatens to call the police. Of course, the victim parent realizes that it is not in the best interest of the children to be involved in any police activity. Their hands are tied. They ultimately return the child without further incident.
The ultimate lesson for the victim parent is that they must take the high road. They must remain patient. In my experience, when the victim parent is able to do the next right thing and not act out in anger, justice does carry the day in these types of cases. Over time, the alienating parent "hangs themselves" and Judges are able to see who the better, more fostering parent really is.
If you are a victim of parental alienation, please contact Feldmann Nagel Cantafio Margulis Gonnell PLLC, LLC to protect yourself and your children.