One of the most hot-button terms in parenting cases in Cook County is “alienation”, meaning that one parent is actively seeking to keep the child from having a relationship with their other parents. The current laws on parenting favor both parents being active and involved in a child’s life, and seeks to give both parents meaningful communication and significant time with the child on a regular basis. When one parent is interfering with the other parent’s relationship with the child, the interfering parent is often accused of failing to facilitate the child’s relationship with the other parent, which is often referred to as parental alienation in court.
Table of Contents
- Concerns About Parental Alienation
- What Does It Mean to Facilitate a Relationship with the Other Parent?
- How Can You Prove Your Ex is Not Facilitating Your Relationship with Your Child?
- Ongoing Non-Compliance With Court Orders
- Alienation Evidence From the Child
- Can a Child Refuse to See Their Other Parent?
- Failure to Facilitate a Relationship Can Lead to a Change in Custody
Concerns About Parental Alienation
Concerns about alienation come up a lot in family court and they are and should be, viewed with scrutiny. While many parents in family court experience a lot of conflicts and may struggle with encouraging a relationship between the child and the other parent, few rise to the level of actively trying to alienate a child from the other parent through a pattern of withholding parenting time and talking about the other parent to the child in a disparaging and disrespectful manner. However, in some instances, judges have found that one parent’s actions were so egregious that they warranted a dramatic change to the parent’s parenting time schedules in order to preserve the child’s relationship with the other parent and protect the child from continued exposure to such animosity.
Parents looking to preserve their relationship with their child need to understand that appropriate co-parenting is a key part of ensuring the protection of that relationship and avoid judicial intervention.
What Does It Mean to Facilitate a Relationship with the Other Parent?
In parenting cases, judges and child custody attorneys expect both parents to be able to communicate and work together to effectively co-parent their child together, even though they are no longer in a relationship. A significant part of good co-parenting is encouraging your child to have a good relationship with their other parent by working together to address parenting issues, being friendly to each other, talking positively (or at least not negatively) about your ex, and avoiding discussing any conflict between you and your ex in front or around your child. Additionally, parents are expected to facilitate a relationship between their child and the other parent by allowing communications between the other parent and the child via phone, video chat, texting, etc. and encouraging the child to spend time with the other parent. In the context of a family law case, that often means following the court’s orders regarding parenting time and communication with the child and being sure that the child participates in parenting time with the other parent. They can also dial their ex’s phone number so the child can speak to their other parent, or be sure that the child is dressed and ready to be picked up for parenting time.
Overall, facilitating parenting time means that the parent with the child is making an effort to ensure that the other parent is able to see and speak to the child, and is not actively trying to keep the child from their other parent or undermine their bond by speaking about them negatively.
How Can You Prove Your Ex is Not Facilitating Your Relationship with Your Child?
Evidence of a failure to facilitate a parent-child relationship, or parental alienation, can be proven in multiple ways. It can include showing evidence of one parent’s attempt to see the child, and the other parent’s refusal to allow contact, or even respond. Often parents can provide text messages, emails, and the like showing that they have been asking for time with the child and those requests are either being ignored or rejected. These kinds of communications are helpful to show the court that one parent is trying to have a relationship with the child, and the other parent is refusing to facilitate that relationship.
Ongoing Non-Compliance With Court Orders
In court, failure to facilitate a relationship between parent and child can often be observed by one parent’s ongoing non-compliance with the court’s orders and mandates. For example, the parent with the majority of time with the child may seek to cancel or prioritize other activities or events as more important than the other parent’s parenting time. The other parent may also try to delay the implementation of a parenting time schedule, claiming they or the child are simply “too busy” to make time for the other parent.
Some parents will even go so low as to blame their noncompliance on the child, claiming the child just did not want to spend time with their parent as the reason why they violated the court order. It is important to know that judges do not take kindly to having their orders ignored, and especially dislike when parents blame their actions, and inaction, on their children.
Alienation Evidence From the Child
Sadly, a lot of the time evidence of one parent’s attempts at alienation is often gathered from the child or children. It is common for parents who participate in alienation to speak in a disrespectful or disparaging way about the other parent directly to or in front of the children. Sometimes the parent will express extreme animosity toward the other parent, even going so far as to tell the child they “hate” the other parent. Some parents will actively engage in alienation by telling the child the other parent is a “liar” to keep the child from being able to trust the other parent. In these situations, an attorney for the child, most often a Guardian ad Litem or Child’s Representative, will be appointed to the case to investigate each parent’s allegations and speak with the child to provide the judge with an accurate representation of what is actually happening, and being said, within that family.
Can a Child Refuse to See Their Other Parent?
In general, the Illinois courts see parenting time as mandatory, and not something that a child can choose to participate in, or not. As the courts believe that, as a general rule, a relationship with both parents is best for the child, the child is expected to follow the parenting time schedule without having a say in what that schedule is. As a child gets older, their preferences, opinions, and requests will be given greater weight by the judges, but often that is only for children who are coming up on eighteen.
If a child is refusing to spend time with a parent and is acting out before or after they see that parent, the courts will often try to find out why there is a disconnect and will look for a remedy, most often therapy. In some cases, a parent’s behavior has been so egregious that a child will have qualms about spending time with that parent. That situation often arises if there have been issues of abuse or neglect, or one parent has been disparaging to or harshly critical of the child.
There are circumstances when a parent can act in a way that makes the child so uncomfortable that the child is averse to spending time with that parent, at no fault of their co-parent. However, it is more common that children do not want to spend time with the parent because their relationship is strained, which is often the result of systematic alienation by the other parent and long periods of time apart.
Failure to Facilitate a Relationship Can Lead to a Change in Custody
Trying to cut another parent out of a child’s life, or turn the child away from their other parent, is strongly looked down upon by judges. A history of this behavior, or refusal to facilitate a positive relationship between the child and their other parent can lead to a change in custody both as a remedy to the strained relationship with the alienated parent and in recognition of the toxic environment that the child was being subjected to by their primary parent.