The term “parental alienation” is a relatively noval term that has been thrown around a lot by parents when they feel that the other parent has caused their children to hate them. While there are certain cases where same is warranted, the popularity of the term has caused a serious diagnoses to be used in situations where there really is no parental alienation.
In a recent case in DuPage County, a Judge rejected the 604(b) custody evaluator’s contention that the mother had engaged in parental alienation of the parties two children, causing their children to hate their father. The 604(b) evaluator opined that this was one of the “most extreme cases of parental alienation” she had seen in her professional career, and that the actions by the mother included gate-keeping, passive aggressive interference with visitation, a relapse into mental illness and the implantation through inculcation of false memories and beliefs. The custody evaluator recommended sole custody to the father.
The Judge rejected the custody evaluator’s assessment of parental alienation and instead found that this was a case of “child-parent estrangement”, in which the actions of the father were a major cause in his strained relationship with his children. An expert was called to testify regarding “child-parent estrangement” which he defined as being part of parental alienation except that it was not as black and white in that the estranged parent bore some, if not all, of the culpability for the estrangement.
The father had sent the children a letter in which he informed them that he would be terminating his visitation for an undefined period. The parents had also raised their children in a way where they readily succumbed to their demands and gave them control over decisions that belong to the parents. As a result, both parties were at fault and the Judge found it was not in the best interests to force the children to live with their father and granted the mother sole custody.
This case is significant in that it adds to the debate about a new theory we are still learning about. Although “parental alienation” is not yet recognized as an official diagnosis, the fact that Judges are accepting the theory and basing their custody and visitation decisions on this theory can be troubling. And while there are cases where such a diagnosis, and the subsequent cut-off of significant custody and visitation rights of the other parent, is appropriate, it is not a diagnosis that should be thrown around lightly simply because one parent does not have a relationship with their child out of their own doing.