Parental alienation syndrome in Illinois child custody cases
By Jeffery M. Leving
In divorce and child custody cases, a syndrome sometimes develops called parental alienation. This means that one parent is trying to isolate their child from the other parent to destroy the parent-child relationship by repeatedly describing the other parent in negative, often exaggerated terms – for example, “Your father doesn’t love you,” “Your father doesn’t want to spend time with you,” “Your father won’t pay child support,” or “Your father can’t stop drinking long enough to apply for a job.”
Part of parental alienation behavior is an attempt to keep the children with the alienating parent as much as possible, away from the targeted parent. Parental alienators are adept manipulators.
Traits of an alienator
In an article written by a clinical psychologist in Psychology Today, the author notes that while she has seen either parent attempt parental alienation, it has more often been the mother. A parent who alienates may show “narcissistic or borderline tendencies” as well as traits seen in antisocial personality disorders.
Narcissists focus obsessively on themselves without considering the needs or opinions of others, while those with borderline personality disorders have “emotional hyper-reactivity … often … expressed as anger” and a tendency to see themselves as victims. A parent with an antisocial personality is an accomplished liar who may harm others without any guilt.
Alienation is harmful to children
Many experts characterize parental alienation as child abuse, and I agree with them. It is well known that except for a truly abusive or neglectful parent, having a relationship with both parents is best for the child. Alienation by one parent interferes with the rights of the child and the other parent to have a healthy relationship, and for the parent to exercise their right to care for the child.
Impact of alienation on parenting time
Parental alienation is highly relevant in determining an appropriate parenting plan that lays out with which parent the child will mainly live, the division of parenting time and the allocation of the rights of the parents to make decisions for the child. (These concepts are traditionally called physical custody, legal custody and visitation.)
In custody decisions in a divorce, separation or when parents are unmarried – and in subsequent modifications of parenting plans when there has been a substantial change in circumstances – parenting time decisions are based on what is in the child’s best interests.
To determine the child’s best interests, the court must look at anything relevant to the question, including specific factors listed in state statute. Of those, some are particularly relevant when parental alienation may be involved:
- The mental health of all parties
- The “willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child”
- The “interaction and interrelationship” of the child with each parent
- The child’s needs
- Whether restricted parenting time is appropriate
- Parental ability to put the child’s needs first
- Abuse against the child, including emotional or psychological abuse to try to alienate the child against the other parent
Any parent who believes the other parent is trying to alienate their child against them should seek representation by an experienced family lawyer who can bring out the truth and aggressively fight for appropriate custody and visitation decisions.
The attorneys at my firm, The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd. in Chicago, litigate custody and visitation matters involving parental alienation. We recently won custody for another dedicated father in Chicago of his son who had been the victim of his mother’s parental alienation.