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How Do You Prove Parental Alienation in a Child Custody Case?

Usually rarely and with great effort and difficulty.

Why? I have written other responses to this question and questions like it, so my answer here will be more concise than past answers, but I will still try to ensure that I touch upon all the important points as to why:

1. Parental alienation is hard to identify and define. Sure, there are some actions and inactions of a parent that are clearly and unmistakably intended to manipulate the child to fear or hate the other parent, to poison a child’s relationship with the other parent. But we don’t see that that often (either because, thankfully, most parents aren’t that malevolent or because the alienating parent is so good at evading detection and exposure).

  1. There are other forms of parental alienation that are milder or susceptible to more than one interpretation. There are actions that could or could not be instances of parental alienation. I cite just a few illustrative examples below:
  2. Is telling the child the truth about a parent’s flaws and failings parental alienation?
    1. Is it an instance of parental alienation to tell the child—truthfully (not falsely at all)—that the reason Dad didn’t pick the child up to celebrate the child’s birthday is because Dad’s a substance abuser and was passed out on the floor?
    2.  Is it an instance of parental alienation to tell the child repeatedly—(but without malice) and truthfully (not falsely at all)—that the reason Dad doesn’t spend scheduled time with the is because Dad’s a substance abuser and is always passed out on the floor?
    3. Is it better to tell the child the hard truths about a parent’s flaws so that the child can accept them or adjust to them sooner than later, or is it better to tell the child lies about the other parent’s flaws with the intent of protecting the child’s self-esteem? Or is there some middle course that must be taken in such a situation?
  3. Is “one person’s parental alienation another person’s mere freedom of thought and expression”? Is it parental alienation for a parent to criticize and mock the other parent’s political and religious beliefs (not criticizing or mocking the parent, but criticizing and/or mocking the beliefs)?
  4. Is it parental alienation to encourage a child to form a loving relationship with a stepparent?
  5. Is it parental alienation to refuse to send a child to spend time alone with an abusive parent when you know (not mere suspicion, you know) the parent is abusive but have no verifiable proof? Imagine the agony of having to choose between being punished (potentially cut off from your child and thus exposing the child to even more abuse) for disobeying court orders and causing your child to be abused by obeying court orders.
  6. You get the idea.

2. Parental alienation is hard to prove. See above. Parental alienation is not something courts like to address. See above. In some respects, parental alienation is hard to prove because parental alienation is not something courts like to address, and parental alienation is not something courts like to address because parental alienation is hard to prove. You see?

  1. And if and when some courts are lazy and apathetic, you can see how such courts would rather dismiss claims of parental alienation than wrestle with them.

3. False claims of parental alienation are so often made that it’s hard to determine whether the claims are sincere and easy to presume they are not. See above.

4. Parental alienation is hard to prevent or manage.

  1. So, let’s say you’ve proven to the court’s satisfaction that the other parent is engaging in parental alienation. Now what?
  2. Do we cut off the other parent from the child to protect the child from further parental alienation? Or would that do the child more harm than good?
  3. Do we try to grant the other parent access to the child under controlled/supervised conditions to ensure the child has as good and has healthful a relationship with the other parent as possible while simultaneously protecting the child from further parental alienation? Or would that do the child more harm than good? Or would that be so expensive as to be unsustainable?
  4. What if the other parent comes to the court and claims, “I see the error of my ways and I’ve changed?” Do we tell the other parent, “Too little too late” or “We can’t take the risk you’re not cured”? Do we reintroduce the other parent to the child? Relax or terminate the restrictions on the other parent’s contact with the child?
  5. Is trying to prevent or manage parental alienation a situation where court intervention makes a bad situation worse? Where the prescribed cure is worse than the disease?
  6. It’s tempting for a court to “conclude” that parental alienation has not been proven so that the court need not deal with it in crafting the court’s orders of legal custody and of physical custody and visitation/parent-time. See paragraph 2 above.

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

(10) Eric Johnson’s answer to How do you prove parental alienation in a child custody case? – Quora

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