Divorce is rarely easy and it can result in many complex scenarios. But when children are involved, things can often turn ugly. Parental alienation occurs when one parent purposefully alienates a child’s affection towards the other parent. The offending parent can be either male or female and may or may not have primary custody of the children. 

Examples of Parental Alienation

Alienation can happen in a variety of ways and take many forms. Some of the most common forms of alienation include: 

  • Talking negatively about the child’s other parent
  • Encouraging the child to reject the other parent by isolating or denying contact with the other parent
  • Creating an unfounded fear of the other parent
  • Accusing the other parent of being unfit in order to revise or cancel an order of custody
  • Making a child feel guilty about loving the other parent, or making a child choose between parents. 

Some instances of parental alienation may be deemed severe enough to change the court-ordered custody arrangement. These may include: 

  • Refusing to accommodate court-ordered timesharing and shared custody with the other parent
  • Endangering the emotional wellbeing of the child 
  • Making life-changing decisions for the child unilaterally 

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)?

PAS is frequently seen in child custody cases. It is synonymous with Parental Alienation, but utilizing the term “syndrome” helps to identify the behavior via a set of symptoms. 

In most cases, one parent sees themselves as superior and more important to the child than the other parent. They position themselves as a gatekeeper between the child and the other “inferior” parent. They may claim that they are protecting the child from their “unfit” ex-spouse or that the visits “upset” the child. They can make the visits seem inconvenient, which often results in the child thinking of the absent parent as less of a family member. Over time, this can have a severe emotional impact and cause significant damage to the child’s relationship with their parents. 

In some cases, a parent may allege abuse. However, physical abuse leaves a mark, so parents may instead accuse the other of emotional abuse against the child. Proving this type of abuse is difficult in court, however, because it is a subjective allegation. In other words, what one parent thinks is abusive – such as the introduction of a new significant other too soon – the other parent may see as perfectly acceptable.

Parental Alienation in Florida Custody Cases

A parent who believes that their ex-spouse is engaging in alienation behavior should speak to a family law attorney. A case will have merit if the behavior has prevented or interfered with court-ordered timesharing or custody agreements. 

Florida law requires that anyone seeking to modify their custody agreement must prove that a substantial, material change has occurred. This change must have been unanticipated at the time of the official court order and will be determined based upon the children’s best interest. 

Severe cases of parental alienation often result in successful modification. Because of this, individual parents may go to great lengths to accuse the other of terrible things. Therefore, it is imperative that a parent facing these allegations – or making them – has a qualified and experienced family law attorney.  

If you have a custody agreement yet feel that your children are being withheld from you, call an experienced family law attorney. In cases involving children, it may be helpful to get an outside legal opinion of the situation. They can help you to determine if court action is ultimately in the best interest of the child involved. 

Richard V. Ellis is a Sarasota-based family law and bankruptcy attorney who has helped hundreds of families through difficult legal challenges.