This area of law is difficult since there are judges that don’t believe that parental alienation exists. Any lawyer practicing family law knows that alienation exists, however. The question then becomes, “how do you demonstrate that the other parent is alienating your children?” if the court doesn’t recognize alienation as a problem?
Understanding Parental Alienation
It is helpful to first understand what alienation is. Parental Alienation is the process, and the result, of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members. The parent is typically alone with the child when this happens, however, and it is your burden to prove the other parent is doing that. How do you do that when you aren’t there to hear what is being said? Typically you become aware of it because of how your child is acting toward you.
Are There Signs of Alienation?
Here are some examples of a child’s behavior:
- Doesn’t share vital information with you. The child doesn’t share grade cards, college choices, or other major pieces of information, but then does share it with the other parent. Won’t tell you about health concerns, but informs the other parent.
- In some cases, the child stops communicating with you. Doesn’t want to spend any time with you. Won’t go on visits, won’t talk to you on the phone.
- You start to become the villain. Nothing you do is right and everything you do is wrong. When you ask the child to list positive attributes about the alienated parent, the child cannot name one thing good.
- No gift you give them is good enough. When asked what they received from you for Christmas for instance, the child will indicate “nothing” or will downplay the gift, no matter how great the gift is.
- A child knows things about you that they wouldn’t ordinarily know. Information about how much you pay in child support (or that you are behind in your support obligation), or that you cheated on your spouse during the marriage.
How to Address Alienation
What exactly can be done if there are signs of alienation? Under Illinois law, 750 ILCS 5/603.10, you can ask the court to restrict a parent’s right to the child. Sec. 603.10 states:
(a) After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development, the court shall enter orders as necessary to protect the child. Such orders may include, but are not limited to, orders for one or more of the following:
(1) a reduction, elimination, or other adjustment of the parent’s decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, or both decision- making responsibilities and parenting time;
(2) supervision, including ordering the Department of Children and Family Services to exercise continuing supervision under Section 5 of the Children and Family Services Act;
(3) requiring the exchange of the child between the parents through an intermediary or in a protected setting;
(4) restraining a parent’s communication with or proximity to the other parent or the child;
(5) requiring a parent to abstain from possessing or consuming alcohol or non-prescribed drugs while exercising parenting time with the child and within a specified period immediately preceding the exercise of parenting time;
(6) restricting the presence of specific persons while a parent is exercising parenting time with the child;
(7) requiring a parent to post a bond to secure the return of the child following the parent’s exercise of parenting time or to secure other performance required by the court;
(8) requiring a parent to complete a treatment program for perpetrators of abuse, for drug or alcohol abuse, or for other behavior that is the basis for restricting parental responsibilities under this Section; and
(9) any other constraints or conditions that the court deems necessary to provide for the child’s safety or welfare.
750 ILCS 5/603.10 Restriction of parental responsibilities. (Illinois Compiled Statutes (2019 Edition))
The evidence you’d need to prove your case can be problematic since a lot of the information you’ll get might be provided by your child. The case of Bates illustrates a case where a father fought against the alienation.
Mother Loses Custody After Alienating Child in the Bates Case
In Bates, the father (Edward) was able to demonstrate that his ex-wife was alienating their child against him. In re Marriage of Bates, 212 Ill.2d 489 (2004). Ultimately, it cost the mother, Norma, custody of her daughter.
The parties divorced in 2000 and agreed to joint custody, and in 2001, Norma filed a petition to modify their agreement, stating that Edward had breached their agreement. Their daughter had extreme anxiety and distress whenever Edward had parenting time. Norma accused Edward of being an alcoholic and of being abusive.
Edward had complaints about Norma as well. According to Edward, Norma did not allow him to talk to their child, changed the child’s school without notifying him (and changed her name at the new school) and repeatedly belittled him in front of the child. Edward’s complaints held merit, and a therapist assigned to work with the parties opined that Norma was alienating their daughter from Edward. Family therapy was ordered and there was a strong admonishment to Norma to cease her abuse allegations toward Edward.
At the trial, court-appointed evaluators, experts and treating physicians testified. The court’s evaluator testified about the child’s comments and that her complaints did not seem valid. Although the girl would repeat the accusations against her father, when pressed for further details, she couldn’t come up with anything more than the original accusation. The expert opined that the girl should be placed with her father and that if the custody was not modified, the child was headed for a life with extreme anxiety and panic.
The court concluded that Edward had met his burden in that his daughter’s present environment was seriously endangering his daughter’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health and that it was in their daughter’s best interest to modify custody from her mother and to her father instead. The court made a point of noting that Norma could not facilitate and encourage a relationship between her daughter and Edward.
Proving Parental Alienation at Trial
At trial, you’ll find experts on both sides of the alienation diagnosis. Some believe it doesn’t exist or that it is dangerous to assume that alienation occurs in some instances. In some instances, it is just normal kid behavior and not alienation. For instance, a child in his/her teens can be confrontational and unreasonable, and that can be attributed to the teenager being a teen. One parent didn’t alienate the child resulting in this behavior, it is just a common behavior among teens. In my opinion, though, alienation is not hard to spot. If a parent is involved, attends parenting time and is still being told by the children that it isn’t enough and that the parent doesn’t do anything right, immediate action should be taken to put the relationship on track. Family therapy is your first likely step but if your relationship with your child doesn’t improve, you need to make the court aware of what is happening so the appropriate action can be taken.
Your burden to prove alienation is high, so keep good notes. All the missed visits should be noted, along with anything your child says to you about your inadequacies. If it were my child, I’d reach out to the other parent to address it and if you suspect that the negativity is coming from the other parent and is not usual teenage behavior, then you’ll need some court intervention before the relationship is impaired forever.
Proving parental alienation in a parent-child relationship are serious matters with lasting consequences. Please contact our family law attorneys today to schedule a confidential consultation if you have concerns about your ex is alienation your children and how to prove.