Parental Alienation Syndrome in Custody

Cases Written by Terry Graffius, Esquire

One of the sixteen (16) enumerated factors that Pennsylvania Courts must consider when rendering a Custody Order is which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent. In certain cases, the custodial parent’s behaviors, either deliberately or unconsciously, may cause a breakdown in the attachment or bond between the non-custodial parent and child to the point where the child sees the non-custodial parent as the “enemy” in a custody case causing fear, hatred, disrespect and avoidance towards the non-custodial parent. This is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome and most parents view this as either “bad mouthing’ or “brainwashing” the child against the other parent. In severe cases, the child may not want to even see or talk with the other parent, and this could permanently damage a relationship between a parent and child.

Parental Alienation may be intentional or unintentional behavior exhibited by the custodial parent and, therefore, the causes of it may vary from case to case. However, there are certain motivating factors from parents that cause Parental Alienation. In a lot of cases, an alienating parent may have unresolved anger towards the other parent for perceived wrongs committed against them during the relationship or marriage and cannot separate these feelings from parenting issues. Sometimes the alienating parent may have unresolved issues from their own childhood they are projecting on the other parent. Also, an alienating parent may be so insecure with their own parenting skills that they project these concerns onto the other parent. In many cases, new spouses or grandparents also push the alienating parent into an inappropriate behavior for their own personal agenda or wrong reasons and the alienating parent is not emotionally strong enough to resist,

Pennsylvania Courts have of ten used Parental Alienation Syndrome as a reason to transfer custody from the alienating parent to the non-custodial parent since not encouraging a loving relationship with the other parent is clearly not in a child’s best interests and, as stated above, could have severe and permanent adverse effects on the non-custodial parent and child’s relationship. In a recent case that was decided by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in April of 2015 called WCF v. MG, the Court held that Parental Alienation was a critical factor in 2 awarding primary physical custody to a father where a mother falsely accused the father of child abuse where no such evidence existed or was corroborated with other independent facts. In this case, the maternal grandparent was a substantial influence on the alienating parent in making these claims of abuse. The Court stated that attempts at Parental Alienation by a parent cannot be rewarded by the Courts.

The following are some warning signs if you believe that your exspouse or ex-significant other with whom you had a child is currently exhibiting behavior conducive to Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Allowing the child to choose whether to visit with the noncustodial parent instead of encouraging the child to visit with the other parent pursuant to a Court Order. Disclosing to the child details about the parties” marital relationship or the reasons why the parties divorced.

  • Denying the non-custodial parent access to school and medical records and schedules of activities.
  • Blaming the non-custodial parent for money problems, splitting up the family or having a girlfriend or boyfriend and making the child aware of these issues.

When a child is unable to give reasons or gives vague reasons for their anger towards the other parent.

Using a child to spy or secretly gather information for that own parent’s use.

When the custodial parent reacts with hurt or sadness to a child having a good time with the non-custodial parent.

Refusing to be flexible with the custody schedule and scheduling activities for the child so the other parent is not given time to visit.

Assuming that a parent who has physically abused the other parent will also assault the child.

Asking the child to choose one parent over the other.

Encouraging the child’s anger towards the other parent.

Suggesting that the child’s name be changed or having a step-parent adopt that child.

Asking or interrogating the child about the non-custodial parent’s personal life.

Making demands on the noncustodial parent that are contrary with Court Orders.

Eavesdropping or listening on the child’s phone calls with the other parent.