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The State of Parental Alienation Case Law in the U.S. Court

Who needs to know about the parental alienation case law? Many children of divorced parents are influenced by parental alienation. In cases of parental alienation, one parent manipulates the child into rejecting the other parent. The upshot of this emotional and mental abuse is parental alienation case law syndrome (PAS), which can appear in children as behavioral difficulties, psychological trauma, and other undesirable traits.

Parental alienation and PAS directly conflict with custody and parental visitation rights, making them critical issues in divorce courts. There have been a number of major case law judgments on the topics of parental alienation case law in the U.S. Court. These, as well as their snippets, are addressed more below.

Early Stages of Parental Alienation Case Law 

parental alienation case law
Parental alienation case law

In the United States, a number of parental alienation case law instances emerged immediately after the term “parental alienation syndrome” was coined in 1985. Although the phrase was not used as a cause for custody judgments in the majority of the instances, the manipulation of one parent on the children and the consequent undesirable behaviors were frequently highlighted. Some of these included:

  • Schutz v. Schutz, Florida Supreme Court, 1991. In a revolutionary ruling, the court decreed that it was no longer permissible for a wife to reprimand her husband in front of their children. This finding did not contravene any parent’s constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment:

“As a result, not only is the incidental restriction placed on her right to free expression required to further the state’s objectives as stated in Chapter 61, but it is also important to defend the rights of the children and their father to the meaningful relationship that the order intends to reestablish…

We find no abuse of discretion by the trial court, nor an unconstitutional restriction on the petitioner’s first amendment rights, construing the decision as we do.”

  • Tucker v. Greenberg, Fifth District, Florida District Court of Appeal, 1996. This court concluded that parental alienation was damaging to the child’s health. The court stated, in terminology reminiscent of that used to prove parental alienation syndrome:

“The Former Wife’s interference with the Former Husband’s visitation and access to his children, along with her terrible parenting decisions over the years, has had a severe impact on the children’s school behavior, self-assurance, and feelings toward their father.”

  • Hanson v. Spolnik, Indiana State Appellate Court, 1997. Attorneys noted the necessity to review divorce conditions based on “whether one parent’s hatred and behaviour towards another may justify the alteration of a joint child custody agreement” in this successful appeal.

Although the typical cases of parental alienation are simple, there have been situations where both parents resorted to alienating actions with severe repercussions for their children’s lives. For instance, in the Spenceley v. Spenceley case from a 2000 Michigan Court ruling, it was concluded that each parent had worked against the child’s well-being by attempting to estrange them and as such were not granted custody but instead faced serious charges of abuse towards a minor.

parental alienation case law
Early Stages of Parental alienation case law

Recent Parental Alienation Case Decisions in the U.S. Court

In recent years, the courts have taken a strong stance against parental alienation cases and their damaging effects – particularly in regard to Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Although legal professionals are still debating the nuances of how best to define PAS, as well as its burden of proof, there is already an abundance of case law that underscores these principles.

In 2011, the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the family court’s decision in Matter of Bond v. MacLeod to regard children’s preferences as insignificant when determining visitation rights, despite taking into account what their opinions were on the matter. The appellate court suggested there may have been a case involving parental alienation by the father at hand.

As a result, the court concluded that suspending the mother’s visitation would be in the best interest of the child. This is just one example out of many cases indicating that courts are becoming increasingly aware and understanding of parental alienation.

Unfortunately for alienated parents, their children often refuse to abide by what was decided in court – this can be an incredibly arduous obstacle to overcome.

The New Hampshire State Supreme Court cited Vermont’s ruling in Matter of James J. Miller and Janet S. Todd (2011) to emphasize that, despite good intentions, the court had unfortunately overlooked a parent’s intentional attempt to separate a child from its other parent.

The Appeals Court made clear that permitting the decision of the lower court would convey a disconcerting message to others, justifying their identical immoral behavior. Moreover, it warned that if left unchallenged, such a ruling could go against the notion that having strong and supportive ties with both parents can benefit children in many aspects.

parental alienation case law
Parental alienation case law

This case even mentioned a constructive decision from a Vermont case, which stated:

“Across the United States, the enormous authoritative weight believes that one parent’s behavior that is inclined to isolate the child’s affections from the other is so detrimental to the child’s well-being that it is the basis for a refusal of custody to, or a modification of custody from, the parent who is culpable of such behavior.”

Furthermore, the court highlighted its decision in a previous New Hampshire case, which stated:

“A custodial parent’s obstruction of visitation between a child and the noncustodial parent may, if persistent, indicate behavior so contrary to the best interests of the child as to produce a substantial possibility that the kid would be harmed.”

In the 2015 Matter of Robert Coull v. Pamela Rottman, the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court suspended child support due to a parent’s separating behavior that made it impossible for the father to visit his offspring.

The ruling refrained from assigning this pattern a psychiatric diagnosis and instead chose to focus on preventing further damage by suspending child support payments.

This idea of parental alienation case law as a pattern instead of an analysis permits a court to establish their decision based on pre-existing psychological conceptions and diagnoses, while evading the potentially explosive concept of PAS. New York has taken this course; one judge declared:

“PAS, commonly derisively referred to as ‘junk science,’ is not typically recognized in the scientific world because it is not an accepted word or diagnosis in the psychiatric area, and no New York court has approved the admission of testimony about PAS…”

Despite shying away from clarifying how exactly PAS affects parental alienation cases, New York and other courts have accepted the concept of parental alienation.

Numerous decisions were based on the definition that such behavior includes actively preventing noncustodial parents from having a reasonable amount of access to their children. With this notion progressing further, it is likely we will see more rulings in regards to combating parental alienation case law come into fruition soon.

And if you want to know about parental alienation against mother, explore what exactly parental alienation against mother involves and how best to tackle such situations if they arise.

parental alienation case law
Parental alienation case law

FAQs

How can I beat parental alienation?

In order to heal the alienation, it is essential that all involved parties take part in individual and reunification therapy. Additionally, the alienating parent’s attorney must ensure they cease their damaging behavior. In doing so, we can hope for a healing and positive outcome.

What are the consequences if parental alienation is successfully established?

Demonstrating evidence that parental alienation (PA) exists can support you in receiving custody or a modification of your current order. Certain elements consistently occur with PA cases, such as a child abnegating one parent through no fault of their own. If these conditions apply to your situation, then supplying proof may be key in obtaining the outcome you desire.

What are judges’ thoughts on parental alienation?

In a case involving parental alienation, the court will focus on what motivates a child’s bad behavior toward a parent. The alienator’s behavior could be based on experience, or it could be unfounded and ingrained. This is when the documentation comes in handy.

How do you defend against parental alienation?

Maintain a positive, caring relationship with the child so that the child feels comfortable with you to prevent parental alienation. Consider discussing your observations with the other parent. If the estrangement persists, consider parenting programs, therapy, and seeking assistance from the Court.

Conclusion

Courts have recognized that parental alienation case law is a serious issue regarding child custody. They are completely aware that it is extremely harmful to the child’s best interests. As a result, courts are seeing that it is in breach of this standard and are not allowing it.

Cases like the ones mentioned above are becoming more frequent in the U.S. family court system. Courts are becoming more observant when examining the alienating parent’s behavior and the negative consequences this behavior has on children, such as PAS.  

Janet McCullar

Janet McCullar

Janet McCullar is a seasoned attorney who focuses her practice on matters involving parental infidelity and child custody disputes. Janet has successfully defended clients in a large number of difficult divorce and child custody disputes. In addition to this, Janet McCullar is a published author and public speaker who frequently discusses topics related to divorce and the custody of children.

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